Importance of Natural Resources

SciShow Talk Show: John Roach on Ecology & Freckles the Leopard Gecko

[Intro] Hello and welcome to the SciShow Talk Show,
the day on SciShow where we talk to cool people about interesting things. This is Dr. John Roach. He is an ecologist
and has been for quite a while, and I just got briefed on his whole history. There is
a lot to it. Start me off at the beginning of your ecology career. JR: Well, I took a turn from studying government
and doing policy and realizing that it was hard to advise people when I didn’t understand
science. So, when I had an opportunity to work in Yellowstone studying coyotes, I packed
my bags and moved from Washington D.C. to live in Yellowstone and study coyotes. HG: That sounds pretty awesome. Uh, when was
this? JR: Uh, this was in the mid 90’s, so before
wolves were introduced, when coyotes still roamed- HG: Ruled JR: in packs. So, they had large packs there,
and people were keeping track of those, and they were the premiere wildlife viewing during
the winter. I used that as a stepping stone to move on to do a Master’s degree. So, I
took some courses getting ready for Master’s, but then I started studying pikas. Part of the reason I was interested in those
is the same sorts of questions occur around pikas as did really about reintroduction of
wolves. Do pikas structure plant communities because of their fear of being eaten? So, pikas are these rabbit-like creatures.
They are in the rabbit family. They are about the size of a hamster. They live in high alpine
areas. They hide in rock areas because that’s safe, but there is not much food there so
they have to venture out from the talus to find something to eat, and the further they
go, the riskier it is for them. So they tend to concentrate that foraging on areas that
are near the edge of the talus. And consequently, they have a really strong and interesting
impact on which plants you find where. And this is the same idea, that people were
wondering whether or not when wolves were returned either by simply reducing the number
of elk or by changing where they forage, if they would change the plant communities. HG: Mhmm. JR: They are an interesting critter from a
conservation perspective because they are, uh, widely thought by some people to be a
potentially “canary in the coal mine” for climate change, because as the world warms
species ranges are assumed to move uphill, and if you are already on the top of the hill
there is not much room to go. So there’s certainly some people that are interested in pikas from
that perspective, but I wasn’t. I was interested in their effects on plants. HG: So that was your Master’s research… JR: Correct. HG: I introduced you as doctor so you must
have continued. JR: I did! So I – one of the things I like
about pikas was they’re charismatic and they’re fun to observe. But.. HG: Ah-Adorable. JR: Yeah! And so that was great. The difficult
thing about working the high alpine is that the plants there grow really, really slowly.
So we set up this experiment and we watched it for three field seasons, which is actually
a fairly long Master’s and small changes occurred. During that time I had been working with some
people that did aquatic work. Aquatic systems are fast. Algae grows quickly. So I moved
to the desert where streams are uniquely defined and started to work on urban systems and look
at how they functioned. And they were nothing like what I expected because they are artificial
and they are canal water that’s being moved through them, that’s been pumped from underground
and it’s collected over long periods of time. But they are fast in terms of their ecology.
Nutrients change quickly over time. Plants grow quickly and so they are really nice systems
to study how ecology unfolds. HG: So you were studying the ecology of just
general water systems in the desert? JR: Well, our lab did. Our lab was focused
on that, but I had a unique opportunity. One of the things that the National Science Foundation
has funded for long term, long time is something called the LTER network, Long Term Ecological
Research. And the idea is that ecology unfolds over longer time scales than the typical PhD
which is the average length of a study. And they have these all over the place, including
Antarctica, the tall grass prairie, etc. And when I started my PhD they were starting two
of the first urban ones. So there was an urban one in Phoenix and Baltimore and that afforded
me the opportunity to try and understand how streams in a city might be very different
than streams in the surrounding area. So we focused on this strange, artificial watershed
that lay in what was historically a dry wash, where water only flowed during monsoon rains
and now flowed whenever people opened a spigot. HG: Mmm. JR: Yeah. HG & JR: (laugh) JR: But it’s neat. You can see these interesting
ecological signals there so you can see areas that are significantly cooler just because
people irrigate so much more. They’re greener, they’re cooler. And, they also track strange
things, like income because wealthy people have the money to irrigate and manicure their
lawns in a place in a way that more impoverished folks don’t. So you see this real difference
in the climates of different neighborhoods, that is income related. HG: Wow. JR: So you have this weird interplay between
what people do and how the ecology of the city works, and this is part of what makes
these urban LTERs so interesting is trying to combine these individuals who are doing
– these scientists that do social science – with people like me that are more interested
in ecology and link them to create a really rich understanding of how cities function. HG: Awesome. JR: Yeah! HG:Really cool. Um…Jessi from Animal Wonders
I think is now going to show us some kind of animal. So she will appear shortly. Where
you’re sitting and you will be scootched over one chair segment. *snaps fingers* HG: Hi!
JKC: Hey! HG: Magic! It’s a lizard.
JKC: Yeah! Wait. HG: More specifically…
JKC: Yeah, yeah. Ok, this is a leopard gecko. Her name is Freckles.
