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Ben Fowlkes joins the Talk Show to talk about mixed martial arts and how it affects the brain and body. Then Jessi from Animal Wonders (https://www.youtube.com/user/Anmlwndrs) comes on with Pearl the Columbian Black and White Tegu.
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Hank: Hello and welcome to the SciShow Talk Show, the day on SciShow when we talk about stuff with cool people. Today we have a cool person. This is Ben Fowlkes from USA Today. Introduce yourself.

Ben: I'm Ben Fowlkes from USA Today Sports and mmajunkie.com. Hello.

Hank: He, uh, writes about sports, and particularly, uh, MMA fighting. What is that?

Ben: MMA fighting is basically where we lock two human beings, usually stripped to the waist, into a cage and they fight over a big pile of money.

Hank: That is a thing that we're still doing--

Ben: That's right.

Hank: --as a society. Oh yeah.

Ben: A thing that is flourishing, in fact.

Hank: [Laughs] So, um, I imagine that that takes something of a physical toll. I would not want that to happen to me. I've been punched in the head before, several times. Not fun. But I guess if you're doing it professionally, you figure out how to deal with it.

Ben: You do. Well, ideally you figure out how to deal with it. Uh, one of the things, though, that happens is that your idea of what's an acceptable level of physical punishment I think changes--

Hank: Yeah.

Ben: --over time. You know, for you or I, if we get punched in the head once or twice, we try and figure out how to have that not happen ever again, but when it happens just as a course of training, you know, just as part of your job, uh, you don't think of it the same way anymore. Uh, and that's one of the things that, uh, when most of the mixed martial arts fighters suffer the most damage is in training for a fight, not even the fight itself.

Hank: So you recently wrote an article, uh, about the, uh, particularly the brain injuries that are happening obviously in fighting in general and in MMA specifically. Can we talk a little bit about that? Because obviously this is also a huge discussion that's happening around American football right now.

Ben: Right. Yeah, and it's basically the same kind of issue and the same concerns that's happening with American football, where the NFL recently settled a lawsuit with a lot of former players. Uh, the big concern now is CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, and it's one of those things where it's tough to work with because you can't tell for sure that somebody has it until you cut their brain open after they're dead and look in it and look for the tau proteins which form that are kind of the telltale sign. You can look and see some symptoms from some people, and the symptoms are pretty wide-ranging. I mean, erratic behavior, personality changes.

Hank: Mhm. Difficult things to actually measure.

Ben: Right, well, and some of them are a little more easily measured, and things that we've recognized for a while. I mean, since the 1920s people have been talking about fighters being punch drunk. Pugilistica dementia is what they used to call it. And you know, that thing that you can hear in the speech of older fighters, especially boxers who have been at it for a long time. They slur their words. They sound like they're drunk. That is one of the things that we're coming to think of as signs of early onset CTE. But the real dangerous thing about is that we don't know why some people get it and some don't. There's no, like, you can be hit in the head this many times and before that you're safe and after that you're not. And sometimes it takes decades after the last exposure before it sets in.
Hank: Right, I mean, as with anything in the human body and human health, you push yourself, it's a bell curve. It's not a certain number of concussions. It's very difficult to measure--

Ben: Right.

Hank: --exactly what a concussion even is.

Ben: Well and now they're finding that it's not just concussions. It's subconcussive blows, the kinds of little shots that you might not think too much about, uh, especially if suffered in training. And those just kind of pile up on you, I mean, especially if you're playing football, or if you're fighting, you know. You have to spar. You have to mimic the conditions of the fight, and you're going to take some damage in that way. And we just don't know, you know, what is too much and what you'll have to pay for down the line.

Hank: So do you think this is going to be a problem for MMA fighting and American football down the line, or is there, like, an end date to this kind of activity? Or will it just continue and people will take the risks?

Ben: I think all of that. I mean, I think it will continue and people will take the risks, but I do think it will be a problem. One of the things that is happening now especially in MMA and boxing is at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, uh, there's been for the last three years kind of a wide-ranging study on pro fighters. Boxers and MMA fighters. Slightly more MMA fighters than boxers. I think they have about 400 fighters right now--

Hank: Wow!

Ben: --signed up for the study, and they, you know, every time they seem them kind of measure their changes in everything from speech to balance to... They do MRIs, and that's one of the ways that they get fighters involved is, fighters, as a condition of licensing have to undergo periodic MRIs and usually have to pay for it out of their own pocket, but this program says, "We'll give you a free MRI if you enroll in the study." And lots of fighters have. The UFC, the major MMA organization, has really encouraged its fighters to participate. And so they're learning things already, you know, a few years into the study, about what fighting does to your brain, and one of the things that they've learned is that it seems like there's a correlation between fighting for a living and lower brain volumes, especially in certain areas of the brain.

