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Episode 16: The World of Partying Birds

Bird is the word on this rapidly rotating world. Harsh storms and flooded continents can't poop on this avian party.

HOSTED by Moiya McTier (@GoAstroMo), astrophysicist and folklorist


  1. Katherine Hatcher is a chronobiologist at Albany Medical College who researches reproduction and puberty. You can follow her on twitter at @superchiasmatic and you can visit her website,

  2. Zak Martellucci is a museum educator who co-hosts VERSUS and Tales from the Museum, which has a show coming up on November 10! You can follow Zak on twitter at @ZakMartellucci and on instagram at @zzzzzzak


- Inked Gaming: with the code EXOLORE at checkout


Moiya 0:07

Hey there, and welcome to Exolore, the show about facts based fictional world building. I'm your host Moiya McTier, and I'm bad at making decisions. I'm an astrophysicist who studies planets outside of our solar system. Those are called exoplanets. And I'm a folklorist who specializes in creating imaginary worlds. And this podcast is my way of sharing those worlds with you. It's time for another expert panel episode where I invite smart people to help me imagine what life and culture might be like on a totally made up planet. My first guest is Katherine Hatcher. Katherine, can you tell us who you are, what you do and what fictional worlds you've been inhabiting lately?

Katherine 0:50

I'm Katherine Hatcher - Dr. Katherine Hatcher, I need to get used to saying that.

Moiya 0:55

Yeah, you are.

Katherine 0:56

I am currently a postdoc research fellow at Albany Medical College, and I am now studying how our brain is involved in regulating fertility. But when I was doing my PhD, I studied cool things like circadian rhythms and sleep and stuff like that. So I'm really interested in hormones and how our brain integrates information to influence our body's hormone production and functions. Fictional worlds I am inhabiting, I would say the reality that is 2020. It feels fictional some days. Or sometimes maybe I would even argue that avoiding what is happening in 2020 feels like a partially fictional world.

Moiya 1:47

Okay, what are you doing to avoid it?

Katherine 1:50

Going to work and acting like everything's normal?

Moiya 1:55

So, you're either at work or thinking about a global pandemic, when do you rest?

Katherine 2:02

I rest.

Moiya 2:03

Okay. I'll take your word for it

Zak 2:05

That does not sound very convincing.

Moiya 2:07

No. But have you been watching any TV or reading anything lately? Playing any video games?

Katherine 2:14

I am reading a book, I cannot remember for the life of me what it's called. Maybe "The Last Time I Lied". That might not be the title, But it's a book basically about a girl who went to this summer camp when she was like a preteen, and her three cabin mates like disappeared and nobody knows what happened to them. Now it's like flash forward to her in her adulthood and like the summer camp is reopening and she's going there and like, going to try to figure out what happened to your cabin mates.

Moiya 2:47

I'm sure that must have been so traumatizing for her, but as a former camp counselor, I'm thinking about how freaked the fuck out those counselors must have been.

Katherine 2:57


Moiya 2:59

All right, sounds like you're doing some cool stuff. Zak, what about you? Who are you? What do you do? What are you inhabiting?

Zak 3:08

Hi, I'm Zak Martellucci. I'm a science communicator and museum educator and museum consultant. I've gotten a chance to work with museums all over the world, to help them attract new audiences. I'm also the co-host of a monthly interactive debate show called VERSUS at Caveat here in New York City. Moiya, you were on it as one of our experts.

Moiya 3:29

I was! I lost. You kicked my ass.

Zak 3:32

Sorry. It was a good show, though.

Moiya 3:35


Zak 3:36

I also host a storytelling show for Atlas Obscura about museums called Tales from the Museum. That's what I'm working on these days. The fictional worlds that I'm inhabiting. I've been consuming a lot of media recently, which I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. But currently I'm reading "Tales of the City" or whatever those books are by Armistead Maupin, they were made into a movie or a TV show. They were redone recently and Laura Linney was in both the old version and the new version. It's about San Francisco in the 70s, late 70s and all these characters, it is wonderful. It doesn't really feel that fictional. It feels really normal. I think it feels fictional because 2020 is messed up. Um, yeah. And then I'm also rewatching "Avatar: The Last Airbender". I'm in the middle of the second season or actually, I'm on the last episode of the second season, and I don't remember the third season that well so I'm very excited about the kind of combination of this.

Moiya 4:41

Nice. Are you then going to watch [The Legend of] Korra?

Zak 4:44

Definitely. I've never watched any of Korra yet, but I cannot wait. I'm watching this again so that I can watch Korra that was like the whole [point].

Moiya 4:53

I did the same exact thing. And I just started Korra earlier this week, [I'm] really into it.

Zak 5:00

Yeah, they're short and they're easy to digest. That's what I love about it. And like, who doesn't love talking about like airbending and waterbending? Like, so cool.

Moiya 5:09

Yeah, it's like dangerously short. It's the like fruity drink of TV. Like you can consume it without realizing you're consuming it. And then it's like four hours later, and you're fucked up. And you're like, "oh,shit".

Zak 5:21

Yeah, I've watched 12 episodes, [and] you're like, "what, how did that happen"?

Moiya 5:25


Zak 5:27

I'm not upset.

