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ScienceIAMA herpetologist. I study giant salamanders like the Hellbender! AMA

Apr 10th 2018 by IFAS_WEC_AMAs • 9 Questions • 109 Points

Hi!

I'm the lead developer of Monster Crown, the indie Monster Taming RPG with true crossbreeds!

Remember being a kid playing your favorite Monster games and doing breeding/fusion? Ever wish the offspring were true cross-breeds, or even, new species? Check out Monster Crown:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWPFAD_oChU

We're live on Kickstarter starting today!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/236602931/monster-crown-monster-taming-game-with-true-crossb

We've got great content and videos (and monsters!) coming all month. Be sure to check out our subreddit if you'd like to see more at /r/crownsgame

Don't ask me my favorite monster, that's mean - do you ask Dads who their favorite child is? (Ok it's Tanukrook)

My Proof: https://twitter.com/crowns_dev/status/983731529703620610

Q:

What generated your interest in this field? Is there some kind of event involved in your childhood?

A:

Hello Chris! I enjoy watching your videos and find them wholesome and informative.

I'd like to ask you a question that you frequently ask your guests- what is one thing that you would like the world to know about you?

Keep up the great work!


Q:

What keeps you going every day?

How do you decide when a game is "done"?

Will there be updates afterwards?

What will you do if the game isn't successful?

A:

Hi! I definitely always had an interest in slimy and scaly critters as I would catch them in my backyard as a kid, and luckily my parents never discouraged me. I also had an amazing HS biology teacher. However, I didn't actively realize I could be a herpetologist for a job until I failed miserably as a genetics major (too prone to lab accidents) and looked into more options.


Q:

I'm awkward and hate being on camera! I've gotten better with time but you can really see in those beginning videos I am uncomfortable. Also, my favorite hobby is beach volleyball! I play every day when home.

A:

What keeps me going? Hm...

When I close my eyes I see the complete game. Anyone that picks it up has plenty of fun and has a plethora of content available to them. Have they seen everything yet? No.

I imagine the real grinder, the guy like me that punches 900 hours. I want that guy to be able to still find something he hasn't seen before. A monster form, an ability, a unique transformation.

Because I'm that guy too - I don't ever want to stop exploring. And in games like this exploration isn't just physical - it's deeply rooted in the breeding, the battling, the experimenting.

At the same time, everything is hand-crafted, we're not using procedural generation of Monsters or anything.

The game will be done when we have everything in our MONSTER CROWN PLAN BOOK implemented. We've defined everything that will be in the game already, we're past the point of adding new features/scope.

There will be monthly free DLC for years, absolutely :)

If it isn't successful I'll feel really sad for a bit, but I know when I release it I'll be proud of it - that's all that really matters.


Q:

What do you find was the biggest key for your success in school? I'm struggling in History of Vertebrates right now and I know more advanced classes are coming

A:

First of all, I can’t believe this thread isn’t more popular! As a special education teacher, I fell in love with your videos when I first saw them posted on Facebook (and have followed since). I’ve already wondered — where did you teach in Philly? I believe that’s where you said you’re from!


Q:

one more question;

what do you envision the 'end game' for this to be like? Is it just revisiting old areas and making contracts to breed new creatures, or is there something else planned/in the game already?

A:

One thing I can say is that I tend to use a lot of mnemonics to memorize scientific names and/or remember concepts. Is there a specific type of struggle you are having?


Q:

I actually taught in NE Florida but was born and raised in NE Philly by the Roosevelt Mall.

A:

MMMMM

How do I respond to this without a huge spoiler?

All I can say right now is that there's something else big in the post-game, not just treading the same paths :)


Q:

Its definitely memorizing names and the concepts about them. Labs that I have to memorize 40 animals or so with all their names and characteristics. :(

A:

Chris!! Long time viewer, first time question asker. :) One of your most recent interviewees, Betty absolutely made me bawl. Thank you for doing that interview! I’ve spent much of my life working with individuals with developmental disabilities, spanning to when I hung out with the Special Education class to play games and such on my snack break. Mostly because I was bullied and those kids never judged me and were always up for a game of UNO. I graduated a decade ago and have spent most of the time since working with these amazing individuals. Anyways, I digress. What has been your favorite interview to date? And, since I have the opportunity, you’re going to be in Fargo later this month and I didn’t learn that you’ll be here until it was too late and the tickets were sold out. Any chance you could sneak me in? I’d love to meet you in person! :) Cheers, Chris! Keep being awesome and bringing a voice to some of the most amazing people in our society!


Q:

How do skills/spells/etc work? More specifically, do monsters learn new skills when they level up, or how are they acquired? And can monsters pass on their skills to their offspring through breeding?

A:

Try making mnemonics or make up a song! It surprisingly helps. And flashcards (while boring) can be really good for these types of things.