Hank: So that's a consequence of getting your head beat a lot.

Ben: They think so. I mean, one of the early things that they think that they've located is that the more fights you have, the more professional fights you have on your record, the lower your brain volumes are likely to be.

Hank: Wow.

Ben: It tends to be a little lower in boxers just because the nature of that sport, they take more-- The sheer number of head blows they take is more. If you get knocked down in a boxing match they'll count to ten and see if you can get up.

Hank: Mhm.

Ben: That gives you a chance to absorb more punishment, whereas in a mixed martial arts fight, if you get knocked down, the guy's probably going to follow you down and try and finish you off, so you don't take as much sheer damage. But, I mean, it's happening for both MMA fighters and boxers. That, you know, kind of confirms what we long suspected: getting hit in the head over and over again as a condition of your employment probably isn't good for your brain.

Hank: [Laughs]. Uh, I think that's a great ending to that particular conversation.

Ben: [Laughs].

Hank: Um, so now, I don't know if you know about this. Jessi from Animal Wonders is here. She's going to be bringing us a bit of a fighter, so let's just cut straight to that.

Hank: Just like with fighting, it's good to wear gloves for protection because you don't want to break your hands when the giant lizard bites you.

Jessi: [Laughs].

Hank: What is this?

Jessi: This is a tegu, and it's in the monitor family. And she's a special kind of tegu; she's a golden tegu, or a Columbian black and white tegu.

Hank: Oh, she's beautiful. That is a big lizard you got there.

Jessi: Yeah, yeah. And she is a fighter! I'm glad that you mentioned that. She is a fighter. Um, what she's going to do is she's going to, you know, prowl the Columbian, the area down there where it's kind of, uh, marshlands. There's some trees, and there's marshlands, and there's streams, and that's where you're going to find her. Um, but she's going to look for live prey, and she's going to grab it. It's so fun to watch her eat because she'll grab it and she'll shake it--

Hank: Mhm.

Jessi: --like a dog.

Hank: Break all of its little bones.

Jessi: Yeah, yeah. And so I wonder what that's doing to her brain.

Hank: [Laughs].

Ben: I would imagine her brain's probably built for it.
Jessi: I--yeah, like woodpeckers.

Hank: Woodpeckers, I can't imagine.

Jessi: It's amazing. Yeah, so she does that and then she also does something else really neat. So, um, she has--have you heard of the Komodo dragon?

Hank: Yes, of course.

Jessi: So, they originally thought they were venomous, and then they said, "No they're not venomous, it's just really nasty saliva."

Hank: Mhm.

Jessi: And now they've gone back to, "They do have venom in there."

Hank: Yes.

Jessi: Yes. So she does not have venom in her mouth, but she has that really nasty saliva in there. So she will eat some carrion, some dead things, and get some pretty nasty bacteria in there. So if she can't wrestle it down, she'll just bite it and let it go--

Hank: And then--

Jessi: --and it'll get this horrible--

Hank: --just infected.

Jessi: --infection, and then she will track it, day after day after day until it finally dies. And then she'll eat it!

Hank: Oh, good job!

Jessi: Yeah, good work.

Hank: So she's a rodent eater?

Jessi: Pretty much anything.

Hank: Anything.

Jessi: Anything that she can get.

Hank: Anything fleshy.

Jessi: Yeah. Rodents she'll eat, other-- She'll eat snakes sometimes. She'll eat eggs. She'll eat birds. She'll eat a frog. She'll eat, yeah, anything that she really-- Mainly it's going to be rodents though. She will eat an occasional-- She's an omnivore, kind of.

Hank: Okay.

Jessi: Mostly carnivore, but she does dabble into the fruits and vegetables every once in a while, when she feels like it.

Hank: Adds a little spice to life.

Jessi: Now, would you like to hold her? You have your equipment on.

Hank: Yes. That's part of my entire goal today.

Jessi: Okay, so you want to make sure that you get your finger right behind her neck, so slide your hand under mine.

Hank: Okay. Oh, you're strong.

Jessi: There you go, and get her foot out like that. And now the other hand has to hold her tail.

Hank: Okay. Down here.

Jessi: The base of her tail, yeah. Here, we'll grab the base right here. Right here.

Hank: Oh, oh, right here. Base of her tail.

Jessi: There you go. Squeeze tight.

