Vimeo / Quoted Studios
Vimeo / Quoted Studios

Video Premiere: Jane Goodall on Instincts

Vimeo / Quoted Studios
Vimeo / Quoted Studios

Today, a treat for mental_floss readers: The world premiere of a short film featuring Jane Goodall, chimpanzee expert and conservationist. Produced by Quoted Studios, this is an animated version of an interview from the public radio show Science Friday with Ira Flatow, conducted on September 27, 2002.

In the interview, Goodall discusses her book The Ten Trusts, her field work in Gombe, how she went for her Ph.D. without a B.A., and her opinion on Bigfoot—among other things.

I had the pleasure of seeing Goodall speak more than 20 years ago, and she's a fantastic communicator—intelligent, warm, witty, and honest. This is a lovely way to spend your next six minutes. Enjoy:

Jane Goodall on Instinct | The Experimenters | Blank on Blank from Quoted Studios on Vimeo.


Ira Flatow: Now, I know you do wonderful chimp calls.

Jane Goodall: Well I'm going to do the greeting. It's the kind of sound you'd hear if you went to Gombe and you climbed up onto the ridge in the morning and if you're lucky you hear the chimpanzee who's calling out saying, "Here I am. It's a wonderful day. Where are you?" Woohwoohwoohwhoooahahahah.

Ira Flatow: Wow. That's great.

Jane Goodall: Each one has his or her own individual voice so you know exactly who's calling.

Caller: I wanted to know if you believed that there were any undiscovered, large ape species.

Jane Goodall: You're talking about a yeti or Bigfoot or Sasquatch.

Ira Flatow: Is that what's he's talking about?

Jane Goodall: Yes, yes he is.

Caller: Pretty much.

Ira Flatow: I'm out of the loop. Go ahead.

Jane Goodall: Now you'll be amazed when I tell you that I'm sure that they exist. I've talked to so many Native Americans who have all described the same sounds, two who have seen them. There was a little tiny snippet in the newspaper just last week which says that British scientists have found what they believe to be a yeti hair and that the scientist in the Natural History Museum in London couldn't identify it as any known animal.

Ira Flatow: Did you always have this belief that they existed?

Jane Goodall: Well, I'm a romantic, so I always wanted them to exist.

Jane Goodall: Animals were my passion from even before I could speak apparently. Then when I was about 10, 11, I found the books about Tarzan of the Apes. Fell in love with Tarzan. He's got that wife Jane, so I was terribly jealous of her. That was when my dream started. When I grew up, I would go to Africa, live with animals and write books about them. That's how it all began.

Jane Goodall: I got the opportunity when a school friend invited me to go and stay on their farm in Kenya. I was 23 and I sort of said bye-bye to family, friends and country and off I went. That's when I heard about the late Louis Leakey and somebody said, "Jane if you're interested in animals, you must meet Louis." Louis realized that I was the sort of person he said he had been looking for for about ten years who didn't care about hairdressing and clothes and parties and boyfriends. I really wanted to be in the wild.

Jane Goodall: It took him a year. He searched for money and eventually found a wealthy American businessman that said, "Okay Louis here you are. Here's enough money for six months. We'll see how she does." The chimpanzees ran away as soon as they saw me. They had not seen a white ape before and I knew if that six months money ran out before I had seen something really exciting everyone would have ... I would have let Louis down.

Jane Goodall: Of course at that time we were defined as man the toolmaker. That was supposed to differentiate us more than anything else in the rest of the animal kingdom.

Ira Flatow: You discovered that chimps could make tools.

Jane Goodall: David Greybeard, bless his heart, I saw him crouched over a termite mound. The whole thing putting in the grass, picking the termites up, picking up a leafy twig and stripping off the leaves which is the beginning of tool making. I couldn't actually believe it. I had to see it about four times before I let Louis Leakey know and then I sent a telegram and he sent back his famous, “Ha ha now we must redefine man, redefine tool or accept chimpanzees as humans."

