Terrestrials: The Hybrid
LULU MILLER: [whispers] Three, two one!
MOLLY SCHUMER: Imagine your parents, they're like aliens to each other.
LULU: Your mom is ...
MOLLY SCHUMER: ... super, super strong.
LULU: She's over six feet tall with long, flowing hair that ruffles in the wind. Tra la la! And your dad is, uh ...
MOLLY SCHUMER: Very, very cute.
LULU: Hoo hoo! He's got short, stumpy legs, huge ears, buck teeth, and some say a kind of jerky personality. And as these two different species of animals come together to form you, the genes inside your cells ...
MOLLY SCHUMER: They're basically speaking two different languages. So you have two separate sets of directions of how to make you, how you're going to operate in the world.
LULU: Your legs bulge long and strong like your mom's. And your feet scrunch into tiny hooves like your dad's. And when you finally come out into the world, you open your eyes and see ...
MOLLY SCHUMER: How you don't really fit into either species or either world.
LULU: Some people say a mashup of species like you is ...
TERESA SMOTHERS: Impossible.
LULU: And yet here you are.
MOLLY SCHUMER: You're a mule.
LULU: All right. Now is the part where I make you sing the theme song with me.
MOLLY SCHUMER: [laughs] Okay.
LULU: [singing] "Terrestrials. Terrestrials. We are not the worst, we are the ..."
MOLLY SCHUMER: Best?
LULU: "-rials." Yup! Correct!
MOLLY SCHUMER: Okay!
LULU: Terrestrials is a show where we uncover the strangeness waiting right here on Earth, and sometimes break out into song.
[Theme song: There's so much to discover if you're super cool. Terrestrials. Terrestrials. This last episode is about a mule. Terrestrials. Terrestrials.]
LULU: Good voices not required. I'm your host Lulu Miller joined as always by my Songbud ...
ALAN GOFFINSKI: Howdy, partner!
ALAN: Giddy up!
LULU: Today, we are telling the story of a humble mule named Peanut, who one summer day did something so rare that it shattered one of the most sacred laws of nature.
LULU: What was that blasphemous thing you were saying?
ALAN: What, about carrots?
ALAN: No thanks!
LULU: Don't like 'em?
ALAN: Don't like carrots.
LULU: So to understand this story, the Songbud and I grabbed a bunch of carrots, hopped in a car and headed down to Kentucky ...
LULU: Ooh, horses!
LULU: ... to hear how it happened straight from the horse's—or, uh, mule's—mouth.
LULU: Pulling up to a gorgeous farm with purple balloons. I don't know if those are for the guest of honor or somebody else.
LULU: So first, we met Peanut's owners, Jerry and Teresa Smothers.
JERRY SMOTHERS: I'm Jerry.
ALAN: Great to see ya.
TERESA SMOTHERS: I'm Teresa.
LULU: I'm Lulu!
LULU: Then we met their mothers.
TERESA SMOTHERS: This is my mother-in-law, Lily.
LULU: The Smothers mothers.
TERESA SMOTHERS: This is my mother, Susie.
LULU: That there sniffing the mic is their dog Ginger.
ALAN: Hi, Ginger!
LULU: Next, we met their cat, Tony, their son, Justin, their grand niece ...
TERESA SMOTHERS: Carly Ann.
LULU: And finally ...
LULU: So this is Peanut?
TERESA SMOTHERS: That's Peanut.
LULU: ... Peanut herself.
LULU: You have anything to say, Peanut?
LULU: [laughs] Yeah, that's not a carrot.
LULU: [whispers] That was my microphone she was trying to eat.
LULU: It's a really expensive carrot. [laughs]
LULU: So our story starts when Peanut starts. She was born in 1999, and she came out with chocolatey-brown fur and a punk rock blonde mohawk of a mane.
TERESA SMOTHERS: And we fell in love with her.
LULU: Teresa and Jerry had been in the market for a new farm animal, and so they brought little Peanut back to their farm, and thought they knew what they were getting themselves into. Things started off nor-mule-y enough. They made a home for her in their stable, they introduced her to their little three-year-old niece, Hannah.
TERESA SMOTHERS: So we would set Hannah on her, and Jerry would hold Hannah and I would lead Peanut. Well, Peanut would do that for a little while ...
LULU: Walking peacefully. Until suddenly ...
