What do cephalopods and science communication have in common? None other than this week’s special guest, Dr. Sarah McAnulty! Not only is she a squid biologist, science communicator, and street artist, she’s the founder of Skype a Scientist—a nonprofit organization that connects scientists and students (and lifelong learners) around the world through live video chats..
Join Laura, Katy, and Sarah as they dissect what makes squid (and other cephalopods) so incredible and why sharing science in a compelling and easily understood way is so important.
If you’d like to learn more about Sarah:
Support the show
Laura: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to For The Love of Nature, a podcast where we tell
you everything you need to know about nature, And probably more than you wanted
to know. I'm Laura,
Katy: And I'm Katy. And today this is gonna be a very exciting episode because we are talking about squids and science communication,
but it's not Laura and I talking about squids and science communication. We have a guest for this
Laura: Not that we haven't like dabbled in both of those topics earlier, but we're
not by any mean professionals in either one. Okay.
Katy: Yeah. I was say science,
communication, Come on now. But we, I almost said, yeah we have dabbled in squids before. A little , a little bit , but not too much. Not too
Laura: squid, dabbling.
Katy: yeah. But we have an expert.
Laura: Yeah. So
everyone welcome Sarah Mcal.
Sarah: Hey there. Thanks for having
Laura: if you've ever listened to any of our episodes before with guests, we're just gonna, get to know Sarah A. Little bit better get to talk with her about her specialties, squids, [00:01:00] and science communication.
And then hopefully and then Sarah too, if you have any questions or comments or wanna add anything, feel
I guess first let me get, just tell our listeners a little bit about you. So Sarah McNulty is an American squid biologist, science communicator and street artist. She graduated from Boston University with a bachelor's in marine Science and then earned her PhD from the University of Connecticut.
She's the founder of Skype a Scientist, a nonprofit organization that connect scientists and teachers around the world for live
video calls. So we are super excited to have her on today,
Katy: And Laura got all that from Wikipedia, which I feel like that's the crown of when you've
made it, is that since somebody can pull your information from
and it be correct,
Sarah: Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about
Katy: accurate. Good.
Laura: We also,
We have to tell you, so our our manager Kim who makes sure that we stay on track about everything. [00:02:00] She's an Uber fan of yours. She's listening to your all episode and there are like several other listeners who are like, Sarah's gonna come on. So
we're trying not to make this too big of a deal, but it is a very big deal for Kim
Sarah: I'm glad. Hear it?
I'll you wanna just
flip flop back and forth, like
Katy: We can go. You want me to start first?
Katy: Alrighty. So Sarah, let's go back to the beginning. What influenced you to become a
scientist and in particular a squid biologist?
Sarah: Good question. When I was a little kid, I know this is
a weird thing for a little kid to be into, but I really like squid.
Katy: Listen, that's awesome.
Sarah: thought they were so cool. I like octopuses were
fine, but I really thought that Cuddle. Fish and squid in particular were completely captivating and amazing and weird and cool. And yeah, from when I was a little kid getting like tape outta the library and watching it at home and there was, it was like a general ocean video and it cuttlefish specifically, and I just couldn't believe how weird and cool [00:03:00] they were.
And so I started there and then I eventually went to college and that was like, 10 years later. And didn't know that squid biologist was even a job. I like, my parents were like, my mom was a therapist and my dad was like a Spanish teacher. And so they didn't really know what scientists did, like what the wide breadth of
No, most of us don't. And yeah, so they were like maybe if you like squid, I guess maybe you'll work at Sea World, like maybe you'll work at the Canson Aquarium. We don't really know where you belong in like a professional world liking squid, so you should just study biology. So I started as a biology major, and then I found the marine science department, which is what I actually wanted to study.
And then I met a
woman who was a cuttlefish camouflage researcher. She
came to give a talk. She wasn't at my school. No. She came and gave a
talk at the Boston University Marine Program. And I like freaked out. I was like, This is it. [00:04:00] This is my job. This is who I'm supposed to be. I was like, Oh my God, I didn't know that this was like real life.
This is great. So, after that I like went up and talked to her. I was like, Hey, like you have my dream job. I, like you don't even understand how. Amazing it is to meet the a person who has the job that I didn't even think existed. And so, long story short, after that I started working with cuttlefish that summer.
That was after my sophomore year. And then I worked with him again the summer after that, and then eventually went to grad school to continue squid stuff. And so in my PhD was on Hawaiian bobtail squid and their symbiosis with bioluminescent bacteria. So my
PhD is actually on molecular and cell biology, not like marine biology
or squid PhD.
Yeah, it was, I mean, it was great. I hadn't even
taken cell biology before going to get a PhD in cell biology.
Which is perhaps ill advice, but it was
Katy: that talk. Talk about diving into the deep end. That's diving into the deep end of gasoline while you're on
fire and just like [00:05:00] hoping
Sarah: so I studied marine science as an undergrad, which like honestly was, I don't
wanna say mostly fisheries management, but a lot of what we'd talk about as a department was like climate change ecology, fisheries management, and like marine geology.
Like I had, I took a
marine geology course like all it was truly marine science, not marine biology. The degree was not marine biology, so I didn't have a lot of The deeper biology classes. In between undergrad and grad school, I knew that to get a PhD in molecular and cell biology that I was completely ill prepared to actually do that.
So I took off two years and
went and worked in a lab that was doing diabetes research. Not cause I was
particularly interested in diabetes, but because I knew I needed some time to fill in
the gaps. And
Katy: That's smart call. That's a smart call though. Cause I mean a lot of
students, Cause I, I know and I help a lot of students with career pathways and career development and it's stuff like that. Sometimes you have to take a step in the, Yeah. Take a step off [00:06:00] to then get
back on the track that you need to.
And I think so many people forget that, but That's
fine. Yeah, and it was great cause
I moved to Germany for that job and so I
like got, it was sweet. I like, I had neither boyfriend nor dog at the
time, so I was like, what are we waiting for? Let's go do, let's live somewhere else.
Before I like settled down into grad school, which,
So here we are. So yeah, That
worked with obese mice. It was very cute.
Laura: I was
Sarah: they were so fat and so cute and yeah, so I looked at their pancreases under a microscope. And also during that time, like I used iTunes U, which I don't even know if it exists anymore, but they had,
Katy: Oh, I forgot about
Sarah: It was useful at the time.