Moiya 5:28

No, not at all. All right, well, then, let's get into building our own fictional world. Today, we're talking about a planet that rotates very quickly. So instead of a day on this world being 24 hours, it's 18 hours. Everything else is identical to Earth. It's made of the same stuff, it orbits the same type of star, it has a moon that orbits every 28 days. But that like definitely does some weird things with the fast rotation period, but it just spins faster. And that has some dramatic consequences for the surface of the planet itself. One of them is that you'll have more extreme weather conditions, because the Coriolis Effect on this planet is going to be more extreme. So the Coriolis Effect happens because the planet at the equator is spinning much faster, because it has longer to go in the same amount of time, then something closer to the poles. And so because the equator is faster, as the wind moves north and south, it gets twisted, and the wind on this planet gets twisted much faster than the wind on Earth. So things like hurricanes are more common, and they have more energy in them, which is bad. The other fun consequence is that the water gets pulled towards the equator, so that the entire equatorial region is covered in water, there are no land masses there. As the planet rotates, the centrifugal force can act to counteract gravity. And so you are lighter, like noticeably lighter at the equator than you are at the poles, which maybe we can use to incentivize people to go towards the equator if they want to. But we can figure that out later, we can make whatever decision we want about this planet, which is the fun part of the exercise.

Katherine 7:19


Zak 7:20


Moiya 7:21

Any thoughts or questions about the planet?

Zak 7:24

So you said like, we have increased water at the equator, we have more intense weather patterns? Does the spinning increase or affect kind of like what's happening below the surface? Like any of the plate tectonics or any of the like earthquake seismic activity?

Moiya 7:41

That's a really great question. I was thinking about that. And I don't think so, because it's slightly faster than Earth, but not fast enough to really affect the gravity. So like, the mantle is still going to be as dense, maybe ever so slightly less dense. But I think it's still functionally going to behave the same.

Zak 8:04

Cool. Interesting. Okay.

Katherine 8:06

I have a question about like life on the planet. In general, we're not talking about anything specific yet, but is it originating from the planet? Or was it brought from somewhere else?

Moiya 8:22

It is a very important question. It originated on the planet. We are going to be focusing on like, the most intelligent - dominant kind of human equivalent, but they don't have to look anything like humans. We can definitely take inspiration from us, and they can be like humans with some changes. Or we can start from like, polar bears, or like, whatever.

Zak 8:43

I have one last question. I read or heard somewhere that the closer a planet is to its star that it's orbiting, the quicker its speed is. So does that imply that our planet is closer to a sun?

Moiya 8:57

Ah, Yes. The quicker it's revolutionary speed.

Zak 9:00

Oh revolution.

Moiya 9:01

Not rotation.

Zak 9:02

Okay. God, physics are hard.

Moiya 9:06

Physics are hard!

Katherine 9:08

I haven't thought about physics in a long time.

Zak 9:10

I know ... [it's] a good challenge.

Moiya 9:14

That's what makes us such a good team.

Katherine 9:15


Moiya 9:16

We have our strengths. Okay, well, then let's start thinking about what physical traits the creatures on this planet might develop to handle the extreme weather, the fast spin the rapid day night cycle.

Zak 9:36

My first thought is because it feels like life on this planet is just going to be dealing with water a lot more; like more water at the equator, more storms more just like precipitation in general. So I don't know what that means physically yet, but life is going to have to adapt to withstand being wet a lot of the time.

Moiya 10:00

I know that you recently did a "feathers versus scales" episode? Do you call them episodes? Event?

Zak 10:07

Show, yeah.

Moiya 10:08

Show, right. Do you remember anything from that about which one might be better in a very wet environment?

Zak 10:15

That's a good question. I think that they have their different benefits, right? Like, someone with scales is going to do well, in water in and out of water, [they] can be more amphibious. But something with feathers can use its feathers to kind of repel water, right, like we see with ducks. and a lot of animals. So it's like, do we want our life to be more in and a part of the water and be able to have that more permeation of its skin with the water? Or do we want it to be totally hydrophobic? I think they're opposite ends of the spectrum there.

Moiya 10:46


Katherine 10:47

Well, if we're thinking of more intelligent beings, if that's the direction we're gonna go, they're likely avoiding the equator where most of the water is. So I'm kind of leaning toward more of a hydrophobic situation here.

Zak 11:04

Same. Just because we're talking about feathers, and now I'm like thinking about birds. And like birds have like evolved to live in like, all of the climates pretty much, right. So they can be water birds, they can be like birds that live in the Arctic. They can be birds that are desert birds. So maybe something with feathers would be very beneficial.

Moiya 11:25

I mean, if we're going for like bird people. With the increased rotation, gravity is slightly weaker, so it would be slightly easier to fly.

Zak 11:36

Oh, my gosh, that's a great point.

Moiya 11:37

Yes. All right. Bird people. I am here for that.

Zak 11:42

Bird people, yes.

Moiya 11:44

Do they just like look full bird? Do they look like big bird? Or is there a lot of diversity?

Zach 11:51

I mean, I would hope that there's diversity.

Katherine 11:53

Yeah. And especially depending on like, where your ancestors originated from, there's going to be. If you're more like an equator based ancestry, then you're going to look slightly different than a polar based ancestry.

Moiya 12:10

Yeah. Just like humans.

Zak 12:12


Moiya 12:13

I love the idea of them being the same species, but looking very different. Like still being able to reproduce.

Zak 12:21

Mm hmm.

Katherine 12:21

Oh, yeah.

Moiya 12:21


Zak 12:22

Oh, interesting. Like they Okay, I like that.

Katherine 12:24

Oh, yeah. Okay, so what I need to know, we're talking about like, the days go faster, but like, what do the seasons look like? Like, what is summer? What's the light cycle? Like ... I got questions.

Moiya 12:39

Yeah, it's the same as here on Earth because seasons just depend on the tilt of the planet and how fast it goes around at start, which is the same.

Katherine 12:48

Yeah, so is it like a 16, 2 hour day in the summer or 16 hour day two hour night in the summer? Like, what are our light cycles looking like throughout the season?

Moiya 13:07

Yeah, I would say keep all of the proportions the same. So here, at the height of summer around, where I am at, like, 40ish degrees latitude. It's roughly what, like 16 hours of sunlight. And so on this planet, that would be like 12 hours of sunlight, and then six hours of darkness. Of course, at the poles, it's like, much more extreme. So it depends on where you are on the planet. And similarly, like the temperatures in the different seasons will be shifted because one thing that a fast planetary rotation does is it doesn't give the ground enough time to absorb as much heat from the sun, so it's slightly cooler. But also, because the night is shorter, there's not as much time for the heat to dissipate, so then it doesn't lose as much heat.

