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Wherein Emily very nearly cries at least seven times.


The Brain Scoop is hosted and written by:
Emily Graslie

Executive Producer:
Hank Green (

Directed, Edited, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda (

You know who warms my heart? Martina Šafusová, Diana Raynes, Katerina Idrik, Hervé Saint Raymond, John-Alan Pascoe, Tony Chu, Seth Bergenholtz, and Barbara Velázquez. They took the time to transcribe and translate this episode for you. :D

Michael Aranda: This episode of The Brain Scoop is brought to you by a fantastically generous contribution from Heather Hsu.

(Brain Scoop intro plays)

Emily Graslie: The Chicago Field Museum is one of the largest and most respected natural history museums in the world.  Join me as we go behind the scenes!  Dun dun dun!

Bill Stanley: So we get our specimens from um, a variety of different places, uh, I spend several weeks out of the year in Eastern Africa living on rice and beans-

Emily: Wow.  Pfft, wow. 

Bill: -uh, collecting rats, and um, so these things come back here and uh, they're cleaned up.  

Bill: If I come back from Tanzania with a bunch of rats, I don't clean the rat, catalogue it, put it away, clean the rat, catalog it, put it away-

Emily: Yeah.

Bill: Everything comes in as a group, and it's cleaned together, identified together, and then processed as a unit, and that happens here.  In here, we have the field notes.

Emily: Wow.  How far do they go back?

Bill: I'll show you.  This actually was in 2002, this is when we surveyed Kilimanjaro, and so, for every rat that I collected, I measured it, figured out the reproductive information, the date, where we caught it, the locality.  This is an example of modern field notes, and we've got them from Madagascar, from the Philippines--

Emily: Wow.

Bill: From, uh, eastern Africa, but you asked how far they go back?

Emily: Mm-hmm.

(Bill takes a book off the shelf.)

Emily: What!

Bill: These are the original typewritten notes from--

Emily: What!

Bill: --Teddy Roosevelt's son, when they went to 

Emily: Oh my God!

Bill: These are the animals that are mounted in

Emily: What!

Bill: the hall downstairs, the Asian Hall of Mammals. Read that paragraph there, "the Roe live."

Emily: (reading) "The Roe live, through small - through - though in small numbers, even up in the high grassy hills of the Kargai Tash?
where there is no timber. We saw two while hunting there. As a rule we saw them either solitary or but two together. These small groups in general were a buck and a doe or two doe. We did not see two buck together."

Bill: So that ecological information is vital to people that are looking at the behavior of, uh, this particular species, uh, I mean, that's why these field notes are so valuable.

Emily: And- and this is from 1925? That's amazing, it's almost 100 years ago and we know what roe buck behavior was like. 

Bill: In fact, this is often the only place you can find out information about roe buck behavior.

Emily: Really?

Bill: It's certainly the only place it in 1925. Maybe they're acting differently now because of climate change, who knows?

Emily: Yeah, maybe they're having to band together.

Bill: Exactly.

Emily: That's incredible. And they just go back - what, what are your oldest ones?

Bill: So, to answer that question, uh, let me tell you that once - so those are the field notes, right?

Emily: Mm-hmm.

Bill: So those were recorded when we were in the field, but when the specimens came back here, then we catalogue them -

Emily: Wow.

Bill: -in the mammal division.

Emily: Yeah.

Bill: And the original catalogues are these ledgers. So

Emily: this is like catal- Wow.

Bill: This is the first ledger.

Emily: What?! Of the Field Museum.

Bill: What date is that?

Emily: October 31st, 1893.

Bill: What day is that?

Emily: That's Halloween.

Bill: Excellent.

Emily: And what is that? Ornithorhynchus?

Bill: Duck-billed platypus.

Emily: Duck-billed- What! That is the first one in the, in all of the Field Museum? Is a Platypus?! 

Bill: In mammals, yeah.

Emily: Are you serious?

Bill: I kid you not.

Emily: What?! What are people even doing with a platypus in this place-

Bill: So,

Emily: -at that time?

Bill: So, the reason that - there's two answers to that question. One is the-

Emily: Oh my god.

Bill: -the platypus was a very bizarre animal. The whole idea behind the expo was to show the weird and wacky world around us. Right?

Emily: Yeah.

Bill: And so the platypus was an example of that, as was the wallaby.  As was the, as was the possum, was was the, um, wombat. And the other reason you see platypus first is that is the most primitive, one of the most primitive extant mammals.

Emily: Mm-hmm.

Bill: And we catalogue from primitive to advanced, right?

Emily: Yeah.

Bill: And when I say primitive, I'm not saying stupid

Emily: Yeah

Bill: or ugly. I'm saying least changed from the common ancestor of us all. 

Emily: Right.

Bill: The way we treat our collection, the way we think, is taxonomically. So we say, we're going to catalogue the most primitive first and then we'll finish off with the more advanced and that's why the platypus here is catalogued first. I always wanted to know what he wore to his costume party that night.

Emily: After, you know, by just starting his day right

Bill: Cataloguing the platypus on Halloween. How do you beat that?

Emily: I don't know. I want to get a picture of this page.

Bill: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Emily: That's the most amazing thing I've ever seen, ever. I have a feeling I'm going to say that a lot. What is this? Oh my god.

Bill: This is Carl Akeley's...

Emily: What?!

Bill: Catalogue for his taxidermy that he did here at the field museum.

Emily: He wrote this?

Bill: He wrote this. This is Carl's writing.

Emily: That's amazing.

Bill: And, so he was working on an elund, a serval cat, an axis deer, elk, wolverine, white mountain sheep, water buck, zebra.

Emily: What are the dates on these?

Bill: That was the date that that was written.

Emily: So that would be 1914?

Bill: Yes. Here's something collected in 1895. Notice that they just put 95. We never ever abbreviate the year because-

Emily: Was it 1995? 1985?

Bill: Exactly

Emily: That's amazing! I can just imagine him coming in, you know, at the end of his day, covered in his Carl Akeley plaster and everything and just sitting down with this exact book. This is mind-blowing.

Bill: Actually, this book was with him-

Emily: In Africa?

Bill: No, while he had his apron on in the lab, so this is what he was, this was essentially just, Anna does the same thing today in the prep lab, she has a book like this

Emily: Wow. This book has seen some things.

Bill: Yes. And it's still, what's intriguing is that all these books I'm showing you are very old and ancient, we use them every day.

Emily: Yeah.

Bill: We're still referring to this.

Emily: You still go back and check his field notes?

Bill: Very much.

Emily: Wow, that's so... it's never gonna lose it's importance.

Bill: Not at all. Not at all.

Emily: It will only, in fact, become more important

Bill: Exactly. And that's true with every book in this room, though some of these field notes are relatively modern, 100 years from now..

Emily: They're gonna, every detail matters.

Bill: The bottom line for us is, be as detailed as possible and finish your thought now, don't put it off.

Emily: Yeah.

Bill: So, be complete, be thorough, record your observations, and get her done, and then walk away. Because we have so many examples of people who left blanks in their field notes or abbreviated the date or didn't write the date at all and-

Emily: What?

Bill: Yeah, exactly. And we curse many people that are long dead for not having written the date on something.

Emily: Yeah, I'm still wondering what Phil Wright was thinking sometimes. You can't go back and ask him now.

Bill: Exactly, exactly.

Emily: That's just incredible. That's amazing. Thank you so much for showing this to me.

Bill: You bet.


Emily: It still has brains on it.