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March 13, 2024 30 mins

I answer your questions, from the realism of Tarzan, to the details behind a frog Buffalo Bill, and how to best serve the birds of your community! 

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Speaker 1 (00:06):
Welcome to Creature Feature production of iHeartRadio. I'm your host
of Mini Parasites, Katie Golden. I studied psychology and evolutionary biology,
and today only share we're doing a listener questions episode.
I like to answer your questions every so often. You
can write to me at Creature Feature Pod at gmail
dot com with your questions and I might just answer them.

(00:29):
So let's get right into it. Wait, no, what before
I do that? Last week I forgot to announce the
winners of the Mystery Animal sound game. So the mystery
animal was the Koala and the ones who gets correctly
the fastest or magnus O, Jacob em and amrout Kay

(00:50):
and I apologize for forgetting to announce that. You know,
I'm human or Kala. Kualas make mistakes too, So let's
get into the questions. First question, how accurate is the
new Tarzan movie? What animals would make a real life Tarzan?
And this is from my name is Mud, who wrote

(01:13):
a review with the question in it. Thank you for
the question and for rating the podcast. You don't have
to leave your question and the reviews for me to
answer them. I will still answer them if you email
them to me, but I sure do appreciate it when
you leave them as a review and when you leave
a rating, because that helps me and podcast. It's great,
So thank you. Well. I had no idea that there

(01:35):
was a new Tarzan movie. I was only aware of
the nineteen ninety nine Tarzan. That was the Disney version
where he's like, you know, skateboarding down the trees and stuff.
It's not super accurate that movie. It's a good movie though,
but you know, animal musical sequence talking gorilla is not
super accurate. But apparently there was a live action Tarzan

(02:00):
twenty sixteen. I'm assuming this is the new Tarzan you're
talking about. I'm not really sure. I'm not aware of
other Tarzans, but yeah, the live action Tarzan in twenty sixteen.
Apparently Alexander's Scarsguard was Tarzan. I guess alexander Scarsguard is
the most gorilla like of the Scars Guards. There's so

(02:21):
many Scars Guards anyways, So yeah, apparently in this movie,
Tarzan like went to England, became English, and then went
back to the Congo Basin, where he had been raised
by a fictional species of gorilla, like a great ape
called the Mangani I don't know, so apparently he wants

(02:42):
to investigate some kind of like slavery operation thing. I
have not seen this movie. It seems pretty wild. I
read the plot on Wikipedia. Apparently has Margot Robi and
Samuel L. Jackson in it too, which wow, all right
Star said it. The plot seems to be kind of
focused on action stuff and like a conspiracy plot. There's

(03:08):
a little bit of uncomfortable like white Man's Burden stuff
going on there too. Anyways, Yeah, I cannot review this
movie because I have not seen it, but I can
talk a little bit about the concepts behind Tarzan, right,
like whether it's realistic for a man to have been
raised by apes, and then these apes sort of part

(03:31):
of the ideas that they are able to communicate with Tarzan,
who can like translate what they are saying to Jane.
I don't know if this happens so much in the
twenty sixteen version, but in the Disney movie and in
the original books, the apes are depicted as having a
language that Tarzan understands and can translate to Jane. But

(03:53):
this is so great a communication is very interesting, and
it's complicated, and it is definitely not as simple as
like being able to like they just have a secret
language and if we could just translate it into English,
we could communicate, right. So this is why attempts to
create sign language for apes has been difficult. It's been

(04:15):
very controversial whether apes can really use sign language and
to what extent. Obviously they can learn the emotions, the
hand motions, and they can learn certain like words, but
it doesn't seem like we can just kind of get
over our communication gap simply by sort of creating a

(04:36):
common sign language or lexicon or something. So ape communication,
I mean, obviously it depends on the species. There's the
great apes, there's a lot of primates as well. You
use complex communication. It is a combination of vocalizations and
body language, you know, like facial expressions, posture. It can

(05:00):
be very complex. I can convey specific attitudes, it can
convey danger or information. But it's not quite the same
as human language. Human language is very grammatical in structure.
It serves to nest concepts within one another. So you'll
have a word that is symbolic for a concept or

(05:23):
a group of concepts, and then you can arrange words
in a sentence and then you're sticking sort of stringing
concepts together, and you can have sort of a recursion
of concepts, so it can get very complicated, and that
allows us to create complicated ideas, allows us to do things.
And that whole ability of our brain to put a

