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Last sync:2018-04-25 19:00
Featuring Emily of The Brain Scoop ( and Cas the Arctic Fox!
We decided it would be cool to have guests come into the studio and talk about science with Hank.

In our first episode, Emily Graslie chats about rhinoceros conservation and stumps Hank with a very peculiar bone from the Philip L. Wright Zoological Museum.
Then Jessi from Animal Wonders introduces Cas the Arctic Fox...and he's the coolest thing that's ever peed on Hank's desk!

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[Intro plays]


HG: Hello and welcome to today's episode of SciShow Talk Show! Today, we have with me Emily Graslie, the host of the new show, The Brain Scoop. You should go to and subscribe now! So, today, Emily, you have brought me some science news, some interesting science things? Right? Yes?

EG: Yes. I'm sure you are very familiar with the problems facing rhinos; in the last three years there have been something like 400 rhinos poached to sell their horns as trophies and on the Chinese black market.

HG: Yeah, and to me this seems like a problem from ten years ago. Like, the fact that it's getting worse..

EG: They're just reacting to a heightened popularity in the market.

HG: I mean, and what can you do? Like, you can't stop Chinese people from wanting rhino horns.

EG: No, and that's a problem. With education, they're trying to let people know that, "Hey, this is a horn; it's made out of keratin. It's the same material that your hair and your fingernails are made out of. It has no special, or magical or medicinal properties at all."

HG: It's not going to help you in the bed.

EG: That's actually a misconception! 

HG: No, okay.

EG: This is an interesting thing about this story that I read. Rhino horn is medicinally used to treat fevers and convulsions.

HG: So I feel a little better, now. Because it's a little less selfish.

EG: Yeah.

HG: Like, if my child is having seizures, I need some rhino horn, versus, "I am not what I once was."

EG: But there is good news.

HG: Okay.

EG: This article that I recently read on PopSci was talking about this group in Africa, and they have developed a three-part method that is supposed to be proactive in deterring poachers. First, they take a rhino horn, and they use a high-pressure pneumatic device.

HG: ... Like a sand blaster?

EG: Kind of, actually. They infuse the rhino horn with the same kind of pink dye that shows up on security and x-ray scanners...

HG: Okay.

EG: So this works by deterring poachers who might want to use the entire horn as, like, a trophy or something, and even if they grind it up, which is how rhino horn is sold on the black market, as a ground powder, they won't be able to smuggle it through airports anymore, because this pink dye will show up on the scanner, and it tips off the airport security. So that's a good thing.  

Another awesome thing that they're doing is they're implanting GPS tracking devices within the horn.

HG: So, like, one at the top, one at the middle, one at the bottom?

EG: I'd assume so! 

HG: [laughter]

EG: You know, I'm not exactly-- I haven't looked into the exact placement of where they're putting these.

HG: They just like, core out a little hole and stuff a little GPS tracker in there?

EG: Yeah, so they'll know where these rhino horns are at all times, they'll know if it's been cut up, if it's been segmented, when it happened, where it happened... Which is a lot more cost-effective than training twenty-four hour armed guards, which is what some of these, you know, nature preserves have had to do. And the last thing, which I think is the most interesting thing about this group, is that they are, infusing the horn with an ectoparasiticide, which, [laughs] which is really fascinating! An ectoparasiticide is something that, it'll live topically on top of the keratin; it doesn't become circulated throughout the rhino's blood system or anything like that; it doesn't hurt the rhino at all. And what this does is, if you grind it up and ingest it, it'll make you very sick, which deters them from--hopefully--wanting to use it even more.

HG: I mean that's kind of terrible...

EG: It's just an awareness thing. It's an education thing. It's reinforcing the fact that this has no medicinal value. Hey, if you have a headache, chew on your fingernail, and it'll give you the same amount of medicinal power as, you know, butchering and poaching these--you know--highly valued and protected species. 

HG: Maybe we should get some real fever medicines and seizure medicines, also.

EG: Access to adequate healthcare--

HG: I mean they're obviously willing to pay for it; it's not cheap.

EG: Actually it is worth its weight in gold, as a powder. Gold is about $1,600/oz., rhino horn is about $1,600 - $1,800 an ounce. It's interesting in that it's a cultural misunderstanding.

