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NASA Eclipse Livestream
Jen Fowler of the Montana Space Grant Consortium joins us this week to talk about her work with weather balloons and the upcoming solar eclipse, and Jessi from Animal Wonders brings along Gaia the Southern Three-Banded Armadillo!

NASA Eclipse Livestream

List of Upcoming Eclipses:

Hosted by: Hank Green
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 (00:00) to (02:00)

(SciShow Intro)

Hank: Hello and welcome to SciShow Talk Show, that day on SciShow where we talk to interesting people about interesting stuff.  Today we're talking to Jen Fowler, the assistant director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium.  I had to read your shirt.  I felt like that was the safe way to do it.  I don't know what the Montana Space Grant Consortium is, but I know that I want your t-shirt, because I like NASA and I like Montana.  

Jen: Here's how people get t-shirts.  

H: Oh, there's a way?

J: There is a way.

H: Okay.

J: There's a couple ways.  Typically, it's students in higher education.  Each state has a Space Grant Consortium.  We're under NASA Education, and we have 23 institutions in Montana.  Students apply for a scholarship, an internship, a fellowship, a research stipend, and they definitely get the t-shirt once we bring them into the program.

H: Okay, so I have to be a student.  

J: That would be your most direct way, yes.

H: I'm cutting down SciShow, I'm going back to school.  I do sometimes have that itch, like I miss research, I miss learning in a structured environment, I miss, like, the depth of, you know, academic research but I think I'm probably gonna stick with what I'm doing.  So how else can I get a t-shirt?

J: You can come on a balloon launch with us.

H: I mean, that sounds like, way easier and also fun.

J: Ohh--well, it's--I think all of it's fun.

H: Okay.

J: I mean, that's the beauty, but it is--we put you to work.  You get to--

H: Yeah, but I (?~1:27) quit my job.

J: No.  We won't make you quit your job.

H: Okay.

J: You might--well--

H: So you're--so part of the Space Grant is balloon research.

J: It is balloon research, so each--

H: And that (?~1:39)--to me, space and balloons, the immediate link might not be there for everybody.  

J: It's a good link, too, and I think that's a reasonable response.  People wouldn't necessarily think of balloons--

H: Yeah, I know balloons, it's like you, it's for parties and it's animals.

J: Yes.  So we launch a couple different sizes of balloons, depending on how heavy the payload is, just like rockets.

 (02:00) to (04:00)

Rockets, they'll go pretty fast, balloons, a little bit slower.  It takes--they take their time.  We can study the atmosphere.  They also get to a place where we generally don't fly aircraft, and they get to a place that's a little bit lower than a rocket where we can sit for a while, so we're at 30 kilometers, where our balloons are.  

H: Okay.  Do you know how high Felix Baumgartner was when he jumped out a balloon?  

J: I--it's gonna be a guess.  I did look at that, and I thought it was somewhere around 70,000 feet.

H: 70,000 feet?  Well, I can't convert that to kilometers.

J: Yeah, I'm doing lots of conversions here.  I'm playing it fast and loose with you, see if you're keeping up with me.  So, 30km, about 90,000 feet.  

H: Okay.  So you're higher up than that guy was.

J: We can, yes.  The highest that we've flown actually out of Space Grant is about 114,000 feet.

H: And that's defined basically by the atmosphere.  Like, eventually, there's not enough atmosphere left for the balloon to be lighter than--

J: Yes.

H:--and the atmosphere becomes the same density as the balloon.

J: Yes.

H: So what's some of the research that's being done on your balloons right now?  You're working with students, are they proposing research ideas?

J: Yes, and it's all pretty eclipse-focused right now, so we have a number of--

H: Ohh, so that's why this is happening.

J: We have both systems--yes.  We have both--

H: I can't see anything.

J: You can't.  You have to stare at the Sun with those.  Right, yeah.

H: Right, there's--pretty much the only thing you can see through these is the Sun.

J: Yes.  

H: Or something that's reflecting the Sun.

J: Yes.

H: 'Cause I did take them out in the parking lot and I was like, whoa, I can see that car.

J: That indicates maybe don't stare at that spot on the car.  

H: Yeah, I think that my--my brain also told me not to do that.  I put these on and went and looked at the Sun and I felt a number of emotions I didn't expect.  I felt like there is a giant ball of plasma in the middle of our solar system and it is shining death upon us, and also life, but also like, it's tiny.  Like, the Sun sort of takes up a big piece of my mind sky, because like, I don't look at it and it's obviously the most important thing in the sky, and I don't know, I guess mostly when I look at the Sun, it's like setting and so it looks bigger because it's sort of on the horizon, but I look up and it's this little perfect, perfectly round little thing and you don't really ever see the Sun as being perfectly round either, because it's fuzzy on the edges and the atmosphere's doing stuff, but the part that you can see with this is just this perfect little circle.  

