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Welcome back to SciShow Talk Show where Hank talks with interesting people about interesting things! In this episode Hank talks with Olivia Gordon of the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium.

Hosted by: Hank Green
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Hank: Hello, and welcome to SciShow Talk Show, our first ever SciShow Talk Show on location somewhere. This is the day where we talk to interesting people about interesting things. We're at The Missoula Insectarium right now. Did I call it the right name?

Olivia: You called it the right name.

H: This is Olivia Gordon. Did I call you the right name?

O: You called me the right name, too.

H: Oh, excellent news!

O: Welcome.

H: Thanks. First: what is here? Where are we? What is this?

O: We are at the Missoula Insectarium, it's an educational space to learn about arthropods, just informing the public about all the important things that they do. 

H: I just feel that we could talk about bugs all day and that's probably what we're gonna do. 

O: I hope so.

H: But how did you get here? Are you just a bug enthusiast, a human who loves bugs?

O: Well, I do, I love bugs, I am a human who loves bugs. Although I've never really studied entomology, it's been kinda like a set of strange series of events to get me here. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an entomologist, but I have a lot of other interests.

H: But then, yeah, somebody was like "You can never do that. Get a real job, kid, become an accountant!"

O: Yeah, right! Like I said I have a lot of other interests. I like plants and botany, and cultivating them, and all sorts of things. So I ended up getting a degree in Sustainable Agriculture which was my way of incorporating all of those interests into like one cohesive thing. 

So I studied entomology through an agricultural lens, more or less, beneficial pest control...

H: Which is a lot of how entomology is studied. That's like one of the major economic reasons we look into bugs.

O: Exactly. So after I got this degree and graduated, I ended up applying for an internship at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum, in their insect zoo and butterfly pavilion, and did not ever think I'd get this internship, as I said, I'd never taken an entomology class before. 

But I have a lot of animal husbandry experience, which I guess was appealing to them. So, I got this internship. Went and worked in their containment lab for a while, and then this job popped up. And...

H: You're like "Hey! I've worked for the Smithsonian!"

O: Let's go to Missoula!

H: Now who are you?

O: So now I am the Live Collections Manager here at The Insectarium.

H: And you take care of all the live things.

O: I do, yeah, I keep our live collection healthy and sustain the populations.

H: That's... is it stressful sometimes? Are you like "Oh, the giant bird-eating tarantula's sick!"?

O: Yeah, and that happened, actually. A few months ago. Yeah, she... we were taking her back and forth between the classroom space and the lab, which, I think it was just a humidity change, and her exoskeleton started cracking. 

So, arthropods, they all have exoskeletons, and they have open circulatory systems, so if those exoskeletons crack, they basically will die. They have nothing, they're basically run on hydraulics.

So, she, her exoskeleton cracked, and was, she was all curled up, you know when spiders die, how they curl up? So, essentially that's what's happening, they're losing all of that pressure, so we had to glue her exoskeleton back together and coat her in Vaseline, and it's taken a few months. 

She just ate for the first time since June, last week, so she's, I think, fully recovered from that ordeal. But, yeah, it can be really stressful and, you know, I get attached to these animals for one reason or another. 

H: Do you have a lot of spider dreams?

O: I do.

H: All positive?

O: No complaints in there. 

Both laugh.


H: So the people who don't, haven't been watching SciShow, for the last three years, when we first started doing this, we had a series called 'Stump Hank', where people would try to make me not know things or try to uncover things I didn't know which is, of course, impossible 'cause I know everything. But I've heard that you want to try to Stump Hank. 

O: Sure, yeah, I do! Mostly because there are a couple animals I really want to talk about.

H: OK.

O: I think this'll be a good segue. So I have here...

H: ...some weird balls...

O: ...five seeds. However, two of them are eggs that are mimic seeds. And I'm curious if you can determine which two are the eggs.

H: There's five things here?

O: There are five things there.

H: They are very small.

O: They are very small.