Zak 14:10

And what does that mean for the equator? It's pretty consistent temperature and data night cycles?

Moiya 14:17

Yeah, it's pretty consistent. But the weird thing about water is that it will absorb a lot of heat from the sun. So if the entire equator where the sun is strongest, anyway, is all water, and it's absorbing sunlight, then the water is getting heated. And it can create this bad feedback cycle of just warming the planet.

Zak 14:41

Yeah, so does that mean there are a lot more storms emanating from the equator even more than we have today? And just like more weather patterns period, that kind of like make their way to the poles?

Moiya 14:49

Yeah, there are more of them and they're more extreme because of the Coriolis effect.

Zak 14:56

Wow, you have to be like a pretty badass bird person to live at the equater.

Moiya 15:01

Oh, yeah.

Zak 15:01

All water, all storms.

Katherine 15:03

I'm like imagining the planet from "Interstellar", that's like with the giant wave like that's how I'm imagining, even though I know we're not getting the giant wave, but it's like all water.

Moiya 15:16

We could get the giant wave because if there are no landmasses at the equator, and the water can just go unimpeded around the entire planet, then it would create some very large waves.

Zak 15:29

Yeah, so it's an extreme environment at the equator.

Moiya 15:31


Zak 15:32

So that would make sense to me that like most life would be towards the poles.

Katherine 15:36


Zak 15:37

Where it's a little drier, a little more consistent.

Moiya 15:40

Yeah. Okay. Um, so bird people, any other physical traits? Are they like bird people, but with like an elephant's trunk or something like, we can get as wacky as we want?

Zak 15:52

I'm thinking about the cycles, right? I guess they're in proportion to us today. But like, if most people are on the poles, summers are going to have a lot more sunlight. Winters are going to be a lot darker. If there any, like physical adaptations that would help them thrive in those ecosystems?

Moiya 16:09

Oh, good point. I'm thinking something with the eyes. So they can adjust to the brightness?

Zak 16:17

And then the darkness.

Moiya 16:18


Katherine 16:19

But the proportions are the same, aren't they? Are we saying [that] because they're at the poles they're going to be more extreme?

Moiya 16:26

I think we're saying that because life probably happened at the poles then life would evolve specially to deal with long periods of darkness followed by long periods of brightness.

Katherine 16:42

Yeah, well, so then you wouldn't want big eyes because big eyes are for, like nocturnal all the time in the dark.

Zak 16:59

Before we do eyes, what about something to also like, regulate their temperature if they don't get as much warmth, so they have to, like take advantage of their two hours of sunlight in the winter time?

Moiya 17:09

I like that.

Zak 17:10

Something like, I don't know ... giant ears? That's a horrible example. Or maybe their behavior is like a lizard where they go and sunbathe and absorb as much as they can?

Moiya 17:24

Yeah, there's that. Um, but when you said giant ears, I like immediately picture Dumbo and I love that they could like fly with their wings and with their ears.

Zak 17:33

I mean, that'd be amazing. Especially with the lighter gravity.

Moiya 17:37


Katherine 17:38

Do they have feathers on their ears too?

Moiya 17:43

Yeah, they have to be protected from the rain.

Katherine 17:47

I'm like imagining like penguin-y kind of feathers too like, more like small. But then again, penguins don't fly.

Moiya 17:55

They can have all different types of feathers depending on what latitudes they're from.

Katherine 17:59

That's true.

Moiya 18:00


Zak 18:01

And also, because I think gravity is a little less at the equator is too, they don't have to have the same, you know, like, bones that are hollow. They don't have to have like, such light body weight in the same way that we see other birds. And plus if they've got some blubber like to stay warm when they're born in the Arctic region.

Katherine 18:21

Yeah, because [not only are there] a lot of extremes in temperature and weather patterns and things like that, [but] I feel like the physiology would also go through relatively extreme seasonal cycles, like, I'm not gonna look the same as I do all year round, like, I'm going to get a lot of fat during the winter in order to stay warm. And like, I am going to also then lose a lot of my fat in the summer. This could influence reproduction, this could influence a lot of things like physiology could start to get really funky. If we start getting these extreme cycles.

Zak 19:02

I love the idea that they change. They fluctuate, depending and even that could affect their plumage too [due to] molting and whatever.

Moiya 19:11

Yes, absolutely. I want to talk about that, but I feel like we have to first make a decision. What we essentially have on this planet is two isolated populations, one in the north and one in the southern hemisphere. And that typically leads to divergent evolutionary patterns, if two species or like to populations aren't allowed to interact. Is that what we want? Or do we want to find a way for them to interact so that they're more across the planet on average, homogeneous.

Zak 19:41

So something about birds that I personally love is like the intense migrations that a lot of birds do. And if this is a similar planet, kind of to Earth, like I imagine our bird people would be migrating at certain points? So maybe there's something about these two populations meeting together at certain points. Maybe it's at the equator.

Moiya 20:04

Yeah, I mean, there can still be like mountain ranges where just like little peaks of stuff peak out of the water,

Zak 20:12

Like little hidden islands or whatever.

Moiya 20:14

Yeah. And so maybe they roost there for their migration.

Zak 20:19

Because I think that can have some really interesting cultural implications, too, with this idea that these two cultures come together. And that's where we get diversity.

Katherine 20:27

That migratory pattern could be escaping some of the more harsher points during the seasons, you know, so maybe initially during evolution, there was some more like separated or polar species, but then over time, mingling, and mixing started to happen.

Moiya 20:51

I like that a lot.

