I did my PhD at Cornell on the way vampire bats walk and run, then followed that up with a postdoc at Brown looking at bat flight, landing, and maneuvering. I really thought I was headed down the traditional science path, on my way to becoming a professor somewhere.

Along the way, though, I helped out with a TV show on Animal Panet called Monsters Inside Me, explaining all kinds of gross and fascinating things about parasites—like how botfly maggots like to burrow into the back of your head, or how foot-long worms can live in your butt. To promote the show, I was invited as a guest on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and he’s since had me back five more times.

In 2011 I left academics to become a full-time co-host on Discovery Canada’s daily hour-long science show, Daily Planet. I also make multiple appearances each week on Canadian news shows to talk about science, and this year I published my first book, Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, about the dirty things that happen in nature, like orangutans eating the brains of slow lorises, caterpillars launching their poop at 4.3 feet per second, and spiders ripping their own genitals off mid-mating.

This isn’t where I thought I’d be when I started grad school, but I’m sure having fun! AMA.


Hey everyone. This has been GREAT, but I have to go tape a show. I'll check in later this afternoon to try to answer more questions. In the meantime, please check out my book Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You. Thanks for the great questions. Bye for now!

Update: I'm back. Let's do this...

OK. I'm burned out. This has been a blast. It's been wonderful to hear about all the people who got turned to science by Monsters Inside Me and by Daily Planet. That honestly means so much to me, and to the people I work with every day. Thanks for those stories.

We should do this again some time. Until then, you don't have to buy my book, but please do recommend it to all your profs/teachers as a compulsory textbook. ;-) Wow. Front page. What a day. Thanks so much everyone. Bye for now!

Comments: 358 • Responses: 65  • Date: 

Unidan126 karma

If you ever head back to Cornell or nearby areas, let us know! Our lab does some connected research at the Lab of Ornithology and we'd be glad to take you out to dinner and chat sometime!

DanRiskin77 karma

Sounds rad. I'll PM you.

karmanaut107 karma

Using your knowledge of gross and dangerous parasites and other animals, what is the best pick-up line you can come up with?

DanRiskin269 karma

If you were a Nephilengys spider, I'd totally rip off my own genitals for you!

karmanaut55 karma

That's hot.

DtrollMC32 karma

Im wet already

_apolline104 karma

Dan, what's the worst thing you can contract when wet?

DanRiskin367 karma

A baby.

ptero_hacktyl72 karma

Was your gig at Animal Planet something you just stumbled upon, or how did you get into that position? Something like this has always been my dream job ever since I was a kid.

DanRiskin117 karma

I was working as a scientist in a basement, when the phone rang. A production company was doing a show about evolution (called Evolve, for the History Channel), and they needed "an evolutionary biologist who is not an old man." They'd gotten my name from someone who had seen me give talks at conferences. So the take-home for me is that my enthusiasm as a researcher drew me smoothly into being enthusiastic about science for a living on TV. A lot of it was luck, but I believe that you can totally get any dream job if you just try to be the person who deserves that job.

ptero_hacktyl31 karma

Thanks so much for the reply! After years of struggling, I finally have a job at my university in research and am ecstatic that I'm finally headed in the direction I want to be in. This definitely gives me hope that I, too can get there one day. By the way, Monsters Inside Me is one of my favorite shows. Plus, it really freaks the roomies out, so double win!

DanRiskin59 karma

Cool to hear. My strategy career-wise has always been to look for the thing that is most fun to do at that time. I did my PhD because I was keen to travel and learn more about bat walking behaviour. I didn't do it for the prof. job that would be waiting for me at the end of the degree (good thing, there wasn't one). Then I picked a postdoc that I was excited about. Then I did my first TV show because I thought that would be fun. Etc. Etc. Etc. Looking back, I could argue that 10 years of university and 5 years working as a researcher were all so that I could be on TV, but that's a lie. I'm just coasting through, living in the moment. If you love your job at your university, you're winning. And who knows what will be next for you?

hemlockdalise9 karma

This is pretty much exactly what I've been doing, but I just finished university (graduating in June) with a Biology degree and now I've got no idea what to do. My university shut down the Biology/zoology programs and fired a load of professors, so there's no direct route to a Masters or PhD under my honours professor as there was previously, and the uni careers service was absolutely no help.