H: OK, what is an egg and what is a seed? Wow, I have no idea. It's gonna... So that feels to me like it's definitely a seed. So, yeah, that, this is 

I didn't even know that this is a thing. So I'm clearly... I always know everything

but I didn't even know that bugs did this, they fake-seeded with their eggs.

O: They do.

H: Oh. I'm just gonna guess: this one, and this one.

O: Alright, so you got one of them right

H: OK, good.

O: So this, and then this is actually the other one. 

H: These look very similar.

O: They do.

H: But I recognize, I feel like I've seen this seed before.

O: That's a beet seed.

H: A beet seed?

O: Uh-huh.

H: I have seen that somewhere before because I have planted beets.

O: So we'll start with these 'cause these both have really incredible mimicry.


H: So...this...

O: So this egg...

H: Oh, you have the animal that laid this egg.

O: I do have the animal that laid this egg.

H: Hi, leaf!

O: Yeah, this is called a Phyllium and it's a leaf-mimicking insect and it just wants to climb.

H: Yeah.

H: Let me see. Hello, hello. Oh, you're very light!

O: Mm-hm.

H: You're so big! Are you full of hair?! You are full of hair. Oh those are wings that are laying on top of the leaf-like thing.

O: They are. So both males and females of this genus have wings but the females have too much mass to be able to fly. A male--

H: This is a female?

O: Yeah, this is a female. The males can fly pretty well, which is why I don't have one of them out here.

H: Right, right, yes. That is a leaf. I mean, it looks know, it's moving obviously. Lots of these parts look more like bug, but this, the butt, with the, like, it's like drying out?

O: Mm-hm

H: ...and dying a little bit?

O: Yup.

H: That is amazing. And which one of these eggs is this?

O: It's this one here.

H: I mean, that egg looks like a seed.

O: It does.

H: There is no way for me to tell without breaking it open.

O: Well let's see what's inside.

H: Is that a live...a live seed? A live egg that might become one of this someday?

O: Yeah, hopefully it will.

H: So you do a lot of that? You do a lot of creation of next generation?

O: Yes.

H: 'Cause bugs don't live very long.

O: They don't, no, and we like to try to have examples of different life phases for educational purposes. So yeah, a lot of what I do back in our containment lab is breed and rear.

When they first hatch, they're brown. And so that way they move amongst the forest terrain and that sort of thing. Until they get up into the trees, and once they start feeding then they turn green.

H: Hmm. So you're a leaf eater as well as a leaf be-er.

O: Indeed. And I have seen these guys fool each other, where they'll--

H: Try to eat each other?

O: Try to eat each other.

[Both laugh.]

H: I don't know, I wouldn't expect a bug to be able to tell the difference. I, I, yeah.

O: Right?

H: Well, I was properly stumped.

O: Well, okay so...

H: Do you have the second seed here?

O: I do, I have the second seed. And that one is really cool.

H: What...what is that?

O: So, it's from this other phasmid. This is called Extatosoma tiaratum. So these guys take advantage of a really cool process called myrmecochory, which is seed dispersal by ants.

H: Oh!

O: And so what they do is they'll - from up in the tree - you can see it's a camouflage to look like tree bark, that sort of thing. So it'll flick that egg down into the forest floor.

And it's got can see on one end this little white spot, which is a mimic elaiosome. And an elaiosome is a protein-rich structure that attaches some seeds to a pod, and it's the favorite food source of the ant genus Leptomyrmex.

And so what they'll do, these ants, is they'll come and they'll collect these eggs and they'll take them back into their burrow. And they'll eat's called a capitulum, but it's a mimic elaiosome. And--

H: So that actually has food on it?

O: It actually has...yeah, they provide a little bit of food for this ant.

H: Okay, and then what happens is that the bug hatches and then it eats all the ants and's give and take, no?

O: No.

H: Okay.

O: Not exactly, but they do benefit a lot from this. So, the ant will take that down, eat the elaiosome, or the capitulum, and then discard it into their waste bin. But that's the perfect temperature and humidity to incubate the egg.