This was back in like 2012. They had full biology courses from, I think it was Stanford. Randy Shackman is like a Nobel Prize winning cell biologist. He hadn't won the Nobel Prize at that time yet. But I took his biology course, his cell biology course. Like I didn't get graded, but I got all the information into my brain so that when I [00:07:00] did go to grad school, I wasn't totally up the creek without a paddle.
Yeah, that's how I became a squid
Laura: No, that's really cool. And I think that is all important for listeners because I was just talking to some coworkers the other day who were fresh outta college and thinking,
biology is so vast, so vast, and nobody really most people going into it have no idea that there are even certain career choices like squid biology or if you can dream it, it exists,
But like finding your person. Did you, did
you, the woman who came to
talk, was she always passionate about
Sarah: I don't think so. Her name was Lydia Methgar. She grew up in Germany. I don't know like how she got to be cuttlefish biologist.
So she, at the time was a staff scientist under this other guy, Roger Hanlin. Roger Hanlin led the lab. Lydia has her own lab now, but at the time she was a staff scientist, so she wasn't the head of the lab, but she's the head of her lab now and she was really interested
in the structures in cephalopod skin [00:08:00] that
ess so she was like doing a lot of stuff on like the structure
those, the cells slash structures.
Laura: Right. I was just wondering if she
was like a total squid geek too and was like, Holy crap. This is amazing for
me too. Cuz I have now found a person who is as into cuttlefish as
Sarah: I don't think she felt that way. I, think she was a little overwhelmed by my enthusiasm.
Yeah. But that was fine. She was
so great and she was a really wonderful mentor, cuz also at the time this has certainly gotten better since, since then.
But I hadn't, no, I I had no female role models. The entire marine science department was men. The entire
department was men. Zero
Laura: Yeah. And I can see
like too, the difference between I
bet there are more
women in marine biology, but not in marine
Sarah: Maybe. Yeah. What a good
Laura: I don't know. Maybe not, But like marine
like every girl wants to be a dolphin trainer at some point. in their
Sarah: I know It was
Sarah: It was wild because I think 60 or 70% of the [00:09:00] students, undergrad students in marine science were women. And we looked to the next level, Nothing, nobody. And that wasn't great. So in, in addition to her being a cuttlefish scientist, she was a woman cuddle scientist and
Some serendipity that you guys met.
Sarah: I felt very lucky It all worked out.
Laura: So follow up to the question of how you
got there. What does a typical day look like now?
Now that you are of
biologist, are you doing stuff with
Sarah: so, no, not even a little, Well, it depends on how you say doing stuff with squid. So now my job is being the executive director of a nonprofit that does science communication. And the, how this all happened. I, I was a graduate student. I was doing science communication on the side just for fun because I was having a good time doing it.
And then , Trump got elected in early 2017, got inaugurated in early 2017, and scientists online were just in an absolute panic spiral about[00:10:00] a lot of it was like really introspective, sad sack stuff about we've failed as scientists in communicating the direness of climate change if people are voting for this guy.
Because if you vote for this guy, you clearly don't realize how
bad climate is. So they were like, What can we do? Oh my God. And it was just this Yeah. Doom spiral. And nobody was really making it doing anything productive. It
Just grief and
Katy: Freak out. Just
Sarah: panic and understandable.
And there's space, obviously there's
there's a need for having that moment. But I was like, Hang on, there's so much energy right now that could be funneled towards something good. And so I founded this program called Skype of Scientists. We match scientists with classroom scout, troops, libraries, anybody who needs to talk to a scientist.
The goal here is to have personal connections made between scientists and people who aren't scientists. And the idea behind that being having a friendly face to science that you can build a some kind of relationship with, might make you trust science a little more. Might make science seem less of.
[00:11:00] This very distant to modern, everyday life stuff, make it more personable and accessible and all of that. Started it then I did it because I thought it needed to be done, not because I thought it was gonna be my job, because I loved being a squid biologist. I loved it. It was the best.
But it kept growing. And then when I graduated with my PhD, two and a half years later, it was too big of a program to continue being a squid biologist and also run it. And there was nobody else to run it. And I know that makes it
sound like I trapped myself in science
Katy: Listen, Laura and
Sarah: But I did. I like,
I did, and I'm okay with it.
I, because looking at what your
actual job is as a professor, the amount of time that you actually get to spend with the animals in the lab is so small that I was like, I don't know if it's worth.
Generally. And so I, if I could have stayed, if I could make the amount of money I make now, which is not a lot, it's way less than a professor makes, but.
[00:12:00] It's fine compared to what a grad student makes. If I could make this amount of money and do what I did in grad school, run this program and do some squid experiments, like that would be ideal. But that job doesn't exist. So here we are. I'm running this full time and I do a lot of squid communication so I know the people listening to this podcast can't see me, but you at this moment can, I've got these squid that I glue onto poles and walls in public.
It's a street art technique called wheat pasting. And it's all part of this greater project called the Squid Facts Project. The Squid Facts , it's like, it sounds silly, but hear me out. I really think it might be more useful than it, than meets the eye. The Squid Facts Project is like a many pronged beast that all
is focusing on getting squid facts to people.
Katy: Cause this was the
right? Because I think I, I think from
not knowing you prior to this, I feel like that's when you really kicked off a presence online. That's whenever I first heard about you [00:13:00] was from the squid facts. The texting thing is
everything was them pointing back to you on that.
And that's when I first heard about
Sarah: there's been a couple
inflection points in the science communication trajectory here, the Squid Facts Project is it does really well. The idea here as I was spending a lot of time on social media and spending time with other science communicators who primarily use social media to communicate, we were finding on social media, the people who willingly follow a squid biologist, the social media accounts that get a lot of followers, let's not include maybe like Bill Nye or Neil Degrass Tyson, but even them to some extent, if you're following even Bill Nye or Neil Degrass tyson, like you,
like science, at least a little like you
are like, yeah, they
have like, Right, right.
That's not really a new population. Those are people that already like science, probably already trust scientists. So yeah, Bill Nye has 6 million followers on.
So all of those 6 million people, Yeah. it's a huge reach.
It's a huge number, but it's not like it's, it's made, [00:14:00] it is unlikely to be
completely new audiences, right? So what that, this is something that a lot of us have talked about again and again, just like been frustrated how do we break out of these bubbles and actually reach people who aren't science interested?