TERESA SMOTHERS: She'd start bucking! Well, the more she bucked, the more Hannah loved it.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Yes.
LULU: As time went on, the Smothers added more and more animals to their farm.
JERRY SMOTHERS: Cows and ...
TERESA SMOTHERS: ... big horses.
LULU: And little Peanut ...
JERRY SMOTHERS: She would try to manipulate the horses to do what she wanted them to do. She'd turn her back end and kick ...
LULU: And buck and nudge her way to the front of the line.
JERRY SMOTHERS: ... and get in there where she can eat or get a treat or whatever it is.
LULU: It turned out Peanut was ...
JERRY SMOTHERS: Bossy.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Bossy.
JERRY SMOTHERS: That's a good word, "Bossy."
LULU: And that part didn't surprise the Smothers.
TERESA SMOTHERS: You know, mules are stubborn.
LULU: This stubbornness is probably what mules are most famous for. Ever heard the expression "stubborn as a mule?" If someone's calling you "muleish," they mean you should probably give up on the thing that you won't stop trying to do. It's a diss. And this obstinance is why mules don't have the greatest reputation. On a recent poll of over a thousand farm-y type people, mules came in dead last for favorite of the horse-like creatures: horses, donkeys and mules.
JAMES REEVES: All right. I'm down in the Pate Valley with five loaded mules.
LULU: But for the small subset of people who do love mules, like James Reeves here, a mule packer who spends spends his days riding mules over massive mountains to bring food and supplies to remote trail workers, he says mules are not the worst but literally the best parts of both of their parents. He says they've got the strength of a horse in the compact size of a donkey, meaning they can lug heavy gear just as long and far as a horse while eating way less food.
JAMES REEVES: The trail is really rugged going down here. Lotta rocks.
LULU: Plus, their little hooves make them far better at navigating treacherous, narrow mountain trails than horses. They're also less prone to injury and illness, they're less likely to spook and run off if something surprises them. And they can withstand the blazing sun for hours longer than horses or donkeys.
JAMES REEVES: We're at about 4,000 feet elevation, which here in California can get pretty hot in the summer.
LULU: And their superpowers do not stop when the sun goes down.
TERESA SMOTHERS: They keep coyotes out of the field.
LULU: No, really?
TERESA SMOTHERS: So farmers use them for their cattle. That way these coyotes can't, you know, get the babies. So they will kill a coyote.
LULU: Okay, I'm picturing, like, a pack of coyotes, fangs, and then, like, a sweet little mule? The mule's gonna win?
TERESA SMOTHERS: Yeah, every time.
LULU: How? How?
TERESA SMOTHERS: Kicking.
JAMES REEVES: Yeah. Probably the single biggest benefit is their stubbornness.
LULU: Yup. That muleish stubbornness that so many people love to hate? James over the years has come to see as mules' very best feature. He told me about one time he was riding a mule, and it suddenly stopped. And no matter how much he kicked or pulled at it, it would not move. And finally, James saw why.
JAMES REEVES: There was a rattlesnake there on the trail.
JAMES REEVES: And the mule had heard the snake, I think, and I hadn't. And it was trying to tell me, "No, I'm not gonna do that because it's dangerous." And that's kind of a typical thing that happens with people a lot, they mistake higher intelligence for stubbornness.
LULU: James is not alone in this interpretation. A 2008 study found that mules perform better than horses and donkeys on tests for visual awareness and learning, suggesting they might be quantifiably the smartest of all the equids.
JAMES REEVES: Yeah.
LULU: And this trifecta of strength: fuel, efficiency and intelligence, is why mules are more deeply a part of human history than you may realize. Humans have been breeding mules since ancient times. They've carried turquoise and gold and silver out of mines, they've carried the supplies that have allowed us to build train tracks all over the globe. They're gentle enough to safely carry schoolchildren over treacherous peaks, and tough enough to lug cannon-like weapons into battle. They've even changed the flow of the ocean by helping to dig canals, and helped us to build temples so high they sometimes touch the clouds. But these ultra-strong, cognitively-supercharged, coyote-kicking animorph superheroes do have one glitch ...
TERESA SMOTHERS: Mules don't have babies.
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yep. They're not going to have children of their own, which we call "infertile."