H: That's like a nice little incubator.

O: And so when they hatch, they're mimic Leptomyrmex ants. You can see that in this form.

H: Oh, so they look like ants.

O: That one's a little different. So this one has a red head...

H: Oh, my God.

O: ...and a black body. And they'll curl their abdomen up over their body to look more like an ant. And that allows them to be able to roam around the ant colony until they can find a way to get out. And as soon as they do and climb up into a tree, their color will change to start looking more like tree bark. 

H: And then after a very long time, I imagine, they get that big.

O: Yes, yes, after a long time.

H: What do they have to eat to make themselves so big?

O: So in the wild, they eat eucalyptus, primarily.

H: Oh, okay.

O: Here, I feed them raspberry.

[Both laugh.]

H: That's your favorite?

O: Easier to come across here in Montana.

H: Right, right. Well I feel like also, a completely different food.

O: Mm-hm.

H: Just nothing similar about a eucalyptus leaf and a raspberry.

O: No.

H: Eucalyptus is a very, very poor source of nutrients. 

O: That's true.

H: And raspberries are just packed with sugar. But if it works, it works.

O: It does. They seem to be content.

H: Um...can I hold this so I can see how heavy it is?

O: Yeah, definitely.

H: 'Cause it looks much heavier.

O: So, um...

H: It's more dense.

O: So they don't have any true defenses. But they're amazing mimics. So you'll see--

H: They look like just a big pile of bird food, is what that looks like. 

O: Mm-hm. But you'll notice when it starts feeling uncomfortable, it curls its abdomen back over its body and it mimics a scorpion.

H: Mm-hm. It does look a little like a scorpion, that made me a little nervous.

O: And if you make it really mad, it'll even lift these two front legs up, so it looks like it has pincers.

H: Like it has little claw things?

O: Mm-hm.

H: Aw, I'm sorry that I made you uncomfortable so that now you have...feel like you have to be a scorpion. All your...all your genetic ancestors are chowing on eucalyptus leaves trying to make a living, but you can just...someone just puts a raspberry in your cage every day. How many raspberries?

O: Well, so it's the...the leaves of the raspberry.

H: Oh!

O: It's not actually eating the raspberry. I didn't realize that's what you were saying.

H: Why didn't you correct me on that like a thousand years ago?!

O: No, no. I cut the raspberries off. 

H: Okay.

O: Before the leaves.

H: Do you, are you gonna try and stump me again?

O: Uh, I think I already successfully stumped you.

[Both laugh.]

H: I should've just picked the two biggest ones, 'cause they're the two biggest ones. I thought for a second that this was a bug, 'cause it looks a little like a bug.

O: It does, it's misleading. Yeah and I wish I had a seed with an elaiosome, but unfortunately I don't.

H: Yeah, that' this might hatch, and become a bug?

O: Yeah, mm-hm. Hopefully.

H: What is a bug?

O: A bug, that's a good question. So there is an order of true bugs. We refer to bugs mostly as terrestrial arthropods. Any terrestrial arthropod. So we don't really call like a lobster a bug. But we'll call and isopod, a pill bug, or roly-poly, a bug, and they're both crustaceans. 

H: Mm-hm. Got it. I feel that definition and I like it a lot.

O: Okay.

H: A terrestrial arthropod.

O: Yes.

H: Okay. Good, but you might not have--do you have more insects to show--I just want to see all of the bugs.

O: Yeah, you wanna hang out with some bugs?

H: I feel like we can do this for days. Uh, wh--so, I see a giant cockroach looking things, I see a big--do you have any big spiders in here?

O: In here?

H: No, you don't have any big spiders.

O: In here? No. Should I go get one?

H: 'Cause that's too... (Laughs) I like her! No, let's look at this giant myriapod.

O: Yeah. There you go. So this is a giant African millipede, it's the biggest millipede species in the world.

H: It's big.

O: It is big.

H: Are millipedes ever dangerous?

O: So, some of them can excrete cyanide.