Any pointers for someone that thinks working in Science communications, particularly documentaries, is an absolute dream, but has no clue where to go next?

(If you have any internships, sign me up! I'm on the wrong continent but I don't care, I'm a big fan and I promise not to get in the way.)

DanRiskin32 karma

If you want to be presenter of science on camera, start doing it. Your phone shoots High-def, and a decent mic is not prohibitively expensive. Start making content, share your content, and live the dream. Down the road, when you're trying to convince TV people that you should have a job with them, you can show them what you've done. I'm so impressed by things like "minute physics" or even "xkcd" that prove that with good writing, you can make great content even without Seth MacFarlane's $ backing you up. Good luck!

GeneralBlumpkin6 karma

What did you want to be when you were little? Did you feel inspired by Steve Irwin?

DanRiskin49 karma

I remember thinking "not scientist because they have to do math." I didn't fall in love with math until part-way through my PhD. I sucked at math in high school and undergrad, but once I saw how it connected to bats (through biomechanics), I fell in love, and found out I'm actually pretty damned good at math. I wasted all those years thinking I was incapable. I always keep that in mind when people tell me they suck at Math. They probably don't.

Stoooooooo40 karma

Were there any good (or bad) practical jokes on set that you can relate?

DanRiskin95 karma

It wasn't a practical joke, but one of our craziest days at Daily Planet was when we had someone in the studio burning magnesium and he'd kind of eyeballed the amount and it ended up being way too much and suddenly everything was brighter than the sun and the cement floor had permanent craters in it. Also, our camera guy, Art, had to get new shoes because his were burnt. Good times.

UkuleleBaller36 karma

Hey Dan, I'm a huge fan of Daily Planet!

I love how Daily Planet is always at the forefront of cutting edge technology, and was wondering what new emerging technology/science you are personally most excited about?

DanRiskin44 karma

Thanks. I'm really proud to work on Daily Planet. We have such a big team of talented and smart people on our team, and we cover some great stories. The stuff that gets me psyched right now is graphene. It's got such incredible potential. At the same time, though, I think of the plastics revolution that we're still trying to clean up, and I wonder what the ecological impacts of graphene might be.

huxtiblejones35 karma

I want to share a story. About five years ago I went to a hospital after having intense stomach aches for a couple days straight. I went in feeling worse than I ever have in my life, as if my guts were being sent through a meat grinder. So I am sitting in a hospital bed just about ready to die, wondering if maybe I have cancer or some fucking tumor or who knows what. One of the nurses switched on the TV while I awaited the bad news, and the fucking show on the TV, which I couldn't change, was Monsters Inside Me. I am dead serious. It was a graphic portrayal of some person getting their life ruined by some demented parasite.

I just wanted to share how hilariously poorly timed it was. I was seriously freaked out at the time, but now it's just something I laugh about. Fairly ironic that a hospital would have that show playing. I was later diagnosed with Crohns Disease so no biggie, just an incurable, persistent bowel disease. Which is basically like having a monster inside me.

So thank you for personally contributing to this weird story. And I'll share a small bonus. While I was drugged to high heaven getting a colonoscopy at the age of 20, the technicians were playing Kelly Clarkson. I got my ass probed to a fucking Kelly Clarkson song.

DanRiskin27 karma

Sorry about that. Sometimes a parasite is "good news," though. In one of our stories a guy goes into surgery to have a brain tumor removed, and the surgeon realizes it's "just" parasites. They come out, and the guy's fine.

Crohns is brutal, though. Sorry you have to live with that.

tetrachloride30 karma

Hey Dan! I saw you speak at Ontario Biology Day a couple of months ago and thought what you had to say about your PhD and Postdoc work with vampire bats was so incredibly interesting. It was amazing to hear how passionate you were about the research you got to do and I hope to find a project that I'm just as passionate about for my future work. I was just wondering since you've moved away from the research field, do you miss it? Or do you miss even certain aspects of it, like the travelling you got to do?