Zak 20:52

Mm hmm. I also like the idea, though, of like, finding someone to be like, "ooh, your ears are so much larger. Your Mom's side must be from the South Pole, but you've got like the red feathers of the North Pole. I don't know.

Katherine 21:08


Moiya 21:10

Absolutely. Okay, so we want them to interact with each other. That's great. Now that we can go back to talking about their like bio and stuff. Katherine, I feel like you mentioned fertility. First. Can you answer a very simple question I have?

Katherine 21:29

Yes, absolutely.

Moiya 21:31

What exactly is encompassed by circadian rhythm? Is it just sleep?

Katherine 21:36

Oh, no, girl, okay. Oh, no. Sleep is the big one that everybody thinks of, because it's very relevant to almost everybody in the population. But there's a few kind of rules that come out with how we describe what a circadian rhythm is, but at the end of the day, it's anything that exhibits a 24 hour pattern - anything. Any behavior, any physiological, metabolic, whatever process that you want to think of, if it has a 24 hour pattern, it's circadian. The important caveat is [that] it has to exist in constant conditions, as well as in conditions with like cues like light and dark and temperature cycles and things like that. So that's how we identify what circadian rhythms are, is we find something that has a pattern, and then we take any environmental cues away, and then we look and see, does that pattern still exist? It may not be as robust, but as long as it still exists, we can say that's a circadian rhythm. So like, sleep is the one that we all think of, because we all theoretically go to sleep around the same time, every day, and then wake up around the same time every day. Humans are weird because we have a lot of like, obviously, kind of cognitive control, and we have a lot of social cues that can influence our sleep, but in general, sleep is a circadian rhythm. Our blood pressure has a circadian rhythm. So you know, it rises in the morning and falls at night. Our body temperature does the same thing. We're talking average blood temperature or body temperature and blood pressure. In a lot of males, I think most I'm gonna probably think mainly of rodents, because that's what I study, but I'll try to think of humans too, because I guess matter. Um, but like, testosterone, which is, you know, hormone produced by the testes. It has a circadian rhythm and that it peaks in the morning and then falls during the day. So lots of things can have circadian rhythms. The current consensus is they're driven by like molecular patterns of gene and proteins expressing at certain times of the day and not other times of the day. So if we could go bonkers with circadian rhythms in our planet, because life evolved on that planet, their circadian rhythm is going to be an 18 hour rhythm as opposed to humans and species on Earth. Our circadian rhythms are 24 hours.

Moiya 24:32

Is that automatic? Like does it have to align with the day/night cycle?

Katherine 24:38

To be circadian, yes. It has to be a 24 hour or whatever the planets day length is. It has to follow that pattern. But there can be other rhythms too. There's circannual rhythms or things that happen about once a year there's ultradian, things that happen multiple times during the day. There's seasonal rhythms, so things that happen across the seasons, so they're not necessarily circadian, but they kind of get lumped into this biological rhythms category that we think of time.

Moiya 25:09

So cool.

Zak 25:11

Does circadian rhythm change if a species evolved in a place that has fluctuating night and day lengths like the poles? Or do they just go through annual cycles of different circadian rhythms?

Moiya 25:27

Great question.

Katherine 25:29

Oh, that's a good question?

Zak 25:31

Like we're obviously not gonna go to bed at the same [time]. In the winter, you're gonna go to bed but it'll be dark already is that right?

Katherine 25:37

Well, I would say that because the day length remains about the same, like their daily rhythms probably aren't going to be very different from species and other places like, but you might have behavioral differences that allow for adaptations to the extremes that we're experiencing in different parts of the planet. But because circadian rhythms are like, evolved from the lowest form of life, like, you find circadian rhythms and bacteria all the way up to you know, humans and other large mammals. It probably depends on where the lowest form of life also evolves. Like where did we start on this planet?

Moiya 26:24

I mean, probably where all the water is so probably closer to the equator.

Zak 26:28

Oh interesting.

Katherine 26:30

So I feel like the circadian rhythm idea may not be entirely different, like the patterns may not look very different depending on where you're from, at least in the general sense of circadian rhythms. But the adaptations that happen throughout the seasons, I think that that's going to be more of an interesting kind of area to play with, because the seasonal changes I feel like is where we're going to see the most potentially different behaviors and physiological differences and stuff like that.

Moiya 27:06

Yeah, absolutely. Um, so let's talk about fertility because I want to do some family planning for this planet.

Katherine 27:16


Moiya 27:18

Um, how do fertility cycles work on a circadian rhythm schedule?

Katherine 27:24

I'm assuming they're diurnal. So they're going to be awake mainly during the day.

Moiya 27:30

Okay, what goes into that assumption?

Katherine 27:33

Heat. Like we're not living in a desert population. It might be desert, but it's not going to be like a Arizona-style desert.

Zak 27:42

And we said life originated at the equator, too. right? So it's like, they're used to more light in general.

Moiya 27:51

Okay, cool.

Katherine 27:53

I like the idea of diurnal, because they're going to stay in the poles when there's more light. Right? Does that sound cool? And then they will migrate, you know, when the season starts to change to be more extreme, so where there's less light, so they're going to get closer to the equator when there's more light?

Moiya 28:13

I'm thinking about this in terms of our migration that we established. But if they're migrating because of who has more and less light at their respective poles ...

Katherine 28:23

They might not interact. Well, it could be like people that go wintering, you know, and they don't leave right when the sun gets better. There could be like, a little bit of overlap. So, you know, it could be like, when I migrate during the winter, and I stay until the late spring, and then the weather starts to get a little bit better back home. And so then I go there, but then I could also decide, like, "hey, I found this other sexy bird person, and I want to hang out with her for the remainder of the season. And I'm gonna go down south or back up north", you know, like, we have a lot of flexibility because if we're intelligent species, we can kind of do whatever we want, right? I asked if we're diurnal, because then we will have patterns similar to humans -

Moiya 29:32

But we still lay eggs because we're birds on this planet.

