Note: Episodes of Outside/In are made as pieces of audio, and some context/nuance may be lost on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors.

Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:00] Don't cats have an extra thing. They've got these. But then there's something back here


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:03] Then they've got the one up top.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:04] Yeah. The up top guy.


Taylor Quimby: [00:00:05] Oh the dew... the doo claw.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:10] It's called the dew claw.


Taylor Quimby: [00:00:10] Yeah. The dew claw is like that the bonus... the bonus claw.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:14] On dogs they call them that.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:15] Yeah.


Taylor Quimby: [00:00:16] What's the deal with the dew claw?


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:19] Hey Listeners thanks for sticking around with us through a month of heavy somber theme music. Now we're going to have a lot more fun.


[00:00:28] [Ask Sam Theme Jingle]


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:37] This is Outside/In a show about the natural world and how we use it. I'm Sam Evans Brown and I'm here in studio with Hanna McCarthy.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:43] Hi Sam.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:44] And Taylor Quimby.


Taylor Quimby: [00:00:45] Well hello there.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:46] Hannah McCarthy who is now host of her own podcasts.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:49] That's true cohost with Nick Capodice.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:51] ...that's true, cohost of the fabulous Civics 101... Shout out.


Taylor Quimby: [00:00:54] All right so should we just jump into the question.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:00:56] I guess so.


Taylor Quimby: [00:00:57] That's OK. All right.


Carina: [00:00:59] Hi my name is Carina. I'm calling from Beautiful Door County Wisconsin also known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest. I actually was listening to one of your Ask Sam podcasts and you guys were talking about the difference between here and her in dogs and it got me thinking: if Keratin is also creating pangolin scales, is that what makes the hair on insects for example? Cause I know that some insects that have hairs of some type. And then also what composes the pubescence on plants? Some plants have what looked like hairs. What are those made up of? Is it also keratin. Thanks so much.


Taylor Quimby: [00:01:48] Did she just say pubescence?


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:01:50] Sounded like it.


Taylor Quimby: [00:01:51] What is that? That's not... That didn't sound like the way I think that word is used.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:19] Is that what it's called? When plants are fuzzy.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:04:21] Hold on. We should recap for listeners here. So in a previous Ask Sam we discovered that dog hair and human hair are made from keratin, which is a protein that also makes up fingernails, claws, horns, quills... like a million other things... pangolin scales. And so what Carina wants to know is whether or not insect hairs and plant fuzz are also made of keratin?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:36] I can't imagine that plant fuzz is keratin.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:04:40] I don't think so either.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:04:41] Yeah.


Taylor Quimby: [00:04:41] Hey Sam, FYI, We're doing something a little different this time. We're going to hear all the questions and then we're going to come back and get all the answers.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:04:46] Why?


Taylor Quimby: [00:04:46] You'll see just wait.


Carina: [00:04:47] Hi there. My name is Carina.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:04:49] She's back!


Carina: [00:04:49] I am curious to know. I know that most mammals. Pretty sure the get tumors and cancer, I think. I'm not entirely sure about the cancer but I know for sure tumors. I was wondering if insects get tumors and if they don't do they have an equivalent to that? Yeah. Thanks so much.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:03] Cancer is just a form of accelerated cell growth right?


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:06] A tumor is just it's just cells that are dividing uncontrolably.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:08] Yeah. So probably.


Taylor Quimby: [00:05:10] On the flip side though I don't think you know if you've got bugs that live on the spectrum of days it seems like it would be unlikely that they would die of cancer rather than like die of being smacked by human hand.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:20] Yeah yeah. i'm gonna say no.


Taylor Quimby: [00:05:20] Sam you just sound like you're just betting now.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:21] Yeah yeah yeah. Ask Sam to gesticulate wildly.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:25] I want to know how Door got the Cape Cod or the Midwest nickname, that is my Ask Sam, Sam.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:30] Is it a sandbar just like Cape Cod?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:32] That's a great question. Maybe the Kennedys have a compound out there so they named it the...