Jane Goodall: After a bit Louis said, "Jane you have to get a degree because otherwise you can't get your own money and I won't always be around to get money for you." But he said, "we don't have time to mess about with a BA so you'll have to go straight for a Ph.D." He managed to persuade Cambridge in England to accept me as a Ph.D. student. When I got there, it was actually a very unpleasant and hostile reception that I had. I shouldn't have named the chimps. It wasn't scientific. I didn't know. I knew nothing. And worst sin of all was that I was ascribing to them emotions like happiness, sadness and so forth.

Ira Flatow: They were just aghast at you?

Jane Goodall: Yeah they were.

Ira Flatow: Whippersnapper.

Jane Goodall: I was even accused of teaching the chimps how to fish for termites, which, I mean, that would have been such a brilliant coup. [laughter]

(Bonus audio, rolling under credits.)

Caller: Do you think a primatologist's gender influences how they conduct their work?

Jane Goodall: Well I think in many cases it actually does. Louis Leakey always thought women were better as observers. He felt that they were more patient. Certainly it's very often true that women tend to be a bit quieter and more prepared to sit there and let the animal tell you things.

Ira Flatow: Would you rather be remembered for discovering the tool making abilities of the chimps or for your work in the environment today?

Jane Goodall: I think I'd like to be remembered as someone who really helped people to have a little humility and realize that we are part of the animal kingdom not separated from it. When I do go back to Gombe it’s to be in that timeless world where it's soft and where life is entwined and you actually see the pattern of nature. I always feel this great spiritual power which I believe is around.

Previous Coverage

This is the second installment in a three-part series; for the first video, see Buckminster Fuller on The Geodesic Life. We'll have the final video next week, featuring Richard Feynman (!).

13 Facts About Opossums

Opossums, which include the roughly 100 species in the order Didelphimorphia, are some of the most misunderstood animals in the Americas. They’re often thought of as dimwitted, dirty creatures whose most impressive trick is acting like roadkill. The truth is just the opposite: Opossums are smarter, cleaner, and more beneficial to humans than many of their woodland neighbors. Read on for more opossum facts.


In North America, opossum and possum describe the same thing, but in Australia the word possum refers to a completely different animal. Among the most well known of their respective types are the Virginia opossum and the brushtail possum. Both are small to medium sized, omnivorous marsupials, but the similarities end there. The possum looks like a cute cross between a squirrel and a chinchilla and it belongs to a different order than the North American mammal that shares (most of) its name. Despite the potential for confusion, possum is accepted as the shortened version of opossum in this part of the world (and if you see the word possum in this list, you can assume it’s referring to the animal from the Americas).


Marsupials—mammals that carry and nurse their young in pouches—are absent from much of the world, and in Canada and the United States opossums are the sole representatives of the group. Like other marsupials, mother possums give birth to tiny, underdeveloped offspring (called joeys) that immediately crawl into a pouch where they live and nurse during their first months of life. Only once they’ve grown big and strong enough do they venture out, transitioning between their mother’s back and the warmth of the pouch until they mature into adults.


Possum playing dead.

Perhaps the most famous characteristic of the opossum is its tendency to play dead in front of predators. When the animal experiences intense fear in the face of danger, it seizes up and flops to the ground where it can remain for hours staring blankly ahead and sticking out its tongue. It’s an impressive defensive mechanism, but its effectiveness can’t be chalked up to the possum’s acting skills. Possums have no control over when they play dead or for how long they do it: The comatose-like state is an involuntary reaction triggered by stress.


A picture of a possum playing dead doesn’t really do it justice. To get the full experience, you need to be standing over to it to smell the putrid odor it emits when pretending to be a corpse. The smelly substance it secretes from its anus is just one more reason for foxes and bobcats to look for their dinner elsewhere.


Even if possums aren’t the cutest creatures in the forest, they should be a welcome addition to your backyard. Unlike other mammals that carry ticks, and therefore spread Lyme Disease, possums gobble up 90 percent of the ticks that attach to them. According to the National Wildlife Federation, a single possum consumes 5000 of the parasites per tick season. That means the more possums that are in your area, the fewer ticks you’ll encounter.


Possum looking up at table.