 (04:00) to (06:00)

J: It's very far away, is the one thing I want to mention.

H: No, I'm aware.  

J: For that.

H: I'm aware the Sun is actually big.  

J: (?~4:29) makes it seem a little small.  

H: Yeah, yeah, 93 million miles is a while.

J: But I think that's a great point, actually, because we are so focused, for a couple years now, on the development of what we're gonna measure and how we're gonna do it--

H: During this eclipse?

J: --and live video.  Yes.

H: So you've been thinking about this eclipse for years.

J: We have.  I was thinking, oh yeah, I haven't really looked at the Sun recently, 'cause I've been looking down at the computer with all the data and--or at the balloon.  It's nice to remind yourself that basic natural--

H: Reality.

J: --reality is happening, yeah, all the time.

H: Sometimes I feel that way when it's nighttime and I'm looking up at the sky, but for some reason, the Sun does not generally have that same effect on me, 'cause it's just a normal everyday part of life.

J: Well, I kinda wonder, is it because we don't look at it?

H: And also you can't look at it!  You really, like, you really can't unless it's like, sunset time.  

J: True.

H: Like it's not, don't do that, it's dangerous, it's like, you look at it and your brain--your mind is like, stop.  That hurts.  Like, you are damaging yourself.  

J: So can you imagine when it gets covered?

H: So these are good.  

J: I haven't seen a total solar eclipse.

H: I don't think I have either.

J: I've heard just that it's the most amazing experience to have.

H: Well, the path of totality's pretty thin, right?  

J: It's about 100 km wide.  We can get into it.  It's just South of us.

H: Yeah, yeah, no, a person can--how far South is it of us?  How far would I have to drive?

J: The closest extent--there's a very tiny piece that goes through the most Southwest-ish corner, the lowest part of Montana.

H: Of Montana?  Okay.  

J: So Idaho's probably the closest part from here, and then we're--our--we've got a team that's going to be in Wyoming doing atmospheric studies.

 (06:00) to (08:00)

H: So you guys are going down there, how soon?  

J: We'll go down on the 18th of August.

H: (?~6:07)

J: A few days ahead, but then we have each day scheduled.  Before we launch any of our little sensors for the atmosphere, we're always checking on the ground that they're calibrated properly, so we have some surface stations we set up, and we continuously monitor our surface data.  We'll go about 20 hours.

H: Okay.

J: Through the eclipse, before and through, and the students all know how to run that.  They have to monitor that the data's come in in the proper format and then--

H: How do you find where you're gonna have your base camp?  Is it just like, somebody's land?  Or is it--

J: Uh, we had an alumni from Montana State, actually, offered to let us camp on their property.

H: Oh, nice.  Cool.  

J: So that's where we found that.  In the center, and then we have two sites on the edge that we've gotten permission from landowners and we're gonna go out there and launch, so we'll have actually balloons spatially distributed so we get some high spacial and temporal resolution of the atmosphere during the eclipse.  So we set up our ground equipment.  Students are gonna--we call it initalize, so they're just making sure that the computer and the ground station, that's a radio, is receiving all the data from the (?~7:07) itself, it's called a radio (?~7:10).  Then, once we know that's happening, fill the balloon, attach a parachute, attach the payload, and then have a countdown to launch.  One more check to make sure everything's coming in well.  They launch, come back, monitor the data, and there's certain triggers that we have that we know if, if we go through a cloud and for some reason, one of our sensors ices up, we can terminate our launch and try again.  

H: When you say terminate your launch, do you mean just like, cut the payload and it falls or--?

J: Um, for these, we just cut the frequency off.

H: Okay.

J: And then--

H: And it just goes off and ends up somewhere.

J: Yes, it goes on, and we get another one going, and we're counting out, so we fill the balloons with helium.

H: Yeah.

J: So we're counting on the fact that the pressure change between the outside and the inside, it explodes.  That's how it comes back to us, under a parachute.

H: It explodes?

J: Yeah.  I mean, that's the best--

H: Intentionally, or it just happens?

J: It just happens, but to some extent, it is intentional.  I mean, we plan--

H: Yeah, yeah.

J: Like, okay, we're gonna put this much helium in and--

H: But you don't have a button you push that's like, boop.

J: No, but we could also do that.

H: Oh, you have one of those?

 (08:00) to (10:00)

J: We have cut down systems, in case we wanna terminate early.

H: Oh, so it just drops off the balloon?

J: Yes.

H: Doesn't pop it?

J: No.  You could.  I mean, now you've just given all (?~8:18) a good idea.

H: Well, I mean, nobody's up there to see it, like, it's--

J: We have cameras.

H: Okay, people are up there to see it.

