I wrote my PhD on bats, and spent years researching them around the world. Part of that was work on vampire bats, which are fascinating because they are mammals that have become obligate parasites. That parasite connection somehow landed me a job as host of Monsters Inside Me. That, in turn, got me regular gigs as a guest on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and then a full-time job with Discovery Canada.

I did an AMA with you 1.5 years ago, and it was super fun. I thought it might be fun to do another, and since the new season of Monsters Inside Me launches tonight on Animal Planet in the USA (you can see a sneak peek here: http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/monsters-inside-me/videos/whats-crawling-under-your-skin), I thought this was as good a time as any.


Now who wants to get grossed out? Hit me.

UPDATE: I've got to run. I'll check back periodically today. Thanks for the great questions.

UPDATE 2: I'm Back. Let's get at this.

UPDATE 3: This was fun. Enjoy the season premiere of Monsters Inside Me tonight. If you want to know more about bats or gross things in nature, hit me on twitter (@riskindan), and please, please, please check out my book Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, available at fine booksellers everywhere, and now even as an audiobook (with my voice!). Good night!

Comments: 210 • Responses: 55  • Date: 

itsDANdeeMAN61 karma

Thank you for being so timely with this AMA during the World Series! With your experience with bats, I've always wondered: are there specific advantages to certain brands/wood over others? Throughout this series, I've seen a ton of different kinds, from your standard Louisville Sluggers to Mizuno. These obviously vary between maple, ash, birch... Do you have a preference or feel certain kinds are better than others?

DanRiskin77 karma

For size alone, you're going to want to use a pteropodid (flying fox). They're the only bats that get more massive than a baseball. I can't imagine a worse idea than using a natalid or rhinolophid. They're just so small, you know?

*please don't actually hit any live bats with baseballs, people.

niteskies110545 karma

Is there a parasite that scares the living crap out of you?

DanRiskin93 karma

Brain-eating Amoebas. Naegleria fowleri. Screw that. You wipe out while water skiing, get water up your nose, and die two days later? That's just unfair.

Mongo102139 karma

Mr. Raskin,

Looking through your bio, you have a strong background in the study of bats.

Perhaps you can help this clueless Dad with advice. My 9-year-old daughter is fascinated by bats. She tells anyone who will listen that bats are her favorite animal.

Weird, I know, but we don’t want to discourage any love of science.

So, what books, trips, or any resources would you recommend for my growing bat expert?

Btw, we live in Delaware, about three hours from NYC and Washington DC, an hour or so from Philadelphia.


DanRiskin62 karma

Hey that's so great. Clearly your daughter is a genius. The best resource is Bat Conservation International. They have an adopt-a-bat program, and you can get your daughter a subscription to bats magazine (4 issues a year) for, I think, 30 bucks. And you're supporting the conservation of bats which is awesome.

Shanemaximo32 karma

Hey Dan! Thanks for taking the time to do this ama.

Why is it do you think that bats seem to have the monopoly on mammalian flight, despite the obvious success there is to be had filling this niche around the world? Should we have expected to see this ability convergently evolve in other mammals through evolutionary time?

DanRiskin52 karma

This is a great question. Id I'm not mistaken, GLIDING has evolved 18 separate times in mammals (if you include fossils), but only one lineage, the bats, has turned it into powered flight (where you can land on something that is taller than your take-off point). Why haven't any other groups made that transition?

One answer is that most gliders have membranes between their arms and ankles and bodies, but not actross the fingers. Bats are the only lineage that put a membrane between fingers, which allows better control of wing shape and movement. But that's just a guess. It's a pretty wide-open question.

Now that bats are in the aerial role, perhaps they outcompete (along with birds) any other groups that might clumsily try to fly. Maybe other potential fliers were kicked off the stage before they could get going. I don't know.

Bats appear to have evolved flight in the Eocene, about 55 mya, and never looked back. They instantly diversify into most of the 18 families we see today, and with 1,200 species alive now, they are truly among the most successful tetrapod lineages around.

Frajer25 karma

What's the weirdest parasite out there ?