(05:45):
concept inside another concept inside another one and kind of
nest things and string things together is also likely what
is behind our ability to create tools and other complex
creations or act or you know, essentially all the things
that we did to build our civilizations. So vocalizations are

(06:11):
perhaps different because even though you could have like a vocalization,
say in a primate that has a vocalization that is
a warning call, it can be pretty complex where it's
like this is there's a specific warning call for hawks
versus snakes versus some other predator. Right, like warning or

(06:31):
vocalizations that indicate happiness, contentment versus being upset or angry,
or like a call that means come here or a
call that means run away. You know, there are a
lot of like complex vocalizations postures methods of communication that

(06:53):
primates and grade apes are capable of. But right there's
this distinction between that and can they actually form like
a sentence with grammar, So it is an interesting question,
and there's definitely been attempts to get apes to learn

(07:14):
essentially a form of language that we can communicate with,
like sign language or lexicon. So there is a lot
of debate though about how effective this is. So there
are apes like the famous one, the most famous one
actually is probably Coco the gorilla, who was taught sign language,

(07:35):
which is kind of it's really tricky because it's like
not really clear, Like she definitely learned how to make
signs with her hands, and she definitely learned that certain
signs would get her something like a treat or might
indicate a stand in for a word or something. But

(07:59):
sign language is not just sign language, is you know,
it is a whole language. It's not just like here's
a hand gesture that means this thing. Sign language has
a syntax, it has grammatical structure. It is just like
verbal language. You're able to nest concepts into sign language,
and so a Coco's version of this signing may not

(08:22):
have actually qualified as a language. A more perhaps compelling
example of an ape being able to learn something akin
to a language would be Kanzi the Bonobo, who seemed
to be able to learn to string together very simple
phrases using lexigram. So a lexigram being like a symbol

(08:44):
that stands in for a whole word, like a like
say you have sort of a symbol that's like a
few lines or a circle, and then that whole that
symbol just means orange. You don't have letters, you just
have the symbol that represents the word. And so Kanzi
the but was able to memorize a ton of these
lexigrams and actually seemed to be able to combine them

(09:07):
in a way that indicated a very very simple grammatical structure.
So say like he picked a lexigram a symbol that
meant play, and then another symbol that meant hide, and
so that's saying sort of like he wants to play
hide and go seek, and then he would actually do
that behavior. So yeah, Impressively, he seemed to be able

(09:28):
to come up with some very simple structures of these
lexigrams that indicated a creative combination of concepts, which is
actually something also seen in deaf children who were raised
in groups like you would have maybe like a school
for deaf children, and they'd be in a group and
they would spontaneously come up with sign language that they

(09:50):
used with each other. Because human beings are so primed
for language, were so social and were so primed with language,
and the absence of someone teaching us language, children are
able to kind of spontaneously come up with the language
when they are together, when they're with other children, when
they're able to socialize. But Kanzi, even though he was

(10:12):
raised since infancy by humans, still runs into issues drafting
more complex sentences than like say a two word construction
or something that maybe has multiple concepts kind of like
nested in one another. So his ability to use these
lexagrams is really impressive, but it seems like he's still

(10:35):
not able to get past grammatical structure of like a
young toddler in a human so like, there seems to
still be kind of an upper limit in terms of
how apes can kind of truly understand or truly use
grammar to sort of string concepts together. And so back

(10:58):
to this idea of Tarzan, like, is it possible for
a human child to be raised by apes and you know,
kind of live as a happy family. I don't know.
I think strictly speaking, it may be possible, But the
thing is, we've never actually had any concrete evidence of
this truly happening. So there's this idea of like the

(11:21):
feral child, while you know, the kid raised by wolves
like Mowgli and the Jungle Book, but all of this
is fiction. There have been quote unquote feral children. It's
kind of not like a great word for it though,
because most of the times, like these so called feral

(11:41):
children are just children who have been severely, severely neglected.
It's not like a kid who went off and was
adopted by wolves as a baby. It's usually a child
who was so neglected that they were kept somewhere away
from other people, so they weren't unable to social lies
with anyone, and it's you know, fortunately this seems to

(12:04):
be extremely rare, but yeah, there were like a few
cases of children being kept in such severe neglect that
they never learned how to speak because they never had
anyone talk to them, which is really really sad, it's
really awful. There was this case of this girl born