H: So you wouldn't want to lick your hands afterward.

O: Which, like, if you rubbed your eyes or something...this species can--all of them can excrete some sort of chemical defense.

H: That's their, that's their, that's their strategy.

O: Mmhmm, exactly. But for the most part, they just curl up, and that's because if you feel it, it's got a really hard exoskeleton.

H: Oh, wow, yeah, that feels like a pen, like a big pen.

O: But the only place that it's vulnerable is here, under its legs is where its spiracles are, which is where it breathes through, so essentially what it's doing when it curls up is its protecting the vulnerable place in its exoskeleton.

H: Show the camera this beautiful spiral. That is so... Have you counted the legs?

O: I haven't, not on this particular individual. No. They can--

H: But apparently you have counted--

O: Up to 750 legs.

H: Oh, God! You're so close to 1,000. That's a bummer. We--well, you have to selectively breed them. Breed the ones with the most legs so that eventually we can get a millipede that has a million legs. Or a billion!

O: Unfortunately, that's not really how it works. They're all born with the same number of legs, and then every time they molt, they add on a new segment and therefore new sets of legs, so--

H: So you just have to keep it alive longer.

O: So you just have to keep it alive. So, milliard's have two sets of legs per body segment, whereas centipedes only have one.

H: Yeah, yeah, of course. I do. I've heard that your centipede is maybe the--THAT'S HEAVY.

O: Mmhmm.

H: You--ohhhhhhhHHHHH! It didn't like me!

O: So that's another defensive mechanism.

H: It didn't like me at all!

O: It'll poop on you.

H: And itself. Oh man.

O: Here, you wanna trade for a minute?

H: Yeah, okay, I'll have the napkin.

O: I'll take the poop.

H: Poop machine! That was a lot of poop, dude!

O: Yeah, that was impressive, I've never experienced that much of a spray before.

H: Interestingly, you know what that smells like?

O: What?

H: Poop.

O: Fascinating.

H: This is the best episode of SciShow Talk Show I've done.

O: Well, rude, I apologize.

H: It was like, it was because I said it was so heavy. It was like "Oh." A little self-conscious. Yeah, you did, you lost a lot of weight just then. Okay. Come back.

O: Alright, ready?

H: Alright. You're done now. You got nothing left. So that wasn't the actual chemical defense, that was just poop.

O: That was just poop.

H: Okay. One of the most dangerous animals you have in here is a myriapod.

O: It is. Yeah, so that's our giant desert centipede.

H: I didn't know centipedes could be dangerous. They're all around.

O: They are, and they're super, I mean, they're super aggressive predators.

H: Okay.

O: So...

H: Let's do this thing.

O: These guys are decomposers, they'll just eat leaf litter and--

H: Stuff that's already...

O: Stuff that's... You know, they're harmless, but--

H: Except for the poop.

O: --centipedes are active hunters. They have venom glands and fangs which are actually modified front legs, instead of a spider or something, that its fangs and venom comes from its mouthparts, these come from its legs, so it's like the worst hug you could ever get.

H: Okay. All of its legs?

O: Just the first two have venom, but they're all insanely strong and can--like, they can grab on with their back legs.

H: I feel like you're speaking from experience.

O: Luckily, no. Not yet.

H: Not yet?! It will happen.

O: It probably will happen.

H: He's very good at making my skin crawl. Not, like, in that way where you're like weauuughh, but just like, it's like being brushed with a feather constantly and consistently.

O: Yeah, they're (?~16:47), their legs are a lot stronger than you would imagine.

H: Yeah, every once in a while, it'll grab on. So, I feel like we're not creepy enough. Can we get creepier? Can we go creepier?

O: Sure.

H: Okay. Ohh!

O: Yeah.


O: Was that creepy?

H: That was an interesting feeling. It was like taking tape off.

O: Mmhmm, like Velcro sort of, yeah.

H: It was like if there was some scotch tape on me, where it's like rip! Wha! Neat. Huh! I love bugs. Okay.