LULU: This is evolutionary biologist Dr. Molly Schumer. We heard her voice at the very beginning describing what it's like to be a mule.
MOLLY SCHUMER: Your parents, they're like aliens to each other.
LULU: And she says the reason mules can't have babies all goes back to their parents. Quick refresher: a mule's parents are two different species: a horse and a donkey. And for a long time, scientists thought that a mashup of creatures like this was not supposed to happen in nature. Hybrid beasts like a horse with eagle wings or a human with a fishtail were thought to belong in the realm of fantasy or myths or fairy tales or, you know, lies. And while you might be able to "artificially" engineer a mashup like a mule or a liger—a lion and a tiger—or a zonkey—a zebra and a donkey—all those things can exist by forcing their parents to breed, nature had barriers in place that should never allow a man-made creation like that to carry on. And those rules, those hard-and-fast barriers between species became visible—or so scientists thought—when they first glimpsed these structures inside the cell called ...
MOLLY SCHUMER: Chromosomes.
LULU: All right. Now before you shut off this here program, we are gonna explain chromosomes as a line dance with sub par country accents. Yee haw!
ALAN: [singing] Well now, DNA makes up your genes, genes make up your chromosomes. Chromosomes are inside your cells and cells make up your body.
LULU: Now hold your horses, Songbud! What did you just say?
ALAN: Come on, Lulu, keep up! I said, [singing] DNA makes up your genes and genes make up your chromosomes.
LULU: All right.
ALAN: Chromosomes are inside your cells, and cells make up your body.
ALAN: "Genetic code" is a fancy way to say the DNA inside your genes.
LULU: So it's the reason why my eyes are blue and maybe yours are brown or green.
ALAN: Yup! Critters, plants and all things alive have chromosomes with genes inside. But here's where things start getting strange. Tell us, Lulu, what'd Molly say?
LULU: Well, Dr. Molly let us know how every species has its own special number of chromosomes that hold their cell's genetic code. Corn on the cob, what's the number again?
ALAN: 20, my friend. Two sets of 10.
LULU: What about dolphins?
LULU: Red foxies?
ALAN: They have 34.
LULU: Duck-billed platypus, how about them?
ALAN: 52 for our duck-billed friend.
LULU: And purty little donkeys, how do they do?
ALAN: Hee haw, they have 62!
LULU: But now tell me: horsies, they have more?
ALAN: They got exactly 64! In order to make a baby, the chromosomes inside each parent have to do a little line dance. It's just got two parts. First you gotta split your chromosomes in half—half on the right, half on the left.
LULU: Well, the next part, that's a little bit harder.
ALAN: What do they have to do, Dr. Molly?
MOLLY SCHUMER: All the chromosomes have to line up with their partner.
ALAN and LULU: [singing] Partner, partner, partner, partner! It's the chromosome do-si-do. How to make an embryo: get into a nice, straight line and swing your partner to recombine.
ALAN: When parents are the same species, the dance is smooth, but when the numbers don't match,things can get confused. And most of time, that just can't be, but a horse and a donkey found a way to agree. They found the sweet spot right between 62 and 64—63! So a mule's got 63 inside. When it grows up and tries to make more life, it lines right up with that same line dance, its chromosomes all ready to prance.
ALAN and LULU: The chromosome do-si-do, how to make an embryo: get into a nice, straight line and swing your partner to recombine.
ALAN: So 63 chromosomes split in half—half on the right ...
LULU: ... half on the left. Uh, wait. Half of 63 is—uh oh!
MOLLY SCHUMER: What happens in the case of a mule that has 63 chromosomes is it ends up with this sort of problem where not all the chromosomes are matched to a partner and it can't split in half properly.
LULU: Wait. So it's just as simple as, like, you have to have an even number so it can be divided by two?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah.
LULU: And so since 63 divided by two is 31 and a half ...
MOLLY SCHUMER: Exactly. That's the problem.
LULU: Does that—what's so bad about having 31 and a half chromosomes? What makes that such a problem?
MOLLY SCHUMER: So in a lot of cases, what happens is the cell is lining up the chromosomes to divide, and it's, like, checking. Is everything ready? Is it okay to divide? And then it can see that things aren't lined up properly.
LULU: [singing] It's the chromosome do-si-do, how to make an embryo. If you can't divide in two, well, there's nothing left to do. Head on home, folks. Show's over. No babies being made tonight.