And so I was like, All right let's just start playing around and see what works. And so I started with my car, the Squid Mobile. She's just a rav4. But I drew squid all over her. And then on the back window it says, want a squid fact, text squid to 1 8, 3, 3 side text. And that's the third generation of Squid Mobile.
The, there were earlier things that didn't work as well, but
that's where we've landed. And then, and that kinda, that worked.
Laura: Bet I would absolutely in traffic be like, snap a picture.
That's what I saw. And because there was I can't remember what it was, but somebody took a picture of it and then that's, and I think it was oddly enough on and it just took off from there. Cause everyone was like, Oh my gosh, we need to text this number.
Sarah: that was back in April. It went extremely viral in April, but it's been like that since like 2018. It's been just driving around the east [00:15:00] coast since 2018. And then in 2020 I started with a sticker campaign. So I've got these little four inch by four inch stickers that
say, wanna a squid fact text. Oh yeah.
To 1 8 33 side text. to see
Katy: which is awesome. Oh,
Sarah: Oh, yeah. Well, I was thinking, I wanna know who's
texting from the squid and who's texting from the stickers. So I
signs for both. I never really dug into that
data, but whatever. So here we're, and then I started engaging more in the street art community here in Philadelphia, which is a very rich culture of street art compared to some other places.
Lots of graffiti, lots of stickers, lots of wheat paste, lots of stuff happening in Philadelphia. And then I started doing the wheat pasting, which are bigger. They're handmade. They're all different kinds of squid. And that is where you put wallpaper glue on the wall, you stick your art to that, and then you plop wallpaper glue on top of that again.
And then it, like ki it kind of weather proofs. It'll last a couple months, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, depending on where you put it and how actively the
city cleans where you put it. [00:16:00] It's definitely not legal, so I don't recommend
Laura: just gonna say, I was, that was
Sarah: Yeah, it's the
Laura: how is receptive?
Sarah: Well, it, it really depends on where you live.
Philadelphia, there's a ton of street art. It's like literally part of our culture. So it's, and the fine in Philadelphia is the worst that could happen to you is you get a $300 fine for littering. And in all likelihood, that's probably not going to happen. But it could happen. So if you are, if you know you're already in a vulnerable community where you get targeted more than like a white lady, then then that's the worst that could happen to you.
The worst that could legally happen to you, we know that horrible things could happen to you doing literally nothing. But that's a whole other kind of conversation. So anyway, but if you were in I was talking to a group of graduate students in Edmonton and Canada and that's Alberta, and they were like,
We don't have hardly any street art.
So I'm like you really shouldn't do this then. This
Laura: apparent that it was you. Yeah.
Sarah: probably not the spot to do it, but I it's so ingrained here in Philly that I sign them, like I put my handle on them because there's just it's just, it's okay. Cause a [00:17:00] lot of the street artists do
And it's just like normal.
Laura: As long as you're not defacing private
Sarah: right? It depends on the place. Most of it is like the subway poles that I do. Some of it will be abandoned buildings, which are technically private property, but they have the plywood over the windows that many people will put stuff on.
So it becomes like a a community art board. And so that you gotta pick your
spots and have judgment. I'm not gonna
like put it on somebody's house, obviously, like,
like, you know, that would be a
ridiculous thing for me to do. But yeah, so then we have a hotline that texts people back with squid facts that costs 250 bucks a month to run.
But originally it was me texting everybody back.
Katy: Oh my goodness.
Sarah: yeah, that was that was fine at the beginning because it hadn't gone viral yet. So maybe on it it was increasingly getting busier and there came a point where I was pretty regularly texting 10 different people every day.
And that's when I was like, This is too much. I need
a robot. So that's when I started with the robot. [00:18:00] Um, it's
Katy: But also, were you ever texting and anybody was like, Who are you texting? Asking, And they had to be like, I'm Squid Facts. like,
Sarah: People all the time would be like, Who, what is this? Explain yourself. And other times people would just wanna talk about other
stuff texting the squid facts hotline. And so I would talk to them about other stuff, like whatever.
But the robot does not have that
just texts you auto,
Laura: At least you, at least you have
Your mom being a therapist and everything. You've got like
Sarah: I, my mother certainly taught me patience with people for sure. So that was useful. So eventually, yeah, I switched the robot and then in April of this year it went viral, over and over again. Cuz sometimes when one post goes viral like meme aggregator accounts will rip it and then post it again and again.
texted the hotline in a week.
broke the hotline. The hotline stopped working
because it was just too [00:19:00] much, too much traffic.
Laura: The poor
Sarah: robot was doing our best. Uh,
Sarah: oh man. It was pretty funny though. But yeah. Anyway. Now. So at the beginning of this year of 2022, about 10,000 people had texted the hotline.
Now, I'm looking at the numbers
right now. 58,498 people
Katy: I mean, did you ever, did you ever think that you would hit that
point? I mean, you weren't,
obviously you knew at
some point you
had to turn it over to a robot, But
Sarah: But I didn't
ever think this would happen. No. And I put my stuff in so many places and I try to make different, iterations unique so that it feels new every time to people. And that has, that's worked pretty well. One of the things we're working on for next summer, cause I'm like applying for the grants now, so it's like a lot of lead time is doing bar coasters focused on wildlife that lives down the Jersey shore.
Cause a lot of people in Philly go down the shore for the summer. And so we're focusing on horseshoe crabs, comb jellies, ghost [00:20:00] crabs, animals that people are actually likely to encounter on vacation, but who
Sarah: Really think about them much, know anything about them may not really appreciate them for how cool they are.
And I'm working with local artists here in Philly Each animal will be designed by a different artist and then it'll be like learn more about the shore text shore to the same hotline. But when you text shore, it'll spit out Jersey Shore Animal Facts.
So yeah, we're trying to like, keep it also relevant to the people that we're talking to and not just do all squid all the time. Like the Squid Facts Project is nice because it's just like a playground for testing techniques and seeing what works and what doesn't. And,
Then I can use that information to then other stuff.
Laura: Well, I really think to it what
helps thank goodness your passion is about such a
unknown, quirky creature. I feel if you had
A, I don't know
sheep, a sheep of a,
well, horses maybe, but sheep, No. Um, not as
many people would take you up as Yeah,
don't know anything about squid. And they're cool.
