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. 

HBM093: The Brain Scoop

In school, Divya Anantharaman used to get teased for having long skinny fingers like ET.  But now she sees them as valuable asset for the intricate work she does.  Divya runs Friends Forever Taxidermy in Brooklyn, New York.  

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Content Note: 

Fleshy Sounds

In this episode Divya carries a recorder with her while as she slowly disassembles a deceased pet parrot: snipping joints, scooping brains, removing eyes, separating the skin from the body. Birds’ skin is very thin—Divya likens the peeling to removing a delicate silk stocking.

Jeff Emtman edited this episode with help from Bethany Denton.  We found out about Divya through Erika Harada, another skilled artist in the Brooklyn taxidermy scene.  

Divya Anantharaman with a deceased Himalayan pheasant.

If you have an episode idea for us, please reach out via email, twitter, facebook, or instagram.

Music: Serocell (new album out!) and Phantom Fauna

HBM065: We Pay Them In Meat

Walk through any natural history museum and you’ll see rows of effortlessly clean animal skeletons.  Chances are you're looking at a strange form of human/insect symbiosis happening in the museum’s back rooms.

Preparing an animal’s skeleton for display is incredibly labor intensive for human hands.  So curators have turned to a family of beetles with millennia of experience.

The dermestidae family of beetles have followed humans since our early history.  They’re opportunistic eaters, and they like the things we like: grains, bacon grease, leather, silk scarves, books, carpets.  And as early humans traveled, the beetles came with, colonizing across the globe.

The majority of humans’ relationship with these beetles is and has been contentious, as they tend to wreak havoc on human possessions.  They’re often exterminated as pests

But several species of the dermestidae family have a taste for dead flesh. Including dermestes maculatus, aka. “The Hide Beetle”.  And for this reason, curators have enlisted their help as “museum volunteers.”

At least, that’s what Chris Stinson of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver, British Columbia calls them.  He’s the Curatorial Assistant of Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians and he approximates that he has 20,000 of these volunteers to prep the museum’s collection. 

In this episode, Here Be Monsters producer Jeff Emtman smells the beetle tank, listens to them eat an owl skull, and holds a real flesh-eating beetle.*

Jeff Emtman produced this episode, with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music: The Black Spot

Happy Birthday Paul.  We don’t know when your birthday actually is, but we hope it’s a good one...this year and every other.

*Due to dermestes maculatus’ preference for dead foods, they’re perfectly safe to handle, unless you’re a wild turkey (and if you’re actually reading this, you probably are).  

Timelapse of beetles eating macaw, owl and pheasant, from London’s Natural History Museum