(12:26):
in the fifties, like I think the social workers named
her Genie, but she was severely neglected in abuse. She
was like locked in a room with no interaction, and
like there is after she was quote unquote you know
rescued by social workers. There were a lot of researchers

(12:48):
interested in her language acquisition who tried to teach her
how to speak, and it only kind of partially worked,
like she was able to pick up some words communicate
a little bit better, but unfortunately when she went into
like a care home, apparently she was again neglected and
subject to isolation. It's a really really sad case. It's

(13:11):
it's you know, and I don't know that it really
is clarifying in terms of language acquisition. You know, it's like,
I mean, first of all, it's a little bit I
don't know grim this idea of like using this child
who was severely abused and neglected, and in terms of

(13:32):
like research about language acquisition, it's kind of yucky all around.
But yeah, like I mean, in this case, right, like
she was just subject to severe neglect, and it's kind
of hard to know how it would work, say, like
if a child was abandoned in a forest and got
picked up by apes or something. It's just not something

(13:57):
that has ever been documented to have happened. And so,
you know, I think though, to maybe end the section
on a more positive note, I think it is really
amazing that both humans and animals seem to be capable
of some empathy towards like other species, right, Like you know,

(14:20):
Cocoa the gorilla really did have like a kitten that
she really loved. There's a lot of cases of like
animals seeming to show tenderness not only towards their own species,
but towards other species. And certainly humans, you know, are
capable of great amounts of empathy towards you know, their
own species as well as other species. So I think

(14:41):
that it is it could be possible, right, Like, if
you had like a human baby, it would I would
think that some maybe bonobo's would be the best candidates,
just in terms of like being very gentle. Gorillas are possibly. Yeah,

(15:01):
I don't know, because they are, They're not that aggressive,
but just the sheer strength. There might be, you know,
some unwitting accidents with a human child. But yeah, I
mean it's a it's an interesting idea, but so far
it has only truly happened in fiction. Next question, Hi, Katie,

(15:28):
I've been trying to find the paper you referenced in
the Odd Couples episode about researchers getting frogs with mutualistic
relationships with tarantula's I mentioned it to my herpetology professor.
Now I can't seem to find it. Can you help me?
Thanks Hannah, Hi Hannah, thanks for the question. So, yeah,
this was an episode I think from twenty twenty, so uh, yeah,

(15:49):
that's so that was a while ago. But yeah, So
to recap in the episode that Hanna mentions, we'd talked
about the relation between the dotted humming frog, which is
a tiny brown frog in South America who would be
perfectly comfortable sitting on the tip of your thumb. It's
only about half an inch long, and they seem to

(16:11):
be friends with tarantulas of the genius pamphobias, and these transulas,
despite being perfectly happy eating other kinds of frogs, and
they enjoy the company of these little cute humming frogs
or other micro hylid frogs species and don't seem to

(16:34):
eat them. So the theory is that the frog gets
protection from his big spider friend, and maybe the spider
gets some benefit from the frog. The frog eats a
lot of ants, so maybe it eats ants that would
pose a threat to the tarantula's eggs. So this is
the theory in terms of this mutualistic relationship. And as

(16:57):
I mentioned in that episode, there was any researcher who
skinned some of these little microhylid humming frogs and put
their hides on another species of frog that is actually
known to be like something that the taransula is willing
to eat, and the researcher seemed to find that when

(17:17):
she put the skin of the friend frog on the
food frog, the tarantula got confused and did not eat
the food frog. So it's not a big surprise that
you couldn't find the paper because this was actually from
an unpublished master's report from two thousand and two by

(17:37):
Jolene Saccani. So her two thousand and two work was
referenced in other papers in a Scientific American article, but
I couldn't find, like any further research from her or
any follow up research reproducing her results. I don't necessarily
want to like tell people to do another study where
they like do a buffalo bill skinning of these adorable

(18:00):
little frogs and put them on other frogs. But technically,
probably if you really wanted to, you know, have sort
of a make sure that this is reproducible, one would
need to do that. But there might actually be a
way to do it without skinning the frogs, like maybe
sort of isolating compounds in the frog's skin to see

(18:21):
what it is that is signaling to the tarantula that
it should not eat this frog. So there was actually
a study in twenty twelve by Dundee, Shillington, and Yurie
called interactions between tarantulas a Phonopelma hintsi and narrow melthd