And so it's an
animal that is
[00:21:00] vehicle for this.
Katy: It's the, curiosity behind
So when I'm like driving around,
Philly, I'll have people just be like, like Squid mobile, please explain yourself. Like what? There are no squid in Philadelphia. What are you talking about? And that's always a good yeah, inroads
to conversations with a scientist.
Laura: Yeah. Really cool. So, where are you getting the money from to do the hotline?
Sarah: It's hard. Mostly from small donations
on our Patreon.
Katy: What's the name
of your patreon on so we can send everybody there as
Sarah: Please do. It's
patreon.com/skype a scientist, So that supports the whole Skype of Scientist program. But the Squid Facts Project is part of Skype, A scientist. All the science communication I do is, is part of Skype, a scientist. Yeah. Yeah, that would be great for you to support. And we also have a little shop where we have squid stickers.
You can get the one, a squid fact squid sticker and then put it wherever you live. That would be great. Spreading the squid facts that way. And then we have, these are actually like, so silly. We just released these yesterday. These are
like squid facts, advent calendars and they're
Katy: Oh my gosh, that's
Sarah: They're very cute. Another squid biologist she's actually an octopus
biologist, but she designed
them with me.
They're like scratch offs. So like every, every day of Advent you take a coin and you scratch off the scratch off, and then you
get a squid fact every single day. So that's at squid facts dot big cartel.com.
That's our, our merch shop And so you can get stickers and advent calendars until, I don't know, the 23rd of November is when we're shipping out the calendars, because I want you to have them
for the first day of Advent, which is December 1st.
Laura: Cool. So donations to Patreon, you're getting it that way. And then you
were just talking
we are a 5 0 1 C three, so I do apply for some grants. We sometimes get little grants here and there, but we haven't really gotten a big one. I hope to, I one day hope to get a big grant, but it hasn't happened yet. So yeah, that's generally how it works. We haven't gotten any grants for the Squid Facts Project yet, but I've submitted three
this month, so Fingers crossed.
One is for specifically the Coaster Project.
Laura: Oh, yes, yes, So a typical [00:23:00] day for you now, now that you have moved away from squid
biology and into science communication, what are you doing on a daily
Sarah: I'm writing grants, I'm answering emails from teachers helping scientists figure out how to best communicate their work. I'm making things for the Squid Facts Project. I host live streams about once a week during the school year that are q and as that anybody can hop into. So you don't
have to like go through the process of getting matched to the scientist if you don't want to.
I run science trivia. Right now, it's still every single Thursday night, but starting in December it's gonna be once a month. And the second Thursday of every month you can come to Science Trivia. I. Half of those questions. And then other folkswrite the other half that's, it's a wild mix of what my days are like.
It really depends. It depends. Sometimes I'm filing really boring paperwork with the state of Pennsylvania
or sometimes that's what I'm doing. It really depends. Yeah. But that's certainly
Laura: yeah's. Cool. Besides science
communication through Skype, [00:24:00] you're using your art to do it, which is
really cool. I saw you have
an etsy shop. Is that yours personally or for other
Sarah: my Etsy
is me. That's when like I embroider
little squid and stuff like that. And the other thing that's me and not Skype of scientists are the classes that I teach through Atlas Obscura. I teach an animal mating class twice a year and then a squid class twice a year.
The animal mating is a four week class. All about animals doing it. It's so silly
Laura: That we've loved, We've done, we've done two episodes so far about animal mating
Katy: There's some of our, Yeah. Popular
Sarah: Yeah, I'm teaching it again in late January leading right up to Valentine's Day. So it's every Monday in late January up to the day before Valentine's Day, cuz Valentine's Day is on a Tuesday this year.
Sarah: gonna be a silly time. And yeah, I also teach
90 minutes Monday nights.
And you don't have to go you don't have to be there at that time. You can watch it some other time in the week. You don't have to, they're recorded so you can watch 'em later. It's more fun to be there, I think, at the time. Cause then you can ask me questions [00:25:00] live. But you don't have to be if that's not,
you know, working with your schedule.
And then, yeah, I teach like Cephalopods 1 0 1, but actually I don't really talk about octopuses. We call it life lessons from Cephalopods. Seas the day life lessons from Cephalopods. But I pretty much, I like touch on octopuses, but I don't go too much into octopuses because I feel that
octopuses get too much attention compared to squid.
And I think, I mean, they're very cool. Okay. I'm not gonna say octopus aren't cool, they're great. It's just that squid are also extremely great and more diverse than octopus is like octopuses for the most part. You're an animal with eight arms and you sit on the sea floor and you do weird cool stuff on the sea floor, but squid.
There are so many different types of squid, different shapes of squid, different behaviors, different habitats. Like there
are so many ways to be a squid and there's pretty much just one way to be an octopus. And that might be because, I
Laura: that is like a proverb, but I like
that on a
shirt. There are so many ways to be
a squid, but only one way to be an
Sarah: Yeah. There's maybe like two ways to
be an octopus, but
maybe three at the most. But like, yeah, there's like a
hundred ways to be a squid
Laura: We, Let's get rid of the saying there's lots of ways to skin a
cat and we'll just make
it. There are
lots of ways to
Sarah: Yeah, Yeah,
There are like about 300 different species of squid. So I like to say there are 300 ways to
be a squid.
so there you go. Yeah.
Katy: So why do you feel that science communication is important? I mean, obviously this is in, you know, mine and Laura's, field that we love.
But what's your take on it is, why do you feel
Sarah: I mean, I think that many of the problems that we're facing right now as a society, not all of them, but a lot of, like the really big ones are solvable with more science, literacy climate change, being one of 'em. And Covid Hello, what what a swing and a miss on that one. Like we could have we could have done it, we could have made this so much better, but people didn't trust science
and so it was a mess.
Katy: The one time that we
like, really need people to just like,
just trust scientists for one, one
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. It's a, it was a real, you had one job science type situation, and we just like Lucy and Charlie Brown
with the ball. It was it was tough to watch
Sarah: as someone who's tried to work on science literacy for years and years. I was like, Oh my God. So basically I think that trust in science is incredibly important to saving our own butts.
Climate change being a huge part of that. And we need people to trust science and scientists. And that isn't really happening. And so the silos that we have ourselves in right now, partially because of social media, it's really, really easy for people to really curate the information that they receive in ways that just is already what they already think and what they already think that they know.