J: Yes.

H: Okay, good.

J: That's the goal.

H: So wait, can I actually go on a balloon launch?

J: You could.

H: How does this work?

J: There's a couple different types that we have.

H: Right.

J: So we have a basic weather balloon launch, and it's the same system that the weather service launches every day.

H: So the weather service launches a balloon every day?

J: They do, at 92 sites around the country.

H: Why don't you--I'm sorry, I'm interrupting.

J: No, that's okay.

H: 92 sites, a balloon goes up every day?  

J: Around the c--twice a day.  Well, just in the US.

H: Wow.  Why don't we use--

J: Around the world they do--

H: Why don't we use hydrogen?  Like, there's infinite hydrogen.

J: We do.

H: Okay.  

J: I know some sites use helium, but most of the weather service uses hydrogen.

H: Okay.  Good.

J: For us, it's a safety issue, 'cause we have students.

H: Okay, you don't wanna blow 'em up.

J: We don't--and we move, yeah, we move--we have mobile stations.

H: Right.

J: So the weather service, they're in place, they have a strict safety protocols, be a little bit more challenging.

H: I was a little worried--I mean, this isn't, there's not like an infinite amount of helium on the Earth.

J: There's not.  We've talked a lot about integrating hydrogen and how to do that safely.

H: Okay.  Sorry, I interrupted you.  You were talking about there's more than 92 weather balloons going up every day.  

J: Yes, all around the world, I mean, the stations, I mean, they're--it's in the thousands.  

H: Okay.

J: They launch twice a day at the same time everyday, so it's zulu time, zero z and twelve z, around the world.  So for Missola, that's about 6am and 6pm.

H: Well, that's convenient.

J: Yes.  Works great.

H: At least it's during the times when people are awake.

J: Yes.  

H: And it's the same payload goes up every time that the balloon has to get switched out?  

J: Um, the payload is not recovered.

H: Oh, okay.

J: And you'll hear ranchers talk about it in Montana.  Where they'll say, oh, I found a weather service balloon and it still has a sensor, and then they can send it back and they'll recondition it and use it.

H: Oh, okay, but mostly it just drops and you've got the data being beamed back and it just like, this thing drops onto a cow and that's fine?

J: Yes, in real time.  Yes, exactly.  It's only 90 grams.  

 (10:00) to (12:00)

H: But it's--and it's got a parachute.

J: It has a parachute, yeah.

H: So it's not gonna kill anybody.

J: Right.  That's the--

H: I mean, like a 90 gram thing falling out of the sky could hurt.  

J: It could, it could.

H: But with a parachute, it doesn't.  

J: Yeah.

H: Okay, so you don't recover the payload?

J: Typically, no.  And that's something that's actually super interesting, 'cause we've talked about ways--how could we not litter the Earth with a bunch of sensors.

H: Well, I mean, I'm not worr--I'm not super worried about the littering so much as like, if you've got a parachute, like, theoretically, this thing is gonna work again.

J: Yes, it can.

H: But it's landing, but you can't control where it's gonna land.

J: No, we can guess, a little bit.  More than a guess, we have--we run their models--

H: Does it have a little GPS thing on it?

J: It does.  

H: Well then, you don't have to guess.

J: We track as best we can.

H: Yeah.

J: But we also can run weather models and trajectories of where we think it's gonna land.

H: But, you know, America's a big place.  

J: It is.

H: It has a lot of land and you can't drive to all of it.

J: Well, that's okay, too.  We can hike.  But it's a cost.  

H: You guys, yeah, you don't look necessarily like you're frustrated by the idea of a good hike.

J: I am not.  Well, in our--we also launch these large balloons.  So that's the other thing.  

H: Yeah.

J: And they're big.  They're 2,000 gram balloons.

H: Okay.

J: Or 3,000 gram balloons.  On the surface, they're--

H: Now is that the whole thing or is that the payload?

J: That's the weight of the balloon.  That's not even the payload.  

H: Oh, okay.  

J: We can launch up to 12 lbs legally in the US, with some caveats to that for the time being, and they're about 10 feet in diameter on the ground, and we fill them.

H: Okay.

J: And those we do chase and recover.

H: Right.

J: 'Cause they tend to have more expensive equipment on them.

H: Right, okay.  But the balloon itself pops every time?

J: Pops every time.

H: Okay.

J: But we--it's usually still attached unless we cut it away, so we bring that back to show people.

H: So why is this a good time to do atmospheric study?

J: During the eclipse itself, the change in energy between when we have light and darkness is three times faster than what we get between night and day.

H: Right.

J: 'Cause the sun sets a little bit so, and there are some really interesting atmospheric phenomena that we might see like change in winds, how much of a temperature change will we get, there's some--there's these bouyancy waves.  