LULU: Who knew, like, life was such a stickler for clean math?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah, I know. Right? [laughs]
LULU: And this scientific certainty has clomped its way out to farm country. Jerry and Teresa said that growing up, this was just a thing you knew about mules.
TERESA SMOTHERS: They have odd chromosomes. And so if you have odd chromosomes, you can't have a baby.
JERRY SMOTHERS: Yep. That's what we've always heard.
LULU: There's even an expression, "When a mule has a baby." It's like, "When pigs fly." Never gonna happen.
JERRY SMOTHERS: Hey, Peanut! Hey, Peanut!
LULU: And so, back to Peanut.
LULU: Is nose petting cool?
TERESA SMOTHERS: Yes.
LULU: For years, she roamed the fields of the Smothers' farm.
LULU: Live-laugh-hoofin' it up, her chocolatey brown fur slowly starting to gray.
JERRY SMOTHERS: You can kinda see the white and the gray around her eyes and nose.
LULU: That spunky spirit starting to slow down.
JERRY SMOTHERS: We kind of noticed that, you know, she's—she's starting to show her age a little bit.
LULU: And as she nears 20 years old, Jerry and Teresa are sure that because those 63 chromosomes inside her will never be able to divide neatly in half, that'll be it for Peanut in their lives. No babies coming to carry on her memories or spirit.
JERRY SMOTHERS: You always think about that.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Of course, yes.
LULU: And that should be how the story ends. But it's not. More in a moment.
LULU: You're listening to Terrestrials. We are telling the story of a mule named ...
JERRY SMOTHERS: Peanut!
LULU: ... whose life was pretty uneventful for 17 years.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Yeah, it was just here on the farm, eating, bossing the other animals around.
LULU: Until one morning in July of 2018, Jerry gets a call from his neighbor Sam, a guy who has a bunch of donkeys that Peanut sometimes goes over to boss around.
JERRY SMOTHERS: Sam called and he said, "Well, your mule's had a baby." And I said, "Sam, you're mistaken and getting old, because mules can't have babies." And he said, "Well, you should have told her that before she got pregnant."
LULU: Jerry says there's no way. But Sam insists.
JERRY SMOTHERS: "Jerry, it's here. I'm here looking at it." [laughs]
LULU: Jerry tells Teresa what Sam has just told him.
TERESA SMOTHERS: And I said, "Oh, he don't know what he's talking about."
JERRY SMOTHERS: He's old and senile. [laughs]
TERESA SMOTHERS: I said, "There's no way."
LULU: But they head on over to Sam's farm just to check it out.
TERESA SMOTHERS: And I'll never forget it.
LULU: There was their Peanut ...
TERESA SMOTHERS: In the corner of the field, in a fenceline with the baby.
LULU: This light gray mule-looking thing with a funny puff of blonde hair on top of its head.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Everybody was running, and she just tumbled over because she had this big head up here, you know, and this little bitty body.
LULU: Like the weight was all off balance?
TERESA SMOTHERS: Yes!
LULU: And even though no one saw the birth ...
JERRY SMOTHERS: You just knew.
TERESA SMOTHERS: You just knew because when Peanut moved, that baby moved.
JERRY SMOTHERS: Mm-hmm.
LULU: And stranger still, while Peanut couldn't make any milk, because, you know, not a thing mules should ever need to do.
TERESA SMOTHERS: She had clear liquid coming from her teets.
DESTINY: I mean, it was a shock.
DESTINY: Like, "Wow, this isn't supposed to happen."
LULU: This is the Smothers' neighbor, Destiny, who was 14 years old when the little filly was born.
TERESA SMOTHERS: And we did say—we said, "Oh my gosh. This is a miracle." And I'm like, "Well, that's a perfect name."
LULU: Miracle. That's what they named her.
DESTINY: It just fit so perfectly. So ...
LULU: And the Smothers asked Destiny to help them keep little Miracle fed.
DESTINY: I got to bottle-feed her, I think, three times a day.
DESTINY: Yes. It was amazing.
LULU: What was bottle feeding like? Like, what milk were you using, and would you go sit down with her? Would you stand?
DESTINY: Well, we either put it between our legs.
LULU: A plastic bottle full of a baby formula made from cow's milk.