DanRiskin83 karma

I'm pretty intrigued by Toxoplasma. It's a parasite that is adapted to rat brains in a way that increases the chances of the host rat being eaten by a cat. This is good for the parasite, since it wants to be in a cat's belly. But the change is crazy. Instead of being afraid of the smell of cat urine, like normal rats, those rats infected with Toxoplasma get sexually aroused by the smell of cat urine. That little tweak is enough to tip the scales in favor of the rat getting eaten and the parasite passed on.

What's freaky, though, is that the parasite can also get into human brains (by some estimates it is in 1/3 of people around the world, 1/8 of Americans). And when inside a human, it makes your reaction time slower, increases your chances of getting Schizophrenia, and also changes your personality in measurable ways. The science of human infection is just getting attention now.

mrsmeltingcrayons18 karma

If you could suddenly talk to bats, what's the first question you would ask?

DanRiskin26 karma

I'd really like to know how their perceive the world. For example, I'd like to experience what a flight is like for a nectar-feeding bat making the trip from its roost to a flower, and back, while interacting with other bats en route.

A bat in flight senses the wind moving across its wings thanks to sensitive hairs that stick out of the skin. It smells its surroundings with olfaction far, far better than our own. Depending on the species, vision plays an important role in orientation. And then of course there's echolocation. We always assume it's like a black-and-white version of what we see with our eyes, but they get information about surface textures that might be invisible to us. Also, some targets reflect more loudly than others (like bat-pollinated flowers). How do all those streams of information stream into the brain? What's it like to be a bat?

taymin5514 karma

I'm a huge fan, Dan! Have seen every episode of past seasons. So can you tease your fav story this season?

DanRiskin22 karma

There are a few stories from the new season of Monsters Inside Me that stand out. One of the stories from the season-opener is really cool because it takes a twist you would never expect. This 7-yo kid at the beach in Orange County CA scrapes his knee on a rock and then the swelling just won't go away. I'm not going to spoil it, but I will say that it's a good reminder that there are lots of things out there your skin protects you from, that you wouldn't even think of as a threat. :-)

Doc-Manhattan11 karma

What's your favorite bat species, aside from vampire bats?

Also, what got you so interested in studying bats? They're my favorite animals and I think there are so fascinating!

DanRiskin19 karma

There are more than 1,200 different kinds of bats. I studied Spix's Disk-winged Bats for my M.Sc., then for my Ph.D. it was Common Vampire Bats and New Zealand Short-tailed Bats. Postdoc: Lesser Dog-faced Fruit Bats and Madagascar's Sucker-footed Bat. You can't possibly have a favorite with a list like that.

In total I've seen 106 species in the wild, but there are more than 1,200 in the world, so that's less than 10%. Some photos are here http://www.noctilio.com/bats/ I have a lot more to see, obviously.

Lately I've been dreaming about the naked bulldog bat, Cheiromeles. That's a big smelly, hairless bat, that walks well on the ground, found in Southeast Asia. I think that's my current crush. It changes daily, though.

Iron_Groot10 karma

Hi Dan! Me and my brother are huge fans of Daily Planet, though I must admit, I need to get back into the habit of checking it out more regularly.

I have two questions, if you don't mind.

  1. I'm a high school drop out, for medical reasons, and I'm looking to go back to school to study Zoology, and hopefully work in raising awareness about the issues that threaten our planet's ecosystems. As someone who I guess wants to do something similar to what you do right now, do you have any advice for going down that career path?

  2. I feel like no one is more qualified to talk bats than you. I live in Ontario where white nose syndrome is having a huge effect on our local bat population. For people who might be unaware, or simply say that it's not a huge issue, can you put it in perspective as to what the short and long term effects can be of a dwindling bat population here in North America?

Thank you :)

DanRiskin9 karma

Thanks for watching Daily Planet! I'm sorry your health forced you out of school. That's really tough. Lots of people do great things in the field of zoology with varying levels of education. There are lots of field-assistant type jobs that would let you get your hands dirty. Those are posted, usually, on a site called Eco-Log https://listserv.umd.edu/archives/ecolog-l.html

I recommend getting back into the schooling at some point, but there's no reason to wait before starting on your path.