Opossums have impressive memories—at least when it comes to food. Researchers found that possums are better at remembering which runway led to a tasty treat than rats, cats, dogs, and pigs. They can also recall the smell of toxic substances up to a year after trying them.


While most animals look at a snake and see danger, a possum sees its next meal. The animals are immune to the venom of nearly every type of snake found in their native range, the one exception being the coral snake. Possums take advantage of this adaptation by chowing down on snakes on a regular basis.

Researchers have been trying to harvest possums’ antivenom powers for decades. A few years ago, a team of scientists made progress on this front when they recreated a peptide found in possums and and found that mice given the peptide and rattlesnake venom were successfully protected from the venom’s harmful effects.


While possums aren’t totally immune to rabies (a few cases have been documented), finding a specimen with the disease is extremely unlikely. Marsupials like possums have a lower body temperature than the placental mammals that dominate North America—in other words, their bodies don’t provide a suitable environment for the virus.


Baby opossum hanging from a tree branch by its tail.

Opossums are one of a handful of animals with prehensile tails. These appendages are sometimes used as an extra arm: They can carry grass and leaves for building nests or grip the sides of trees to provide extra stability while climbing. Baby possums can even use their tails to hang from branches upside down as they’re often depicted doing in cartoons. But it’s a myth that possums sleep this way: Their tails are only strong enough to hold them for a short amount of time.


Thanks to their whole acting-and-smelling-like-a-corpse routine, opossums aren’t known as the most sanitary animals in nature. But they take cleanliness seriously: The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife writes that possums, like housecats, use their tongue and paws to groom themselves frequently and thoroughly. Possums largely lack sweat glands, and this behavior is believed to help them cool down. It also has the added effect of rendering them odorless (when they’re not secreting stinky predator-repellant, that is).


Close-up on opossum's face.

One of the opossum’s most recognizable features is its pair of opaque eyes. Opossum eyes do have whites and irises, but because their pupils are so large, their eyes appear completely black from a distance. The exaggerated pupil dilation is thought to help the nocturnal animals see after the sun goes down.


It was long assumed that opossums like to keep to themselves, but a study published in the journal Biology Letters suggests they have a social side. Researchers at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil observed some possums in captivity sharing dens even if they weren’t mates. In one case, 13 white-eared opossums of various age groups were cohabiting the same space. The scientists suspect that male and female possums living in the wild may even build nests together as a way to trigger the female’s reproductive hormones.


The way it gives birth and raises its young isn’t the only thing that’s interesting about the opossum's reproductive life. Females have two vaginal tracts and two uteri, and males in turn have a forked or bifurcated penis. This is fairly typical for marsupials, but when European colonizers first landed in North America centuries ago, they didn’t know what to make of the confusing genitalia. One explanation they came up with was that male opossums impregnated females through the nose.

Hero Crayfish Cheats Death By Removing Its Own Claw to Escape Pot of Boiling Water

There remains a perpetual debate over the ethical consequences of taking a crustacean and boiling it alive. In early 2018, Switzerland actually made it illegal to give living lobsters a scalding hot bath. (Instead, chefs are expected to stun them electronically before submersion.) Scientists can’t reach a conclusion over whether decapods feel pain—or if we can even define what that means for them.

While humans argue, some clawed sacrifices are taking action. A crayfish filmed by a Facebook user in China is making the internet rounds and being hailed as a hero after taking dramatic measures to escape a boiling pot of water.

In the footage, the crayfish appears to be unable to extricate its left appendage from a bubbling vat of doom. Rather than succumb, the crayfish uses its right claw to sever its compromised claw and scurry off. At 11 seconds, it’s the best summary of a Saw film possible.

“Juike,” the user who originally posted the video to the Weibo social media site, says he has taken the crafty invertebrate home and put him in an aquarium as a pet. The tiny survivalist may even regrow his lost limb, as crawfish are able to do, although it might not reach its former size.

Crayfish are in inherent danger of being turned into soup in China, where specialty restaurants devoted to their preparation are popping up. Some observers believe their popularity is due to diners having to step away from phones and social media in order to use both hands to peel away at their shells.

[h/t BBC]


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