Spooky Stories & Tailless Tenrecs | Natural News from The Field Museum | Ep. 4


Hey, welcome back to Natural News from the Field Museum! We’ve got some spooooooky stories in today’s
episode! New research on a few of Madagascar’s adorable
bacterial-disease carrying critters, a shout-out to our volunteers in the bird prep lab, and
a scary story about how a ghost from science past continues to haunt our researchers
today. Let’s get to it! Tenrecs are funny little mammals – they look
sort of a mashup between a shrew, an opossum, and a hedgehog – some of them even have quills! There are a number of species throughout Africa
and the island of Madagascar, and recently one of these – the Tailless tenrec — was
discovered by Field biologist Steve Goodman and his collaborators to be adorable reservoirs…
for DISEASE. Tailless tenrecs are native to Madagascar,
but have been introduced to Mayotte, an island that’s part of the Comoros Archipelago. And with them they’ve brought Leptospira mayottensis,
which is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted
from animals to humans. The illness the bacteria causes is called
Leptospirosis, and it’s passed on to humans through contact with contaminated urine, blood,
or water, soil, or food from infected hosts, making it bad news for farmers, and those
that work with animals. Contracting the idsease doesn’t come without
some potentially major consequences: while some infected people may not exhibit symptoms,
others can experience fever, headache, vomiting, even liver failure or meningitis – and death. And while it was known to come from certain
livestock animals like cattle and pigs, Steve and his colleagues report in a recent PLOS
paper that the tailless tenrec also carries the bacteria, along with dogs and rats. So ultimately, knowing how different species
of the Leptospira bacteria travels between wild animals, livestock, and humans can help
healthcare professionals and medical researchers diagnose and treat the disease. The good news is that the Centers for Disease
Control recommends limiting your time swimming or wading in water that’s contaminated with
animal urine and you greatly reduce your risk for exposure. So, yeah. Don’t swim in pee. Got it. I’m going to tell you the spooooooky story
about a scientist who took incomplete notes. Doctor Elias Francis Shipman was a student
at Northwestern University Preparatory School in 1872 when he became interested in natural
history – specifically, botany. But on one collecting trip in northwestern
Indiana near his home, he snagged another find: the Hoosier frog, a new and rare species. The find was published six years later in
the 1878 edition of the Manual of the Vertebrate Animals of the Northern United States and
his specimen went to the Chicago Academy of Sciences, but there was a mystery to solve:
where, and when exactly, did Shipman find the frog? The only clue he left was a single name: Benton
County, Indiana. Collections manager of reptiles and amphibians
Alan and coauthor Donna Resetar detail in their recent paper, Doctor Elias Francis Shipman
and the Hoosier Frog, how they combed through records from the herbarium to try and pinpoint
the specimen’s origins. They tracked his movements based off of digitized
school newsletters, and the dates on plants he collected as a student. Alan and Donna narrowed down a year: 1876. During the process they revealed that Shipman
enjoyed going by the name Shippy, and he excelled at intramural sports. While these details didn’t really help pinpoint
the frog’s location, they were kind of fun to learn anyway. Unfortunately, Shippy passed away not long
after graduation. There’s no record of his death, and his original
tombstone has worn away, replaced by one with inaccurate information, leaving his legacy
with even more questions to answer. Perhaps Shippy’s ghost still wanders Benton
County in search for other specimens of the Hoosier Frog, reminding young students: recooooord
exact collecting coordinates. Invest in global positioning systems.. Or you will be haunted by scientists from
the paaaasssssttt. The Chicago Tribune came by the bird collection
to highlight one of the cooler, but smellier, activities Museum volunteers get to participate
in: bird prep! Every year some 6-7,000 new birds are donated
to The Field Museum by a group called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors. Throughout the year, volunteers from the CBCM
pick up any birds that are injured or die as a result of flying into our downtown skyscrapers. The injured birds are taken to a wildlife
rehabilitation center, and the dead ones end up here at the Museum. Each one of these birds coming into the Museum
is accompanied with information about when and where it was found, before going into
a freezer to kill off any hitchhiking parasites or pests. Before the bird is prepped,
the parasites are collected and stored in vials, the bird is weighed, and it either
becomes a study skin or is skeletonized by our flesh-eating beetles – but first! A portion of its tissue is preserved in a
tube and cryogenically frozen for future DNA analysis because, after all, this is the future we live in. In the last thirty years, our Museum has received
more than 75,000 birds that have died from window strike alone. In a single square mile in downtown Chicago,
more than 170 different species of birds have been recovered. There’s a ton of information that can be learned
from these birds, like the weeks the migrations are occurring, and how that changes from year
to year as effects from climate change impacts temperature and food availability. And, researchers from all over the world use
the birds to answer questions about everything from how the age of a bird can be learned
by studying its plumage, to the type of pathogens and parasites found on them, and
how those may be transmitted between birds – and perhaps, to humans. Regardless of what these specimens are used
for in the future, it’s great to have a team of volunteers who help them along to meet
their research potential. If you’re into this sort of thing, be sure
to check in your area for any museums that might be interested in taking birds for their
collections! With the correct permits you, too, could be
tasked with telling passer-bys that the dead bird in your hand is destined for science. Hey, thanks for watching this episode of Natural News from The Field Museum! If you guys are interested in the things we talked about, we’ve got links to articles in the description that you should check out – and make sure you subscribe so you can get a notification every time we post another video! Like, the next episode of ‘Natural News,’ comin’ out in two weeks. Seeya!