Q:

Haha send me an email at [email protected] and I'll see what I can do. Make the subject Fargo. It'll help me keep track. And I know it sounds like a cookie cutter answer but it's impossible to pick a favorite. Each person I've met brings something new to the table. I look at SBSK as many interviews that together send a measage. No one is greater than the whole. The first few interviews in my hometown will always hold a special place in my heart though.

A:

Great question (btw, thank you for stopping by, the famous SIRALIM dev!)

Monsters have a set of skills that are available to them as they level up. You'll be able to choose six skills from their learnset to "remember" at once. You can swap them at any time.

As you breed, this learnset just grows and grows :)

All skills are passed down in the form of movesets and in the form of learnsets. This compounds over the generations so a 5th-6th generation monster can have a truly formidable set of skills available.


Q:

There was an episode of River Monsters where Jeremy Wade surmised that a certain Japanese salamander could grow large enough to eat a small child. Do you believe this? Has there ever been a case of a salamander attempting to eat a human?

A:

I will send you an email shortly! I figured you couldn’t pick a favorite. So, do you still keep in contact with those kids you taught? Do you think you’ll ever go back to classroom teaching?


Q:

Do you forsee some sort of competitive scene arising out of this game? Even if you don't, for multiplayer, how will you handle the "legendary" Crownies, that will presumably be more powerful than your garden-variety Laz? How will you avert the "No Contracts, Pursuit Only, Nio Kio" syndrome?

A:

The giant salamanders in Asia can reach sizes over 4 feet.

I've never heard of any cases of them eating people, but I imagine a really large one would be able to eat a small baby if its smaller than its mouth. Not sure why that situation would arise though. Haha.

That said there is some super cool mythology about giant salamanders in Japan. Basically the myth I've heard goes that a super large dragon type salamander would eat local villagers. This one guy decided he had enough so he let it swallow him and then he used a sword to cut it from the inside and kill it.

Unfortunately the angry spirit of the salamander stayed around and caused all sorts of issues for the village. In order to make the spirit happy, the villagers started a celebration to honor the salamander spirit.

There is a festival in Japan supposedly based on this myth complete with salamander floats and kimonos. It's the number one thing on my bucket list.


Q:

Yup I do keep in contact. Some more than others. I have daydreams almost daily of being back in the classroom. I loved every moment of teaching and am open to one day doing it again.

A:

haha! No Contracts, Pursuit Only, Nio Kio is wicked. I love that.

Well we actually have some network play ongoing as we speak. If you get a chance to try that out you'll see that everyone is ranked on "toughness".

The game calculates you and your team's toughness and displays it next to your avatar online. So if you're playing online, be sure to choose someone with a similar toughness level if you want a fair fight!

Originally we played with the idea of limiting a team you carry with you to a specific level of toughness, so you could have 2 very tough monsters, or instead 8 very weak ones. Ultimately we didn't want to limit people and we always try to offer choices, rather than restrictions, so we opted for a visible "toughness" indicator to help you choose your matches wisely :)


Q:

Much in the way of personality or intelligence in larger salamanders? My axolotls differ personality wise with one being an Einstein compared to the other.

A:

I will send you an email shortly! I figured you couldn’t pick a favorite. So, do you still keep in contact with those kids you taught? Do you think you’ll ever go back to classroom teaching?


Q:

I see! I like that solution--very elegant. That way, people can choose the "tier" of combat they want to enter... it makes sense, and a high-toughness team can indicate progress through the game, rewarding singleplayer progression. I assume there's some way to prevent a person, then, from coming into a server with a high-toughness team and beating up on people still in the Monster Crowns version of Little Cup?

Could you further expand on other online multiplayer features you may have planned for the game?

Could you describe, generally speaking, what genre or era the game will take place in? From what I've seen, it seems to be a mix of our modern era, but with the primitiveness that living in a world of dangerous monsters would enforce.

A:

I haven't come across any research on this, but in my experience there are definitely some salamanders that are more chill than others.


Q:

Live with *

A:

Thank you!

Well we don't plan to split the server into sections, but we do plan to offer powerful sorting, so you're all on the same server but ideally you'd sort by "closest to my toughness", and work your way down the list (assuming you haven't pre-arranged with a friend).

The mutliplayer features will include:

  • Battling
  • Trading
  • Breeding

You'll be able to do all three online!

You nailed it about the era! The world is dangerous and full of monsters. There was also a huge civil war 20 years ago. The areas farthest from the three kingdoms were least affected by the war and have the most up-to-date technology.

There is one island, unharmed by monsters or the war that is quite advanced - Hewston!

But you're right, a large portion of the world is similar to turn of the century era, and very poor areas, like Mill Town can have very little to offer from a technology perspective.


