Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM098: Feed the Queen

The Victoria Bug Zoo is home to dozens of species of insects and arachnids, and two leaf cutter ant colonies.

There's the new colony, with a three year old queen whose kingdom grows every day. If all goes well, she is expected to live to the age of fifteen, laying an egg approximately every three seconds. Her colony is teaming with a healthy population of soldiers, gardeners, and foragers with the potential to reach more than a million ants. There is a constant stream of activity; the soldiers patrol the tunnels to keep the queen and colony safe, the foragers trek back and forth retrieving leaves for the gardeners who busily chew the leaves into substrate.

Leaf cutter ants don't actually eat the leaves they cut down. Instead, they use chewed up leaves to build nurseries for the hatchlings, and to grow fungus gardens. The fungus produces a nectar, and that's what everyone eats. These ants have farmed and domesticated this fungus for many millions of years, long before humans discovered agriculture. This special relationship is called “mutualism”.

The second ant colony -- the old colony -- is not a robust as the first. At thirteen, almost fourteen years old, the old queen recently passed away. In fact, Bug Zoo tour guide Ash Bessant discovered ants dragging dismembered parts of her body to the ant graveyard as HBM producer Bethany Denton was interviewing him.

From: Ants! Natures Secret Power A giant ant colony is pumped full of concrete, then excavated to reveal the complexity of its inner structure.

According to Ash, some of the ants continue to try feeding and cleaning the queen even after she’s died. Without a queen to lay eggs, the colony population will eventually dwindle and die out.

Can’t get enough leaf cutter ants? We recommend the 2013 BBC documentary Planet Ant: Life Inside the Colony

Bethany Denton produced this episode, with editing help from Jeff Emtman. Nick White is our editor at KCRW, and Kristen Lepore is our manager at KCRW’s Independent Producer Project.

Music:  The Black Spot   |||    Serocell


There’s still time...

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HBM097: Fox Teeth

In the Westfjords of Iceland, people wait for birds to come ashore so that they can gather the feathers they leave behind.  These birds, called Eider Ducks, are the source of eiderdown, a ridiculously expensive and rare stuffing for bedding. 

This has landed the Arctic Fox in the crosshairs (quite literally).  These relatively common foxes are opportunistic eaters who snack on eider ducks if they get the chance.

Icelandic Language documentary on the production of eiderdown.

  An Arctic Fox (vulpes lagopus).

An Arctic Fox (vulpes lagopus).

So the Icelandic government placed a bounty on each fox killed (if you can provide its tail as proof).  Hunters of the Westfjords set up elaborate baiting ambushes for the foxes, and wait in darkened houses with rifles in the middle of blizzards.

  The taxidermied body of “Tripod”, a three-legged fox.  Pictured here carrying the body of a seabird (a razorbill).

The taxidermied body of “Tripod”, a three-legged fox.  Pictured here carrying the body of a seabird (a razorbill).

But some foxes are smart enough to outfox the hunters.

Megan Perra heard a rumor of a three legged Icelandic fox named “Tripod” that beat the odds.  A fox that grew to almost twice the normal size from stealing food from traps for three full years (or so the legend goes).  Megan is an illustrator/journalist from Portland, Oregon, and she’s currently working on a video documentary about the foxes’ interactions with humans. 

Megan retraces the steps of Tripod, from his birthplace in the Westfjords, to the lab in southern Iceland where he was dissected, and to his current home in a glass case at the Arctic Fox Centre.

She visits a rural gas station where she finds Jóhann Hannibalsson, the hunter who finally shot Tripod after years of trying.  The two of them go on a snowmobile ride that brings them to a cabin where, in the dark, Megan witnesses Jóhann’s version of a fox hunt. 

Along the way, Megan also speaks to Ester Unnsteinsdóttir (a fox researcher), Siggi Hjartarson (a hunter), Stephen “Midge” Midgley (Manager at the Arctic Fox Centre), and Þorvaldur “Doddi” Björnsson (the taxidermist who preserved Tripod’s body).

  An Icelandic hunter, Jóhann Hannibalsson, at a remote cabin where he intends to shoot a fox.

An Icelandic hunter, Jóhann Hannibalsson, at a remote cabin where he intends to shoot a fox.

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Megan Perra produced this episode.  Jeff Emtman edited with help from Bethany Denton.  All visuals accompanying this episode are courtesy of Feral Five Creative Co / Megan Perra

Music: The Black Spot ||| Serocell


In other news, if you live in the Boston area, and would like free shipping on our HBM Meat Poster, Jeff will deliver you one on his bike (while supplies last).  Just purchase the poster as usual, then we’ll refund you the shipping cost.  Feel free to contact us if you’d like to know if the offer’s still good or to see if you live within delivery range. 