Katherine 29:35

Ooh, well, in a lot of bird species, their seasonal reproductive cycle would be such that like, they breed when there's more light. Perfect.

Zak 29:48

That makes sense.

Moiya 29:50

So the equitorial meetups are just like big orgies?

Katherine 29:54


Moiya 29:57

Like reproductive orgies.

Katherine 29:59

That like gives you an incentive to that gives you a reason like, "this is why I'm going to go down to the equator" ...

Zak 30:06

To meet somebody.

Moiya 30:07

To meet someone from a different gene pool.

Katherine 30:09

Yes, it increases, you know, genetic diversity. It's beautiful.

Moiya 30:15

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Zak 32:34

So what do they do after they like fertilize? Are they then taking and then laying their eggs somewhere else? Are they doing it at the equator and hatching their eggs there? Which seems hella stressful?

Moiya 32:49

Mm hmm.

Katherine 32:49

Yeah, that really does.

Zak 32:51

Yeah. But then does that mean if you meet like a southern pole bird, [and] let's say I'm from the north, would I then go with them to the south? Or does the mom exclusively raise [them]?

Moiya 33:07

Can they fight to see who goes home with who?

Katherine 33:09

Yes, no.

Moiya 33:11

It doesn't have to be a violent fight. But can there be like some competition?

Zak 33:15

I love that.

Moiya 33:16

To decide where you raise the children.

Zak 33:20

Also, I was just thinking about how, you know how [with] turtle eggs, the sex of the turtle egg depends on the temperature of the sand that it's in during incubation and how like now we have a lot more females because the temperatures are just generally higher. Does that also affect these animals at all? And does that affect their decision about where to hatch their eggs?

Katherine 33:45

No, that's a good question because it could be like, "oh, well, we just had a bunch of boys last year like it's time to, you know, mix this up a little bit".

Zak 33:54

Like, "this year, we're having them closer to the equator", or whatever. Yeah. Oh, or maybe that's the reason then. So it's like a northern one is down there, and it's about to be winter in the north, but it needs a southern one. And they're like, "well, we really want to have a male so we got to go back to the cold of the North because it's gonna be too hot in the south".

Katherine 34:16

This sounds like "Game of Thrones".

Zak 34:20

I just can't stop thinking about "Avatar" too. The Southern waterbending tribe.

Katherine 34:27

I also want to throw this out here and we can throw it in the conversation wherever we want. But birds you may not see it as much but like in other species, seasonal breeders, like their gonads, like their balls get measurably larger when they're ready to breed. And so like we can throw this in there that regardless of whether or not pants are involved in the species most especially the Y chromosome side of things, the balls would get visibly larger.

Zak 35:07

Well, and like adding on top of that, like birds are like the flashiest maters, the male's particularly, right? So like, does that coincide with them getting like a whole new plumage that is just like hugely extravagant? Or are they like also kind of like, what's the Magnificent frigatebird - gets those giant red like neck balloons? Is there something else like on top of their gonads expanding?

Moiya 35:38

Yeah, and because we've already established that they have a lot of diversity within the species in terms of how they look, then everyone has their own show that they can put on, their own mating.

Zak 35:51

God, I love this. [It's] almost like an Olympic games where everyone comes together in their national costume[s] and they're like national plumage and they're giant balls ...

Moiya 36:03

Why aren't our Olympics like that?

Katherine 36:06

They kind of are just not in a visible kind of a way.

Moiya 36:11

True. Fantastic. How would that change family dynamics, if at all?

Katherine 36:20

I feel like there's not as much of an expectation for our societal nuclear family. There's not as much of an expectation of that, like, it could be very normal to be raised by only one of your parents, but then you see the other parent, like later in the year.

Moiya 36:37

Or, I mean, the reason we have like families is because humans are useless when we're babies.

Zak 36:44

It takes us so long to grow up.

Moiya 36:47

If these bird people can mature a lot faster, than they probably don't have a need for something like a nuclear family.

Zak 36:55

And that would also get us over the issue of like, let's say [them wanting] to have a female at birth. [The] bird person would be born closer to the equator [where it's] warmer [hence] they can easily have a baby at the equator and avoid the oncoming storms because that baby would develop a lot quicker and then be able to do its thing.

Moiya 37:18

Right? Oh, I really love that because then it kind of makes women more badass on this planet, because they have to survive the storms when they're really young. To like fly out of the equatorial region.

Zak 37:34

They like just inherently come from a more stressful environment.

Moiya 37:39


Zak 37:41

Oh, that's amazing.

Katherine 37:42

I feel like there would also be more like, significant, like sex differences too then in terms of physical adaptations to the environment, they would be a lot more obvious.

Zak 37:55

Like a sexual dimorphism?

Katherine 37:57


Zak 37:58

Females are huge, or like their wings are always like really ripped or something.

Moiya 38:03

I love when that happens.

Katherine 38:06

Yeah, and like maybe their plumage is slightly different. Like, if they're around more water. Are they more amphibian-like? Are the female[s] more amphibian-bird and the males are more bird-bird?

Zak 38:25

I love that though.

Moiya 38:28

Are they made of the same base stuff? Like, is it all keratin, or...?

Zak 38:32

Yeah. And like, I think feathers evolved from scales. And hair evolved from those. Right? Oh, my God, I love the idea of like an aquatic bird species, or whole sex.

Moiya 38:49

Mm hmm. But like when we say if you're born in warmer environments it's not automatic that you're female. Right? It's just like, more likely, because these things are bell curves, they're averages. So you can still have a male bird person who's born at the equator who has those more amphibious qualities as they fight their way out of the storm. And you still have female bird people who are born closer to the poles who had feathers. So it's not quite like one-to-one cut and dry.