DESTINY: So it was kind of like a real thing of what she would actually do with her mom.
LULU: Oh yeah.
DESTINY: Or you'd put it in the armpit so that she could nuzzle a little bit.
LULU: Oh! Was that like the coziest thing in the planet?
DESTINY: It was. I loved it. It was—it was hard not to smile the whole time and just laugh 'cause it was just so cute.
LULU: I interrupt the cutest scene in Kentucky to ask a very pressing question: what about the chromosomes? How did this mule have a baby? Molly, what the hoof is going on?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah. So it's really uncomfortable as a scientist to speculate. One thing to know about evolution is that the mistakes are important.
LULU: Molly says if you'd asked her about 15 years ago when she was in college, she would have told us what her professors were telling her, which is that this baby was a mistake. Somehow, nature let a little bad math slide through. And indeed, over the centuries there have been a tiny number of confirmed cases of mules giving birth. But according to the scientific rules, those quote-unquote "mistakes" with their mismatched chromosomes inside should have such serious problems trying to grow that they'd be ...
MOLLY SCHUMER: Unable to survive, which we call "inviable."
LULU: And sure enough ...
JERRY SMOTHERS: It was probably four—four or five days.
LULU: ... after Miracle was born ...
TERESA SMOTHERS: She stopped eating. And she just laid around and she couldn't walk.
LULU: Their neighbor Sam stopped by one day and found Miracle lying down, lifeless.
JERRY SMOTHERS: He thought she was dead.
LULU: And he slunked home to get a shovel to dig a hole for Miracle. To bury her. But when Teresa and Jerry came back later that day, they saw Miracle was still breathing, though she was struggling. So they rushed her to the animal hospital.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Yes. So they shaved her neck and they put IVs in her, and they gave her all of this medicine. And it was very costly. And each day we were like, "You know, what are we gonna do? We can't ..."
JERRY SMOTHERS: So here—here they are.
LULU: Jerry pulls out a photo on his phone from that time.
LULU: Wow. So it's like this little mule in hay, surrounded by all these surgeon-looking folks.
JERRY SMOTHERS: Yeah. And see, there they are working on her.
LULU: Yeah. Oh, there's Peanut. Did they bring Peanut in to, like, comfort her?
JERRY SMOTHERS: She stayed with her the whole time.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Mm-hmm.
DESTINY: We all prayed in the church.
LULU: They wait a fifth day.
JERRY SMOTHERS: The vet said that, you know, she wasn't gonna live.
LULU: A sixth day.
TERESA SMOTHERS: We were sitting up there in the hay, and sitting there and boohooing, and—and I said, "Let's just give her one more day." Remember that?
JERRY SMOTHERS: Mm-hmm.
TERESA SMOTHERS: I said, "Let's give her one more day."
LULU: And then one of the doctors had the idea of giving Peanut—sweet, old, graying Peanut—some medicine.
TERESA SMOTHERS: Called domperidone.
TERESA SMOTHERS: And it made that liquid turn into milk for Miracle.
LULU: And little Miracle begins suckling milk from Peanut, and almost immediately gains weight, strength. She loses her cough.
TERESA SMOTHERS: She turned around just like that. And she came home on the seventh day.
LULU: And as for how long this fragile little mistake lasted after she came home? Well ...
LULU: Wow. Pulling up to a gorgeous farm with purple balloons. I don't know if those are for the guest of honor. [laughs]
LULU: ... that's why we went out there to Kentucky on that hot July day: to meet Miracle for her fourth birthday.
TERESA SMOTHERS: She'll be four. Yes.
JERRY SMOTHERS: Miracle will be four.
LULU: Wow. Well, can we—can we go meet the birthday girl?
TERESA SMOTHERS: Yes.
LULU: Teresa and Jerry and their moms and son and grand niece led us outside, trailed by their dog and cat into the hot July afternoon. We crossed a big field of grass, and then Jerry unlocked a gate and led out a hefty, gray creature with donkey ears and a horse tail—which I swear she was wagging.
SMOTHERS MOTHERS: [laughs] Look at her waggle her tail!
LULU: She was no longer wobbly ...
LULU: Hi, Miracle!
LULU: ... and in fact, was so strong, she let a fully-grown radio lady climb onto her back without flinching.
LULU: Okay, that might be—that might be [laughs]. Thank you!