Hank: Okay.

Jessi: Not too hard.

Hank: Okay. Got your tongue out!

Jessi: Yeah, she's a really-- She's a powerful animal.

Hank: Yeah. It's like all muscle in the middle there.

Jessi: Yeah! Yeah, very powerful. Um, she has good speed. Her legs are out to the side, so she can run like this. Her legs aren't under her, so she's not as fast of a runner, but she can turn corners pretty swiftly. Um, this tail is going to help her balance while she's climbing a tree.

Hank: Oh, she's a climber.

Jessi: Sometimes.

Hank: I guess I could have called that.

Jessi: But she also swims. So she'll tuck her legs against her and do this little swim like an alligator does.

Hank: Her hands look like hands. They just look like little human hands.

Jessi: But look at her back feet.

Hank: [Gasps]. That's not what human hands look like. That's like alien hands.

Jessi: Isn't that neat? And that's going to aid her in climbing trees and getting her grip over rocks. And the last thing she's going to use that tail for-- Here, hold her up there and see that tail. This tail, also when she gets really upset about something, she can use it to whip you.

Hank: I believe it.

Jessi: Did it get you?

Hank: No, it just looks substantial.

Jessi: Yeah, it can cause welts.

Hank: She's cold. I can feel her through the gloves.

Jessi: Yeah, she is cold. Well it's negative five degrees outside right now. [Laughs].

Hank: I did notice that. [Laughs].

Jessi: Just a little cold. But she's not that cold.
Hank: No.

Jessi: If she were to get that cold she wouldn't make it.
Hank: No.

Jessi: She wouldn't be able to live. She's actually the temperature of the air around us right now, which is about 68 degrees right now.

Hank: Mhm. But she's South American, so she might be a little warmer than that usually?

Jessi: Yes, she likes to be about 85 degrees.

Hank: Okay. So today is a cold day.

Jessi: Yeah, it's cold, so we're not going to feed her today.

Hank: Oh, okay.

Jessi: If we fed her it would just sit in her gut and she wouldn't be able to digest it. They have to warm up to be able to get their body working right.

Hank: Yeah. Okay, you get to take her back now.

Jessi: Okay.

Hank: We're going to try and not have her freak out or bite anybody.

Jessi: Yeah, no biting.

Hank: Oh, you've been very-- You're very well behaved.

Jessi: You want to take your gloves off and feel her?

Hank: Sure. Not the head area?

Jessi: Not the head area.

Hank: Oh, oh you've got to touch this thing.

Ben: [Laughs]. Oh, okay.

Jessi: [Laughs] She's not a thing!

Hank: [Laughs] Sorry! You've got to touch this girl. Yeah. Oh wow, that is such a-- And then-- It's soft, but then when she flexes her-- Everything gets hard.

Jessi: Yeah, and then if you feel down her belly it gets kind of soft there, but she can flex it and it'll get harder.

Hank: Her eyes are closed.

Jessi: Oh, are you taking a little nap?

Hank: [Laughs]. Well, Pearl, you were very well behaved. You didn't poop on us. You didn't bite us. You didn't hiss at us.

Jessi: She is great!

Hank: This is impressive!

Jessi: She did great.

Hank: I don't believe you're a fighter at all. I'm not going to get close though.

Jessi: [Laughs].

Hank: Jessi, thanks for bringing her in, and Ben, thanks for sharing your knowledge and insights--

Ben: Thank you.

Hank: --on the science of getting hit in the head.

Ben: [Laughs]. My pleasure.

Jessi: [Laughs]. I've only been hit in the head once.

Hank: Was it by a human?

Jessi: It was by--yeah, we were backyard boxing. Not the smartest thing to do.

Hank: You've never been hit in the head by an animal? I can't believe that. Something must have kicked you in the head.

Jessi: Kicked me in the head? [Laughs].

Hank: [Laughs]. In that case...

Jessi: Nothing's kicked me in the head. A horse has hit me in the head a couple times.

Hank: With a head?

Jessi: Yeah, headbutt. Yeah. That's not very comfortable. The boxing glove hurt worse.

Hank: Oh, with like actual...?

Jessi: Well because it was in my face. Yeah.

Ben: But if you only got hit once, you must have done pretty well, right?

Jessi: I got them a couple times, yeah. [Laughs].

Ben: That's not bad!

Hank: Thanks for watching this episode of the SciShow Talk Show, and of course always thanks to Jessi from Animal Wonders and our special guest Ben. If you want to check out Jessi from Animal Wonders, there's a link in the description, and don't forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe.