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 (!).

Slow Motion Is the Only Way to Appreciate a Chameleon’s Lightning-Fast Tongue

From the unusual way they walk, to their ability to change color, the evolutionary adaptations of chameleons are pretty bizarre, and some of them remain mysterious even to scientists. Their super-powered tongues, for instance, can dart out so quickly that the movement can barely be seen with the naked eye. But modern high-speed cameras have enabled researchers at the University of South Dakota to observe this appendage at work like never before. The video below, shared over at The Kid Should See This, includes some of that groundbreaking footage, and it's pretty amazing to watch.

Shooting at 3000 frames per second, the camera was able to capture every split-second aspect of the chameleon's tongue strike. Slowed down, the video allows you to see how every component of the process works in harmony: First, muscles in the lizard’s tongue contract like the string of a bow. Then, when that tension is released, the bony base of the tongue shoots forward, pushing the sticky, elastic part toward the chameleon’s prey.

According to Christopher Anderson, one of the scientists who conducted the high-speed camera research, larger chameleons can catapult their tongues forward at distances of one to two times their body length. For smaller chameleons, this distance can reach up to two and a half times their body length. “Small chameleons need to be able to eat more food for their body size than large chameleons,” he tells bioGraphic in the video, “and so by being able to project their tongues proportionately further than these large species, they basically are opening up additional feeding opportunities to themselves that they wouldn’t have if they had a shorter tongue.”

To see one of nature’s greatest hunting tools in action, check out the full video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]


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