(I'll answer the WNS question separately)

remotectrl10 karma

Hey Dan, I'm a huge fan of your work, particularly with bats. I have Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You on my bookshelf right now. I've used your pictures a few times on /r/batfacts (a subreddit especially for sharing interesting stuff about bats) which I hope is alright. I'm particularly pleased with how this gif of your research turned out.

What bat species do you most want to add to your "life list"? And which is your favorite bat to combat the "bats are gross" trope?

Also in your last AMA you mentioned a strange mating behavior where mother and daughter bats would both mate with the same male. Do you have any particular thoughts on why that might be (other than proximity)?

Edit: this is that super rare bat from South Sudan that Dr Riskin mentioned.

DanRiskin17 karma

I'm so glad you bought my book. Thank you! And nice work on the gif. Yes, you're welcome to use my photos to promote bats. Anyone can and should!

Life list: So many. I'd like to see Cheiromeles torquatus, but there's also this panda-like bat in South Sudan called Niumbaha. There are so many.

And as for the female horseshoe bats sharing mates with their mothers, it's a paper by Rossiter et al. in Nature from 2005 (Vol 437, pp. 408-411). They argue that females that like a male go back to him year-after year, to improve the fitness of the babies they make. Sharing that male with mom means that other relatives (half-sisters and half-brothers) will also get the genetic benefits he has to offer.

Stacy's mom was a Greater Horseshoe Bat, I guess.

Hongkie7 karma

Do you think there is a realistic difference between being "meat robot," as in dictated by our gene-expressions, vs being "unnatural" as in surviving on pace makers, implants, wearable devices, lab grown food, won't know what to do without google/smart phone, and preferring mobile gaming/ porn over sex, so that reproduction rate fell off a cliff?

I share your sentiment that "natural" as a brand is very deceiving, and I'm not anti-GMO or aspertame (!) or virtual machines etc, but do you think it's valid to be concerned about living so artificially? So much so that we see animals as robots, as opposed to robots as imitation humans?

DanRiskin15 karma

Thanks for reading my book! I see where you're coming from. It does feel sometimes like we're living a life that is different from nature, but a show like Monsters Inside Me really drives home the alternative. Left to its own devices, Nature would kill a large number of us, just like it did in the Black Death (and Bubonic Plague isn't gone yet - as you'll see in this season of MIM). We want to live to be old, so we don't live like paleolithic cave-dwellers.

Animals do what they can to survive, and for humans that's meant the invention of pacemakers and seatbelts. I see all our advances as the extension of a bird making a nest. I think it is natural, since we're acting selfishly to protect ourselves and our kids.

But hang on. Are you saying there are people who like video games more than sex? Whoa. What game is it and where can I try it?

Hongkie7 karma

Thanks for the comment, I love your book, I read quite a few science genre books but yours is so personal, it reads more like an open funny love letter to your son, it's lovely and really brave in some way.

I'm with you regarding the brutality of "nature," I've worked in remote sites before, and the whole team had gotten pretty sick.

Can I ask another question RE your comment? If, artificial technological advances are inevitable and natural part of human, can we sit back and just accept the sixth extinction, or superintelligent robots destroying all (most?) living things to build their empire? I am curious how you feel about the idea that human might just be a transient species to bring about Artificial Super Intelligence. Is that a "good thing?"

DanRiskin9 karma

Lots of things that are natural are bad. Extinctions happen all the time. This major one we're causing is the first one, though, where beings are causing it and have the brainpower to comprehend it.

I don't believe it's inevitable or justified to wipe out biodiversity, just because we can see how "natural" human nature leads us to do so. We're making a choice, and I think we have a moral obligation to act unnaturally in this case.

Hongkie5 karma

We're not that unique :-) Cyanobacteria caused the oxygenation mass extinction; not that I'm complaining!

But otherwise I agree with your sentiment, it would be a shame to have the awareness and fail to act on it.

Thank you Dan.

DanRiskin14 karma

Exactly. I just hold humans to a higher moral standard than I hold single-celled photosynthetic algae.

Mongo10216 karma

If we build and install a bat house, what can we do to increase the chances of some bats actually using the bat house?