(18:42):
toads gastrophryne Oliva sha port for asymbiotic relationship. So these
researchers housed tarantulas with the microhighlt frogs as well as
a similar sized small species of frogs, a crooked frog,
which so it's a frog, not a cricket. But confusingly,

(19:04):
they also put crickets in uh and also UH roaches
just to make sure that these tarantulas would eat things
that they are known to eat. So they found that
the tarantulas loved eating the crickets and the cockroaches, and
they would, you know, pretty frequently eat the the cricket frog.
So this is a frog that is not known to

(19:26):
have a friendship with these tarantulas, and so the tarantulas
would would eat this. Similarly, sized small frog that it
was naive to and UH. But then they found that
the tarantula never ate the microhihlot frog, the UH the
Glivich frog, and so they also never seemed to try

(19:48):
to attack the frog. So the authors speculate that there
is either an obvious old factory Q that allows them
to immediately recognize the little micro highlod friend frog as unpalatable,
or they've learned not to eat the frog through experience.
So also the idea is that maybe their skin contains

(20:10):
a compound that is slightly toxic or irritating or unpalatable.
But there also seems to be another dynamic for why
the tarantula not only doesn't eat or attack the frog
but just tolerates the frog's presence because it does not
get defensive around the frog. When the frog is near
its eggsack, it allows the frog to approach its eggsack.

(20:30):
So this is kind of lends itself to the idea
that the frog will eat the ants that could pose
a threat to the eggsack and the tarantula is not.
It is basically going to let the frog do what
it once and is comfortable being around the frog because
they have this mutualistic relationship that it's either learned or

(20:51):
has some kind of instinctive response to allow. Cute detail
of the study is that sometimes the tarantulas would rest
their petipalps on their little friend frogs. Of the petipalps
are those little they look like little hands or arms
at the sort of near the tarantula's mouth and face.
So it doesn't necessarily mean that they're being affectionate towards

(21:13):
the frog. That's not necessarily like spider lingo or affection,
but it's cute, right, I think we can enjoy a
little cuteness from this tarantula frog friendship. All right, onto
the next listener question. Hello, and many thanks for the podcast.
I was wondering if feeding wild birds and providing nest

(21:35):
boxes in our own yards was a net positive for
native native birds or just another example of human intervention
throwing off the balance. Speaking of helping wild bird populations,
I've attached a photo of Waffles, the adopted street kitten
who now lives as strictly indoor life with me. Best
wishes for a great twenty twenty four from Adam. Thank
you and congratulations on being adopted by the adorable and

(21:58):
magnanimous waffle. You are guaranteed to be saving a lot
of bird lives by adopting a street cat and keeping
cute little murder waffles indoors, and waffles will also be
safer from cars and coyotes and so on. So great
job there. Feeding birds. So is it good or not
good for birds? Obviously, if you ask a bird, it'll

(22:19):
tell you to shut up and just give it some
more bread, because they love bread, and they will eat
food that is yummy, even if it's technically not good
for them, like bread. So bread and other kind of
human foods not so great for birds. That said, feeding birds,
I wouldn't say that it is just always bad, right.
It depends on what you're feeding them, when you feed them,

(22:41):
how much, what kind of feeder. There's all these kind
of conditions. So like, if you feed ducks bread, that's
not really great. If you really want to feed ducks,
you can feed them frozen peas that have been kind
of thought out. Seeds and grains can also be okay
or sorry, not for the ducks. Seeds and grains are

(23:02):
good for other birds. Ducks will actually eat oats and
corn as well as peas, and it's a good alternative
for bread to bread for ducks, but it's still possible
to like overfeed them or leave too much of the
food in their habitat, which can like encourage algae growth,

(23:24):
or you know, like rats attract rats which can attack
their eggs. So you know, I would just say in
a kind of moderation, like a modest amount of peas
rather than dumping in huge bowls, probably fine. Like if
you just you see a duck, you give it a
few peas, that's probably fine, as long as you don't
overdo it. As far as far as backyard birds go,

(23:48):
like songbirds and finches and other birds you get in
your backyard, seeds and grains can sometimes help them through
the winter, but it can also backfire. So too much
nutritional rich at the wrong time of year might cause
a bird to go into its breeding season early. And
what might happen in that case is that if it's

(24:10):
chicks hatched too early, they might actually miss the timing
for like the insect season, and so it actually might
reduce the ability of these chicks to survive. Another issue
with feeding backyard birds is if you have like a
really large like feeder where a bunch of birds congregate
at like say, bird flu is going around and they're