That's a huge problem. And so breaking through that I think is essential and isn't really, Happening enough. So that's what I'm trying to do. And like the Squid Facts
project seems silly and like objectively is silly,
but Right. So I, here's my big
hypothesis going right now. I think that the messaging, just, not even the [00:28:00] messaging, just the reality of climate change is bleak.
The reality of covid was bleak and pretty much like all of the news, maybe not all of it, but like maybe 90% of the news coming out of science, the world of science generally has been negative. And I think, so as a result when your everyday person hears a scientist coming on the news, they brace for bad news.
And so some portion of the population when they see the scientists come on is just gonna literally shut down. Start scroll on their phone, turn off the tv, stop listening, because they're trying to protect themselves emotionally. And maybe that's maladaptive for all of us, but that is Whether or not that's true is almost beside the point, because
can't stop them from doing it.
They're gonna do it. They're, they're gonna do it. And so we need to
Stare that reality
in the face
and figure out how to fix it.
Laura: Right that, Right that there's gotta be, I cuz like you're saying,
I, I feel like it's very, We are, we're on a two way street here, it's very important for us to get the word to the non-scientists out there. [00:29:00] But I also think
it's very important for the scientists
to realize that they also have to
Sarah: And listen. Yeah. The listening part is half of science communication and is also part of it. That doesn't happen. I think I, particularly in the last I don't know, three to five years, there's been a a heightened focus on moralizing as we talk to each other about what is good, what is bad, and overall that's a good thing.
It's good that we like check ourselves and think about what we're doing, but when that prevents you from having enough empathy for someone who's not doing everything right, voting for the right person and shutting them out, that means that,
The communication isn't happening. And maybe for you as a person, as an individual, that's the right choice for how you wanna live your life.
And that's totally fine. But if all of science says, Oh, you voted for someone different from me. You don't understand the things that I understand, you're dead to me. We're screwed If that's how
these things, we need to have some of us at least willing to yeah, listen to those folks and empathize with them enough to get our [00:30:00] messages to them effectively.
And I think a lot of it is like repairing emotional damage from the bleak reality of both climate and covid. And so having a silly Squid Facts project. Is, it's not doom and gloom there, it's just silly. It's Hey, you wanna learn a thing about a cool animal? Hey, we're from science. Would you like, So fun science facts.
I promise I won't say anything sad to you right now. And like, and yeah, I could talk about how some deep sea squid are threatened by deep sea mining, but I'm gonna just not for a minute. And allow a positive experience with science to happen in the hopes that we can build off of that for the next thing,
so that the next time a scientist comes on the tv, they don't literally immediately turn it off.
Laura: It's because It's definitely gotta be, and I
know Katy feels the same way that, what we've seen in our career is people have to love something in order to give a crap about it. So you are helping them fall in love with squid,
then we can worry about them wanting to protect squid.
But at first they
have to love
them. [00:31:00] And that's with, I think anything in science,
know, they have to love
the planet enough to want to save it.
We've both worked in zoos and a lot of animal people aren't
They've chosen, they've chosen the career for that very reason. And, but they still have to talk to people. And I think
Sarah: It's, there
almost has to be more training. If you go into a hard science field, you have to realize that
You will not be in a silo. We don't live in that kind
Sarah: Right. Well, the, unfortunately, it's, it's easier than
ever to be in a silo. It's it's the easiest it's ever been to be in a silo.
But it's not working out for us. It's but I don't necessarily think that every scientist needs to be a science communicator. I think it's okay for some of them to if you don't want to do
science communication and you're forced to, the science communication that person does is
often so bad.
Laura: Right. So even
if they're not trained in
communication, at least be good at sharing information to the people that need to be like, We shouldn't be holding
onto this information that we found.
Because who are you finding this information for? It's [00:32:00] not
Laura: and, and, you know,
trying to find anything.
Thankfully we've both been in grad school where we had access to scientific papers, but otherwise
it's really hard to find that
information out there
Sarah: is. and to even understand what the heck is going on in a field like
adjacent to yours, let alone.
Laura: No. All,
Katy: That, that's, that's
a really good segue though, Laura. We wanna go over some
Laura: Yes, Yes. Yeah. So like we were saying, we
think it's very important
and we do,
yay. We have a, another
Sarah: We have another
guest. This is my Otis. She's named after bats.
Look how cute she
Laura: Giggles has been wanting to be
Sarah: She's been exploring. She's my little dust.
Laura: a little
Laura: Our listeners know that we sprinkle in the doom and gloom, but in general we're trying to reach what, who we call nature novices, which are the people who are ,
[00:33:00] Listening to my Nature podcast.
So obviously they have a little investment like you were saying, but might not know everything. So we want people to fall in love with the stuff that we fallen in love with. So squids, Katy and I both talked about squids in the past , but like I said earlier, we're by no means experts. So we wanted to ask you a few questions about what makes them so incredible.
First of all, let's super
What makes a squid a squid? What makes it different and unique than
Sarah: Good question. Generally speaking
Squid have eight arms and two tentacles, except for the ones that don't. They generally have color changing structures in their skin called chromatic forres, except for the ones that don't because it's so squid. Here's the thing about squid.
There are a lot of things that we use the word squid to describe. And some of 'em are quite different from each other, like the ones that don't have two tens and the ones that do. But generally speaking, they're a cephalopod which means that they have a mantle, which is basically their torso that holds all of their organs, and then they've got their face [00:34:00] that has their eyes and their arms, so their face has their arms on it.
And that's basically what makes a squid. But there's just so many d.
Places that they live. Yeah. Whatever rule you come up with for squid, you're gonna be like, Ah, wait. But then there's that one squid that doesn't do that. So it's very hard to say what a squid is. An octopus is like cephalopod with a head and eight arms.
And then there's the squid that have all sorts of different things, but cuttlefish and squid are pretty closely related. They're both what we call decapod cephalopod. So that means 10 limbed broadly cephalopods. And so the cuttlefish also have eight arms and two tentacles and have many of the same internal organs that squid do.
And even some squid have more organs in common with a cuttlefish than they do with other squid. So it's yeah, it's a file of genetic mess. The depos. So like when we say there's octopus squid and cuttlefish, that's true, but. Is that an accurate representation of how everything's
related to each other? The lines are a little bit blurry, like a cut. What makes a cuttlefish
is you have a cuttle bone, which [00:35:00] is your a shell that used to be on the outside an evolutionary time, and then was brought inside and it's a buoyancy device. And they are able to transfer gases between their blood and this this internal shell so that they stay neutrally buoyant in the seawater.