HG: Yeah.

EG: But, with--like I mentioned--with increased education about these things, hopefully we can make a positive difference.

HG: Awesome. Well, I think that brings us to the next segment which is "Stump Hank"


EG: Yes. And this is actually exciting for me, 'cause on Fridays, I used to play the game "Freak of the Week" on Friday, and post a picture of an interesting thing.

HG: On your Tumblr?

EG: On my Tumblr! So you should go and follow me there [], for all kinds of fun, zoology-related museum things, in addition to subscribing to The Brain Scoop. So...

HG: So...!

EG: I'm gonna go grab the first one.

HG: You're gonna get a thing. [...] Uuuuh... what?!

EG: Okay.

HG: Well you should--you shouldn't have held it--You should-- [stutters] What the frick?! So, like, I don't even know the orientation. Hold on, give it to me

EG: Here you are, you're gonna hold it? It's a little fragile at the end.

HG: What ... the heck?!

EG: Tell me what you think about it, for right now.

HG: So... this looks like vertebrae...

EG: Okay.

HG: Am I right?!

EG: I'm just--I'm just gonna listen to your assessment.

HG: Ugh. It's light, so I would think, you know, marine... maybe? Because I'm kind of-- ... large? This is not-- I thought, when I first saw it, that it was a head, but it's clearly not a head. This is a pelvis!

EG: [gasps] Yes. You are correct. Do you know of what, though?

HG: No! I don't know of what! 

[both laugh]

EG: Step one, down!

HG: Well, if it's a pelvis, then it's not... a fish. 

EG: [scoff]

HG: Well-- I mean, there-- Okay. Okay, so this definitely a spinal column, but it's fused; it's all fused... Because you can actually see down the hole there, where the spinal cord goes, which is pretty cool. But what the heck?! ...Ahhhh...

EG: Do you want to know it is?

HG: Yeah, but don't tell me yet.

EG: Okay.

HG: Does it live in the water?

EG: No.

HG: Oh god.

EG: [laughs]

HG: Is it bigger than a bread basket?

EG: Yeah [laughs]

HG: That's not actually a question. It's so light!

EG: Mhmm.

HG: Is it...? It's not a bird. Why else would it be so light? It is a bird.

EG: Yeah. Yup.

HG: It's a ...? What?!?! Okay, I don't know.

EG: You want me to tell you?

HG: Is it alive on the Earth today?

EG: Yes, it is!

HG: Okay, alright, yeah, okay.

EG: It--you're actually holding it upside down, too. There you go.

HG: That doesn't help me at all, by the way. Just to be clear.

EG: [laughs] This is the synsacrum of an ostrich. 

HG: An... ostrich-- of course! I was like, it's a bird! But it's too big to be a bird!

EG: It's a huge bird!

HG: Awww, because I forgot about ostriches! God dangit!

EG: I know! I don't know, you can kind of see it. These are where the femur attach.

HG: Right, what is the point of these bones?

EG: For balance! I love this thing.

HG: That... is crazy cool, and when I first saw it, I thought it was a skull and I thought these were eye holes.

EG: You wouldn't be the first.

HG: Well! Well, I am stumped! What are we gonna see? So we're gonna move onto our animal segment of the evening now.


HG: Animal Wonders has brought a truly amazing animal for us to check out. And, well, I won't even tell you. Let's just have it happen. Let's just have it happen. Jessi from Animal Wonders will join us, and we will show you something very cool.

Now, today, we have an extremely special guest: we have Cas the arctic fox! 

Jessi Castañeda: Yes! [laughs]

HG: This is Jessi from Animal Wonders! Thanks for coming! And, this may an extra-brief episode, because Cas... is a wild fox ... on my desk.

JC: He is! Let's come on over here! [laughs] Let's come back over here, buddy.

[claws scrape on desk]

EG: This is pretty much the best day of my life right now. I'm not even lying.

[all laugh]

HG: So this the winter coat? 

JC: This is the winter coat. He is... huge.

HG: Very fluffy. Very fluffy.

EG: Yes, very white.

HG: We actually have the summer coat of an arctic fox right here.