DanRiskin36 karma

I do miss research, to be honest. As I said at OBD, there is no greater pleasure in the world than seeing some fact about the world before anyone else. When my PhD advisor, John Hermanson, and my then undergrad (now PhD student), Gerry Carter watched those vampire bats running on a treadmill, it was like finding buried treasure - no, it was like finding buried treasure that was put there by aliens. It was indescribable. We just laughed and laughed. Here's the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukIZRD1mzLg

I want to fill my life with more of that, and I will.

elfherder10 karma

Dan - your passion is palpable through the text. But I have to ask what was groundbreaking/new about the bat on the treadmill? The similarity to other mammals running? The fact that they could run?

DanRiskin31 karma

Common vampire bats are the only lineage we know of that lost the ability to run (bats can't run) and then secondarily evolved it again. The great part is that when they independently evolved that ability, they had all this musculature associated with the arms compared to the weak legs, so they developed a unique gait of running push-ups, which no other animal does.

chooter27 karma

What parasite do YOU personally find the most interesting? Do you think parasites control / affect human behavior the way, say, Cymothoa exigua affects fish?

DanRiskin64 karma

To me the cat's ass of parasites is Toxoplasma, because it changes behaviour in rats in a way that makes a lot of sense evolutionarily. Normally rats are scared of the smell of cat urine (and therefore avoid cats, on average). But when a rat is infected with Toxoplasma, it becomes SEXUALLY AROUSED by that smell, which makes them more likely to be eaten by a cat. So the parasite gets passed on, and wins. That, in itself, is awesome. The kicker, though, is that humans get the parasite, too, and it measurably changes our behaviour.

SlimySchooner20 karma

Hey Dan, big fan! Used to watch Daily Planet since I was a kid and it is one of the main reasons I am now attending university for engineering.

My question is: What's your view of STEM education in Canada and around the world. How can we convince more kids to get interested in Science and Math?

DanRiskin27 karma

That's so awesome to know that shows like Daily Planet really do turn kids into engineers. That's just awesome, and it's a big part of what gets me out of bed each day. Thanks for that.

As far as STEM goes, I think it's a beautiful time because of places like Reddit/Wikipedia. Everyone is starting to question everything. Your teacher tells you something in high school and you fact check it. That's the spirit of science. Science isn't about knowing the periodic table, it's about questioning authority. In general, governments need to do more to help teachers, but I'm excited by the exponential increase in the number of resources available to STEM teachers through the web. It gives me optimism.

SlimySchooner12 karma

Thanks for the reply Dan, keep up the good work! I know I am not the only one who has been impacted by the show - Daily Planet's impact on youth is profound. I would always watch it when I would come home from school at 4PM (Pacific). It would spark my imagination with what Science could do. I would tell my friends and anyone who would listen about all the latest and greatest from the world of science. This was important as at that time in school, science was not too cool. My teachers weren't very passionate about the topic and much of the stuff we learned was very trivial and basic. Daily Planet is what kept me motivated to stay in STEM.

Now I'm off at University, working in research and am set up well to pursue a career in aerospace. I credit a lot of that to my after-school viewing of Daily Planet. And who knows, maybe one day my work will be featured on the show and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

DanRiskin11 karma

You made my year. Thank you so much.

ihateslowdrivers16 karma

Hi Dr. Riskin,

Thank you for doing this AMA. As someone who never cared about germs, parasites, etc...Monsters Inside Me has taught me two lessons.

-Don't eat food that undercooked or otherwise not handled/prepared properly

-Whoever the hell films that show loves to film interviews in a super awkward camera angle showcasing foreheads. See here.

My question to you is, as repulsed as I get from that show, will Animal Planet be bringing it back? I love learning about all of the little parasites out there that are foaming at the mouth to infect me.

DanRiskin20 karma

That weird forehead shot is on purpose. It's designed to make you feel like you're too close - to make you feel a little uncomfortable. The people who make that show are SO good at stuff like that.

We're optimistic that there will be another season, but I can't tell you a timeline.

ben564716 karma

Two questions: 1. What do you like to do for fun? 2. What are some of your favorite adventures?

