The first of 16 scientists we interviewed for this season of “The Secret Life of Scientists” was Mark Siddall. And we all knew he was bringing them, but when Mark walked onto our set with two jars filled with leeches, most of us were still pretty grossed out. Our associate producer Laura may have, in fact, had an aneurysm (we’ll know for sure when the test results come back–best of luck, Laura!). So why do leeches give so many people the willies? After all, vampires suck your blood too, but people love them (see “Twilight,” “True Blood,” etc.).
This one’s pretty, isn’t it? (Courtesy Mark Siddall) Well, it turns out that the cure for bdellophobia (fear of leeches) is to spend some quality time with “The Leechman.” Mark Siddall loves leeches so much that he actually kind of makes you love them too. On our set, Mark took his leeches out of their jars and let them slither about all over his arms and hands. When our gasps subsided, we had to admit to being impressed by the way Mark embraces leeches (in this case, literally) and all of nature. As he said to us…
“I’m really happy every time I can get somebody excited about leeches…. Look, I mean, pandas are easy, right? They’re soft. But how are you going to get people excited about conserving maggots and beetles and leeches, except by engaging them and getting them involved intellectually…. Wildlife and wild places are this big tapestry, and you don’t get to pick and choose which colors you’re going to use in that tapestry; it’s all part of a big whole, and it all matters somehow, and it all works together somehow.”
Believe it or not, Mark helped all of us learn to like the color of leeches (well, all of us except Laura, who should be back from her paid “leech leave” very soon).
We’ll talk about Mark’s “secret life,” his cooking, in our next post.
And you can watch an earlier NOVA scienceNow segment with Mark Siddall, Neil deGrasse Tyson and some very hungry leeches here.