HG: Freckles. God. (laughs) JR: Of course.
HG: So this is a leopard gecko. It is, I am gonna to go ahead and say, kinda ridiculous
looking. JKC: Awww…
HG: I’m not…there is nothing…I’m not…I don’t think I am going to injure its feelings.
JKC: Its sensitive. HG: Ok. Ooh…does it like that?
JKC: Yeah! Wanna pet her? HG: Ok, yeah. That’s sorta what I expected
you to feel like. I’m gonna stay in this part mostly.
JKC: Ok! Now feel right here. Kinda like rub your fingers
HG: Oooo…whoa…that feels like – like I’m touching a bug. I would not-
JKC: A bug?! HG: Yeah. Like a grub.
JKC: Yeah, yeah. There ya go. HG: Yeah, it’s more… more than a bug.
JKC: Yeah. Be gentle with it. HG: OK.
JKC: So what happen is, they store fat in that tail. It’s – it’s used – it’s two-fold.
It’s used as what I like to say a refrigerator. HG: OK, yeah.
JKC: So, it can store extra nutrients in there in the form of fat. So when it can’t find
food in the wild, it can just – HG: Just carrying around its-
JKC: Absorb it. HG: Lard stores.
JKC: Yeah, yeah. Which is, I think’s pretty neat. But then, if a predator’s gonna come
along and try and eat her, she can drop her tail.
HG: I mean, you say drop, but is -is it – it’s more like it gets yanked off.
JKC: Um, they can actually – it can get yanked off. But she can actually let go of it without
without any pressure coming onto it. Yeah. Yeah.
HG: That’s crazy. JKC: Um, yeah. So, she’s gets really, really
scared, you know, she’ll make this movement and it’ll break off. And actually the tailbone
there actually has little fractures on it so it comes off easier-
HG: And then that’s a one time thing. JKC: Uh-uhn.
HG: Wow. JKC: Yeah! OK, so this is really cool. So
this will actually like – JKC & HG: (laugh)
HG: Animals are weird! JKC: They’re awesome! So, the tail will like
twitch for up to 30 minutes. HG: Right.
JKC: So, it’s gonna like move around. HG: Right, so it’ll be a ‘lil delicious.
JKC: Exactly. A delicious morsel sitting there with no defenses. And so the predator will
come and will chomp on that, and be very satisfied – it’s delicious – and, and very nutritious,
and uh. The gecko will run away, which can run much faster without this heavy tail on
it too. So it will escape with its life. And then, it can actually start to regenerate
its tail. As long as she gets food- HG: Right.
JKC: whenever she needs, and actually extra food because now she’s not just sustaining
her normal function, she has to regrow her tail. When you think of a gecko, what do you
– where do you picture them? HG: In Geico advertisements.
JKC: Yeah. HG: Sorry.
JKC: Yeah. HG: This is – this is not my fault.
JKC: I know! I know. It’s alright. At least you know what a gecko is, because that –
HG: Yeah, uh, jungle-y. JKC: Mhmm.
HG: Moist. JKC: Are they crawling on the ground, or are
they stuck somewhere? HG: Oh, yeah, stuck somewhere.
JKC: Yeah. Stuck up somewhere, ya know. Because they have those really cool hairs on – on
their feet that allow them to do that. These guys don’t. Ya know, if I stuck her
on a smooth surface, she’d fall right off, just like we would. She has little claws on
there. Can you imagine having those pads that stick to things?
HG: Oh yeah, sand all on your sticky pads. JKC: Would be a terrible, terrible idea. Would
you like to hold her? HG: Of course!
JKC: Yes. HG: Uh, insectivore.
JKC: And she just walks, so just – just keep putting your hands in front of her. Yeah.
Um, well she’s a, yup, carnivore – HG: Yeah.
JKC: And so she’s only going to consume insects. And sometimes, little tiny baby mice. But
mostly, it’s going to be crickets and worms and other little grubs like that.
HG: Where ya going? JKC: When they’re babies, they hatch out of
an egg, and – she’s truckin’! Careful. She will fall off your arm. So when they’re babies,
they’re born. They come out and they have these black stripes on them. They look super
cute. HG: Cute.
JKC: You’ll find them in pet stores, and people will get ’em. And you have to do your research,
because I’ve seen way too many cases where they’re given to small children as first time
pets. And, small children, “oh! I want to pick up the little oh, it ran away from me.
Oh, I’ll just grab its tail and pick it up.” HG: Oh, yeah.
JKC: And the tail come off. Which is very stressful to the lizard, it’s not a good thing.
Just because they can regenerate it, doesn’t mean that you should make them.
HG: Beautiful animal. Where you going? JKC: See if she wants to eat something.
HG: Oh yeah, we got food for you. JKC: Just set her on the table.
HG: I see it. Do you see it? JKC: I love when they hunt.
HG: Get it. Get it. JKC: Wait, move your hand. Oh, oh, oh. Let’s
see if she is – oh she sees it! Ok, watch her tail. If she does it do though.
HG: What is it? Oh, oh. You look like a cat. JKC: Ohhhh!
HG:Oh man, this thing has no idea what it – what it’s in for. It was walking toward
it. JKC: Delicious. Well, she didn’t do it. Maybe
she’s a little too fat. Her tail’s pretty heavy right now. But a lot of times, they’ll
do that prowl thing. And then, right before they launch towards it, the tail will like
do this little twitch – HG: Twitch
JKC: Like cats do. Very similar to cats. It’s really neat.
HG: It definitely looked like a cat. Yeah, yummy. That was good.
JKC: Oh, you did so good. Would you like to hold her?
JR: Sure. HG: We’re so lucky.
JR: Very. This thing’s very content. HG: Yeah.
JKC: Yeah. JR: Well fed.
JKC & HG: (laugh) JKC: Happy.
HG: Yes. Your, your leopard geckos have the biggest tails Jessi.
JKC: Oh, thank you. (laughs) Yeah. Here. I’ll put her up so you can talk to her.
HG: Yeah. Thanks for your visit. Have a good day and enjoy your worm things. Appreciate
sharing your peculiarity with us. Thanks for coming, Jessi. Jessi is, there’s a link to
her youtube channel in the description, which you can check out. And thank you to Dr. John
Roach for sharing your story and insights with us as well.
JR: Thank you for having me. HG: Thank you for watching. If you want to
keep getting smarter with us, you can go to and subscribe.