DanRiskin32 karma

There are more than 1,200 kinds of bats in the world, and I want to see all of them. In my life so far I've seen 106. For fun I like to see new places, and looking for bats is a great way to do that. Some of my favourite experiences so far have come from those trips. Like the time I saw an endangered brown lemur while I was in Madagascar looking for sucker-footed bats. You know. That was nice.

silversunxd10 karma

I assume you've had your rabies shots..

DanRiskin15 karma


_apolline13 karma

Dan! Thanks for doing this AMA.

What do you think is the most disturbing thing that goes on in nature?

DanRiskin25 karma

Great question. There are so many answers. Bedbug sex (traumatic insemination - where the male just stabs a female with his knife-like penis and injects sperm into her abdomen) is a good contender. So is hyena childbirth (where the tubular, penis-shaped clitoris tears open in the process). That must hurt. To be honest, that's kind of the starting question I used when I wrote my book [he said, plugging his book]. So my full answer is there.

_apolline7 karma

I'm pretty disturbed.

So, follow up: how do you study parasites and other animals? Is it first hand or mostly through other sources?

DanRiskin13 karma

I did my PhD on vampire bats which are parasites of mammals and birds (they drink their blood), but my expertise is biomechanics and/or bat biology.

For the TV shows and the book, I do a lot of reading, and talking to people who know more than I do. I've fallen in love with the parasites, though. They're super creepy and brilliant and awesome. What's not to love about a worm that comes out of your ass while you're sleeping to lay eggs, so you'll be itchy in the morning and then get those eggs all over your fingers? You couldn't make that stuff up!

andreavoss12 karma

I just started reading your book. Congrats! How can we avoid having Mother Nature Kill us? What is your best health advice?

DanRiskin35 karma

Thanks! One of the big things I argue about in my book is that companies manipulate you by calling things "natural" and then expecting you to think that means "good." That's insane. Sure, there are lots of healthy things in nature, but rattlesnakes are natural, too.

Get this: There are >250,000 kinds of plants in the world, and humans get >90% of our calories from just 15 species. FIFTEEN! That's 1/160th of a percent. If nature's so good for us, how come we only eat a select number of plants, which by the way, we've been domesticating for thousands of years to make them healthy?

Nature has lots of healthy things in it, but to describe nature as this loving basket of harmless fruit that is actively trying to take care of you is silly. If anything, Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You. Hence my title.

teleluke12 karma

Hey Dan, I'm a big fan. Would you rather study 100 bat sized horses or 1 horse sized bat? Also the bat spits acid. Thanks for Daily Planet.

DanRiskin20 karma

My man Lucas Cochran (Daily Planet's Future Tech guy) told me this question would come up in one form or another.

100 bat-sized horses. No question.

Barchetta10 karma

My kids and I are big fans of Daily Planet and watch it every day. Thanks for hosting such a great show. My family is saddened by what happened to the educational content on TLC and History over the years (and even Discovery sadly) It must be difficult for the team to walk that fine line between keeping it interesting and diving into the science details. Do you get to contribute to the discussion of how in-depth a segment goes? Any segments you wish you were able to dive deeper into? Any regrets about airing segments that were more entertainment than science?

DanRiskin23 karma

(I love that your kids watch the show - thank you!)

TV is harder than most people think. A lot of incredibly great, well-researched shows get made but people just don't watch them. A lot of stupid fluff gets made that people can't get enough of. For those of us in the biz, it's NOT FAIR. We want good ratings for good shows, but it often doesn't work that way.

The game, then, is to make intellectually great shows that people will watch. Very hard. I think Daily Planet and Monsters Inside Me are both great examples of that working. COSMOS is another, and there are many others. But until people stop watching Honey Boo Boo hunting alien ducks or whatever those shows are, we've got no choice but to play this game.

Tubamaphone10 karma

First off, thanks for doing this AMA. I'm disappointed scientists don't get more questions on these.

Secondly, on the topics of bats and parasites, in what ways do vampire bats combat potential blood born parasites or pathogens. And are any of their inherent defenses able to be applied to humans?