Zak 39:22

Yeah. And then are those things genetic also? So if like, my mom was born at the equator, she's like, more amphibious and a little bit stronger. Would I get that even if I was a male who was then born closer to the Arctic? Or would it switch and then what I just then be born with more feathers automatically?

Moiya 39:40

Great question.

Zak 39:42

I almost feel like we should tie it to the temperature.

Moiya 39:48

I like that and I think that's nice if we're saying they don't have like, families like we do. Then if you don't automatically look like your parents and it depends more on where you're born, I think that that ties in really nicely with the like, whole family unit not really being a thing.

Zak 40:08

I agree. Who knew we'd be making bird people today?

Katherine 40:11

I love bird people.

Zak 40:12

I did not see that coming.

Katherine 40:14

I am kind of envisioning a big bird to be honest.

Zak 40:17

I was too. I was picturing humans, just with bird futures.

Moiya 40:24

What's that bird that was going around Twitter for a while and it has that beak that kind of looks like a ... sunflower seed, but it's like really big?

Katherine 40:34

The one that like, eats its sibling in the nest or whatever?

Moiya 40:39

I don't know about.

Katherine 40:40

Oh, yeah. There was a whole thing like a couple of weeks ago about a bird that's like giant and it bites its siblings head off in the neck.

Zak 40:50

Yeah, I saw that too and then there was also the ... storks or something like that where the mom and dad just like, pick up the baby that's like the smallest and just drop it off the side of the nest and they're just like, "looks horrible".

Moiya 41:06

So badass. They're such dicks. I'm really glad that we're striking this balance between like, "loving, nurturing, take care of your young for many years", but they're not like actively trying to kill their children.

Zak 41:24

Thank God. Wait, so what was the bird you we're talking about with the sunflower beak?

Katherine 41:33

Oh, yeah, no, this is the same one, Moiya. This is the one that kills their sibling in the nest.

Zak 41:41

We're talking about the same one? I love that.

Katherine 41:43

We literally are. It's this creature.

Zak 41:45


Moiya 41:46

Don't they look so interesting? Okay, um, so what what do they value? What traits do they value as a society?

Zak 41:56

So obviously, family is not super important. But there's got to be some tie to this, like genetic diversity. Right? Or like this meeting, right? When they all come together at different times, like twice a year or whatever. So is there something more like, I hate to say nationalistic or like globalized consciousness? I don't know.

Moiya 42:18

I feel like a nice way of putting this might be that they prioritize and value found family. Yeah, like establishing their own close connections based on like people that they choose.

Katherine 42:33

Yeah. And there is a sense of individualism, like, I spend a lot of time pursuing whatever my own conquests are, but then like, it's almost instinctual to come back and re- establish connection with other people or other bird people. But then, like, you're saying, it's not my family, it's whoever I choose to be my family.

Zak 43:00

I love that prioritizing individuality. And even when they are coming together and meeting up the males are gonna have like, the plumes or whatever, or like the presentation of their ancestry, but they're also going to be unique in some way. And that's kind of like how they stand out. It's not looking all the same, but trying to stand out in the crowd.

Moiya 43:24

Nice. Okay, what about material things? Do they like to accrue wealth? And if so, what does that look like on this planet?

Zak 43:38

I'm feeling like they're very transient, right? They're moving around a lot, they're with their chosen family, or maybe different groups of chosen family at different times of the year. So I don't know.

Katherine 43:52

I feel like property, instead of material things within your home, like having your wintering home and your summer-y - that's where you accumulate your stuff. You can have a bigger party, if you have a big nice house at the equator, but it also has to be like something that can withstand the extreme weather conditions. So like, maybe very industrial-like structures, but then if I have this big flat, I can invite 500 of my bird friends, and we can like, figure out what's up, and they can invite people.

Zak 44:35

Does that mean that if they have more property than they are considered to be better? I hate to say it that way, but are they like, more esteemed in that sense or are they more valued as a bird person in their society if they have more properties?

Katherine 44:52

Yeah because I feel like you would have to have some sort of material. I'm definitely thinking money. You'd have to have enough whatever their currency is in order to buy land or buy and build property. And I'm sure, like in the equator, it's very lucrative because the weather patterns and everything is so much more extreme.

Moiya 45:18

A monkey wrench here that I don't think is bad, I think this is really interesting is that because family's not really a thing, there's no like generational wealth that gets passed down from like parents to children. So everyone who has these like, swanky ass mansions at the equator, they like made the money themselves, or like a friend bequeathed it to them, right? Which means that if you grow up, like you have no idea of knowing that you're going to be wealthy when you grow up, which I think just like changes the dynamic.

Katherine 45:55

Bonkers. Yeah.

Zak 45:56

So that kind of puts everyone on like a similar playing field? Almost?

Moiya 46:00


Zak 46:01

Oh, that's really interesting.

Katherine 46:03

This is where networking is probably a very important part of their culture because like, you have to have connections in order to kind of move through the social system faster.

Zak 46:17

They must be so social. And even then [that] plays up how important those meetings are at the equator, those like biannually, whatever, Olympic Games.

Moiya 46:29

One thing that socializing and networking makes me think of is food. I would really love to dive deep into their food culture, because they probably have different metabolisms than we do. So like different meal schedules and practices around eating so Katherine, can you first tell us how their metabolisms might be different.

Katherine 46:52

Okay, I don't know bird metabolism very well, but ...

Zak 46:57

They're bird people, so ...

Katherine 46:59

Yeah, they're bird people. We can bring it back to reproduction so metabolism is highly tied to reproduction in some species? Well, it probably isn't birds. I don't know birds that well.

Moiya 47:13

We can just say it is.