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:33] ooooh, that could do it.


Taylor Quimby: [00:05:34] Moving on.


Carina: [00:05:35] Hi Sam and company. This is Carina calling from Door County Wisconsin. yet again.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:37] Surprise surprise.


Carina: [00:05:38] You know I just want to say thank you for doing this really fun and educational segment on your show. What came first, chachalaca or the turkey? Thank you so much.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:45] Chachalaca?


Taylor Quimby: [00:05:45] Chachalaca?


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:46] I have never heard of a chachalaca!


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:46] Googling, googling.


Taylor Quimby: [00:05:47] The First step to answering any ask Sam question.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:05:49] Large chicken like bird of Mexico and Central America. The plain chachalaca reaches the United States only in southern Texas. Its name comes from its sound the raucus call. [chachalaca audio] Boom chachalaca!


Taylor Quimby: [00:05:55] Boom chachalaca!


Taylor Quimby: [00:05:56] So. So her question is which came first? Evolutionarily speaking the chachalaca or the turkey.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:05:59] Which one looks more like a dinosaur? Turkey. Although actually I would vote chachalaca.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:03] I would vote Turkey.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:03] Would you vote Turkey?


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:04] Because it's bigger. And...


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:05] Things get smaller.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:06] Yeah.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:07] Yeah.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:07] I Think.


Taylor Quimby: [00:06:07] Okay but what about this so there's a bazillion turkeys. The turkey is like a great generalist right. Like it's all over the place. And the chachalaca might be more specific and regionalised. And what if the chachalaca then evolved into a more generalist Turkey and then spread out all over the place but in one specific place the chachalaca is still around.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:21] I would guess the other way around! Yeah you got a generalist. And then there's a species that hangs out in a specific spot and it finds it niche and specializes.


Taylor Quimby: [00:06:27] One more.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:28] I wonder who it's from.


Carina: [00:06:29] Hi sam and company. This is Carina.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:30] Wait a second.


Carina: [00:06:31] From the wonderful Door County Wisconsin.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:33] Cape Cod of the Midwest.


Carina: [00:06:34] I'm a wetland scientist and mollusk shells in wetlands tend to be a lot more delicate and easier to break than those in the ocean. And we were talking about it and we were wondering if it has to do with the fact that ocean life is more tough and therefore they have to use more energy to make tougher shells? Or is it just because those dollars can just make stronger shells because they've got more resources that are available? Thank you so much.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:51] I think we can pontificate on this a little bit.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:06:53] Yeah.


Taylor Quimby: [00:06:53] Well I also feel like she may have provided us with a pretty solid hypothesis.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:06:57] Right. Well which one do you think is the solid hypothesis because she provided us with two.


Taylor Quimby: [00:06:59] She said that there would be different materials in the ocean that they could be making their shells with. And so just the resources available means that they make better shells.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:07:07] So it seems to me like yeah like the ocean's full of stuff that runs off the land and then accumulates in the ocean -- which is why saltwater is salty -- and so there's more stuff for them to make things out of, versus like a wetland has just... you know... It's only got the stuff running from the hills that are around it as opposed to all of the world.


Taylor Quimby: [00:07:25] Well and there would be all sorts of different types of things with shells in both freshwater and in the ocean. So you'd have to do is do this do the shell hardness on average of ocean molluscs. Are they tougher. Because there's there's going to be some that are lighter shells typically right and some that have thicker based off the type of species.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:07:42] I know what she's talking about like. You know Wisconsin is pretty similar to around here and like those little snails you find in the woods in the like vernal pools, they are very fragile you can just like squish em with your fingers and their shell will crack. Which you know I shouldn't admit that I've done.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:07:52] I was going to say.


Taylor Quimby: [00:07:53] Over here, aghast.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:07:53] So it does seem like that's true.


Taylor Quimby: [00:07:55] What about this possibility that there's something very specific about the mollusks in Door County which we have heard is wonderful. But we don't know about the quality of their water and how that might affect their molluscs. Didn't she say she was a water scientist?