DanRiskin15 karma

The big thing that people always talk about with vampire bats is the ability of vampire bat saliva to prevent clotting. Every few years some new drug gets made based on vampire bat saliva (I think one of them is called draculin), which will "save heart patients."

Vampire bats also spread rabies among mammals which is a really bad thing.

setfaeserstostun10 karma

What the most interesting animal to you and why?

DanRiskin40 karma

I love bats. They can fly. Most of them echolocate. They hang upside down. They have incredibly diverse faces. They're enigmatic. Nobody is indifferent about them. Some people hate them (losers) and some people love them, but when there's a bat in the room, people notice.

When you study bats, though, you find out they're even more interesting than their first impression would suggest. There are scientific papers about bats giving oral sex to one another. There are scientific papers about bats peeing on themselves to cool down. The sac-winged bat fills pockets in its wings with urine, semen, and saliva, and then sprays that mixture onto other members of its species. Love that.

ibarabi10 karma

Considering your hybrid background in the sciences and education/entertainment. I wanted to know your thoughts on, how has superhero "Batman" impact our society in viewing bats as a species?

DanRiskin36 karma

I love Batman, but I think it's lame that he destroys what is clearly a large maternity colony so that he can park his car there.

Simon024689 karma

Thanks so much for doing this AMA!

What is the most horrifying story you had to present on monsters inside me?

DanRiskin11 karma

These are all true stories. When it's a worm coming out of someone's bum it's all fun and games, but sometimes a kid dies, and those stories are super hard for everyone.

RupertGriffin209 karma

You ever heard of this bat expert called Roger Ransome? He's one of the leading experts in the U.K, for sure, maybe even Europe and beyond. Only curious because he's my great-uncle.

DanRiskin24 karma

Yes. I like his paper that showed female horseshoe bats share their favourite lovers with their mothers. That's kinky.

ReasonablyConfused8 karma

What can you do to scare us enough to take antibiotic resistant diseases seriously?

DanRiskin30 karma

I suppose if I infected you with an antibiotic resistant disease, you'd probably take it pretty seriously. That would do it.

montani8 karma

Why is it ok for all species to take a pee/poo where ever they are when they have to go but humans have to hide? Wouldn't this make dinner parties more exciting?

DanRiskin13 karma

Sloths poop about once a week, and go to all the trouble of climbing down a tree to poop on the ground instead of just pooping from the branch above. That's the beauty of biology - there are exceptions to almost all of the rules.

DanRiskin7 karma

Lots of people on here lamenting what they see as a general decrease in the quality of TV programs on various channels. Here are my thoughts on this:

I really believe what we're seeing is an increase in the diversity of programming. The spread is widening. Back in the day there weren't as many shows. Today's best shows have more science, better special effects and slow-mo, and better storytelling than the best stuff from 10 years ago. But the worst stuff out there today can be unbelievably bad, too. Our brains focus on the outliers. We see a bad show and we think the whole world's gone down the tubes. Is the median going up or down? I don't know the answer to that, but I don't think anyone's tried to quantify it.

I focus on making sure the shows I work on are of the best quality possible. I make sure the science is as accurate as possible, that the pseudoscientific ideas are identified as such, and that the overall impression people will get of the scientific process is a positive one.

DrBenedict7 karma

Hey Dan! Long time no see. Glad to hear you're doing well! How's the dog?

DanRiskin8 karma

Elliott's great, Benedict. Thanks. How's the chainmail?

ButtsexEurope7 karma

There was one episode of Monsters Inside Me where the "monster" was a bottle cap stuck in the guy's throat for a year. No bacteria, no parasite, just a bottle. Can you please try to put in a word at Discovery to make that not happen again? I really don't want them to go the way of the History Channel.

DanRiskin32 karma

Oh come on. You're going the History Channel over that?

The truth is, there is a limited number of parasites that infect humans in the world, and we're looking for the best stories. The guy dropped the tab from his pop into the can and then on the last sip accidentally inhaled the tab. He thought he'd swallowed it but it was lodged in his throat for over a year and he had a horrible cough so bad that he and his wife started sleeping in separate rooms, and then he suddenly coughs up this ball of flesh that's grown around the tab and you're not satisfied with the story? If it makes you feel better, the tab was covered in bacteria.