Katherine 47:14

I feel like there would be a lot of food availability around whatever the mating period is. So like, yeah, they kind of go through periods where they don't eat as much like during the summers, they're probably not eating as much. And then during the mating periods, they would be eating a lot more and it's kind of like this very rich and nutritious food is available during that time.

Moiya 47:39

So that's about spring, right?

Zak 47:42

The spring and the fall.

Moiya 47:44

Depending on which hemisphere you're from.

Katherine 47:48


Zak 47:50

We were talking about how they have weight fluctuations as well. Do they fluctuate biannually, then, so they like put on a lot of weight at those times of intense eating, and then they just don't eat for a while?

Katherine 48:06

Yes, I read a book a couple of months ago and they lived in this extreme environment where they had to hibernate through the winter, like truly sleep all the way through the winter. So they eat enough in order to kind of get them through periods where the weather was super extreme. And I feel like we're kind of getting on something similar. Maybe in the polar areas, the food availability is very poor, not at the equator, but toward the equator, the food availability is a lot better and richer and more nutrient dense. And so not only are we coming to the equator to mate, but we're also coming to the equator to eat and build up our fat stores and build up our ability to then survive the polar regions, longer where the food availability and nutrient availability is a lot lower. So we're coming to eat and screw -

Zak 49:06

And just be social.

Katherine 49:07

Yeah, so their metabolisms - I don't know what this looks like physiologically, but it would be probably similar to like a hibernating creature. We're not truly hibernating but we are like going through very seasonal availability of food and nutrients and so animals that eat a lot and then their metabolism can then kind of hold them for long periods of time on that food availability.

Moiya 49:40

I love that.

Zak 49:40

I also love the idea that the female[s] that are born towards the equator, are gonna be more robust - period, so maybe they're also better at finding food and better at eating or providing food for others, which is like a way to build their social status. Or maybe the weaker polar birds [flock] to the stronger equator birds because they know that they're going to be like provided for, and that's how they find their families.

Katherine 50:15

Yeah. And the animals closer to the equator have the nutrients to be stronger, like the availability would be there.

Zak 50:23

Yeah. When they're developing. Yeah.

Moiya 50:26

I asked Katherine what her hobbies were, and she said beer collecting. So this world, this food culture reminded me of cultures like Viking culture, where drinking things like ale and mead and beer were much more common than drinking water because the water was unsafe, before they had like sanitizing practices. I feel like that's what's happening at the poles. So I'm also imagining that at the poles, there's a very, deeply entrenched beer culture.

Katherine 50:59

Oh, hell yeah.

Zak 51:00

So it's like, in the wintertime, you stop eating and you just drink a lot?

Moiya 51:07

Yeah, but it's not because you want to get drunk, it's because the water isn't safe. So like the kids are drinking very light beer. It's not because they want to get fucked up.

Zak 51:19


Katherine 51:20

Yeah. Well, then yeah, the whole culture around alcohol would be completely different. Like, it's not going to be the very Americanized like, oh, alcohol so bad culture.

Moiya 51:31


Katherine 51:31

It would definitely be a lot more chill.

Moiya 51:34

I'm thinking more like something that they have in Germany.

Katherine 51:37


Zak 51:38

I also like the idea that because these are very social animals, [that] the drinking culture is just like a very social thing, especially in the wintertime and there's like not a lot to do there's not a lot of like food eat so you're just like hanging out at somebody's property.

Moiya 51:55

In their nest.

Zak 51:56


Moiya 51:58

Do we think that they live in giant nests?

Zak 52:00

I like that they are nests but houses.

Katherine 52:03

Yeah, at the end of the day, like you're not going to want like, "oh, everybody come here and fuck and then leave". It's going to be like some big, communal system going on, and just hanging out and like eating and drinking and chatting it up.

Moiya 52:21

I would go there. This is what happens when you ask people to design a world six months into a global quarantine.

Katherine 52:30

We're all like socializing: what is it?

Zak 52:34

Oh, I miss it.

Moiya 52:35

I know. Zak, how do you feel about designing some museums for our bird people?

Zak 52:42

Okay, I feel great about that.

Moiya 52:45


Zak 52:45

I am really stuck on this idea that they're like transient and they're moving around a lot, right? Obviously because they're migrating to the poles and then the equator. But are there also like historic sites and like, museum sites that they go to? Especially in the offseason when they're not all congregated towards the poles? So they're like traveling and visiting these places? I think that would be really cool. I don't know what that is. Is that like ruins of old people's nest houses? I don't know exactly, but if there were museums that I think because culture social and not material, I feel like their museums would just be really based around history and these important bird people. Like here's the story of so and so and their family.

Katherine 53:41

Like the first bird person to create a communal structure for whatever the mating season is called.

Zak 53:51

Yeah, exactly. Like, "this guy was known for having these like crazy winter parties. He was the first to develop this type of beer".

Katherine 53:58

Like a Gatsby kind of situation.

Zak 54:01

Yeah. So I [don't] necessarily [think it would be] like a Brick and Mortar museum where we have like objects on display, but it would be very storytelling base - very oral history, [where] they're like sharing because they're social. So it's all about sharing these like stories with each other, and celebrating their uniqueness, their individuality.

Moiya 54:22

Hmm. So does that mean there's always like a person there, who's ready to tell this story whenever someone passes by almost like like a troll on the bridge or the knight in Monty Python who asked the questions before they...

Zak 54:40

Crossed the bridge? Yeah. I wonder what are their jobs in this culture? Are people picking up professions? Or are they all just like kind of like freewheeling - having a great time?

Katherine 54:52

I definitely think there's an event planner job like that's a very highly sought after job, especially if we're a species that lives long enough to go into reproductive senescence, so like the inability to breed, like, yeah, like menopause is an example -

Zak 55:11

Later in life.

Katherine 55:12


Moiya 55:13

A new word for me.