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:08:07] We should just call her!


Taylor Quimby: [00:08:08] We should call her back.


[00:08:08] [dailing sounds]


Taylor Quimby: [00:08:08] I love dailing sounds.


Carina: [00:08:11] Hello.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:08:12] Hey Carina.


Carina: [00:08:13] Hi.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:08:14] You've got the Outside/In crew on your phone.


Taylor Quimby: [00:08:17] Hey.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:08:18] Hey Carina.


Carina: [00:08:19] Hi.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:08:20] Do you have any... do you remember your questions?


Carina: [00:08:24] I remember like the basic idea of my questions but not like exactly what I asked.


Taylor Quimby: [00:08:32] OK can we just ask you a question before we do any of this?


Carina: [00:08:35] Sure.


Taylor Quimby: [00:08:36] Pubescent. That's that's really the word for hairs on a plant?


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:08:41] No no no no, pubescence.


Carina: [00:08:41] Yes.


Taylor Quimby: [00:08:42] I don't know about that.


Carina: [00:08:44] Yeah. When I first learned it, itmade me really uncomfortable. And that's why it stuck with me. Yeah.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:08:48] And now you use it all the time to make other people uncomfortable.


Carina: [00:08:51] And now I just use it because it's like when you're describing a plant you say you just take you back to the hair. I don't know why.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:08:59] I had a similar experience with hanging out with a plant biologist who talked about dehiscense which like don't ever Google the word dehiscence because it can also mean like when boils open and pus comes out like oh god what is this?


Taylor Quimby: [00:09:17] That's not that's not something you want to see on webmd.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:09:19] No.


Carina: [00:09:20] No definitely not.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:09:26] OK. So after a quick break. No more guessing no more goofing off.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:09:30] Maybe a little goofing off.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:09:31] We're going to get to the bottom to all of these important questions including the most pressing one.


Taylor Quimby: [00:09:36] Why is Door County the Cape Cod of the Midwest.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:09:51] All right. So why don't we start with mollusk shells. So you noted and I've observed this too that when you're in a wetland the little shellfish that you find in there have really really thin shells. So to answer this question I've got a gentleman named Frank Horne who is a recently retired biologist who taught at Texas State University. And it turns out the shell question has to do with acidity.


Frank Horne: [00:10:16] In freshwater the pH is that he's usually close to a 7 and sometimes a little bit below whereas The ocean pH is more alkaline or basic... around eight point three point four.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:10:30] So you correctly noted that there's more resources available in the ocean. So that's that's the calcium carbonate that mollusks use to make their shells and there's a lot more of that in the ocean. But the other thing the ocean has going for it is that the pH is more basic. And so you know how do you know how mollusks make their shells?


Carina: [00:10:50] No not really I don't really know very much about mollusks.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:10:53] Well it is a mysterious process because it's really hard to observe because inside of a shell.


Taylor Quimby: [00:11:00] Fair.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:11:00] But what they do is they create like a little what they call it is a scaffolding of material. And on that material they secrete a bunch of amino acids that sort of attract the calcium out of the water so that it just deposits on that structure that they've laid down. And so it's dependent on the chemistry of the water. And so if the water is basic it's easier for them to attract that calcium and if there's more calcium it's easier for them to attract it. So because ocean water has a higher pH it's easier for them to build a shell and it and that works in tandem with the fact that there's more calcium to for them to access.


Taylor Quimby: [00:11:40] So what you're saying is that a mollusk would have a really hard time building a shell in say a pool.


Carina: [00:11:47] Yeah.


Taylor Quimby: [00:11:47] Because there's no calcium carbonate.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:11:49] No not any indeed probably. I was saying I've observed this too that you can like those little those little fingernail clams that you find in Vernal pools you can literally just squish them in your finger even though they have a shell which feels bad to admit to doing.


Taylor Quimby: [00:12:03] It's not cool man.


