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May 15, 2024 28 mins

I answer your questions, like why do animals act weird during an eclipse? How do animals know what to eat? What's the deal with dino penises? 

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Speaker 1 (00:02):
Welcome to Creature Feature production of iHeartRadio. I'm your host
of Many Parasites.

Speaker 2 (00:07):
Katie Golden.

Speaker 1 (00:08):
I studied psychology and evolutionary biology, and today on this show,
it's a listener's Questions episode. You can write to me
your questions and then guess what I try to answer them.

Speaker 2 (00:22):
That's what happens.

Speaker 1 (00:23):
So if you're listening to this Q and A and
you're like, hey, wait a minute, I have a question.
Why doesn't Katie answer my question about animals and stuff?

Speaker 2 (00:32):
Well, it's easy.

Speaker 1 (00:33):
You can write to me at Creature Featurepod at gmail
dot com with your question and I will do my
best to answer it accurately. Let's get right into it.
First question, Hey, Katie, We here in my part of
Newfoundland were fortunate enough to be right in the path
of totality of the eclipse. So a friend and I

decided to move a bit closer to the center of
the path and observe it next to a ghost ship
that recently appeared on a beach.

Speaker 2 (01:03):
That's spooky.

Speaker 1 (01:04):
Okay, it was awesome and Sareel got way colder than
I anticipated. The horizon was orange, which was confusing, and
thankfully we got a break in the clouds right before
the sun turned black with the eerie white glow. As
it became darker, I didn't hear or see any animals
around us. I was a bit disappointed because I wanted
to know how they'd react to this, but nothing. Our
animals usually quiet as it darkens in anticipation of night.

I don't know, or are they just thrown off by
the timing. However, as soon as the sun started peeking out,
the world became lighter, even before it really warmed up,
birds started chirping. There were animals around us apparently, and
one other strange animal behavior that I'm mostly curious about.
As we walked back to where we parked the car,
we met a young man and his saint Bernard. He

the giant doggie seemed friendly enough. My friend got close
because it seemed fine, leaned over, and the dog suddenly
bit him in the arm, like pretty deep. The man
had to use force on the leash to get him
to back off. It was really on edge suddenly. My
friend had never been bitten before, and the guy said
his dog had never bitten anyone before. He was very
apologetic and it seems sincere, although we don't know for

sure if he was telling the truth, but if he was,
it had me wondering if dogs have a very sensitive
circadian clock and if this behavior was the result of
him being thrown out of whack. I'm curious if you
know of other stories like this or if other listeners
might have recent animal eclipse stories as well. And this
is from PK. Thank you so much for your story, PK.

I am very jealous that you got to watch the
eclipse next to a ghost ship. Also, apparently people were
able to see the northern lights. But hey, guess what.
Guess who's got two thumbs and didn't get to see
the eclipse or the northern lights.

Speaker 2 (02:46):
Uh me, it's me. So I'm very jealous. That's very cool.

Speaker 1 (02:49):
So yeah, let's talk about animal behavior during the eclipse.
So animals, like humans, typically follow a day night cycle,
but in different ways maybe than humans. So they may
be diurnal as we are, which means mostly sleeping at
night and mostly being active during the day. There's also
nocturnal animals that's being mostly asleep or inactive during the

day and mostly active at night, and crepuscular animals and
those are mostly active at dawn and dusk. Otherwise they
are resting.

Speaker 2 (03:22):
So there are.

Speaker 1 (03:24):
Also animals who use the day night cycle to engage
in mass migrations. So billions of zooplankton migrate from the.

Speaker 2 (03:32):
Depths of the ocean.

Speaker 1 (03:35):
Up to the surface every night to feed, and then
they go back down to the depths to hide from
the sunlight because they are trying to evade predators that
can see them. Zooplankton being very small, very snackable. So photoreceptors,
which in humans and many other animals are mainly concentrated

in our eyes, respond to light dark cues and stinctly,
for instance, producing the hormone melatonin in response to dark
light cycles, which signals to our body to sleep. So
during an eclipse, it would make sense for animal behaviors
to change. But to what extent is it changing and
is it because the animals literally think it's night or

is it due to fear or confusion. So the problem
with trying to study animal behaviors during total eclipses is
that they are so rare. Uh. Also, human observation during
eclipses may differ. Right, Like, you are so hyper focused
on the event, you may be paying particular attention to

sounds and sights and noticing things maybe that you wouldn't
have noticed before, So maybe you're more likely to notice
subtle changes in behavior that may happen with some regularity.
It's just everyone's paying attention right now because it's an
eclipse and it is really exciting. So that being said,
there really does seem to be some response from animals

to eclipses. So zookeepers report animals acting erratically during an eclipse,
probably confusion about the sudden darkness or maybe anticipation.