They don't sink, they don't float. So when you say what makes a cuttlefish no problem. Eight arms, two tentacles and a cuddle bone, that's a cuttlefish. But what makes a squid? Things get really hairy.
Laura: interesting. It's the, if it's not, it's a cephalapod
Sarah: not a
Laura: or a cuttlefish.
Sarah: Pretty much. Yeah. Yeah. Right, right, right, right. There's also nautilus that are very obviously a Nautilus because they have a, the big spiral shell, but they're way separate in evolutionary time from the rest of them. Um, they're their
Katy: Yeah. Cool.
So out of the 300 species of squid, how many have you
Sarah: Great question. I've worked with reef squid, market squid, so that's like, um, the market, the squid that you'd eat in calamari bobtail squid.
Laura: hold on quick, [00:36:00] quick side note. Why do they call them
Sarah: great question. They're not really squid. So cause round silly little butts and their little fins are really short and stubby and fat. And the fins, I think are the bobtail in that. But bobtail squid many sepal biologists
say you shouldn't even be using the word squid to describe them. You should just be using the
word bobtail. Poor bobtails. I'm like, well, but when you use the word
squid to describe a vampire squid that like really, really isn't a squid, they're more, they're like, they're like their own saying, but like closer to the octopus family than,
Katy: They're terrifying is what they
Sarah: They're silly. They're silly guys.
They just eat poop. They eat poop and
mucus and dead stuff. They're doing their best. They're not trying to hurt
Katy: That's another T-shirt we, we need Laura. It's just like a little vampire squid. It's like I, I, too and I poop. And then just like a little vampire
Sarah: Cuts. So I worked with Bob Tails working on symbiosis and then cuttlefish.
I worked well, cuttlefish arent squid but cuttlefish. I worked with sepia a fish, and Alice, the common cuttlefish. I've also [00:37:00] collected at least from freezers broad club, cuttlefish from Japan and little other little bobtails, so Hawaiian bobtail squid. And then these other little bobtails that live in
I've got those as well. And use those as well for, for, uh, sequencing. Yeah.
Katy: That's quite a variety. That definitely
Sarah: And I did work
with octopuses for a minute as an undergrad brief spell.
Katy: you're like,
No, thank you.
Sarah: They're great. It's, no, I, I
Laura: but not as
Sarah: Cool. Cool. You know, not, not cool,
I just, I say I, I'm trying to give squid their day
I feel like now talking to you, I, you know how every state has that, neighboring state that they're like, eh, we're from Pennsylvania and it's always West Virginia. . And then here, Texas,
everyone's like, Uh, Oklahoma. I feel like squid people now are like, Eh,
Sarah: That's how I think that
might just be me. Like, I think most other CEP biologists are like, of course octopuses are
cool. And I'm like, These
fucking octopuses. I, I've had about enough of
Laura: That's how all we are with, pandas or [00:38:00] some other things. We're just like,
they get too
Sarah: right. Yeah.
I just think that squid deserve a
lot of attention. They're so weird, So cool, so
amazing. And So many d, so many weirdo app adaptations that I want people to know about.
So that's why I'm like on a crusade to
bring squid to more people.
Katy: So that brings up a good point. In your opinion, what is the most fascinating aspect
Sarah: Oh, there's there's so much to, to talk about. I think probably their communication with color change
is, is one of
the coolest things. So there's some species that do this in a, in really complex ways, and others that like just don't do it at all. So Humboldt squid have they flash white and red and they've got some bio essence going on in there too to help boost their contrast in those patterns.
And they've got many different patterns that they seem to line up almost like
words to communicate with each
Sarah: we don't understand
Katy: See, this is terrifying. Like this is when
we start to get down the path, it's cool,
but because they are animals. People
Katy: enough credit.
Sarah: They're not, we're not giving humbles [00:39:00] good enough credit. I
Katy: That's what I'm so that's why it's
terrifying. It's like, all guys,
Yeah. So we're, we've learned a lot about this in the
last 10 years cuz people have spent more time observing Humboldts with but yeah, we've gotten, so scientists, not me personally, other scientists have put together a library of their patterns and they don't know what they all mean yet.
But they're working on it trying to figure out like when they flash this means this. And by contrast, there's another squid, the Caribbean reef squid, CP Sepia. They live from the east coast of Florida down to northern South America in the Caribbean. And we have a pretty good sense of what each of their patterns means because they're really easy to find.
You jump in the water where they live, they're pretty abundant. They live in shallow water. They're not super skittish. They're curious about humans. They're like, Huh, what are you? I better check you out. They're really cute. They're like really lovely to swim with because you can't make any sudden movements at them.
It's a wild animal that's much smaller than [00:40:00] you. They will eventually become afraid of you, they will check you out and maybe follow you around for a little bit and just be like, so, yeah, they, we have a pretty good sense of what their patterns mean, but they don't seem to do it in in succession the way that we think maybe the humbolt squid do.
We don't understand enough about the humble squid to make any hardcore state, like clear statements there. But I hope that those scientists keep going and I can soon. So anyway, the, there the reef squid will put on one pattern to particularly around mating. There's a lot of patterns, but put on this one pattern that's I think I might be interested.
And then the male will be like, Well, I'm interested. And then the female will be like, Well, I'm interested. And then it's a different pattern than the first pattern. And then they'll be like, it's
on. And then mating
will start happening.
Katy: if only real life was that easy.
You know what I mean? We
Sarah: Yep. Uhhuh
good. Okay. Yeah, I'm
Laura: Well, it'd be so cool. We've talked about animal communication, one of our episodes and we were talking about dolphins and They've made an advice that you can wear now and communicate with certain noises. It'd be very cool if we could pattern flashing two squid, like [00:41:00] we could there be
two way communication between humans and squid.
If we could figure out the patterns, like it meant more than mating,
Katy: it's like, like close Encounters are vibes
Laura: go down, you'd
have like a flashing
vest and it would be like,
man, that's so cool.
Sarah: I, you know, give us time. I, I hope
Laura: Yeah, I think so too.
Sarah: never know.