Captain_p7 karma

Hey Dan, where can I get the best guano?

DanRiskin11 karma

It comes out of bats' asses. Start there. You won't be alone. There's a flightless fly that lives on New Zealand Short-tailed bats and feeds on poop as it emerges from the derriere. Not a parasite, because it doesn't hurt the host!) Here's a URL: http://www.nzgeographic.co.nz/archives/issue-81/batfly

jeryarr6 karma

Dr. Riskin, I am an undergraduate studying genetics, and am so very passionate about science communication. I fell in love with science communication after watching Dr. Jennifer Gardy on The Nature of Things (or maybe I fell in love with her just a little bit), and eventually it became more and more clear that this is the direction in which I wanted my career to go. I was wondering if you have any suggestions to a blooming science communicator, who would love to one day have a job very similar to yours. I have occasionally been writing articles for my school newspaper about cool studies, and have been working in research labs during the summer, like many undergrads do.

I have the choice between applying to one of a couple science journalism programs in the states where I could be formally trained in different media types, or going to grad school and developing myself as a scientist before taking on communication on my own (or perhaps going into the journalism program thereafter). I was wondering what your thought of these paths were. I know there isn't one right way of getting into the field, I just want to get there, and I think consulting those that do it is not a half bad place to start. I would love any and all advice that you could give to me, and hopefully, maybe one day, we can meet as fellow communicators and I can look back at this reply and smile.

As for a bat question, I am curious, were you ever worried about rabies when you did research? I'm sure you must have gotten your standard precautionary shots, but if I were in your shoes, I would have always had the idea of contracting rabies in the back of my head.

monkeysatemybarf10 karma

Definitely stick with science and take as many writing classes as you can. Mostly, just to make you write regularly. You do not need training in formal media types. The scientists you work with in the future will respect you more and production companies want someone with some letters after their name for legitimacy. Pursue life as a scientist formally and do as much communicating on the side as you can. Write, make videos, put yourself out there. Plus, your back up plan as a scientist will be better than a back up plan as a journalism grad.

I'm a producer for many science shows- including Monsters Inside Me!

DanRiskin5 karma

That's great advice. Especially the part about science being a great career in and of itself (although journalism is, too). I do think the PhD helps me get a foot in the door. The one constant in both careers, though, is the ability to write. That's key.

DanRiskin9 karma

Cool. I have a lot of respect for Jen Gardy's work. She's a very good scientist and a very good science communicator. It's rare that someone can really wear both hats so well.

Journalism school vs. science school. I don't know what to tell you. Take the one you find more interesting for now. There's no guarantee of a job at the end of either, so you should enjoy the present. I can tell you that 90% of the people who work on my show have a journalism background. I am the only PhD where I work, so maybe that's proof science was the right choice or maybe it's proof I should have done journalism. I dunno.

sunshinerf4 karma

Hi Dan! Hank you for doing this AMA. Speaking of Monsters Inside Me, what do you think is the most horrifying parasite on this planet (other than humans...)?

DanRiskin8 karma

numbers-wise. Malaria. Kills millions.

Syndesmosis4 karma

Hey Dan, thanks for the AMA. If you come back, I hope you'll consider my question. Thanks!

I don't have a major in biology (I'm close from taking courses out of interest), and I don't have any research experience. However, I'd like to shoot for a Master's in something like microbiology. Do you have any suggestions for nontraditional aspiring scientists who want to break into the game or further their science education?

DanRiskin7 karma

Find an advisor (or grad student) whose work excites you and try to get into their lab. If you think "They'll never consider little old me," try anyway.

MrPennywhistle4 karma

Dan. About a year ago I asked you if I could use some of your vampire bat footage for the Smarter Every Day episode on bat wings vs bird wings. You said YES when you totally didn't have to. I'm grateful for that. Your vampire bat footage on the treadmill and swimming is mind blowing. I just wanted to say thank you.

DanRiskin7 karma

Total pleasure. I'm thrilled that you used my videos! Keep up your great work!


...Morbid kinkiness of nature? Care to gives us your most favorite and/or most disgusting example of that?