Speaker 2 (05:09):
Of a storm.

Speaker 1 (05:11):
Researchers found that some diurnal birds seem to continue their
song during an eclipse, while observers have noticed that other
birds will fall silent, So it's possible that some birds
think it's night, or they might be confused and go
into a cautious standby mode, whereas others are less sensitive
to that change. Insects may respond more rapidly to eclipses,

becoming more active as it gets dark. For honeybees, it's
actually the opposite. Researchers found that honey bees return to
their hive and hunker down during the darkness of an eclipse,
and in fact, it seems like their return is pretty rapid,
more rapid than they usually do. So it could be
that they are in something of a panic because they

are confused or it seems dangerous to them that this
sudden darkness has approached. As for the question about the dog,
so we don't know, right, like if this guy is
telling the truth or not that his dog has never bitten.

Speaker 2 (06:14):
But let's take him at his word. Okay.

Speaker 1 (06:17):
So dogs really like routine, and they can get very
stressed if their routine is disrupted by something unpleasant like
the world suddenly going dark. So when I say routine,
I don't mean just like boring stuff. Of course, dogs
like stimulation, they like getting out about, they like novelty
to some extent. But if their routine is altered in

a really significant way, especially something spooky like the world
suddenly going dark, I think it's very reasonable for the
dog to get really stressed. Because dogs do have a
pretty good sense of time. They have a good sense
of routine, like that's why your dog expects dinner at
a certain time. So I could definitely see a dog

as reacting with fear and anxiety to the unexpected darkness. Also,
I have found that dogs are very sensitive to vibes,
which you know is obviously a scientific term. But if
a dog's senses something is weird, right, like if people's
behaviors have suddenly changed, if everyone if there's just a

certain I guess emotional.

Speaker 2 (07:26):

Speaker 1 (07:27):
I think dogs can be quite sensitive to that, and
that can make them anxious. I'm really sorry that your
friend was bitten. Of course, this is not his fault
at all, and you know, but I can't imagine a
dog getting really stressed over a unusual event like an eclipse.
As a dog owner who has a very anxious little dog,

She's tiny, so she can't really do much damage, but
she does nip if she's stressed out. So what I
do is if she is in an unusual situation. First
of all, I tried to avoid putting her in stressful
unusual situations, but if it's unavoidable, then I make sure
that she stays away from people, because I don't want

her to nip at people. Even if she's tiny, she
she can she can get in a good little nip there,
and it's it's not it's not fun. But yeah, so
she she has a little bit of trauma as well,
which we have worked through. But yeah, she does easily
get very anxious and stressed and scared in situations, and

an anxious and stressed and scared dog is one who
could be unpredictable. They could they could bite, they could nip,
So it's always important to keep that in mind as
a as a dog owner. And yeah, so I'm really
sorry that happened to your friend. But yeah, maybe maybe
it really was the Saint Bernard's first time because he

thought it was the apocalypse, or maybe ghosts from that
ghost ship possessed the dog. I don't know. Next question, Hey,
how many times have we talked about a seals the
plant animal marine flatworm? They're totally wicked and this is

from Jercifuentis, So I don't think we have talked about
them yet, and.

Speaker 2 (09:17):
We probably should.

Speaker 1 (09:19):
So. A seals are an order of marine invertebrates that
are similar to flatworm. A seals kind of look like
used band aids. Maybe more charitably, they look like sort
of flat orangish discs, and they vary in size depending
on the species. They are both carnivorous and in a
symbiotic relationship with algae that can photosynthesize, so the algae

is dispersed throughout the aceeal's tissue. But you know, even
though we haven't talked about the acal, we have talked
about another marine invertebrate that uses a similar technique. It
is called the leaf sheep, also known as coast Ciella kroscheme,
which is a sea slug that looks like a weird

sheep whose wool is made of thick green leaves. I
highly recommend you google leaf sheep.

Speaker 2 (10:13):
It's very cute.