Q:

What do you feel is the biggest threat to the survival of hellbenders? Siltation, climate change, agricultural, pollution, habitat loss, and human ignorance are all contributing factors but what do you feel is the worst? I'm also curious about your thoughts on the use of nesting boxes in relation to human curiosity (if people see them will they leave them alone or do they open up an easy way for people to potentially harass the animals?) as well as survival rates of reintroduced animals bred in captivity vs those bred in the wild. Also as much as their numbers have declined do you feel there is hope for their populations to stabilize or even rebound through increased conservation efforts or has to much damage been done?

A:

Hey Chris what’s the most difficult video you had to do? in terms of “this just hurts my heart”

You’re videos really showed me happiness and opened my eyes to how ignorant I was. I just want to say you’re amazing and my partner says you really know how to make your eyes pop with your wardrobe choices lol


Q:

Have you scrapped monster designs before and if so what was your least favourite?

A:

Habitat loss is number one in my opinion, but it's not necessarily mutually exclusive from the other issues.

Siltation, for example, can embed the rocks and substrate that Hellbenders rely on. I haven't worked in an area where nest boxes were used, but imagine humans could definitely mess with them. On the other hand, humans also mess with regular rocks too, so not sure it would be an additional issue or not.

There is definitely hope for Hellbenders.

There are few areas where the populations are at least stable, particularly in protected areas like government forests and national parks. Some zoos have pretty large numbers of them in captivity at this point. If we can restore and protect enough habitat, I think the future is bright.


Q:

Toughest one was Kayne when he admitted he was aware that death was only a few weeks away. He told me his only wish is that he can watch his friends and family in the after life. His pic is on my fridge and I give him a pound every day.

A:

Oh absolutely we've had to scrap em!

Makes me sad every time, but if it means the sum of all Monsters in the game is a better crew for players then in the end I'm happy!

Shad is my co-creator and a much better Monster Designer - we've never had to scrap one of his designs (but maybe he scraps them before I see them).

Here are two scrapped designs, from way back when we began development in early 2016:

https://i.imgur.com/W4S4vHe.png

The top one wasn't too bad but didn't have a strong concept.

The bottom was one we "grew out of". As the game evolved and we refined our "Monster Bible" of the nature of these Monsters, we realized something robotic didn't fit in our world.

His name was Rotowl - sorry Rotowl, you are now in scrap


Q:

Thank you! I've got in a few debates over the use of nest boxes. I personally think they are a great solution for streams effected by siltation and a good way for captive rearing projects to safely collect eggs. I have however talked to many that beleive them to be an open invitation for collectors and the ignorant to do them harm. I'd also like to thank you for being the only person I've talked to researching these animals that has a positive outlook for the future of the species. The few others I've asked that question and most information available about these animals are very doom and gloom when it comes to that topic.

A:

Hey Chris! I'm a school psychologist and a huge fan! How do you find your interviewees? Do their families contact you, or do you find them and contact them?


Q:

Who is Shad? You don't mean Shadman, do you?

A:

Someone ask me about Mudpuppies!


Q:

They reach out to us on our website.

A:

Nope, just my team mate!

Shad_Noise is a common handle he uses.


Q:

What's the biggest difference between a mudpuppy and a hellbender? Do you have a personal preference between the two?

A:

I was binge watching your videos yesterday after I saw the one on /r/videos. I plan on watching your Google talk later (saved but no time to watch this week).

How do set up the meetings and interviews with the people in your videos? Do they reach out or do you reach out to them and ask? Were there any instances where you chose not to have an interview with someone for personal or safety (perhaps this person had a bad immune system)?

Quick edit: first two questions were answered here https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/89s8tx/i_run_the_youtube_channel_special_books_by/dwtyvj1


Q:

Have you ever seen a ghost?

A:

They are actually in different salamander families. Mudpuppies keep their external gills their whole life, while Hellbenders lose them after a year or so. Their bodies are also shaped very differently. Mudpuppies have more triangular heads and are shaped like tubes while Hellbenders are flattened and have more round heads. Mudpuppies are super amazing though because they can live in all sorts of habitat (everything from deep in the Great Lakes to shallow mountain streams.) Mudpuppies also have a much larger geographic range than Hellbenders.


Q:

Ive received over 10000 requests for interviews so I'm unable to accommodate every request. As I travel I reach out to people who have filled out our form that includes city/state. I try to interview people with as many diverse stories as possible.

A:

No but my fiancee swears that she did.

Well not a ghost, but a white, whispy apparition that appeared only for a moment.

I believe her, but I also read a lot of creepypasta so I'm naturally inclined to believing all sorts of spooky stuff!


Q:

I think we have pretty good hellbender water in these woods. Do you have any pointers on seeing them in their natural habitat? Is their a good time of day to go river snorkeling to see them? Follow up --- What else can we do in our community to help the hellbenders? (Aside from telling everyone not to move the rocks in the river)

A:

Hi Chris,

I've watched a ton of your videos since the one you did with Liz was posted on reddit yesterday. I was incredulous at first but it just seems like you're a wonderful human being. Thank you so much for your hard work!