DanRiskin7 karma

I built one in high school and never got a single bat. But all the neighbors asked about it, and that started great conversations about the benefits bats can have - like eating mosquitoes. A lot of those neighbors ended up getting bat houses of their own (which also stayed empty), but I think the end-result was that attitudes got changed, and I'm really happy about that. No harm in trying, though. Good luck!

omnibus344 karma

Have you ever seen the "rare red african bats" excebit in which a cage is mounted at the top of a 10 foot ladder? It's at a family amusement park whose name escapes me. After climbing the ladder you view two red baseball bats. Corny, i know.

DanRiskin7 karma

Thanks for the warning. I'd have broken down crying from the disappointment if I'd gone all the way up the ladder for that. If you find out where that is, let me know.

scott0408773 karma

Hey Dan! I'm a fan of yours, Daily Planet, science and science communication.

Could you tell us how your career morphed from PhD Bat Expert to host of Daily Planet, and more recently to you substituting on Canada AM? And, any thoughts on what you'd like to do into the future?

DanRiskin5 karma

I started my undergrad because everyone in my family expected me to go to university. While I was there, I majored in bio because the bio profs were engaging. I'd read a good book on bats along the way, so after my undergrad I reached out to the author and he invited me to work with him (Brock Fenton). So I did an MSc on bats and got hooked.

After that I thought I'd like to do TV stuff but never figured out how to get my start. So I gave up and went back into academics, got my PhD and did a postdoc. Then the phone rang and I'd been recommended to a TV production company for a show about evolution. One thing led to another, and the TV jobs started steadily coming in. I had a faculty position lined up in 2011, but bailed on it to co-host Daily Planet. And now that I work in Toronto in the same building as Canada AM and other News shows, I weasel my way onto their sets from time to time to talk about science.

I didn't plan the route from the start, but rather, have just followed whatever looked like it would be fun at every step of the way.

scott0408773 karma

Awesome, and great to be able to seize opportunities as they come rather than pre-planning "where do you want to be in five years"

So - you foresee yourself bringing science into whatever role you take on going forward? I'd love to see you with a regular spot on Canada AM to talk about science!

DanRiskin3 karma

Yes. I'm always looking for ways to make science accessible, especially to people who might not know how much they'll like science. I love going on Canada AM or NewsChannel or even Late night TV shows because people will watch that and realize science is kind of cool.

scott0408773 karma

In your intro you said "Now who wants to get grossed out?"

What is the absolutely worst, grossest thing you've dealt with / communicated about? Ever been so "grossed out" you had to stop, collect yourself and start over?

DanRiskin9 karma

There's a story in this season of MIM where a guy hurts his ankle and scratches it, so they clean the wound and put a boot on him, but the pain keeps getting worse and worse. SO then a few days later he takes off the boot and his foot is totally gangrenous. The Dr. said he just cut layers and layers of flesh away until the flesh he was cutting into started bleeding. Then he knew where to stop.

That story gave me pause.

For me, personally, though, it was an experience during my PhD where I helped dissect a cadaver arm to isolate muscle tissues from different parts of the hand. This bag came and we opened it and it was just a forearm. An old lady's forearm, with the nails all done up. And then as we plunged the scalpel into the flesh below the thumb it just looked so much like we were doing that to somebody's Grandma that I started getting faint-y. So I walked out and let my colleague finish without me.

agentoneal3 karma

First of all, love the show. I'm constantly enthralled by how disgusting yet fascinating the world can be.

Second (if you're still checking these), would you rather be made the host of a parasite via your cornea or anus?

DanRiskin3 karma

Anus. No question.

MiaTopia3 karma

I just completed my MSc degree on Egyptian Fruit bats in Israel. I am now starting to apply for jobs and am wondering if you have any suggestions on where to start! I love field research and understanding human impact on animal behavior. Bats are my passion and I enjoy traveling. I was considering Environmental Consulting. What would you suggest?

DanRiskin2 karma

Congrats on the M.Sc.

As for jobs, keep watching the websites, but also, find the people who are doing what you wish you were doing and then talk to them. In the short-term, look for jobs on Eco-log.