 (12:00) to (14:00)

So when the winds change, and then we start to get the sun uncovered again, it's gonna just, it's like ripples on water in the atmosphere, and we're gonna see if we can pick some of those up, and the animals.  We're--I've heard that the animals are gonna just--they don't know what to do.

H: Like, like, like, peo--they're like, what, no, it's daytime.  Why did we get--why did--yeah, that's freaking me out, yeah.

J: They just--what just happened?  Yeah, that happened really fast!  

H: And so what, what else are you doing to study this eclipse?  You've been thinking about it for years.

J: Yes, one of the big pieces of this project are balloons that are streaming live video. 

H: Oh, okay.

J: And no one's done that yet.

H: How many of them--

J: There are about 50.

H: Oh wow.

J: And they're the big ones.

H: Yeah.  

J: And they'll be streamed live to the NASA website.

H: Cool.  

J: Yes.

H: So like, watching the shadow happen.

J: And that's a big engineering feat, actually, to get that done, and students are doing it.  They're building the payloads, they design the software.

H: Are you trying to like, be able to stream the whole thing across America?

J: Yes, yes.  From Oregon to South Carolina.

H: Nice.  

J: Even um, I hear that maybe the coast guard might have a balloon team on a boat in both Oregon and South Carolina.  

H: So we'll get it as it goes off.

J: So we'll go a little further, yeah.

H: Nice.  This is a pretty great one.  Like, it goes across the whole country.

J: It does.

H: And it's during the day.  It's like, pretty perfect.

J: It is.

H: And that does not happen that often.

J: No.

H: If I'm not able to get into the path of totality, I'm gonna regret it for a long time.

J: Yes.

H: But I am--I have a baby and I don't know how he's gonna think about--like, get in the car now!  Let's drive to Idaho!  

J: Give him your arm, let's go.  There's another one coming.

H: Okay.

J: In 2024.

H: That's gonna do a similar path?

J: It's gonna go from South to North.

H: Okay.  

J: Through the US.

H: But it's gonna hit--it's gonna (?~13:49) right across the US then again?  

J: Yes, so--

H: It's not gonna hit Missoula, though?

J: No.  

H: 'Cause just tell me if there's one that I don't have to leave my house for.

J: There--we can look it up.  

H: Yeah, eventually that will happen.  

J: And it may--we'll see if you'll be alive.  

 (14:00) to (16:00)

H: That's good, yeah, thanks.  I appreciate, if you'll do that, we can put the information in the description.  Cool.  Is there anything else you're super excited about going on with the study?

J: Yeah, actually, it's the--part of this is just watching students.  We're gonna also have some K-12 students involved, and I think, it energizes all of us as scientists to see the awe and the wonder that come from everyone around us.  'Cause again, I think sometimes we get so into what we're doing that we forget about why we're doing this or some of the fundamentally, we just need to step back and go, ahh, this is so cool.  I almost some days can't believe I get to do this for a job.  I'm really hoping someone doesn't say anything, like, do you know what they're letting them do?  They play with balloons.  You're paying them to play with balloons.  I think this will really push some of the students forward, too, the ones we're working with directly.  I can see them just growing by leaps and bounds with everything they're learning, and that makes me really dedicated to doing this.

H: Yeah, I mean, when I was first sort of empowered in, when I was an undergrad, to like, when a teacher, professor said to me, like, so what should we do next, and I was like, I don't know.  That's--you tell me what to do.  That's how teaching works, right, tell me what to do, and they were like, and he was like, nope!  Come back tomorrow, tell me what we're doing.  Tell me what the research is next.

J: What.

H: So that was uh, it's that moment when you realize that science is a thing that people do and not something that just happens to people, and like, and that you get to be one of those people.

J: When I'm--what I really, really love about our programs, too, is that we don't have the answer.  We don't always know.  This isn't--it's not lab class.  So, if a student comes up with an idea, can we try attaching the payloads differently?  Can we try this different method to make them equilibriate a little bit?  I say, go for it, and maybe it doesn't work, and maybe we lose something, that's okay.  We learned, and let's just go get more pieces and rebuild it and we'll try again, and I think that's, what you're saying, it's that fundamental moment when you go, oh, you don't actually know the answer all the time?  

 (16:00) to (18:00)

No, we're--we do the best we can!

H: All these procedures were made by people and they are being refined all the time.

J: Yes.  

H: And uh, yeah, and they didn't exist 10 years ago and everything we do is new.

J: Well, even the same experiment.  I mean, if we look back, I've been working with balloons for 13 years, and even in the beginning, the technology has changed tremendously, so, I'm always game to try something new.  So if the students find a new piece of technology, let's throw it on and see what happens.

H: Cool.  How long are you guys gonna be out there?  Just one night, or?