DanRiskin19 karma

There's a flatworm on the great barrier reef that is hermaphroditic. When two of them mate, they have to pick who will be male and who will be female. The male just has to ejaculate and then gets to leave. The female has to incubate eggs. So both of them want to be the male. They settle their argument by penis fencing - each of them has two penises and they have a sword fight. The winner stabs the loser, injects it with sperm, and then swims away, the victorious dad. The loser has to be the mom.

It's a neat system because you will only ever have to be the female if you've had sex with someone who fights better than you do. In other words, it will always have been worth it, in terms of bettering your offspring's chances of being good penis-fighters.

gerwen3 karma

I just wanted to say you had big shoes to fill on Daily Planet, and you've done an great job. I really liked Jay Ingram as the host, but DP is just as great with you at the helm.

DanRiskin4 karma

Thanks. He's one of my heroes. Whenever he comes by the studio I'm still all like "OMG That's Jay Ingram!"

We have a great team, and the show's greatness is almost entirely because of the fabulous content they bring to the table every night.

MCdreidel3 karma

Why do orangutans eat the brains of lorises?(or is it lorisi?) Is there any DNA we could potentially take from vampire bats to aid in other species or our own for diseases or other harmful things?

DanRiskin10 karma

We think of orangs as the peaceful, wise, old orange things that are vegetarian peaceniks, but when slow lorises are available, an orang won't hesitate to smack it out of the tree, climb down, and eat its face, the palms of its hands, and its brain. That's the kind of thing I love about nature. Everybody thinks of nature as this gentle utopia, but it's actually pretty rough out there.

mattsparrow912 karma

I'm interested in science out reach and overseas volunteering. What avenues would you suggest for non college grads (yet!) to do overseas outreach or volunteering work?

Also, I've worked as a production assistant on nature related documentaries before. How can I look into employment opportunities with entities like Discovery Canada?

DanRiskin4 karma

Volunteer and travel. Absolutely. Do whatever you would enjoy most.

As for jobs in TV, it's all about networking. Do some digital stalking of people who work on shows you like (not just the people on them), and then reach out to those people and offer to buy them coffee and pick their brains. I have the same advice if you're trying to find a good grad school advisor, too.

sanguisbibemus2 karma

What compels certain creatures to kill their mate right after sex? That's so weird. On a side note, I knew I'd find something about Toxoplasma here. That thing is insane.

DanRiskin12 karma

I don't know of any creatures that kill their mate without eating that mate. I think it's just a matter of available calories.

So my short answer is "Food."

bpm128912 karma

Why study bat biomechanics?

DanRiskin3 karma

The only thing more beautiful than a slow-mo video of a bat in flight is the math and physics that keep that bat in the air.

My former colleagues at Brown just published a paper about how the muscles within the wing membrane fire during the downstroke to make the wing more stiff at that time than it is on the upstroke of the wingbeat cycle. Our fancy-dancy fighter planes don't do anything like that. Bats rule, and biomechanics quantifies their awesomeness.

Burra932 karma

Hey Dan Just wanted to say I'm a huge fan of monster inside of me I think I've watched pretty much every episode, just wanted to ask, what has been the grossest thing you've ever had to present on a show?. Thanks for doing this AMA

DanRiskin3 karma

There was a guy in the Peace Corps in Nepal with a nosebleed for a few days. Then he's riding his bike and a thing comes out of his nose and waves around in front of his face, but when he tries to grab it it zips back up his nose.

Etc. Etc.

Leech with a sucker the size of a nickel. Great story.

Not_Brandon2 karma

Do you think it's fair to draw a parallel between reciprocal altruism in vampire bats and human kindness? I don't remember the source but I read a passage long ago about well-fed vampire bats donating the contents of their stomachs to those who didn't have the opportunity to feed on a given night, and the evolutionary forces that make this a beneficial behavior (the whole tit-for-tat game theory thing). My understanding of the phenomenon is pretty limited but I often think about how it compares to apparently altruistic exchanges in humans. Is this a fair or useful comparison?

DanRiskin4 karma

I talk quite a bit about vampire bats and reciprocal altruism in my book, too. Your questions are good ones, and I feel like my best answers to those questions are already spelled out there.