A_R_K2 karma

Hey Dan, in March you emailed me after my Daily Planet interview because you were trying to replicate my falling-through-the-Earth calculations. Did you have any further success?

What is a good way for scientists to improve the state of science journalism?

DanRiskin3 karma

Yes! That was a great day.

You did a paper about a person falling into a hole in the ground and then falling all the way to the centre of the earth (the hole hypothetically goes right through the middle). You figured out how long it would take to get to the centre.

I loved this question and spent half a day trying to find the answer before I gave up. I had a terrible computer model that kept throwing my person into space.

Then you taught me that so long as you're inside a sphere the gravitational attraction of the sphere itself, beyond a radius equal to your distance from the centre, cancels out. And I think you told me Newton calculated that. Do I have that right?

You did a great job improving science outreach by doing a ridiculous but fun question and then deriving the answer. I loved that and have told many people about it. You're my hero, a bit. Do more of that.

hossjt2 karma

What is the song that has been playing on the commercials lately? I can't find it!

DanRiskin2 karma

You're the second person to ask me that. I don't know it. Can you send me a link, or is it only on TV?

hossjt1 karma

I have only seen it on TV, no luck finding anything on the Web. It sounds similar to Iron and Wine.

The lyrics were "The monsters in me, won't let me sleep tonight. There's a monster in me"

Even if you don't know, thanks for responding!

DanRiskin2 karma

I might be able to find out tomorrow. If I do, I'll post it here.

zoologia2 karma


DanRiskin5 karma

Sonar isn't even a metaphor. It's the same as echolocation.

What's I find effective is to tell students to close their eyes and then shout (one at a time). You can immediately tell if you're indoors or outdoors from the sound that comes back to your ears. You can also estimate the size of the room, and something about the nature of the walls and floor (music room vs. gym). You can extend this - hold a paper in front of a kid's face and have them shout. They'll know whether it's there or not.

By showing kids that they can already echolocate (albeit badly), they understand echolocation. Then I tell them a bat can detect a moth at 2 meters away and tell which direction its flying. The conversation goes from there.

fabulousprizes2 karma

Hi Dan! What is it with bats and rabies? Why is it so prevalent in bats? Is it like that around the world, or do some bat populations carry it more than others? Do bats have some kind of resistance or immunity to it?

remotectrl3 karma

Rabies in bats isn't actually any more common in bats than other mammals, but animal to human transfer rates are much higher for the bats to humans route than for other species in the U.S. (Worldwide dogs are the primary vectors to humans). Latent infection rates for bat colonies is less than 1%, so how does the virus get from bats to humans so often?

The biggest reason is that bats are naturally really good at avoiding humans so the sick bats come into contact with humans most often. Rabies in bats seems to manifest a little differently, which is why it was believed that they were immune for a time. They aren't immune, but it makes them more lethargic than violent. So people see a bat on the ground and want to help it and pick it up and get exposed that way. Both Bat World Sanctuary and Bat Conservation International have sections dedicated to what to do if you find a bat. Generally you should not pick up any wild animal that will let you pick it up. Rabies has a 99.999% fatality rate so it's not something you want to mess with at all.

DanRiskin2 karma

Great answer.

jookyspooky2 karma

Hey Dan, thank you for taking the time to do this AMA. On the subject of parasites, we all know the dangers of unsanitary water sources, uncooked fish, and the sort. What health effects would we notice if we had as parasitic infection? Could I be full of worms (or any common parasite) and not know it or would I be sick and in need of medical attention?

On the subject of bats. Austin and Round Rock Texas have huge bat colonies that live under bridges. Could a city with new bridge construction add features similar to those bridges to encourage bats to set up shop? Is it as easy as building bat friendly constriction or do bats just like those bridges because of migratory patterns and food sources?


DanRiskin2 karma

The symptoms vary so much from patasite to parasite. That's part of what makes Monsters Inside Me so successful. The stories vary so much. Check the CDC website for specifics, but they range from no symptoms to mild fever to coughing to itchy night-anus to coma to death. A range.

As for the bats. You need to live where Tadarida live (Mexican Free-tails), but if you do, then bridges absolutely can be designed to house bats, and Texas has done a great job on that.

silentialpass2 karma

This is extremely interesting, thanks for the AMA! I have a question: is there anything about social structure within bat species that surprises you or you didn't expect?