J: Uh, no, we're gonna--so we'll stay from the 18th to August 22nd.

H: Okay.

J: Prepping and getting measurements, all the time.  

H: Nice.  Awesome, I wish I could be there.  

J: It's gonna be fun.

H: But I don't think my son would be down for it.

J: 2024.

H: Okay.  2024.  He'll be ready then.  That's a nice thought.  Alright, do you want to meet an animal of some kind?

J: Yes.

H: I don't know who's coming to see us.  


H: Hello.

Jessi: Hi.  

H: The magic of (?~17:16) magic.

JKC: I have an animal here.

H: Hello there.  

JKC: You've met Gaia before.

H: Yeah.

JKC: She is a Southern Three-Banded Armadillo, and I was just gonna say, you've been sitting with animals this whole time, this whole talk.

H: Yeah.  They've been hiding down here.

JKC: Yeah.  Yep, yep.  

H: The exotic mealworm.  Hello, you little guys!  Do you want to die today?  

JKC: They're blissfully unaware.  They're all like, going through a molt right now.  They're all--they're getting bigger.

H: Yeah, they're kind of hard.  They look like they're extra hard looking.  

JKC: Yeah, and there's some exoskeletons coming off.  

H: I know that we're not here to talk about mealworms, 'cause these are gonna be a beetle.  

JKC: Yes.

H: Would, would if they were not about to be eaten.

JKC: Yes, and if they don't use them all up in time, they will go through metamorphosis and turn into those--ooh, they look really cool, they're like, this white alien looking thing that's like, partial head developed and then like, body and they're--I don't know what it's called.

H: Of the--in its coccoon thing.  

JKC: Alien version.

H: Yeah, yeah.

JKC: Of mealworm beetles.  

H: Yeah, those things are super, super, like, the time I saw the rhinoceros version of that--

JKC: Really weird looking.  Yeeees. 

H: I was like, I need to go and never come back

 (18:00) to (20:00)

Like, I never wanna see that again.  It's like squirming--

JKC: Yes, yes.

H: And it's very strong, and I'm just like, no.  

JKC: Reminds me of like, like, what I thought when I was reading Harry Potter and like, Voldemort would be like, under the chairs.

H: So like that, but smaller than a rhinoceros beetle.

JKC: Yeah, yeah, yeah, about that big.  And then they turn into a black beetle after that, yeah.

H: So I'm down with beetles, I'm down with mealworms, but that in-between phase when it's like space alien death time, I don't like that.

JKC: Yes, yes.  

H: But maybe I'd get used to it.  

JKC: Hey, good time.

H: Hey Gaia.

JKC: For a--let her work it.  

H: I'm a big, you know that I'm a big fan of armadillos, right?  

JKC: I didn't.  

H: Oh.

JKC: But that's cool.

H: I grew up in Florida, where we have them.

JKC: Yeah.

H: And my first job out of college, I worked at a lab doing quality control for like, a fungicide company, and there was a family of armadillos that lived, like, outside whenever I was--'cause I was the only person who worked in the lab, so it was very boring.  They were like my only friends.  

JKC: Aww.  That's really cute, tha's really sweet.

H: And I'd go and hang out with them and then I'd get stung by wasps, and Florida is just--

JKC: Aw, yeah, yeah, wasps, wasps aren't your friends, but so did they have four babies?  Was there little quadruplets?

H: Uh, there were not.  I assume that something bad happened to two of them.

JKC: Yeah, okay, so there was only two of them.  So, Nine-Banded Armadillos are in Florida and they always have quadruplets.  This is a Three-Banded Armadillo, they're from South Central South America, and dry regions down there.

H: So, would you say South Central South America, so the Southern Central part of South America or?

JKC: Yeah, so South America's like, like a really strong, really elongated heart, and it's gonna be like, centrally, but like, little, not central central, it's gonna be a bit south there.  Yeah, and they live in, you know, they don't care about human boundaries, they live in a bunch of different areas, and they are, you know, they're near threatened, actually.  

 (20:00) to (22:00)

Due to habitat loss, a lot of their natural habitat is being converted to farmland, so these guys are struggling a little bit, and they're super easy to hunt because when--yeah, she could not be hungry, she's well fed.

H: Well, look at you go.

JKC: Look at that locomotion.  I love how they walk.

H: Yeah, on their like, fingernails.

JKC: Yes, yes.

H: Like a horse.

JKC: So their back feet are like, on their feet, and then their front feet, it's like, up on their front nail, and then they have a secondary nail right behind that.  Isn't that cool?


J: Is she sniff--is that a nose, sniffing down?

JKC: Yeah, yeah.  So, she, her little--and these guys are smart.  Some, some, I shouldn't say some.  These guys are able to understand edges.