Laura: Okay. I love debunking
myths about animals or like wrecking people's perceptions about
animals. Like, I love wrecking
perceptions of like penguins and stuff.
So is there any myths that you're like, Man, I love
destroying that one
Sarah: , God, I bet there are, bobtail squid or not cuttlefish, that's a
common misconception. Oh, reef squid are also not cuttlefish. Reef squid are often mistaken for cuttlefish because they have a fin that goes all the way around their mantle and so do cuttlefish, but they're different. And they also have eyes that look
pretty similar. It's
very understandable, but that's not
That's not a common
pro. It's not, [00:42:00] that's
Laura: I'm trying to think of anything that I think I know about.
Sarah: that kraken are probably
squid. Yeah. So when, okay. So here's the
thing about squid broadly, they have different approaches to staying neutrally, buoyant.
So it would prevent themselves from sinking too much or floating too much. One of them is just a flap, a lot just swim actively and stay where you are. Some of 'em will incorporate ammonia into their tissues and. The reason they do that is that ammonia is less dense than sea water. And it's a lot like, if you've ever heard of sharks will incorporate oil into their liver and stuff to help them stay neutrally buoyant.
Sarah: totally similar mechanism. It's just instead of oil,
They're using Yeah.
so, Totally. Yep. Yep. And so that's why if you ever catch a giant squid, you shouldn't eat it cuz it'll
Laura: Just like pee,
Sarah: ammonia. It's like, yeah, like cat pee, Like it's gross. But anyway, so when they're in the process [00:43:00] of dying, a lot of times that like ammonia balance just gets totally outta whack.
And so as a result, they'll float to the surface of the water. And so you often a lot of times when we encounter living giant squid, it's a dying giant
squid. They just look
they're like disoriented and, and
often it's really sad.
Laura: it. Your worst
Sarah: know it's not
Laura: trying, trying to die here. Alone,
Sarah: Please. I know. So there's a, there's like a video from
maybe like two years ago of this Australian dude paddle boarding and he encounters this giant squid and the giant squid's wrapping its arms around the paddle board. But it's just disoriented and dying. It wasn't like aggressive, it wasn't malicious.
It was just like, who are you? What's going on? And that
kind of is, okay. So imagine that you're in a Viking long ship Longships. Were like, I wanna say 60 to 65 feet long. So not short, but not huge, right? Cause a giant squid with its tentacles completely spread out is 40 feet.
Katy: which is just
Sarah: which is real big. But like their actual
bodies, so their [00:44:00] mantle and their arms
is, are nowhere near along.
Laura: right. Not like sink a,
Sarah: they're not
ship that's not the, So I think, yeah, maybe, maybe the big myth is
that giant squid are guardian who, they're in fact just very big squid. They're very big.
They're bigger than me, but they're not.
Huge. They're not tackle a many I don't know what you call those ships that have many sails they're not like pirate ship. Huge. They're just really big. So if, if you were in a skiff, like a
little boat, or if you were on even like a Viking long ship, I would imagine that
maybe they could rock the boat a little bit if they
Laura: Yeah. see some long arms
Katy: But, but again, the poor thing's just dying and it's
probably just like, uh, I just need to go and everyone's like, Ugh.
Sarah: exactly. Right.
Laura: How thick how thick is it? Tentacle on a
squid? That big
Sarah: wrist. Oh.
Laura: so like
Sarah: Tentacle tentacles though are thinner.
Arms, arms are probably
arm width. [00:45:00]
Laura: but not beefy.
Sarah: Yeah, like colossal squid might be a little
bigger. Colossal squid, by the way,
are the biggest squid by weight.
Laura: Okay. So is archis, That's the
Sarah: arch to this is the giant squid. Yes,
correct. And the colossal squid is,
Katy: Yes. Somebody else who has trouble. Listen, that's this whole podcast. I,
we could make a, a whole podcast episode just on
me, horribly trying to pronounce things so
Sarah: it's hard. But yeah, maybe there's,
Maybe a giant squids as, as big as my, like bicep in, in parts. I don't know that. Not thin,
not skinny, like pretty big, but not
Laura: yeah, yeah. Like when you see the Kraken in movies, we're
A horse body, thickness of
Sarah: Yeah. That's not it. That's not
Sarah: Yeah. So they're big. They're not that
big, but they're still big.
Laura: Oh, I guess maybe is it a myth or not a [00:46:00] myth? I guess it's just a question. What about the
Sarah: It's beaks. It's just beaks.
Yeah. So I believe in Pirates of the Caribbean.
There's teeth in there. And I was when I saw that. I was like, I was like, Beaks are crazy enough. You don't need to
invent circular teeth. If there's an animal that big with a
beak, a proportional
beak, that's scary. Why are we editing
something already Terrifying.
doesn't make sense. And there's a tongue in there called a ragula, and the ragula is also covered in like little tiny teeth.
Like it's not a desk. Exactly. So that's also scary. Open the be and have it do. Its
like creepy little ra move. That's horrible.
Laura: flesh off bones.
Sarah: Yeah. And so the fact that we'd be moving using teeth, I'm just like, this is just silly. This is foolishness. And I don't care for it. Yeah. Yeah. So no teeth except the RA teeth, it's mostly just beaks. And the beaks are very cool. And they all have one [00:47:00] that's one that we can
say All cephalopods have
Laura: Okay. Okay. Beaks. Cool. Cool. All right, Katy, I think we got two more.
Katy: All right. So our manager, Kim, wants
to know if you still have a beak
Sarah: I do still have a beak, Well, it's not under my bed anymore
because I have more space than I did in college. My beaks are proudly displayed.
Do I have any beaks near me?
Laura: what a good segue that we literally were just talking about
regular to ask me about
because I talked about it on The Ologies podcast. and at
Laura: That's where she heard it and she was like curious.
Sarah: let me just say this, at the time, Ologies was not that big. So I thought I could just tell this silly story about trying to make out with this boy. But now everyone in the world has heard that story and I'm like, No, I'm sorry.
Um, sorry Johnny that I blew up your spot on that, but whatever. Anyway. No, I think all my squid bes are downstairs. But I do have a bunch of squid fossils here. For what that's worth. Hang on, I'm
gonna like, I'm gonna lose my Sorry, I'm like [00:48:00] attached by the ears over here.