Carina: [00:12:05] Um if it's Zebra muscle I don't feel quite as bad about it. Because the little ones you can just squish squish squish and you're like "Goodbye invasives!" It's a great way When you're kind of bored out there... just squishin' zebra muscles. That makes me sound like a murderer.


Taylor Quimby: [00:12:18] It's worse if you say SQUISH SQUISH SQUISH while you do it.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:12:27] All right. Back to pubescence here. So the question was are plant and insect hairs also made from keratin or am I getting that right? Is that the question?


Carina: [00:12:37] Yeah.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:12:39] Or are they made from something else. And the answer is something else.


Carina: [00:12:45] Kinda what I figured.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:12:46] Yeah well in the case of insect hairs they're made from the same thing that their exoskeleton is made of which is something called chitin. And here's Cole Gilbert who's an entomologist at Cornell University.


Cole Gilbert: [00:12:59] Keratin is of long protein that is composed of individual amino acids that are linked like beads on a string and they wrap around and coil and make this helical shape into long fibres and the fibres are linked to each other to kind of hold them together and chitin is similar in a general structure except that the beads on a string are sugar.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:13:28] So it's a carbohydrate instead of a protein.


Carina: [00:13:31] Interesting.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:13:32] And plants do this do the same thing they the building block they use is also a carbohydrate. It's just one that you're familiar with it's cellulose. So there are hairs which are called trichomes which are made of the same thing that their body is made out of. So I was thinking about this. Their hairs are really actually more like fingers than hairs. They're just like protuberances.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:13:54] Thousands of tiny fingers in the breeze.


Taylor Quimby: [00:14:00] That is very weird.


Carina: [00:14:00] That's creepier than the word pubescence yeah.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:14:05] But basically all of these organisms we've all come up with a similar strategy which is we're going to make these really fibrous hard to digest materials. We've just used different building blocks to get there. And the thing that differentiates trichomes from animal and insect hairs is that they're also little chemical factories. So for example if you ever Google trichomes mostly what you find is pictures of marijuana plants because the trichomes are where all the THC gets manufactured inside the plant. And so Rob Last who's a plant biologist at Michigan State University he's really into trichomes generally and here's why.


Rob Last: [00:14:51] It's amazing. You know these creatures sit out there and take it from the environment and their only protection is structural and chemical. And so they make these crazy chemicals and many of them are are you know there are poisons and many of them are then turned into drugs or you know antimalarials, preservatives... That's what hops... That's why the British started heavily hopping beer back during the days of the Empire. I think of them as the mad chemist or the mad biochemist of the plant.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:15:25] I wish my hair could do that kind of a medusa thing. Watch out.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:15:33] So. So they're not really like hair. They're not keratin. They're more like fingers and they produce all the crazy chemicals that we then extract from them to do our weird human things.


Carina: [00:15:44] Ha that's very cool.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:15:46] Yeah.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:15:52] OK. Chachala time. Carina if you had to guess which would you say is older evolutionarily speaking the turkey or the chachalaca.


Carina: [00:16:01] I wanna say chachalaca but for some reason I feel like I'm going to be surprised that kind of turkey. I'm going to go with chachalaca.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:16:09] Do you remember our guesses from from our first round in the studio?


Taylor Quimby: [00:16:13] I was team chachalaca.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:16:14] Yeah.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:15] I feel like I started on chachalaca and then switched to Turkey.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:16:17] We Were both team turkey. Yeah And in fact team chachalaca wins.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:16:22] Okay.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:16:27] So so this is the this is the... Oh gosh I'm not good with my phylogeny here. But the group of birds we're talking about are Galliform birds. So we've got new world quails, guinea fowl, pheasants, Partridges, Turkeys, grouse, curassows, guans, mound builders, brush turkeys, waterfowl and ostrich. And Turkey are actually some of the youngest evolutionary speaking in this whole in this whole family tree. The first ones to break off a family was the ostrich but not long after that you've got the cracidae branching off, which the chachalaca were. And that happens 90 million years ago which is -- wait for it -- the Cretaceous period so the chachalaca is in fact as old as the dinosaurs.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:11] Woah.