LULU: And that wasn't all. When we busted out the piñata we were so proud to have brought to her birthday party—a piñata not in the shape of a mule like so many piñatas are, but in the shape of a human—true to her nature ...
LULU: She's wisely not trusting it.
LULU: She stubbornly ignored it.
LULU: Oh, we're seeing mule obstiance in—in action. She like, "There's wires sticking out of that thing. I don't want it."
MOLLY SCHUMER: The mistakes are important.
LULU: Molly said she'd love to get a peek at Miracle's blood to better understand what exactly is going on with her chromosomes. And the Smothers have sent samples out to labs, but she also said in the decade and a half since she's been in college, biologists have gotten new tools that have allowed them to see something inside species' secret genetic codes that they hadn't been able to see before.
MOLLY SCHUMER: What we learn, first in plants, but then later in animals, that actually hybrids were being formed all the time.
LULU: ... that's right. It turns out the wilderness is a fantasia of hybrids: butterflies and crocodiles and grasses and trees that on the inside have been revealed to be wild mixes of species.
MOLLY SCHUMER: There's been hybridization between grizzly bears and polar bears.
LULU: Pizzly bears!
MOLLY SCHUMER: Between coyotes and wolves.
MOLLY SCHUMER: Rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. Those species hybridize.
LULU: Is a cut-rainbow called a Skittlefish?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Skittle! Love it!
LULU: Okay. Sorry.
MOLLY SCHUMER: I will propose that.
LULU: Tell all the scientists.
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yes. I will tell them. [laughs]
LULU: There are narlugas—narwhal-belugas. And camas—camel-llamas. And some people even guess that we are hybrids with a now-extinct creature called Neanderthals. And perhaps wildest of all is that these naturally-occurring mash-ups can have babies and carry on their beautifully blended chromosomes into the future.
MOLLY SCHUMER: This is why this has been kind of such a fun field to be in now is that it's an area where I think it has changed dramatically over the past 10 or 15 years.
LULU: Molly explained that these days, scientists no longer think of hybrids as mistakes, flukes or man-made anomalies. Instead, they seem to be one of the main ways that nature species.
LULU: Hey, Miracle. Could you say goodbye?
LULU: And so the existence of Miracle isn't necessarily a case of the rules getting broken, so much as it's us having had the rules wrong.
[ALAN: [singing] Heads up! Heads up! Mind open. We will never stop searching, 'cause the world keeps changing. Heads up! Heads up! Mind open. Ears open, keep your eyes open.]
[LULU: [singing] You don’t have to tell me how easy it is to stay stuck in a box with the things you believe.]
[ALAN: [singing] I wanna break it down, wake up and reach out beyond impossibility.]
[LULU: [singing] You don't have to tell me how hard it can be to find the magic when everything feels static.]
[ALAN: [singing] But there is so much to discover if you look real close. It can seem like a miracle.]
[ALAN and LULU: [singing] Heads up! Heads up! Mind open. We will never stop searching, 'cause the world keeps changing. Heads up! Heads up! Mind open. Ears open, keep your eyes open.]
[ALAN: [singing] No one better tell us they have all the answers when nobody even knows all the questions.]
[ANA GONZÁLEZ: And we're all still learning how we should ask them.]
[ALAN: [singing] We change the rules that need to change, embrace the way mistakes are made. We break away, we're not afraid. Won't hesitate to question everything.]
[ALAN, LULU, ANA and the kids from the Music Resource Center in Charlottesville, VA: [singing] Heads up! Heads up! Mind open. Ears open, keep your eyes open.]
LULU: Alan Goffinski!
LULU: Terrestrials was created by me, Lulu Miller, with WNYC Studios. It is produced by the a-mule-zing Ana González and Alan Goffinski plus me. With help from Suzie Lechtenberg, Sarah Sandbach, Natalia Ramirez, Natalie Meade, Miriam Bernard, David Gebel, Joe Plourde and Sarita Bhatt. Sound design and additional editorial guidance by Phoebe Wang. Clumpety-clump!
LULU: Our advisors are Theanne Griffith, Aliyah Elijah, Dominique Shabazz, Liza Steinberg-Demby and Tara Welty.
LULU: Terrestrials is supported in part by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation.