I've got some like
amite. These are like,
Just extinct cep. I'm trying to get it
if you look at it with your eyeballs, you can see the iridescence in there. Yeah. And it's not really happening. But here's one that's
has to show up on the camera.
You can, you can
kind of see it. There's a rainbow in there. It's better with your eyes, but what are you gonna do?
So I've got a bunch of little ammonites.
This one might do it for us
Laura: Are they, what? Are they closest? Are they like a
Sarah: so they're on their own. Amite are totally like,
There's ammonites. There's. Colloid cephalopods, and then there's noids.
And so they all totally, their whole lineage one extinct so that they didn't lead to anything. Meanwhile, the nights Do I have any nights here? What the heck is this? They're like, basically they just look like squid, except that they had a shell inside their body. That's some kind of tooth, a moosa sore
fossil. Totally. Exactly. And then over time, either [00:49:00] that internalized shell turn into a pen which are like the very, they almost look like a very long more bendy fingernail that keep the structure of the squid presence. So like in a in a market squid, they have
Laura: remember that. When we
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Uh, bobtails don't
have anything in there,
Laura: okay. Then I was reading about, your research
and about Alpo Immunology. Can you tell our listeners a little
Sarah: Sure. Yeah. The thing that I was really working on was how a bobtail squid, particularly their immune system, can distinguish between bacteria that it wants to keep around and the bacteria that it might wanna destroy. This is all about like how animals have beneficial relationships with bacteria.
Bacteria lives all over us, lives all inside of our digestive system. And so understanding how animals like maintain healthy relationships with bacteria while still killing things that would hurt you is open question that we're [00:50:00] learning more about all the time. And so what I was looking at is how did the immune cells called helotes inside squid how they distinguish between them and basically they're just reading the surface and looking at the sugars on the surface of the.
Bacteria, and that's what they're using to say, Hey, you're my buddy.
Sarah: not. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. So that's what I was doing. It was a lot of making movies of cells under a confocal microscope. Very fun, love fancy microscopes. That's one of the things I missed the most about my job as a squid biologist.
Yeah, so that's what I was doing. And I was also looking at this would be a whole thing. We could just knock it into it. But it's another beneficial organ that's only in female squid. So there's this organ, oh, sorry, Ka that's in female squid and cuttlefish. Not all squid, Only some squid, but
of course. So it's called ANG that stands for accessory ment gland, but you don't have to worry about what it stands for. You can just call it the a g. It's a like bunch of tubules. And inside each tubul there's bacteria and usually there's like only a [00:51:00] one species of bacteria. We think.
Maybe we're starting to think maybe there's more than one sometimes, but whatever. The gist is that when the female goes to lay her eggs, she's taking the bacteria from those tubes and squeezing it out, like pastry bag style and mixing it into the jelly code of the eggs. And the reason she's putting bacteria into her egg coat is to protect the baby's squid because the bacteria will
make antibiotics and antifungals that
Katy: That's cool.
Laura: Just like our own babies, like when we give
Sarah: Totally. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. We
do the same
Yeah. So they we're looking at what is the diversity of different ceppos species ANGs, Like how many species do all NGS have in common? What determines what's in your ng? Is it where you live or who you evolve from?
all sorts of questions like that
Laura: You'd think you're right. You'd think well, I would think that it would be place based
because of the Right. Which is so weird because you'd think that it
would be where you are, [00:52:00] you have to be adapted
deal with bacteria in
Sarah: mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm.
Sarah: Yeah. It's very
Sarah: So that's what I worked on.
Laura: cool was there anything else you wanted to mention
besides going to your Patreon and going to Skype? A scientist, anything
Sarah: That's really it. Follow me on social media please, Especially because I might lose all of my Twitter followers and any day. I'm @SarahMacAttack on all the social medias that I'm on. On mastadon, I'm at Sarah Mcac Sycom, xz y xyz, xyz. And on I'm on Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram @SarahMacAttack and
@SarahMackAttack as well.
Laura: Okay. And we'll put all of that In the episode description. Okay then. With all this being said and the importance of science communication, how can our listeners participate in science communication?
Sarah: tell your friends fun squid facts. Text the Squid Facts hotline, and then Text your Friends some squid facts. That's good. If you're a [00:53:00] scientist participate in Skype of Scientist. We'll give you opportunities to connect with classrooms all over the place. I think doing science communication on social media is a great place to both practice and also actually do science communication.
And if you're a scientist that wants to bring a science, communication, street art project to wherever it is that you live, whether it's this kind of street art that I tend to do or Commissioned murals please reach out to me. I can help with that. Let me know what you wanna do, cuz Skype, a scientist also will become part of grants for the National Science Foundation to help get, make projects happen locally, wherever you are.
So that's a thing that we can do to help out with whatever
you got going on. Happy to help.
Katy: That's so cool. All right, so finally, and this is definitely our most important question of this whole episode. If you could be any species of squid,
which would you be and why? Choose wisely.
Sarah: I think Humboldt
squid. Mm, Humbolt squid eat each other. I take that back.
Laura: Yeah. [00:54:00]
Sarah: I ,,,,,but they're so big and strong and cool. And they talk to each other and I like talking. So that attracts me maybe a reef squid. Cuz they also, they're beautiful. They're like rainbow colored and they also talk to each other and they spend all
night eating and
all day talking to each other. So that
sounds ideal. That's, Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And the reef, it's beautiful there. Like, part of me wants to be a deep sea squint cause I just wanna experience what that is but I'm like, will I be cold? And then I'm like what a
human saying to San. Of course they're not
gonna be cold, they're gonna be regular.
That's where they live.
Laura: Right. Like we would be I would be
Sarah: I would be too, but maybe they're
not lonely, Right? Because that's just their vibe. But would I be me in their bodies
living their experience? I don't know what a question. But I think reef
Katy: re squid
Sarah: gonna have a good
Laura: Yeah, that's a good choice. That's a good
choice. Well, Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today. We've both, I've definitely learned a lot about both science, communication and squid. And as a fellow science [00:55:00] communicator,
we appreciate the fact that you are passionate about it and that you
Katy: Yeah, absolutely.
Sarah: Yeah, Great. Thank you for having me. This was really
Laura: Yeah. Keep doing what you're doing. We will push your stuff too. Skype scientist sounds like a really awesome thing to be doing. And I actually
will keep that in mind too for projects
Thanks for joining us, everybody.
Katy: you. Bye.