DanRiskin5 karma

I'm obsessed with the male Saccopteryx bats that pee and ejaculate into pockets in their wings and then spray females with it. It's called "salting." Ridiculous.

Chubaw1 karma

How likely is it that I have parasites living inside me, at this very moment? And what would any symptoms be?

DanRiskin2 karma

You probably don't have any. Unless you have a thing for eating raccoon feces. Then you probably have tons of them.

Aww_Topsy1 karma

How close are we to a tipping point on white nose syndrome? How much funding is there being devoted to active management? If we fail to address white nose syndrome, what would be the downstream effects that lay people might eventually notice?

DanRiskin1 karma

As far as I can tell, bats are royally hooped in North America because of White Nose Syndrome. It is a fungus that kills them while they hibernate, and then sits in wait for any other bat that tries to use the cave in a later season. Some very smart people are working very hard to find a solution, but there aren't any obvious ones. It's super sad. They're talking about extinction of the Little Brown Bat from the NorthEast of the USA and Canada in the next 15 years. And that's the most common bat we have there. Never mind the rarer ones!

Merryeli1 karma

I work a lot with reptiles, and know they have some nasty diseases affecting them, specially in private collections.

Can you point me to someone or some institution working on these issues? I wish to help on research, either with funds or helping the information reach those who need it.

DanRiskin3 karma

There's a really interesting lab at Brown University. Kate Smith looks at diseases that come into the USA through the pet trade. http://www.katherinefsmith.com/

ashimbo1 karma

What's your opinion of Batman?

DanRiskin1 karma

I approve.

eongrey1 karma

What's the closest parasite in terms of life cycle to the Xenomorphs of the alien franchise?

remotectrl2 karma

I'm not Dan, but Parasitoid wasps are probably the closest. The tarantula hawk wasp makes spiders into its bitch.

DanRiskin2 karma

Agreed. And there are hundreds of thousands of species of insects that reproduce by torturing their hosts this way. Wasps, flies, and I think other orders, too. I wrote about this in my book Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You. Buy that book. Also buy one for everyone you know. It's a perfect holiday gift. ;-)

freakshow90091 karma

Grossest thing you've seen out there in that wouldn't let you fall asleep at night?

DanRiskin2 karma

I don't know that anything's ever made it hard to sleep. I kinda think all of it is weirdly beautiful. Nature is amazing. Some people love watching a bee feed from a flower, but I get a kick out of watching a cricket die in the water and seeing a gigantic gordian worm come out of its dead body. I don't wish ill upon the cricket, but I marvel at the fact that the worm tricked it into committing suicide by drowning in the first place. It's just brilliant.

gannon21451 karma

Did you know vampire bats can "run"?

DanRiskin3 karma

I did not know that until I was part of the team that discovered it in 2005.

Were you just setting me up so I could brag about that?

If so, thank you. It made me happy.

NSX_guy3 karma

Dan, I don't really have much to ask or add. I'd just like to let you know that you and Ziya are a big hit in our house and you've helped inspire my four year old to enjoy learning.

She actually wants to turn off Disney Jr. At 7:00 and watch you guys until bedtime.

DanRiskin3 karma

That's so great. Thank you.

shinerai1 karma

How can someone without a degree volunteer to work with rescue bats or get to work with the animal directly?

DanRiskin2 karma

Find people in your area who do the kind of work you want to do and invite them to coffee. Then ask them that very question. If they don't have a position, they might know who does.

The most fin work with bats, though, is catching them out in nature (rather than rescuing them from houses, for example). I would keep an eye on the listserv Ecolog for postings that are looking for field assistants. Some are unpaid, some cover expenses, and some pay quite well.

zoonotica1 karma

I just wanted to say first off thank you for terrifying me with Monsters Inside Me, it inspired me to pursue biology and I am now a PhD student working with leishmania (yay parasites!).

What sorts of parasites are bats most commonly infected by, and how do these affect human health? Thanks!

DanRiskin1 karma

That's so great! Congrats on the career!