Speaker 1 (10:14):
So this sheeplike aspect to its face is due to
these projection that kind of look like ears, which are
actually rhinophores. These are chemoreceptive sensors. It's also got a
couple of eye spots that are really close together and
look like really cartoony. They kind of look like a
Gary Larsen cartoon of a cow's it's very funny. So

the green leaves on its body are fleshy projections full
of chloroplasts, which it actually steals from the algae it eats.
So this is kleptoplasty. It's actually stealing chloroplasts from the
algae that it eats and integrating it into its body,

and these chloroplasts can photosynthesize and produce nutrients for the
sea slug so a similar situation to the acal. But
you know what, You're right. We should have talked about
the acls. They're very cool and maybe I'll talk about
them more on another episode. Next listener question, how do

animals know what to eat? With humans? It seems to
be a learned behavior, knowing what is safe to eat
and what food we need for a healthy diet. Do
animals use their senses? Is it learned behavior or something else?
Thank you, Daniel, Thank you for your question, Daniel. So,
for many animals, food is instinctive. They have sensory organs

like a nose, antenna, or tentacles that alert them to
the smells or.

Speaker 2 (11:46):
Tastes of food.

Speaker 1 (11:48):
They intuitively understand which foods are good or bad. All
animals have some instinct when it comes to eating, including humans.
We innately like the taste of sugars, carbohydrates, and proteins.
Different flavors will appeal to different animals, of course, due
to the differing nutritional and health needs. So, for instance,

cat poop might seem like an abhorrent snack to most
of us humans, but to a dog, cat poop is
like candy. Given how high a protein content exists in
catfood and is excreted in cat poop. So when your
dog eats cat poop, he's not being a freak. It's
just that cat poop seems like candy to dogs, believe

it or not. So what happens when our instincts tells
us that something will taste good and we try to
eat it and then we get sick, Well, that is learning.
So learning is a major way in which animals figure
out how to eat. So, for instance, a butterfly might
be a nice snack for a bird, but certain butterflies

are actually toxic. Birds can learn that certain colors on
a butterfly or frog means they are about to encounter
a yucky thing that makes them throw up. This is
actually called poison shyness. So butterflies actually some species of
butterfly mimics will take advantage of this and pretend to

be the toxic butterflies. But what happens actually is if
these mimics become too great in numbers, the birds unlearn
the toxicity signal, the apisomatic coloration, that's coloration that is
a warning color that you know I am dangerous, I
am yucky. And so if mimics become too big a number.

The birds unlearn it, they statistically are more likely to
encounter a mimic, and so they learn, hey, this is
actually pretty tasty. And then you have sort of this
realignment in populations, a drop in the population of mimics,
and then suddenly once the actual toxic butterfly population becomes
more prominent, after the birds have picked off a lot

of the non time toxic mimics, then the apisomatic coloration
works again and the birds are like, hey, actually, every
time I try to eat one of these, you know,
red or orange butterflies, I get a tummy ache and
I throw up. So, yeah, that is poison shyness. So
conservationists sometimes take advantage of poison shyness to try to

teach endangered animal populations not to accidentally lethally poison themselves.
So an example is with the quall. So qualls are
an endangered Australian marsupial and on the other side you've
got cane toads. Those are an invasive species. They were

introduced to Australia because we had this thing that we
would do as humans where we would have some kind
of problem with a crop, right, like a cane sugar
crop where it's like, ah, there's these cane beetles eating
our cane sugar, So we'll just introduce an animal to
eat the can cane beetles. And we did that with

the cane toads. Didn't work to control the cane beetles
because apparently the cane beetles were too high up on
the cane stock for the cane toads to actually eat them,
because it's a different species than they would prey upon
in their native country. And so then the cane toad
just started eating everything else, and you know, like marsupial mice,

and the cane toads were highly toxic, so they would
also poison predators. So it was a terrible situation. The
cane toads are still highly invasive. It's not really a
good idea to introduce a species as pets control, no
matter how many times we've tried and failed. Yes, it's
still it's never gonna be a good idea. Okay, So

we've got these cane toads and we've got these qualls.
Qualls are adorable native species, and they would try to
eat the cane toads, and the cane toads are so toxic.
They have a buffo toxin that can actually kill the quall,
and we don't want that. These are quality qualls and
we don't want them killed. So what conservationists do is

they take a dead cane toad that is not, you know,
not no longer deadly toxic, and they actually lace it
with a nausea inducing drugs. And these nausea inducing drugs
won't actually kill the quall, they will just make them
feel sick to their little tommies. And so they like
lay out these dead altered cane toads that have these

these drugs in them that will make them taste nasty.
So then the quall learns like, hey, wait a minute,
I should avoid this cane toad because it makes me
have a tummy ache. And that way it can learn
without actually just dying from the lethal cane toad toxin.