O: Alright, so cree--what do you mean creepy?

H: She's like, nothing in this place is creepy. There are zero creepy bugs. 

O: So we just fed this wolf spider--

H: Oh, that's definitely creepy.

O: And it's still eating.

H: Oh, that's creepy.

O: If you're interested in that.

H: It's still eating? What is it eating?

O: It is. So you can see the cricket down there in its mouth.

H: Oh, is it just sucking the juices out?

O: Yeah, so spiders don't have chewing mouth parts, they have fangs with venom, and they use a method called exo digestion, so exo, on the outside, digestion. So essentially what they do when they eat is they'll envenomate their prey and then regurgitate digestive enzymes into the body of that prey and that liquefies the inside of their prey.

H: So you just can't move and your insides get digested.

O: Mhmm, yep.

H: Well, I'm glad I'm not a cricket. 

O: And then they get sucked right back up after they're liquefied.

H: I would say that this is a creepy animal. Yeah.

O: Okay. It is, yeah. So wolf spiders and salticids, which are jumping spiders, are the only spiders that have any eyesight really, or good eyesight at all, so they're active hunters. They'll actively seek out prey--

H: Like a wolf?

O: --whereas--like a wolf. Whereas other spiders rely on vibration or a web.

H: Good job to you, wolfy, hunting down that cricket that was just placed into your tank.

O: Indeed.

H: Oh gosh.

O: Alright.

H: Oh, God, there's so many things.

O: So many things.

H: This place is full of treasures.

O: I couldn't even decide what to bring out here. There's so many fun things. So these are blue death feigning beetles. They're native to the Southwest here, and their defense mechanism is to play dead.

H: It does a good job.

O: They do an excellent job.

H: Pick 'em up and they're like, huh!

O: Right, so, so if a bird or something, you know, comes along, they're not gonna want to eat something that's already dead.

H: Why not?

O: It's just not the way it works, fortunately for them.

H: Maybe it's already been digested.

O: They figured that out.

H: Oh man, yeah, those look dead. They stopped moving. So they're Southwest, sandy, desert things?

O: Desert animals, yes.

H: The sound they make on the table, it's like they're marbles, rocks.

O: Mhmm, yeah, so these are a kind of ironclad beetle, so they have incredibly strong exoskeletons.

H: Probably also helps when it comes to death feigning, because if somebody starts pecking at you, they're like, no. This isn't gonna work anyway.

O: So this blue color, their exoskeleton is actually black. You can rub this powder coating off.

H: And he's like, I'm gonna stop playing dead now, 'cause you keep touching me. So it's like some kind of palm...

O: So it actually acts as a sunscreen since they're out in the desert all the time.

H: Yeah, they just secrete that on to them--where does it come from? They have like a gland or is it just like all over?

O: It's just--yeah, it comes out, it's not a gland, they don't like, you know, rub it on themselves, it just is excreted directly through the exoskeleton.

H: I wouldn't expect that a beetle would need sunscreen, but there you have it. You just flicked it! You just flicked your own beetle! You're in charge of taking care of these things.

O: I am.

H: And now it's dead.

O: Yeah, they're both dead.

H: I like this defense mechanism better than the fountain of feces.

O: The pooping? Fair enough.

H: So much interesting stuff. I mean, if you are ever in Missoula, Montana, there's an insectarium here. I don't know that everybody knows that. Also, there might be an insectarium near where you live, if you live in a place.

O: True statement.

H: Not on the internet, which is where I actually live. And what a bunch of cool stuff. Thank you for sharing your things and your knowledge and your bugs. That was fascinating.

O: Thanks for coming in. I'm excited.

H: It was very nice to meet you.

O: You too.

H: Olivia Gordon, the live species--

O: Live Collections Manager.

H: Live Collections Manager at the Missoula Insectarium. Thank you for watching this episode of SciShow Talk Show where we talk about stuff. If you wanna learn more, watch more of these, you can go to and subscribe, and like the video. I never tell you to do that. So do that.