HBM096: Are We Still Afraid?

Here Be Monsters is almost 100 episodes old. It’s grown a lot since Jeff was a scared 22 year old learning audio editing in his basement. So as we approach the milestone, we take a look back, check in with some of our memorable guests, and take the chance to answer some listener questions while we’re at it.

Content Note:

Drug Use (recreational)
Death (accidental)
Death (intentional)
Eating Disorder
Language
Sexual Humor
Sex

On this episode we’ll hear updates from or about:

Luke Eldridge and his sons Griff and Ira from HBM076: Griff’s Speech
Remi Dun from HBM080: An Ocean of Halves
Muhammad Tariq from HBM077: Snow on Date Trees, Then on Pines
Tyler Higgins from HBM052: Call 601-2-SATAN-2
Patti Negri from HBM054: Flaming Sword of Truth
Erin from HBM064: A Shrinking Shadow
Jacob Lemanski from HBM015: Jacob Visits SaturnHBM072: Ant God

▶   You can call us any time at (765) 374 - 5263   ◀

Bethany Denton and Jeff Emtman produced this episode. Nick White is our editor at KCRW. 

Music: The Black Spot  |||  Flowers ||| Lucky Dragons ||| Serocell

HBM095: The Bats that Stay

Not all migratory bats migrate.  We don’t know why some choose to stay behind at their summer roosts.  But according to the University of Washington’s Sharlene Santana, the bats that stay tend to die.  

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Content note:


Language (fleeting)

In this episode, HBM host Jeff Emtman attempts to make a metaphor about bats and humans.  Perhaps it’s anthropomorphic, perhaps it’s unnecessarily poetic, or perhaps it’s a fair one.  

Jeff leaves his home in Seattle to move cross-country to Boston.  Along the way he takes a five day layover in Colorado to meet up with an old friend (Helen Katich) and her girlfriend (Laura Goldhamer).  The three drive from Denver to the San Luis Valley of Central Colorado.  They visit Valley View Hot Springs and walk to the mouth of an abandoned iron mine 10,000 feet above sea level called “The Glory Hole.”  

The Glory Hole houses an estimated 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats each summer.  These bats migrate in from Central and South America to eat bugs and raise their pups.  They fly together at dusk in gatherings visually similar to the murmurations of starlings.   This bat species, also known as the Brazilian free-tailed bat, is extremely social, and perhaps nature’s most gregarious mammal species.  

A preserved Mexican free-tailed bat at the welcome center of Valley View Hot Springs

Helen Katich

Despite this, their social and hunting calls are completely inaudible to humans.  They produce ultrasounds, sounds too high pitched for human ears. But some audio equipment (see below) can still record these sounds, then computer algorithms can pitch them down into human-audible sounds.  

One evening, Jeff and Helen and Laura hike to the mouth of the mine.  At this vantage point, they watch some of the bats flying out and Jeff manages to record some of their loud, ultrasonic vocalizations, before the storm forces them back downhill.  The next day, Jeff flies to his new home in Boston.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode.  He recorded the bat calls with a Tascam DR100MK3 at 192kHZ sample rate and an Echo Meter Touch 2 Pro at sample rates of 256kHZ and 384kHZ.  The calls were recorded at frequencies of approximately 21kHZ to 36kHZ and time/pitch-shifted with Elastique 3.2.3 Pro.

Music: The Black Spot ||| Laura Goldhamer

HBM094: The Fatigue of Violence

In the nearly 20 years that Susan Randall’s been working as a private investigator, she’s seen Vermont’s most disadvantaged people struggling to have life’s most basic amenities.  Sometimes her job is to interview people addicted to crack, to help determine whether they’re suitable parents. Sometimes her job is to examine blood spatter at gruesome crime scenes.  She recently helped defend a client who murdered a DCF worker in broad daylight.

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Content Note:

Descriptions of violent crimes

Susan has seen how humanity’s worst instincts become possible where cyclical poverty, incarceration, and drug addiction wreak havoc on communities.

There’s a necessary split screen in Susan’s mind.  One screen shows a home life: dropping her kids off at lacrosse, helping them with school projects.  And another screen shows a work life: prison visitation rooms, run-down trailer parks, the color-shifted skin of a corpse.

Producer Erica Heilman interviewed Susan over the course of three years.  Erica is a private investigator herself, and Susan was her mentor. The two talk about the mechanics of the legal system, poverty and how to survive a job that takes such an emotional toll.

Erica produces the podcast Rumble Strip. Some of the audio on this episode came from here and here.  Jeff Emtman and Bethany Denton re-purposed this audio for Here Be Monsters.

Music:  The Black Spot