So that is a really great conservationist use of poison shyness.
Poison shyness can sadly also happen in terms of when
people use pest control and try to like say, poisoning rats,
and rats can be very sensitive to that and learn
to avoid certain foods or to test out certain foods,

or even watch their friends eat something and see if
it's safe.

Speaker 2 (17:18):
And so there's.

Speaker 1 (17:19):
Actually been more advanced rat poison that instead of being
a fast acting poison, it's a basically like a extreme
blood thinner that causes internal bleeding, but it takes a
while to actually happen, and so that's meant to overcome
the poison shyness. It's pretty grizzly. I like rats, so
I don't love this kind of twisted method of killing them.

Animals can also learn the inverse of poison shyness or
that something is yucky. They can learn that something is
yummy that is not intuitive. So the most famous example
of this is probably the Japanese macare that learned that
washing sweet potatoes in salt water makes them taste better.

They basically they salt their food. It's not washing them
for hygiene purposes, but for the flavor of the salt water.
So this was taught to multiple generations of these Japanese
macaques by a single female, and that idea spread and
has been passed down and passed among these Japanese macaques

long after her death. So sometimes learned feeding behavior and
genetic food preference coincide and interact. So domesticated dogs have
become much better at digesting starches over time, Like genetically,
they are better at digesting starches due to their proximity

with humans and starchy foods that we will give them.
Compared to their ancestors, the wolves. Dogs are much better
at digesting starches. That's what thousands of years of begging
at the table gets you as a dog.

Speaker 2 (19:06):
So, you know, one can't imagine the.

Speaker 1 (19:09):
Dogs that were better able to digest these starches flourished
more among human settlements, and so they were more likely
to pass along their genes and perhaps maybe it made
them even friendlier towards humans. Right, Like they can digest
starch well and they're more friendly towards humans, and so
humans would reward that right by trying to make more

puppies like that. So you have this really interesting interplay
of artificial selection of humans selecting the dogs, evolutionary pressures
right of dogs being able to eat more food that
is around human settlements, and genetics. Now, dogs are very
distinct genetically from wolves such that they are much better

at eating starches. So like dog chow and wolf chow
would have to be very different now. So, like many behaviors,
knowing what to eat can both be instinctive, like a
newborn who knows how to immediately suckle at the teat,
to learned like putting salt on food to make it
taste better, or just a combination right of genetics learn

behavior over long periods of time, creating you know, new situations.
So yeah, it's a very deep and interesting question, so
thank you. Next listener question, Hi, Katie, I enjoyed your
recent secretly incredibly fascinating episode about the middle finger, and
suddenly I found myself wondering about the evolution of the penis. Hey,

you know what that tracks. I've heard that some birds
have penises, while many non mammals manage fine with just chloak.
Did dinosaurs have penises? Do any fish have them? How
often have they evolved independently? What makes an insects of
a positor not a penis? Thanks for the fascinating show.
Wanted to thank you so much for this question. It

is a fascinating topic. Don't you dare giggle even once
during my explanation. So penises, they are actually extremely interesting.
There are birds who don't have them in mate by
bumping cloacas together. There are also birds who do have penises.
Reptiles also vary in terms of who have penises. Some

reptiles like the tuatura, only use cloacas, whereas reptails like
lizards and snakes actually have hemipenies, which are two headed
penises that they met with. In fact, they are often spiky.
They basically look like a two headed morning star mace,
but you know they use it for love, not war.

Speaker 2 (21:47):
So fish are.