But if you want an even better answer to your question than I can provide, I'm going to send you to look at Gerry Carter's website. He knows more about this stuff than anyone on Earth, and he explains it beautifully on his site here:


budtron842 karma

Hey Dan, if you were to get a bat tattoo, which bat would you choose?

DanRiskin38 karma

I'd probably get a stylized tattoo of no particular species, kind of like the Bacardi bat. And I'd probably get it on my left calf. Probably in 1997.

EagleOfMay2 karma

Could I get you to make a statement on climate change?

DanRiskin7 karma

It's real and humans are causing it.

jaskmackey2 karma

What is your favorite bat fact to bust out at parties?

DanRiskin19 karma

If a human had a penis as big as a barnacle's (scaled to body size), he could lie down next to a burning building and people could slide down to safety from the 22nd floor.

TrogdorStrikesAgain1 karma

Dammit, just missed him and this has only been up for 3 hours. There should be some time delay feature where you submit questions in advance. For the of us who actually have jobs etc.

DanRiskin3 karma

Hi! Ask!

slo31 karma

Thank you for taking the time to do this AMA. I'm currently in grad school, working on a PhD in Engineering. I'm interested in science outreach as well as science and technology policy. But, I'm having trouble finding a way to get started. Do you have any suggestions?
Thank you!

DanRiskin2 karma

Just do it. Call up teachers/schools and offer to come in and talk to their classes. Tell them you wish someone had done that for you, and that you can promise them 45 minutes of great slides and stories about what you love about engineering, and about your job. Teachers love that stuff, students love that stuff, and bang. You're started.

sdbest1 karma

"Morbid kinkiness of Mother Nature?" That's quite a faux biological scientific concept you're promoting there. Shouldn't we abuse people of the notion that we can ascribe human characteristic and motives to "Mother Nature?" Mother Nature is not trying to do anything, as you well know. Indeed, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Bogeyman, and God, there is no Mother Nature.

DanRiskin1 karma

I am sorry to disappoint you, but I do not actually argue in my book that Mother Nature is an actual person. The book is about nature, and is backed up by scientific research and a bibliography of >200 scientific papers, most of which were published in the last decade. I wrote the book for non-scientists, many of whom are familiar with the idea of Mother Nature as a personification of the natural world. I thought the title would encourage them to read the book.

The tooth fairy is real, though. Let's not kid ourselves.

t0ast3d1 karma

If you had the power to co-host daily planet with a scientist, who would you choose?

DanRiskin2 karma

I wouldn't want to co-host with anyone else. Ziya Tong is smart, funny, and is a big part of what I love about the show.

ehaaksma121 karma

I just want to say I really enjoyed watching you on "Monsters Inside me". From that show, it inspired me to take some parasitology classes at my university.

DanRiskin2 karma

Thanks. That's so nice to hear. I really appreciate hearing that.

hoofdpersoon1 karma

Why are the TV-channels you are working for in a constant movement of devolution instead of evolution?

DanRiskin2 karma

To be honest, it is hard to stomach some of the bad shows that get made, but I'm focused on making great shows myself. I don't imagine Radiohead gets depressed when they find out Nickelback is played on the same station as they are. Radiohead just keeps trying to make incredible music. So I can try to learn from them.

conjabo1 karma

Im going to school as a Biology major. How important would you consider opportunities such as internships?

DanRiskin2 karma

It's a great idea to get to know the profs whose work you respect. Internships are one way to do that, but there are others. In general, though, getting to know those people is a good idea. Then, when they're looking for someone to help them with some project or another, your name might come to their mind.

G-Lal1 karma

What's your favourite bat and why?

Also, I'm going to study zoology at university, so any advice from you would be greatly appreciated.

DanRiskin3 karma

It changes. The vampire bats kick ass, but the New Zealand Short-tailed bat is super-enigmatic, and in the absence of terrestrial mammals with which to compete has become a largely terrestrial animal that can fold its wings up and crawl around looking for food like a shrew. They also strangely have a second claw underneath every claw on their toes and thumbs. Why? No one knows.