Bats have lots of ecto- and endo-parasites. The fungus that causes White-nbose Syndrome is the one that people are losing their minds over right now, and with good reason. It will wipe entire species off the map. Other parasites, like strebilid flies and wing mites are less harmful, and just kind of neat to come across when you're looking a bat over. I don't know much about their endoparasites, though.

JohnnySmash1 karma

I just graduated from a master's program in microbiology, but I'm looking to get out of the lab and work in science education. I love working especially with adults, and I think I'm pretty good at simplifying complex scientific ideas. Beyond working at a science museum (my current job) what other avenues should I explore?

DanRiskin2 karma

Contact local TV stations and pitch them stories. "Hey. There's a story in the news about so-and-so disease. I can come in and explain that to a reporter on camera and make it interesting."

Those TV producers are starving for content, and if you can help them fill their program, you're doing them a favour. Over time, you become their go-to-person whenever there's an outbreak.

AdilB1011 karma

Hey Dan! I've been watching you since you came on Daily Planet to replace Jay. My question is, what is the most fun you've had working on Daily Planet?

DanRiskin2 karma

I loved going to China to catch bats for the show. Myotis ricketti. The feet on that thing are amazing.

Also, trips to Scotland, Ireland, the US, and Japan have been fun.

mchwang00021 karma

I'm an ecologist (namely in the field of entomology), and I also have extensive study in the field of parasitology. I was wondering how you got started with the Discovery channel, as a researcher or even a host! Do you have any advice for someone who would like to one day end up in a position much like yours?

DanRiskin1 karma

Discovery reached out to me because they saw me doing science outreach on other outlets. I would recommend finding a show you like, finding out who the executive producer is, and then setting up a phone meeting or coffee with them to chat about what you'd like to do/learn. Scientists and TV folks don't talk to one another enough, and there is so much potential for cross-fertilization!

mynameismrguyperson1 karma

Dan - I just wanted to say that you were my TA for comparative vertebrate anatomy at Cornell. I always get a kick out of seeing your name pop up.

So question: how were you able to test run the treadmill you used for your vampire bat paper? Did you have to do anything special to make it "bat ready"?

DanRiskin2 karma

That was a fun course. I loved you students, and I loved the other TAs. I don't remember a Mr. Guy Person, per se, but I do remember going out to catch spotted salamanders with you all. Ah, those were the days.

The treadmill was enclosed within a plexiglas cage that prevented the bat from flying away. That was all we needed, really.

Flake781 karma

Any relation to Matt Riskin? He's an edmontonian as well. Also, I watch you show while I get ready for work in the mornings! Thanks!

DanRiskin2 karma

Matt's my brother. Smart guy. He doesn't watch me in the mornings when he's getting ready for work, though.

[edit] He and I love going for Chinese food.

InSilva1 karma

Hi Dan!

I'm also a big fan of bats. I have loved them since I was a little. I have written research papers in college on Myotis lucifugus, specifically this species as it is dwindling because of White Nose Syndrome, and I really wished I could have done research so that I would work with live bats. I have two questions: How would you go about doing research on White Nose Syndrome? If I work with a Parks Department would there be any way of helping local bat species in parks?

DanRiskin2 karma

Yes. Absolutely. Just approach the parks people and tell them you're looking for volunteer opportunities. Also, researchers could use help, and there are people studying WNS all over North America. Why don't you look at the website for the North American Symposium on Bat Research, look through the program, and see what researchers are doing WNS stuff near you?

All_About_Apes1 karma

Is there any chance of Animal Planet and Discovery returning to real animal and nature documentaries? I grew up with the channels this way and it made me who I am and determined my career choice. I'm a biologist now. It would be a shame to see the next generation growing up without the enjoyment that I had with the old Animal Planet and Discovery.

DanRiskin3 karma

I argue that Monsters Inside Me is a natural history show about the under-appreciated creatures of nature. I'm proud of it. I'm also proud of Daily Planet, which tells positive stories about science and engineering. I don't worry about the shows I don't work on. I just try to make the world better with my own work.

GenerationWhyyy1 karma

Which parasaite is the most resilient parasite known today?