Speaker 1 (21:49):
Extremely diverse, so some species of fish are less closely
related to other fish as they are too terrestrial animals.
That said, there aren't any true fish stix, I mean
true fish penises. They do have a variety of either
chloika or penis like organs, So I would say, I

mean this is similar to the insects ovipositor. The insects
overpositor is not a penis, just because that's just sort
of a definition thing, right, but its function is very
similar and ovipositor usually is used to deposit eggs, not sperm,
and so just based on our definition of a penis,

that that wouldn't count as a penis. But even with
these fish, right like, they will have structures that resemble penises.
But just because of the way that we define things,
we don't define them as penis. We call them penis
like structures. But it's it's all, that's just semantics, that's
just how we define things. So so, for instance, sharks

have claspers. They are a set of umbrella like organs
that funnel semen into the female's kloaca. Some fish like guppies,
have gona podium, which are modified anal fins that act
as a trow basically to loge sperm into the female's kloaka.

Now let's move on to dinosaurs. So dinosaurs, it's a
really fascinating question and one that scientists don't really have
all the answers to because it is so tricky to
get answers to questions for species that we only have
fossil records for. Of course, we do have modern day dinosaurs,
which are birds, and that factors plays a huge role

in how we understand what dinosaurs that are extinct were like.
So penises don't have to have a bone. Human penises
do not have a bone. A lot of mammalian penises,
most mammalian penises do actually have a penis bone, but
human penises do not, so given that penis bone may

not have existed in dinosaurs, right, it would just be
soft tissue, So how would we know if they had
penises based on fossil records. Also, discovering something about one
dinosaur doesn't mean we know everything about every other dinosaur.
Dinosaurs were very diverse. Some were warm blooded, being able
to thermoregulate on their own, and others were cold blooded,

meaning they relied on their environment to thermoregulate. That's just
an example of how diverse dinosaurs were as a whole.
And so one species might have a penis, whereas others
maybe didn't develop that, but we don't necessarily know. So
there is fossil evidence of kloacas in dinosaurs, but no

hard proof of the existence of penises. Biologists speculate that
at least some dinosaurs may have had penises because old
lineages of birds birds being you know, the dinosaurs that
remain do have penises. So based on embryonic evidence, that is,

like you look at the stages of the development of
the embryo and you see you see like early on,
maybe it starts to develop a penis and then it
stops developing. And so based on that evidence many birds
who did not have penises likely did have them in
their evolutionary history, but then lost them over time due

to it not being necessary or different mating techniques, et cetera.
So what about mammals. All male mammals have some sort
of are All male mammals are born with some sort
of penis. Even some females have pseudo penises, Like the
female hyena has something a structure that looks very much

like a penis. It is something that she has to
give birth through, which is incredibly difficult. One of the
theories for why hyenas have a pseudo penis is that
it improves the survival of cubs of hyena cubs because
perhaps in earlier iterations of their evolution, males would kill

young male cubs, and so by making it more difficult
to differentiate, it would make it less beneficial for male
hyenas to kill the cubs.

Speaker 2 (26:25):
That's just one theory.

Speaker 1 (26:26):
I don't know, though, it is very interesting why the
females have a pseudopenis. It seems like there must also
be some evolutionary pressure in terms of the social structure
of hyena groups. Anyways, researchers believe that all mammals have
a common ancestor that had a penis, and so the

mammalian penis evolved once. In fact, it's thought that all
amniotes share a common ancestor who had a penis. So
amniotes include birds, reptiles, and mammals. The idea is that
even reptiles or birds who do not have penises once
had a common ancestor with like us mammals, with everyone else,

all other amniotes one common ancestor who did have a penis,
But some species ended up finding the penis unnecessary and
it just shrank into oblivion. Well, on that note, we've
done it. I have answered your questions, and if you're
out there saying like, hey, I have a question, I'm
worried it's dumb or it's about butts, so I feel

like it's inappropriate. I just spent like I don't know,
eight minutes talking about penises. So any question is welcome,
and you can write to me at Creature Featurepod at
gmail dot com. Any question about animal biology, evolution, your pets,
some kind of random bug you found, send it to me.

I love doing these and I hope you like them too.
Thank you guys so much, for listening. If you're enjoying
the show and you leave a rating and review that
actually tangibly helps me, it makes the podcast go better
somehow in the algorithm. I don't know how it works,
but it that's how it do. And thank you so

much to the Space Classics for your super awesome song.
X so Lumina Creature features a production of iHeartRadio. For
more podcasts like the one you just heard, visit the
iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or hey, guess what, wherever you
listen to your favorite shows. I'm not your mother.

Speaker 2 (28:31):
I can't tell you what to do.

Speaker 1 (28:32):
You gotta live your own life, make your own mistakes,
listen to your own dang podcasts. Y'all See you next Wednesday.

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