I find your videos fascinating. The more I watch the wider my range of normalcy becomes! I'm keen to understand more about the brain and how we communicate - could you recommend any decent books that give an insight into different neurodiverse conditions and /or communication?

Also, what position do you play in football? (Soccer)


Q:

Is it going to be early access?

A:

They tend to be most active late in the summer or on rainy overcast days. They are nocturnal, so finding them during the day can be a challenge. It's best not to turn rocks to find them though, as it can alter their habitat and could possibly injure or kill them. If the stream is clear, sometimes you can see them out at night too :)

Not moving rocks or taking gravel is a huge thing as you've mentioned. Being sure to disinfect any gear when you move between streams can help limit disease transfer. Not releasing bait or unwanted pets is a huge one for aquatic species in general. If you have land on the water, keeping vegetation/trees along the stream bank is helpful. One other thing that helps amphibians is limiting household pesticide/herbicide use in general.


Q:

I would recommend Neurotribes. And I was a striker St a d3 school. I always say I got all of the glory but did none of the work.

A:

Backers can get a demo/beta right now, but we won't be doing early access. We want the game to blow you away on release and releasing it early in some form could lessen that.

Personally I'm not terribly interested in Early Access (not to say anything ill toward the genres where it really shines).


Q:

This is from my girlfriend's eight year old daughter:

"What do baby salamanders eat? Because um, we found some eggs in a creek in our back yard. We put them in a jar and they hatched and we don't know what to feed them."

A:

If they are aquatic larvae, you'll need to keep changing their water (using creek water).

When they first hatch, they eat really small invertebrates which you may not even see, but will be in the water.

They also will foul their water very carefully so you'll need it to be fresh so they don't get sick.

I'd also work on getting some brine shrimp eggs as they will eat the small hatchlings but it takes some time for them to hatch. Once they get a bit bigger, they can eat blood worms.


Q:

Follow up --- Do they end up living most of their lives in the same pool of a river? Do they hang out with family / grow up with their parents? Or do the eggs and larvae float down the river and grow up on their own?

A:

Your follow up really gets to some of my favorite things about Hellbenders.

Hellbenders are pretty solitary as adults and typically have one or two rocks shelters they will use regularly, sometimes over years. This species mostly crawls on the stream bottom, which helps them avoid getting swept away from the current.

The breeding season typically takes place between late Fall to early Winter. At this point males will start fighting over nest shelters, until one winner, a den master, is declared.

Multiple females will come to the nest and lay their eggs. The male then fertilizes them, and kicks all the other Hellbenders out to protect the eggs from cannabalism.

The den master tends to the eggs by slowly rocking his tail for oxygenation and will carefully pull apart and eat any diseased eggs. Researchers are just starting to understand what happens next, but it appears that males will stay with the larvae potentially all the way until they disperse from the nest.


Q:

Hi! I studied zoology at university in the hopes of getting into a herpetology job but am having no success.

Is there any advice you can give me?

A:

It can be really hard to break through this field at first. Often networking is the key to getting jobs, so I suggest meeting as many folks as you can in the field, and getting whatever research experience you can get. I had to take an unpaid internship when I first came out of university, but since I didn't have much money so I also worked as janitor at the zoo so I could eat. Usually once you've had a few good research experiences and people that will vouch for you, it gets much easier. If you are in the US, there are some programs like Americorp or Student Conservation Association that sometimes provide subsidized housing while you get some research experience.


Q:

What sort of predators do hellbenders have?

A:

Larger Hellbenders and otters are predators of adult Hellbenders. Humans have historically killed them too. When they hatch, they are only about an inch long so as you can imagine there are many things that eat immature Hellbenders.


Q:

How long does it take for an axolotl to mutate into a salamander?

A:

Axolotls actually never naturally metamorph into a typical adult salamander form. They basically never grow up and keep juvenile characteristics, like gills, their whole life.


Q:

What are some of the challenges that women might face in pursuing herpetology? Are they specific to the field, or broadly aligned with some of the other challenges in STEM?

Also, it's so cool that you do this! I love froggos but don't really have a knack for science, so I'll continue to be an enthusiast, haha.

A:

I'd say we share many of the same challenges, although some areas of herpetology have more challenges than others. One of my biggest unexpected hurdles has been trying to safely do field work with a kid. At a societal level, however, we have some work to do as I hear from more girls than I'd like that someone told them they can't like herps or be herpetologists because it is only for boys.


Q:

How you ever studied the incredibly deadly viper?

A:

Hey all! I've really enjoyed your awesome questions today. I've decided to check in again tomorrow and will respond between work.


Q:

What do you know about mouth sores?

A:

Never heard that one before... :|