LULU: Special thanks to Boomer Geis, Amy Pearl, Daniel Alarcón, The Szumylo Family, Julie Abodeely and the Wheeler School, Charlottesville's Music Resource Center, Canelo Joaquin, Briana Gutierrez and the Park Equine Hospital. And that'll do it. Nothing else cool about to ... what's that?
BADGER: Excuse me, I have a question.
BADGER: Me too.
BADGER: Me three.
BADGER: Me four.
LULU: The badgers! Listeners with badgering questions for the expert. Are you ready?
JAMES REEVES: Yeah.
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah.
ODESSA: Hee-haw! My name is Odessa. I'm eight. Do mules say "hee-haw," or only donkeys?
JAMES REEVES: It's actually called braying. So a horse neighs and a mule brays. They've all got their own voices, same as us.
LULU: Hmm. I would have thought it would have been "nee-haw," a little hybrid of "neigh" plus "hee-haw?" But I guess that's a neigh-gative.
ERIN: Hi. I'm Erin, and I'm 35. I hear that there are more pizzly bears due to climate change. Is this true? And is this new animal here to stay?
MOLLY SCHUMER: That is a fantastic question. So it is actually true, and we're seeing this a lot in a lot of different species. And this is because with climate change, species are having to move around to find the right environments for them. So for example, you might see grizzly bears moving further north because it's less harsh in the winter. And then you can get contact between species that previously didn't have contact, and new opportunities for hybridization.
LULU: Hmm. Do you think that these polar bear/grizzly bear hybrids are here to stay?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah. I mean, I think humans have been changing the environment so much that I do think that we are gonna see a lot of new hybridization events, and some of those will stick around. I—I hope the pizzly bears make it.
LULU: Do you think humans are accelerating the rate of hybrids?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah. I've seen a couple of papers start to come out saying that hybridization might be increasing in frequency right now.
MOLLY SCHUMER: Mainly because we're just changing everything really fast.
LULU: Hmm. Oh, interesting. That's cool! But I guess the sad note on that is like, one hand I'm like, "Ooh, more zonkeys and pizzlies and ligers and a world of blends!" But is it out of this kind of desperate necessity?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah.
LULU: Are sort of species leaving their ranks and coming together to combine because humans are stealing so much habitat that they have to come together to just survive? Like, is there a bittersweetness in that beauty of novelty?
MOLLY SCHUMER: Yeah, I definitely think that's bittersweet. You know, it's a result of massive changes that—that humans have—have made.
LULU: So I'll leave it there. Two roads diverging, and you can walk either one. Do nothing, and let more and more animals hybridize, making wild beasts beyond the imagination! Or do your part to try to conserve what's here, and notice all the variety that already exists alongside you.
LULU: But the weight of the world is not on your shoulders alone. Our best hope of making change is by coming together, so we've put a bunch of concrete—and even kind of fun—things we can all do to help protect the non-human life on this planet. You can find that on our website, TerrestrialsPodcast.org. We also have a very silly animation of a game show we played with Dr. Molly called "Will They Hybridize?"
LULU: That'll do it for this season of Terrestrials. If you would like this series to continue, have your adult text TIGER to 70101 for details on how to become a Lab member and support Terrestrials. The number again is 70101. Just text the word TIGER!
LULU: I cannot shut down this dance party without saying the deepest thank you to Ana González and Alan Goffinski. This show, this little world, would not exist without your immense talents. Thank you also to Chuck Cheeseman, Latif Nasser, Ellen Horne, Jad Abumrad, Soren Wheeler and the whole Radiolab crew for your support of this thing in various flavors along the way. And finally, bedazzled in rhinestone hearts thanks to Alida Goffinski, Jeff "The Earther" Matayus and Grace Miller. Y'all helped make this too.
LULU: To all two of you left still listening, if anyone tells you that they've got it all figured out, I've got news for you ...
[ALAN: [singing] They don't. Your brain weighs just three pounds and the earth would weigh Thirteen Thousand One Hundred Seventy Billion Trillion Pounds, with too many surprises to wrap my little head around.]
[ALAN: [singing] I'll take my chances that there are still surprises. This world changes suddenly and clumsily/With every discovery, every discovery.]
[CHORUS: Thirteen Thousand One Hundred Seventy Billion Trillion Pounds. Heads up! Heads up! Minds open.]