Chicago Adventure, Part Three: Little Skeletons

Chicago Adventure, Part Three: Little Skeletons

The Chicago Field Museum is one of the largest and most respected natural history museums in the world. Join me as we go behind the scenes! Dun dun dun! Because of the nature of the collection we have all of these old, wild-caught specimens and you can put a zoo specimen of the same species in amongst the wild-caught and it stands out like night and day.
– Yeah, yeah. In terms of shape and excess bone, and all these weird- missing teeth.
– Yeah, abcesses. Yeah it’s ick. Andrea is our go to person for numbering bones. We would love to give you a demonstration of how fine she puts a six digit number on a skull that’s about that size. I would love to know because I have demolished a couple pygmy shrew skulls. So these are not numbered yet, – What?
but on something this small I would do the pelvis, each of the limbs, and the scapula.
-Oh my gracious. Are you- what? What’s usually the most important things to number are each side of the mandible and the skull. A researcher is most likely gonna look at the skull first.
– Mhmm. Wow. So. This is like watching magic happen. And if the pen’s working fine, then it just takes that, but if- also if the bones are really greasy using a larger pen where the ink will flow out a little bit quicker works better and usually with uh, something that’s pretty greasy, I’ll write the number out once and it’ll be really dilluted and you won’t be able to read it very well, and then I’ll write over it again. And what do you do if you screw up?
– I’ll use a scalpel and scrape the ink off. once it’s dry, or I will use alcohol and like, a Q-tip. and wash if off and just let the bone dry.
– Okay, and just… Um, and so for the skulls, our rule of thumb is to put the skull facing to the left, and imagine it as a, a grid with four quadrants and we put the number in the lower right. You just put it in a little pill capsule. Yeah, so little pieces that are just gonna get lost like, under the piece of paper end up going in a little pill capsule. Um, and then the, the pill cap will get numbered. I swallow things bigger than that. And this guy’s legs are-
– You’re not even, you’re not even gonna do that. The legs are being-
– I don’t even believe you right now. And look at those nails.
– I know, it’s- it’s wonderful, it’s like you were anticipating this.
– I painted them, just for you. Other systems of writing are different than ours, so sometimes the numbers are always on the other side, or they’re always written at an angle, or-
– Wow, weird. Yeah. Like, it’s stuff you don’t really think about until you actually see it, so. Yeah, no, I- I thought about that too.
– Yeah. Like, when I first started numbering I’m like, what? Where do you write the number on a femur? I’m sure if you came to our collection you would be horrified because sometimes I’m just like, “Aah- 26835” or whatever, and just wr- wherever. Well, especially when the bones are like, big, you could theoretically write it wherever you want,
– Yeah. but like, having a system of like, always writing something in the same place is nice,
– Consistency is key. like it’s not always gonna look the same from one animal to the next.
– Yeah. It’s amazing. You got some skills.
– But, yeah. Thank you. I’m very impressed, that was really sweet. So many cabinets! What are these? What’s in here? I’m so excited!
– What’s in here? Aaahh! Seals? Are these seals and sea lions? Seals have multiple cusps on each tooth, right?
– Yeah. So you see like, 3 or 4 points on each of those teeth?
– Mmhmm. This is a harbor seal, and this- uh, these points, these cusps uh, would allow this seal to grab a salmon and grip it, and it wouldn’t get away, like a tight end has little points on his gloves
– Yeah. so he can catch the- the football. And that’s a characteristic that’s found throughout all the phocids. They have, uh, cusps on each tooth.
– Mmhmm. But, there’s one particular phocid that has those cusps, but evolution has left them with a morphology that makes them use those cusps in a completely different fashion than the harbor seal. Ready?
– Mmhmm. What is happening- Oh, what. Is this a crabeater seal? That’s awesome. Th- They have the weird Christmas tree teeth.
– And what do they do with them? They filter for krill.
– Emily, you’re the best! That’s amazing! You can see all the details on all- oogh- Why? How did this happen? So they- they take a mouth full of water, close their teeth, and then squeeze the water out through their teeth and filter out all the krill. All the, the small, microscopic quote-unquote “crabs”- they’re actually invertebrates.
– Yeah. But, uh, and that can sustain them, and it’s the most populous seal in the world. That’s amazing. Yeah.
– Not only in Antarctica. So the same thing that sustains hundreds of thousands of these guys also sustains the 100-foot-long blue whales.
– Wow. All in Antarctica.
– Tha- tha- I can’t even- I don’t even know how this happens. Lobodon carcinophagus. “Lobed-tooth crab-lover.” That’s a pretty accurate name for these guys. I want teeth that look like that.
– Yeah so th- How long- How long would it take me to like, adapt and grow a pair of those? So, I don’t know, but if I come back next week, and these teeth are gone, and I see the next episode of The Brain Scoop, and you’re wearing some necklace with crabeater seal teeth on them…

About the Author: Garret Beatty


  1. I'm in love with this channel and I'm so sad there's no more to watch yet. BUT I'm very glad you got sponsored/supported to go to Chicago! 😀

  2. sorry i am new to the channel so this is my question:did you ever go to the beaty biodiversity museum in Vancouver i swear i saw you when i worked there?

  3. In the very beginning of the episode there was a brief discussion of zoo skeletons vs. wild caught skeletons. Which ones end up with the extra bone, abscesses etc? I would have assumed the wild ones but the conversation was unclear.

  4. I'm so glad that you're in Chicago and the next time I'm at the Field Museum, I'll be sure to note how awesome it is that you are there 🙂

  5. Necklaces with fake crab eater seal teeth. They would be neat. If DFTBA could find a way to do that… *laughs *

  6. Oh my gosh, Emily, do you have a P.O. box because I might just have to make you some crab-eater seal teeth earrings

  7. HA, I'm dumb. I thought this was a nail tutorial for painting skeletons on nails or something based on the thumbnail. XD Was a great watch anyway though! 😀

  8. Why??? was the crab seal skull the only one in the drawer? is there a skull of the same seal type before its teeth evolved into those?

  9. I'm just gonna say this video was shared by I F***ing Love Science, a facebook page with 5,878,083 likes…

  10. Holy what!?! To say that I'm impressed by Andria's labeling skills would be a complete understatement. Steady hands, dedication to organization, plus a WAT level of penmanship at that scale completely astound me. I'm keeping this PG, but all I want to do is swear. Dang. Jeezy creezy. Holy flip.

  11. The reason this channel rocks is because Emily is the real deal. She knows her stuff, and it shines through in all of the videos. Brilliant footage. Keep the videos coming.

  12. This is actually one of my favorite episodes of the brain scoop, because the thing I love about this whole series is that intriguing things and special gifts can be found in places you didn't even know existed. Andria Niedzelski has an amazing skill in numbering that may never have been appreciated by anyone, but she found her place and YOU GUYS found her, and now a whole community can celebrate her talent. Thanks Emily, Michael, Hank, (and Heather Hsu)!

  13. 5:32 when did she actually said that for the first time? And what is her job? Help me less recent subscribers, please… Don't do it for me, do it for this cute little spider

  14. I love how she guesses the seals from one look at the skulls. When I'm (incoming opinion!!) guessing the guy was hoping he would stump her.

  15. What is the numbering system? Does it just go in order or do the numbers tell you something about the specimen?

  16. I've been going back and rewatching these videos and it's so fun to watch Emily delight in the Field Museum and watch everyone be delighted with Emily finding delight in everything – it's like the most delicious and satisfying dramatic irony as a watcher to know that in the future Emily will get to work here and have these people as colleagues.

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