H: Yeah, not gonna walk off the edge.  

JKC: And they will fall off the edge.  Some animals don't, but she does understand edges, so not super concerned, as long as she doesn't slip.

H: Does she swim, because somebody told me once that armadillos don't swim.

JKC: Ooh, good question.  So, these guys, I always ask them, they don't look like a good swimmer.

H: No.

JKC: They look like they would just sink, 'cause they're pretty heavy.  So, they can actually swim and--well, they can cross a river in two different ways.  First way would be what you would think: taking a big deep breath and then have a bunch of air inside and kinda create an air bubble and then they'll just wait out there and kind of float on the top and then they'll just, you know, doggy paddle, or armadillo paddle.  (?~21:24) Whatcha doing?

H: I don't know.  It's like, I'm thinking about jumping.  

JKC: So what are you--no jumping.  What do you think the other way of crossing a river would be?  

H: I--I--my guess would be walking across the bottom.

JKC: Yeah.  Yes, yeah!  So the other way, they'll exhale, get all the air out, and so they won't be buoyant at all, and they'll just walk along--they can hold their breath for six minutes, which is significant.

H: Even after exhaling all the air in their lungs.

JKC: Yes, exactly, yeah.  You can run around.  You can dig in the couch, if you want.  Just don't make holes.  (?~21:54)

H: It's okay.  I hate this couch so much.  If you could destroy this couch, that would be great, Gaia.  


J: You want me to move up so you can get--

H: Where are you going?

JKC: You need to get a new one, yeah.  She wants to just run around.  

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She is very active.  She has a really fun personality because she is so active and she's not scared of us, of humans.  So right now, she's like, let me down, I wanna run around.  

H: Weird beetle animal.  

JKC: She's like a roly poly. 

H: Yeah.

JKC: She has this really cool--

H: (?~22:20)

JKC: Yeah, so let's talk about the armor.  It's pretty cool.  It--so she has a backbone under there and ribs like we do, but then in the dermal layer of skin, she grows these bony structures, osteoderms, and they create this, these bands of um, of bony structure and then--

H: Yeah, kind of like scales on the back.

JKC: Yeah, so then it's covered by scutes, which these are, these scutes are--

H: Oh, okay.

JKC: --these scales made of keratin, same stuff that makes your fingernails, and then is connected by skin, so that they have some mobility, they can move a little bit here and there.

H: So there's--here, in betweeny.

JKC: You can feel it, yeah.

H: Those are still, it's still not soft.

JKC: It's tough, it's tough skin, yeah.  It feels like almost like callousy skin.  

J: Do they shed?

JKC: I'm not gonna put you in the--the--these scutes?  

J: Mhmm.

JKC: No, they don't.  It's more like a tortoiseshell.  It grows, some of it might get worn off, but it'll continue to grow.  You know, replace if she needs to.  You--are you super adventurous today?  Look at you go.  I always love her--hi.

H: Lifting your arm.

JKC: I love the back of her neck because it's so not like, pretty.

H: Yeah.  I'm worried about putting my finger in there, because she's gonna pull her head back and pinch my finger.

JKC: She might.  Exactly!  And that's--so that's what--so if a predator comes along, she just, she'll roll up into a ball, and um, in this armor, works really well, fits right in there.  

H: You are the best of all ball animals.  And the ears, like, they come out and they flap in.

JKC: But um, they tuck, I know, isn't that cool?  So their other defense is, I mean, they can roll completely into a ball and even like, like a dog's teeth can't get in there, but uh, sometimes they'll leave like a little crack right there, and if you stuck your finger in there, it would slam it shut and then she would take her little claws and like, dig it so you're stuck in there being scratched up.  

 (24:00) to (26:00)

H: Not gonna stick my finger in there.

JKC: Don't stick your finger in there.  You can run around.  There you go.  So, they're pretty cool.  A lot of people think that they look like prehistoric animals--you wanna go in there?  Prehistoric animals, and--

H: So they're burrowers, right?  They--

JKC: They're not (?~24:25), so that's like burrowing animals.  They don't create their own burrow, but they will steal like, a giant anteater's burrow if they come across, if they're lucky and they come across it.  Otherwise they'll just roll up like under a bush or something like that, yeah.  

H: So those nails are just for digging up food.

JKC: Yes, food.  They love termites and all kinds of insects.  They'll--they're omnivores, so they'll eat like, berries and some leaves and stuff like that if they come across it and other little, maybe a little mammal or a lizard or something like that if they can, like, catch it, but these guys do not have any front teeth.  They're kind of closely related but, distantly, their closest relatives are tree sloths and anteaters.  They're in this superorder (?~25:11) and it means 'strange joints' and so it's, so that's what sloths and anteaters have.  They have these really interesting joints in their backbone.  They have more movement but then also, like, fused pelvis area here, and they also don't have any front teeth, so and they have like, really rudimentary molars.  So these guys eat very similarly to anteaters where they will dig into a termite mound, then they will stick their nose in and then lick them up with their tongue, and they have like, they have a pretty significantly long tongue for their size.  Like, three inches, then they'll chew 'em with their back molars and that's, that's pretty much how they eat.  So--

H: Do you got any termites in there?  