Reader Comments

  1. You know what would be awesome, if you get a local band and play music as guests walk in. Try to emulate Letterman. he has been doing this forever.

  2. Jessi is my YouTube Kerry Byron… Before Byron got knocked up. They are both the Yang to my Yin.

  3. I also agree with a lot of comments regarding Hank's hosting skills. He's always fine with Jessi, but I cringe a lot when it's an unfamiliar guest on the show.

  4. Play the video again. But this time, close your eyes and listen as Hank interviews John Cusack about his ecological studies.

  5. Ageing affects reversed in mice. Would like to see this explained and to hear any other developments in this area that have occurred.

  6. Do you use the mealworms as treats or as a staple for your animals? I'm assuming that Animal Wonders has its own culture of mealworms. If you feed them as a staple how do you keep them nutritious for your animals?

  7. That was the most awkward one, hank seemed so off, hope nothing bad happened… Also want to say thanks for keeping up with all the shows even if you feel down.

  8. I have one of those fatty tails too. Except it's not a tail. It's located on the front of my body, just above the mid-way point.

  9. Please do a video on whether soya milk and alternatives such as almond, rice and coconut are good for you? Especially soya though.

  10. I think Jessi should interact with the guest more rather than just focus on Hank and leave the guest hanging awkwardly.

  11. Leopard geckos rock! My lil' buddy is the best pet. Clean, quiet and just the right amount of cute. There's no losing!

  12. Jessie seems to be a close friend or a acomplice of some kind to Hank. OR just a cool girl Hank has some…. 'close friend' to Hank.
    Anyways. Always nice to see her on the show 🙂

  13. Like if you lay on your back in the middle of a field during a lightning storm and you have a boner going straight up, would that increase your chance of getting struck by lightning? I wanna know!

  14. I had a leopard gecko for many years. I wasn't able to take its tank with me when I moved out, but my father had been caring for it for a long time. I recently found out it died under his care, by a cause that was probably preventable. >.<

  15. I've always thought Hank and Jessie got along really well, like really really rather well..

    Even though they both have other commitments with their respective relationships..
    It would be sort of awesome if they ended up
    ~takes off glasses~

    ( •_•)>⌐o-o


  16. I actually had a leopard gecko for a pet. Her name was Dotty. (Because why get one if you're not going to name it based on its spots? lol) She was always quite docile. Actually, she really liked sitting on top of people's heads. Like, if you set her on your head she'd just sit there and chill out. And it is really cool when they hunt; especially when they're going after crickets instead of meal worms. Such pretty animals!

  17. Aw she looked just like my leopard gecko I had when I was younger. Loved him so much. They are great pets for those who are responsible and know how to take care of them properly.

  18. When I think of where a gecko is, I tend to remember finding one on a hotel wall in a room I was staying in in Hawaii.  We let it be, she was a better guest than the sorts of things she ate.