(24:33):
all congregating, that might help spread bird flu or another disease.
But you know, don't like throw out all your bird
seed or bird feeders yet. Like we'll get into like
what exactly you can do to kind of feed birds.
So I mean, one thing is if you want to
be safe without doing too much research, things like waterstones,

(24:55):
bird baths, or planting native plants that bear either fruit
or seeds or nectar that is attractive to birds is
totally great. But if you have time to kind of
do some research into your local native birds, theirs sort
of seasonality, their migration patterns, and their natural diet, you

(25:20):
can probably like put out some bespoke food for them,
like instead of in one giant like feeder kind of
scattered like scattering it around your yard, and which is
kind of nice because then you would attract birds to
different locations, and you can also look up like for
your region when food is really scarce, when birds really

(25:43):
struggle versus when they kind of are fine, and you
don't really need to put out any food, you know.
So basically what I would say is if you enjoy
feeding birds, I don't think you should necessarily just stop.
I think you should like commit to it even more,
or research your local bird needs, figure out like which

(26:04):
food is best for them, create like little fun feeding nooks,
or maybe even just like plant some native fruit bearing
trees or shrubs that the birds will like. Like you
could take it to a whole new level of nerding
out over birds rather than just like giving up on
your bird feeding hobby. I would say that, Yeah, like,

(26:27):
if you want to feed the birds safely, there's not
like advice just I can give to everyone in general,
because it's going to depend where you live what kind
of birds you have there. But yeah, like looking like
sort of do look into what populations of birds you have,

(26:48):
what is sort of suggested for your region. You could even, like,
you know, if you have sort of local bird refuge,
you could write to them and find out like what
season is the best to leave out food for birds
and what kind of food is the best. So yeah, again,
like I think that it's really commendable to enjoy interacting

(27:11):
with nature. I think there's no shame in wanting to
do that. But yeah, if we like when you go
like for a little extra effort in terms of doing
research about how exactly to do it. You're gonna do
it in a much more safe way that's going to
be more beneficial to the birds and less likely to

(27:32):
create these kind of like difficult to predict like effects
such as altering their breeding season. In terms of nesting boxes,
nesting boxes are great, especially when you live in a
region where, say there's a lot of building and not
as much like forest or natural habitat. Just make sure

(27:54):
there's sort of the right size for your local birds,
Like the aperture of the whole in the nesting box
can be important. Also, if you have snakes in your area,
you might want a certain size of birdhouse, like the
opening small enough for the bird to get in, but
too small for like certain types of predators or snakes.

(28:18):
You can also put nesting boxes on a pole or
use like anti predator cones to protect the boxes. I
would avoid using things like netting because that can be
both harmful to like snakes and to birds because they
can get tangled in it, And we don't want to
hurt the snakes. Right Like we like snakes, we just

(28:39):
don't want to necessarily serve them baby birds on a platter.
Make their job any easier to get to the baby birds.
So I think I think it's wonderful to want to,
you know, help your local bird bird bird population, so
I would I would highly encourage it, and I would

(29:00):
encourage you to do it by really getting familiar with
your local species and finding out what suits them the best,
the kinds of things that really suit them, and I
think that's would make for a very fun project. All right, So,
thank you guys so much for writing to me your questions.
Always enjoy doing this always sends me on interesting paths

(29:25):
for research, so love that. If you have a question
that you'd like me to answer, you can write to
me at Creature Featurepod at gmail dot com. You can
also leave a review of my podcast where you rate
it you review it, and if you leave me a
question there, I will read those as well. Again, you
don't have to leave rating a review for me to

(29:45):
answer your question. I answer the one sent to me
by email just as much, but if you would like to,
that is really nice. And thanks to the Space Classics
for their super awesome song x Alumina. We will do
the animal sound gissing game next time. And yeah, thank

(30:08):
you guys so much. Creature Feature is a production of iHeartRadio.
For more podcasts like the one you just heard, visit
the iHeartRadio app Apple Podcasts, or I Guess what Where
have you listened to your favorite job? I don't judge you.
I'm not your mother. You gotta live your life, make mistakes,
get messy that one? Wait, is that am I doing
Miss Frizzle? I don't mean to do Miss Frizzle. Anyways,

(30:29):
I'll see you guys next Wednesday.

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