Taylor Quimby: [00:17:13] Wait you mean, it is a dinosaur.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:16] That's what you're saying Sam. It is a living dinosaur.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:17:20] It is from the dinosaur era and also birds are dinosaurs I don't know if I can. I don't know.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:17:26] I switched to Turkey initially because I thought well that looks more like a dinosaur than the chachalaca.


Taylor Quimby: [00:17:33] The red neck... Very prehistoric.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:17:43] So let's talk about bug cancer.


Carina: [00:17:46] Yeah. T.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:17:48] Urns out bugs can get tumors. I very stridently suggested that because they live for such a short amount of time they can't get cancer. But but if a fruit fly can get a tumor what does that say about cancer generally. And so have you heard of Pedo's paradox?


Carina: [00:18:08] No I have not.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:18:09] Paedos paradox is so there is this observation made that bigger people tended to have higher rates of cancer.


Taylor Quimby: [00:18:17] Like literally taller humans.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:18:19] Like the more cells you have the more likely you are to get cancer. Which lead scientists to assume that bigger animals -- So whales and elephants and things like that -- would also have higher rates of cancer. But when they went out to do the studies and determine the cancer rates of all these different animals they found that there was absolutely no correlation between the animal's size and its cancer rate which was called Pedos paradox.


Taylor Quimby: [00:18:44] And the idea here is that that any individual cell has like some statistical chance of messing up and starting to replicate itself uncontrollably. And so the more cells you have the more chance of cancer you would have had it didn't work out.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:18:59] Right. And also this this lack of a relationship is true not only of size but also irrespective of lifespan. We heard about this from Pawol Michalak an associate professor at the Virginia Tech School of Veterinary Medicine.


Pawel Michalak: [00:19:13] So if we if we had the same cancer risk per cell per time unit as mice. None of us would make it out of alive... Let alone reach puberty.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:19:25] Once again puberty comes up in this. Ask Sam.


Taylor Quimby: [00:19:27] Yeah. It's part of life. It's a part of life.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:19:32] So so in fact some insects do grow tumors and and the very nature of why some things get cancer and other things don't still seems to continue to be a bit of a mystery to us.


Carina: [00:19:46] Very interesting.


Taylor Quimby: [00:19:47] [singing] The circle of liiiiiife.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:19:53] So that's what we've got for you.


Carina: [00:19:57] Awesome. Wow. Yeah those really were awesome answers to questions that I forgot because I asked such a long time ago... but it was super interesting.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:20:09] Oh wait. Here's a question. Why is Door County the Cape Cod of the Midwest?


Carina: [00:20:15] Because a lot of people come up there and they literally treat it like a Cape Cod and it kind of got up like I've never been to Cape Cod it but it's got a lot of shoreline.... There's like a lobster roll shop and we're like, "um... There's not lobsters in lake Michigan." This is not Cape cod, you guys can try as hard as you want. It's not Cape Cod.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:20:38] It's closer to the Arctic than it is to the beach.


Carina: [00:20:42] But that's not as fun for vacationers, definitely not.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:20:45] No. Well thank you. Thank you so much.


Taylor Quimby: [00:20:48] Thanks Carina.


Carina: [00:20:49] Bye.


Hannah McCarthy: [00:20:50] Bye.


Sam Evans-Brown: [00:20:55] Outside/In was produced this week by me, Sam Evans Brown, and Taylor Quimby, with help from Hannah MacCarthy, Justine Paradis and Jimmy Gutierrez. Erika Janick is our executive producer. Maureen McMurry is the director of relations with door County Wisconsin. If you have a question for Ask Sam you can still call the hotline of course, the number is 1-8-4-4-GO-OTTER and you can try flooding the voicemail box, but just as a heads up that tactic has been tried already. There are lots of ways of getting in touch with us. We're on Twitter. I'm @SamEBNHPR. We are @outsideinradio and you can subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter at our website. Our theme music is by brake master cylinder. Outside/in a production of new Hampshire Public Radio.