  19. a friend of mine had a leopard Gecko (Morela) that he used to feed crickets to.  Morela would eat but with very little enthusiasm until we made a chance discovery.   i caught one of those huge cockroaches you find in the south.   omg, when we dropped that bug into her tank, she was on it like a lightening strike.  meal-worms and crickets will keep them alive, but they dream of cockroaches

  20. Hey YouTube gang…Hank, Dr Roach & Jessi are first and foremost science people – geeks in the most complimentary way, NOT media Talking Heads!! SciShow and other channels we love and support are great precisely because of this. I ended this episode knowing things that I didn't know before and I'll take Hank & Co over 100 plastic news readers any day.

  21. I had the same issues with the Dr Roach interview that other commenters have had. Which I appreciated, because it made me feel less oversensitive. Thanks.

    Here's my take on what probably happened. Roach's main selling point was that he had accomplished a lot of varied work in ecology in a short period. Given the time constraints for the interview, it was decided to just have him give a brief summary of each achievement. No doubt each activity would have been interesting if explored in depth, but not, IMO, when given merely a short description. Worse, Hank had no time to contribute, and came across, to me, as really quiet and bored. (Actually, I think he likely was bored, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.)

    Were I formatting the interview, I would have extensively pre-interviewed the man. I'd discover which of the experiences had the more interesting tidbits, then focus on a couple of segments for greater exploration. That way Hank could have been pre-armed with questions to help the interaction and  "open up" the topics. In this particular case there was a suggestion early on that the prep was rushed, so that wouldn't be possible. To which I would say to take the time to do it right. The Talk Show's don't have a hard schedule, right? (Or do they?)


  22. Rofl all the comments are about interest in Jessie's discussion or disinterest in Dr Roache's. Even Hank look like he's struggling not to show boredom at the start!

  23. When Jesse asks where do ya think geckos live my first thought was Hawaii. I met geckos in the wild on Maui back in the early 80's.

  24. I feel like Hank did a really poor job of interviewing Dr. Roach, could have had more questions.  Interesting video though.

  25. I wish I could send you a voice clip of the geckos in my room. 
    They are like a white-ish colour and their noise is like a tongue click, it's very cool. But we don't keep them as pets, they just sort of live with us and help us with the bugs in my house.

  26. Those types of geckos are found in the deserts of asia and pakistans and northwest inda. I used to have 2 of them

  27. That hunting sequence was bizarrely cat-like. And then they start cooing to it and petting it just like someone would do to a pet cat, and it was weird.

  28. It's funny how amazed Hank is by a gecko because in Australia we have them everywere and this is nothing new

  29. i would've liked to hear more about john's research – i found it very intriguing, especially since it offered a peek into something* i'd never even considered looking into before now!
    *like the climate being impacted by the income of the homeowners… i was kinda blown away by that one, tbh 😮 oooh, and thanks for dealing w/ the sound issues from previous episodes btw 🙂

  30. Can I suggest that you guys move the chair positions around when bringing Jessi in so that she's positioned facing both Hank and the guest, instead of the guest sort of just sitting there in the background each time?

  31. I didn't realise all leopard geckos did the tail wiggle, i thought mine was just particularly excitable about food

  32. I must say here that I am continually impressed by Jessi's Knowledge, compassion and passion on every one of these special SciShow's that I have watched. I always come away feeling as if I have learnt something yet enjoyed myself while I did so. Good stuff.

  33. Dr. Roach had real science! Not watered down for entertaining masses. He should come back! I feel he has much knowledge to impart!

  34. Bring on a tiny animal. Spend most of the time with the camera either a football field away or directly in the host's face.

  35. My god…..Pika are actually Dedenne in disguise! Such cute, very Electric-Fairy, much pokemans, wow…

  36. 7:56 – Hank looks like a giant squid of anger, but it's actually a giant squid of amazement.
    Thanks again Jessi for the educational cuteness.
    Dr. Roach,
    You mentioned a correlation between climate, irrigation, and affluence. Interesting, but during your study did it ever bother you that a manicured lawn in that setting is so incredibly wasteful of a dwindling resource? Not accusing, and not trying to be a dick, but I thought it was worth a mention in there.

  37. Gotta agree with most of the comments here; hank interviewing the guest is really awkward, and especially in this episode.. He almost seemed bored. And the enthusiasm he shows with jessi only made it more obvious :/

  38. so cool. as an Ecology major I get tons of questions about what I do/can do, ect. I will be sending this out to friends and family!

  39. I had a leopard gecko as a pet a few years ago. Very cool animals. Mine got really emotionally attached to a toilet paper roll we put in his cage, so whenever he was separated from it he would get really sad and refuse to eat.

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