DanRiskin1 karma

Cryptosporidium is pretty hardy. They freak me out.

Loimere1 karma

I could have sworn that was you on CanadaAM the other day. Do you get to anchor there often?

DanRiskin2 karma

Yup. Today, too.

NoSpelledWith2Ns1 karma

What major do you think is best for people interested in parasitic research?

DanRiskin1 karma

Depends on the school. They all have different names for the programs. I'd find the profs you're most inspired by and take their classes. Then see what degree that gives you. Also, learn a programming language. That's a huge asset for a biologist, and becoming almost required for any kind of research.

TheBakercist1 karma

I freaking love Monsters Inside Me. Just yesterday I was telling my coworkers all about the show and how my favorite episodes are the ones with botfly extractions.

What "monster" scares you the most?

DanRiskin1 karma

That's so nice of you to say. I have to say the brain-eating amoeba is the scariest to me, just for how fast it does its thing. My fav., though, (not that you asked) would be the botfly, since I got one once. It was a very weird and only slightly uncomfortable experience. I wrote about it in my book.

TheBakercist1 karma

Monsters is pretty much why I avoid swimming in fresh water, and why I stopped eating pork and seafood. Not going to take any chances.

DanRiskin1 karma

You're missing out. Swim, but don't snort the water. You can wear a noseplug if you want. And if you cook your meat you'll be fine.

lethaldoze1 karma

Of all the parasites that have affected humans, which one(s) are most sinister?

monkeysatemybarf3 karma

Here's my top three- 1. malaria for being so freaking ubiquitous and persistent. 2. raccoon roundworm- for Americans in particular, this is one of those sneaky and devastating parasites. It can be found anywhere there are raccoons and can get in your eye or brain and fuck your shit up. 3. leishmaniasis- the treatment sucks, the scars are disfiguring (if cutaneous, you have a whole lot of other problems if you get visceral) and you typically get misdiagnosed with staph / leukemia for way too long before you get properly diagnosed. Honorable mentions: Naglaeria fowlerii and Guinea worms, for creativity.

DanRiskin3 karma

Perfect answer. Nothing to add.

Profeserfreaksworth1 karma

What inspired you to get a PhD on bats?

DanRiskin1 karma

It seemed like the most fun thing to do at the time. I wasn't thinking about what kind of job would be waiting at the end of it. It's a good thing, too. I couldn't have possibly planned this career. It all seems so dictated by chance.

AmaanMaredia1 karma

As a student who is heavily interested in the study of viruses at highschool, what steps could I take next to continue pursuing this interest?

DanRiskin5 karma

Read Carl Zimmer's book about viruses "A Planet of Viruses."

When you finish high school, go into a general science program and take anything you find interesting. You might end up liking medicine, or epidemiology, or immunology, or maybe something altogether different (like bats, of course). Follow your interest. It won't lead you astray. It's so cool you're already excited about viruses at such a young age, though. GO FOR IT. Good luck.

AmaanMaredia1 karma

Thank you! Would you happen to know of any internships I could do to get started on the topic?

DanRiskin1 karma

In general, scientists always love enthusiastic bright young people who want to gain experience - even high schoolers. Why don't you approach a researcher at a university near your home and ask if you can intern with them? I've worked with lots of high school students in the various bat labs I've worked in, and they almost always do very, very well. It's a win-win.

cowboyincognito1 karma

That show simultaneously repulses me and interests me at the same time. I can't stop watching it or swearing off trips to Central America even though I know I won't because I love to travel. What's the single most interesting thing to you about the show or the people featured on it? And thanks!

DanRiskin1 karma

Go to Central America. It's beautiful and you probably won't even get sick. Just take precautions. You know to drink clean water. You know to eat food that is cooked. You know to use deet-based repellants. So go!

I can't choose a most-interesting, but I learned this season that people in the USA sometimes still get leprocy, and I had no idea. Armadillos, apparently, are covered in the stuff. Who knew?

rebelscumcsh-2 karma

Dan, what's it like to be the most annoying co-host in existence? Edit: downvote all you want, he's the reason I dont watch thebshow anymore.

DanRiskin2 karma

What specifically bothers you about my work on Daily Planet?