JKC: Her favorite thing to do is go smell like, little cracks where all like, all the weird stuff has gone.  Bunch of different smells, so she'll just go in there and snuffle, snuffle, snuffle. 

 (26:00) to (28:00)

H: Why is Gaia so not afraid of you?  

JKC: Um, we got her when she was around a year-ish.  We don't really know how old she was, and we've been handling her a lot.  So what she's doing right now, we can talk about, what she's doing now, she's like, trying to get off her back to run around, so like, if a predator came along and she rolled up into a ball and then rolled around and she ended up on her back, she would, she would never get stuck on her back like a turtle or a tortoise would because she has those, that flexible skin, and so right now, when I'm holding her like this, she thinks she's on her back and she's like--

H: And she's like, gaaaaah.

JKC: Get off, get off, get off!  When I have other people hold her and present her in presentations, she pretty much stays rolled up in a ball the whole time, and she has a really excellent sense of smell and so she's known me since she's been about a year old and so she's much more comfortable with me, to the point where she's like, a little snarky with me.  

H: Yeah, like, Mom!  

JKC: I know, she's like, let me go!  I know I can run around!  You'll let me normally.

H: So it's not all humans?

JKC: It's not.  I mean, you can try and hold her.  I bet she's like, jazzed up enough that she'll stay with you.

H: Hey.  Hi there.  Hi.  You're cute.  You smell weird.

JKC: Doesn't she?  What do you think she smells like?  

H: I mean, skin, like old skin.  Like toes.  

J: Sounds awful.  

JKC: Old toe skin?

H: Old toe skin.

JKC: Okay, you know, some people have said feet.  Here, Jen, how about you try?  What do you think she smells like?  

J: Yeah!  I'm going for feet.  

JKC: Feet.

H: It's not like, it's not like just feet, it's like--

J: It's, I think a good--Yeah, it's a little--

JKC: Smell her head.

H: It's kinda sweet, but like, it's not pleasant.

J: It's almost like, um--

JKC: Does it seem enjoyable?

J: It's not really.  I'm gonna go it's not one of my favorites.  It kinda smells like rabbit food or something like that.

JKC: Okay.

 (28:00) to (30:00)

H: Oh yeah, it's kinda got a little of that like, grassy must, yeah.


JKC: Yeah.  I think she smells like browned butter on cooked corn.  

H: Sure.  I get the--I can get the browned butter.  Browned butter on stinky feet.  

JKC: Oh, yeah, yeah, sure, sure.  I think, so, some people can't smell her.  

H: The closer I get, the more there's sort of like a grassy corny smell

JKC: Okay, like, almost like, nutty, like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

H: But like, from farther away, it's just the more (?~28:31)

JKC: And if you--the closer you get to this end, it's more like ammonia-y, but up here, it's more like, yeah, the oill on her skin and it smells more, like--

H: Yeah.

JKC: Like a deeper mustier smell, yeah, yeah.  Some people say like, some--dog food or pee.  

H: Yeah, got a little dog food smell.

JKC: Feet, um, yeah, but some people can't even smell her, so I think, I think it's--

H: That's weird.

JKC: I like asking people what they think she smells like, 'cause it's cool.  Uhh, yeah.

H: That'd be good.  You should do a presentation where everybody writes down what they think.

JKC: Yeah.  Yep.  

H: And then you can compare.

JKC: And compare and see.

H: 'Cause as soon as you said, like, browned butter, I was like, oh yeah, I can see it.

JKC: And as soon as you said feet, she's like, feet, yeah.

J: Yeah.  

JKC: Yeah, yeah, I like that.

H: Oh my God, I love armadillos so much.  She's very cute.  

JKC: Oh, here, hold her some more.

H: You're very cute.  I like looking at you like this.  Aww, you closed your eyes.  

JKC: So um, you were asking earlier if that was her nose moving around, and yeah, her nose is constantly like, doing this little like, snuffly thing, but her mouth, it's really cool, her mouth goes like, all the way back to her eyes.  So when she eats something, she looks like a little, like, Pac-Man.

H: Oh yeah, so it gets real big.

JKC: Yeah, yeah, so there's like this--

H: I'm sorry.  

JKC: There she goes.  And just don't stick your fingers underneath her

H: Okay.  'Cause she will snap close on them.

JKC: She'll grab you with her claw and like, try to pull it in and close it.