Katherine 55:15

Um, yeah, it's a fun word. So we are a species that is able to go through that like reproductive lacking of reproductive abilit[ies]. I feel like those folks are going to be the ones that have these very important jobs.

Zak 55:37

Oh my god, I love that. So they get jobs like later in their lives?

Katherine 55:39


Zak 55:40

So they don't have a job when they're young and reproducing. It's all about socializing. It's all about reproducing. It's all about like, developing your property.

Moiya 55:47

Oh my God, that sounds amazing.

Zak 55:47

When you get older, you settle into a job. I love that. So that's like you become like a museum docent. You become an event planner. You become I don't know, like a matchmaker.

Katherine 55:54

Oh my god, yes. Yeah. Or some sort of, like, networking coordinator? Like, these jobs that are built around the societal values of socializing, reproducing, food.

Zak 56:16

I love the idea. I'm picturing just like, party culture, people. So like, wealthy people who own big houses, like they're old, and they're like, you know, like this old fabulous person, but their whole purpose is to bring people together.

Katherine 56:32

Yeah, like Airbnb of the bird people culture.

Zak 56:35

Yeah. Wow.

Moiya 56:36

Sounds amazing. I really want to live there. We are near the top of the hour [and] I just wanted to keep going. Um, any last thoughts before we wrap up this conversation that I just don't want to give up?

Zak 56:56

I want to become a bird person, I think.

Moiya 57:00

Yeah, me too.

Zak 57:01

Like a social fun, early life, and then you settle into a job once you've figured out what you want to do.

Moiya 57:09

But it's a job with like, a lot of purpose. It directly feeds back into the society and the values that people share. That's so nice.

Zak 57:17

Can I ask you guys, what do you think you would be like? Like, what would you physically look like? Where would you be from in your bird person? If you were a bird person?

Katherine 57:29

Well, my favorite colors are orange and green. So I feel like any sort of coloring that I would have would be like along that. I would probably have some pretty jacked wings and big feet, I have pretty big feet.

Zak 57:46

So you're more aquatic?

Katherine 57:50

I was definitely born closer to the equator., not because like I'm super fancy or anything, but just my physical features I have. I am very robust of a human, and I would be all about smaller, more intimate groups, but lots of beer, lots of food [and] lots of music. I would definitely like go and hang out with friends that I met previous seasons, that's for sure. And then I think in my retirement years, I would probably be an event planner. I like planning things a lot.

Moiya 58:34

All right. I think that I don't really like sunlight, so I think I'm probably in the mid latitudes, because I don't really love sunlight. But I also don't like cold. So I think I'm probably are there like cave dwelling birds, because I feel like that would be my jam. Yeah. I live in a cave.

Katherine 58:55

With enough migration, yeah, for sure.

Zak 58:58


Moiya 58:59

Yeah. And then I think I would be like, a cave tour guide, like, my job would be facilitating this one very specialized, but like, entertaining activity.

Zak 59:12

I love that. Ah, that's a hard question all around. I think that I would be like, subtropical, like closer to the equator, but not born in the equator. So I'm like, not quite as strong and robust, but a little bit more aquatic. And I think because I grew up closer to the equator or like was born closer to the equator I would be super, super social. There'd be a lot of social big, big groups, big parties. And I think that my retirement job would be -.

Katherine 59:47

Reproductive retirement.

Moiya 59:50

Yeah, retiring from partying.

Zak 59:53

[It] would be like storytelling. So it's just like collecting stories and sharing them. So like, I would be a great party guest.

Moiya 1:00:00

That's so important too. To be able to carry on the oral traditions. Just real quick, do we think that this is more of an oral traditional society? Or do we think that they're like writing things down?

Zak 1:00:15

I think more oral. I think if we're looking at birds in general, like they're just so vocal, and they have so many vocal abilites, like, I think that's a huge part of it.

Katherine 1:00:25

Yeah, and before the advent of technology, writing would require physical artifacts.

Zak 1:00:37

Where would we store them? You wouldn't carry them around.

Moiya 1:00:41

Good point. I feel like the stories would be songs.

Zak 1:00:53

And would even dancing and other body movement be a part of it. We know birds are like dancers and so like, to show your appreciation, you're just moving.

Moiya 1:01:03

This is a great world. If our guests want to learn more about you how can they do that? Where can they find you?

Katherine 1:01:10

Oh, yeah, I am on Twitter, I think would probably be the best place to find me. My handle is @superchiasmatic. It's a play on a part of the brain that is involved in circadian rhythms actually. And my website is

Zak 1:01:40

You can find me on Twitter at @ZakMartellucci or on Instagram much easier. It's just @zzzzzzak - six Z's and an a-k. Simple.

Moiya 1:02:00

Thank you, Zak Martellucci and Katherine Hatcher for helping me create what I honestly think is the most fun world we've ever built on the show. Follow both of them on Twitter at the links in the description, and check out Zak's next VERSUS show happening on November 14. Obviously, the link to buy tickets is also in the description. Thanks to my sponsors Brilliant and Inked Gaming. Be sure to follow the links in the description to get your special Exolore discounts. And finally, and most importantly, thank you for listening. If you want to start a creative project, but you need some inspiration, here's a prompt. What would your role in this bird society be? Whether it's through prose, sketches, or song, tell me the story of your bird person life. If you're comfortable, share your work on Twitter or Instagram and tag @exolorepod or email it to If you want to support my worldbuilding work, the first way to do that is to rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. It's free and it really does make a difference. Second, you can support me on Patreon. Your monthly support would help me do things like pay my guests and maybe even hire someone to make some new custom theme music that would be really cool, right? But to do that, I need help from people like you. So please head on over to If you're able and I totally understand if times are hard because times are hard. If you liked this episode, be sure to share it with your friends and subscribe to the show. And that way you can catch me next time on another world.

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