JC: He will look almost like that. He's actually a little bit grayer, less brown, and so they do vary in color a little bit per individual. But yeah, this coat is massive. We can't get our finger down to his skin; it's just so thick.

HG: So tell us about arctic foxes!

[all laugh]

JC: Well, they live in the Arctic. [laughs] And--

HG: Is this a full-grown skull, so is that that size of that thing's head?

EG: Mhmm.

JC: Yeah.

HG: Wow, that's a lot of fur.

EG: That is ... so much fur.

[all laugh]

HG: Oh my goodness, you're so beautiful!

JC: [to fox] Hey buddy, good job!

So, let's talk about a couple things that we see on him, you know they're most famous for being able to change white in the winter time.

[fox claws at table]

There you go, just settle in, buddy.

HG: That's okay.

JC: So, let's take a look at a couple of other things on him. He has really short ears, and he has a black nose and black eyes. Now, the black around his eyes is gonna help him see. So kind of like how a football player puts black paint underneath so they can see the ball better and so there's no glare, he's gonna have that black around his eyes so he can see in the snow, so there's no glare; he can actually go hunting. He's going to have a shorter nose than other foxes, and he's actually gonna have shorter legs than other foxes as well, and all those things are gonna help him conserve his warmth.

HG: That's why.. the small ears, too. You don't want to get ear frostbite.

JC: Exactly. And this huge tail is also gonna help. He's gonna curl up and that's going to cover up his face and nose and that short fur on his face, there. And he's going to look pretty adorable.

HG: Cute.

EG: Yeah, he's actually adorable.

[all laugh]

JC: And these guys are actually close to being put on the endangered species list. A couple of their populations have gone from about 20 breeding pairs to 4 breeding pairs, and one of the reasons is because the red fox--who actually, he is one his best friends, Seraphina is a red fox, they live together...

HG: Awwww!

JC: But, in the wild, it's a little different! They're not going to be friends; the red fox is bigger and more aggressive; he's going to take over their den. And the red fox couldn't survive up there before, but now they can, without all these special things.

HG: So, you're range is shrinking ...

JC: Yeah.

HG: So is the color for hiding from prey or predators?

JC: Everything.

HG: Everything, I guess that makes sense.

JC: Yeah, everything up there is gonna be white.

HG: So they do have predators?

JC: Yeah! They do. Mhmm, they would be preyed on by, you know, polar bears, maybe... they're not very fast. But they're gonna be preyed on by the wolves up there, and by birds of prey.

HG: Oh! Really? So, that's a big bird. Golden eagles?

JC: Yeah, they'll go up there. Yup.

EG: One of my favorite things that I know about the arctic fox is their ability to sense things underneath the snow.

JC: Yeah!

EG: So you can get those pictures of them, like, leaping up almost vertically into the air, and coming down, and they'll get, like, stuck, like, three quarters of their body into the snow. They look graceful going up; coming down, it's a little dirtier, right?

[all laugh]

JC: Slams right in there, yeah! Diving in the snow!

HG: So why is his mouth open?

JC: He... should actually be done now. He's getting a little bit hot.

HG: He's like, "I -- this is--"

JC: "... I'm hot, panting. I have this massive fur coat on, and I'm inside, under lights." So he's a little hot.

HG: All right, well, Cas, it was a pleasure to meet you; I'm sorry that it's so hot! Let's get you cooled off.

JC: Yeah...!

HG: Thanks for coming in!

JC: Thanks for having us!

HG: [falsetto] ...Aaah!

[fox is picked up]

HG: Oh, it's hard to be an arctic fox inside...!


HG: That was a pretty fantastic experience, thank you for joining us here today, Emily, and for showing off your ostrich pelvis!

EG: Anytime, Hank.

HG: Is that what it was?

EG: Yeah, yup. Ostrich pelvis.

HG: What else was it, though? You had a different word.

EG: The synsacrum.

HG: The synsacrum. That's an awesome... metal band album name.

EG: [mockingly] Ostrich synsacrum!!

[both laugh]

HG: Thank you for joining us here at the SciShow Talk Show. Go, and subscribe at if you would like to see more of Emily. Of course you would! And we'll see you next time.

[to EG] High-five.

[both high-five]

[Outro music]