H: Right.  She does not want me to play with her belly.

JKC: No.  No, that belly is super sensitive.

H: Yeah.  

JKC: Yeah, but you know, one of my friends that works at the zoo just trained their armadillo for--yeah, careful, she's gonna close on your leg.

H: Aah, aah, tickles.

 (30:00) to (32:00)

JKC: They just trained their armadillo for a voluntary ultrasound, which is totally like, presenting their belly, which, I think is really cool, yeah.  

H: Wait, what?  Ohhh, okay.  

JKC: Yeah.

H: Where you going?  Like, I wanna go this way.

JKC: She wants to run.  She's like super excited to run.

H: Yeah, please put me on the ground so I can run around.  

J: What's the size of their habitat in nature?  How much ground do they cover in a day?

JKC: Like their territory?  

J: Yeah.

JKC: They can smell termites three miles away, so they can travel that in a day, in a night, I should say, because they're nocturnal.  They have a terrible sense of sight, so they rely on their sense of smell and their, they're pretty good hearers, too.  

H: So just smell that termite mound and run.

JKC: Run!  Run, run, run, yeah, they can go pretty fast.

H: Ahh, you've got my pants.  

JKC: I've put her in, we take her outside and she runs around, but I've also had her in a gym before, and she just gets, when there's no terrain to climb over, she just gets booking and I have to run to keep up with her.  It's pretty cool.

H: Yeah, you're fast.  I'm sorry, I feel like this is mean.

JKC: Let me off my back.  Let me off my back.  I know.  I know.  She's like, I just wanna run around and play.

H: Yep, yep, that's what she was doing to me.

JKC: Yeah, I like their head plate, too. 

H: I know, it's such a good--

JKC: She is a right-tailed armadillo, because her tail goes to the right of her head, but there are armadillos that are left-tailed, but she doesn't go that way.  

H: Wouldn't ever do it, yeah, just doesn't--

JKC: I mean, it's not--it doesn't do it.

H: Weird.  That's kinda--

JKC: Oof.

H: Boing!  

JKC: Yeah, yeah, so when I first got to know armadillos, I was surprised.  I'm like, is that a female?

H: Right, no, it does look like a little penis.  

JKC: Yeah.

H: Yeah.

JKC: But it's not.  Nope.

H: It's something else.

JKC: Yep, it is.  Yeah, males are--it's very obvious.  They have actually the, one of the longest compared to body size of all mammals.  

H: Mhm.  

JKC: Yeah, it's huge, so it's really obvious.  So she's definitely a little girl, and she is about four years old.  This is as big as they get, and when they do give birth, they give birth to one baby, so Nine-Banded Armadillos have quadruplets every time, and then these guys have one little baby.  

 (32:00) to (34:00)

It's about that big, and looks just like a miniature version of her.

H: I um, it's getting more and more likely as I think about it that we're gonna do an episode on the largest penises in the animal kingdom.  Thanks, though.

JKC: Largest or longest?

H: I don't know.  You wanna do it by mass or by volume or by length, girth?  

JKC: I know, I know.  Yeah.

H: Well, I mean, you could do it any number of ways.  I have heard that barnacles have the longest, because their penis like, comes out of the shell and is like--'cause they don't move.

JKC: Oh!  Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.  Yep, yep, they have to like--

H: So instead of--

JKC: Hello!

H: --being like, come here, let's have--they're like, knock, knock, neighbor, hello, neighbors?  I want--what new tidbit do you have for me?

JKC: I mean, I want to really, really make sure that I study up on that before talk shows, because we always go that direction.

H: Well, I mean, it's the only reason any of us exist, including you, Gaia.

JKC: True, true.  Yes.  Yeah, hi.  

H: Some armadillos had to have sex or you wouldn't be here right now.  

JKC: Mhm.  You were the only child at that time.  

H: Who knows?

JKC: I have no idea, no idea, never met her parents.  I don't know.  I don't know.

H: Alright, Gaia, thank you for joining us. 

JKC: Yeah.  

H: If you wanna know more about what Jessi's up to, Jessi's got a YouTube channel at where you showcase all the cool stuff that you do at Animal Wonders.

JKC: Yeah.  

H: And also if you live in Montana, she can come and do presentations for stuff.

JKC: Check it out.  Yeah, we can come right to you.

H: Um, Jen, thank you.  Fascinating to hear about what's going on in near-space.  What did you call it?

J: Yeah, near-space.  That was good.

H: Yeah, I was right, woohoo.  

J: Yeah.

H: And really excited about the eclipse, which is coming up very soon.  Yeah, we're all very excited about it here at SciShow.  I hope I get out there, and I hope you do, too.  Thanks for listening.  Thanks for hanging out with us, and if you want more of this, go to

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