45 Things I’ve Learned about Science Since I Was a Student

Editor’s note: At Your Wild Life we like to do public science, science in which we open the process of scientific discovery so that you can be a part of it. Sometimes that means citizen science. Other times it means science as art. And then there is today — today we are sharing with you Rob’s thoughts about some of the things no one tells you about being a faculty member, a scholar at a university. Maybe there are some insights in here about broader life, but certainly this list contains insights about the differences between how we imagine discovery […]

By |November 18th, 2014|Behind the Scenes, Explainer|0 Comments

Navel-gazing Newsflash

A few quick updates on Belly Button Biodiversity and related projects:

  • You can now download and take a gander at the second and final batch of data from Belly Button Biodiversity. The available file contains both taxonomic information (OTU tables) and meta-data self-reported from our last batch of participants. These are the same data we used to generate the interactive pie chart.
By |November 17th, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, News, Science Art|0 Comments

The Secret Life of Starbuck

Have you heard that Cat Tracker has now launched on Long Island? We’ve recently downloaded tracks from our first set of Long Island felines.

Meet Starbuck, a kitty from the suburbs of central Long Island. Starbuck’s home range may not reach as far as the local coffee shop, but this cat’s still pretty active. (Tracks are based on two consecutive 5-day tracking periods). Although coyotes haven’t yet established on Long Island, Starbuck does stick fairly close to home, not even venturing into the nearby woods.

Check out our growing collection of cat tracks from Long Island, including those […]

By |November 14th, 2014|Cat Tracker|0 Comments

Middle School Fossil Club Makes Real Discoveries

Recently, the buzz of excitement could be heard outside Exploris Middle School in downtown Raleigh. Members of the school’s Fossil Club, led by Students Discover 2014-2015 Kenan Fellow, Juliana Thomas, were sifting shark tooth fossils out of “fossil reject dirt” from the phosphate mine in Aurora, North Carolina.  I made my way, unnoticed, into the bustling room of 20 middle school students huddled over paper plates containing precious samples of shark teeth.

“I found another one!” exclaimed one student while holding up a miniscule, fossilized shark tooth from the sample in front of her. Another student proudly […]

By |November 12th, 2014|Education|2 Comments

A Study in Scarlet

No doubt you’ve been wowed this autumn by the crimson colors of the red maple (Acer rubrum)!

This tree, native to eastern North America, has grown even more numerous in the past 100 years. When the Chestnut Blight and Dutch Elm Disease swept through eastern deciduous forests, it opened up space for the hardy red maple to move in.

Add in the tree’s popularity in landscaping (and its tolerance to a wide range of environmental conditions: sunny or shady, high or low nutrients, dry or moist soil) and you have one of the most common trees in America!

By |November 10th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

The Most Common Bacteria in New York City Soils are Unnamed, Can’t be Grown, and Aren’t Being Studied and Probably Won’t be in the Conceivable Future

It is worth remembering, when deadly pathogens are in the news that most microscopic species are either of no consequence to human health and well-being or are beneficial. Also, they are unstudied. Take the case of Manhattan. Manhattan is a borough of a somewhat large city reported to be full of culture, intellectualism, and black clothes. Probably, these things are true. In my lab, we mostly go there to study insects and, more recently, bacteria. In considering the bacteria of Manhattan, we have sampled medians from Broadway to Riverside, dozens of medians, those patches of green between lanes of traffic, […]

By |November 6th, 2014|Invisible Life, Urban Ecology|1 Comment

Navel-gazing in NYC

We’re headed back to the Big Apple this week – this time, not in search of ants, but BELLY BUTTONS.

We’re launching a new research project investigating how belly button microbes – and skin microbes more generally – produce chemical signals, particularly odors, that may signal our attractiveness to mosquitoes.

And so we need a few good belly button samples. We’ll use those samples to study the composition of microbes, the odors they produce, and their relative attractiveness to mosquitoes (Literally, we’ll present the samples to actual mosquitoes in a snazzy set-up in the lab of our NCSU […]

By |November 3rd, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Events|0 Comments

Glowing Ants

Just in time for Halloween, MJ Epps and I have created glowing ants. Like mad scientists, we locked ourselves in our office last week with only the faint glow of a black light escaping under our door. With petri dishes scattered across our desks and our fingers stained with fluorescent dye, we finally ended up with a colony of ants that glowed.

Why glowing ants? We have been trying to figure out what ants eat. What seems like a simple question can be surprisingly difficult to answer for an animal the size of a grain of rice. For a large animal […]

By |October 31st, 2014|ants, Behind the Scenes|2 Comments

Spooky Spider

I love Halloween. It’s the time of year when I can leave all the spider webs up around the front stoop and call them decorations.

This harmless garden spider, the Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) is not long for the world. She’ll die soon as the nights grow colder. But I’ll keep an eye on her wee ones in the egg sac she left by the railing. In the spring the baby spiders will hatch out, spin a little silk parachute to catch the breeze and sail away to a new home!

Learn more about the garden spider by revisiting

Happy National Cat Day!

Apparently, cat fanciers love celebrating their feline friends with official holidays. A few months ago we were celebrating World Cat Day (August 8, 2014). And now today, just in case you missed the memo, is National Cat Day!

We thought we’d seize this opportunity to update you on our Cat Tracker project.

To date, we’ve had 350 cat-owners sign up their kitties for our GPS tracking study, including owners in nearly every US state!

We’re intensely recruiting cat-owners on Long Island so that we can better understand cat movement and behavior before and after coyotes colonize. Last week, we […]

By |October 29th, 2014|Cat Tracker, Participate|0 Comments

June Beetle Boogie

Because I’m an Entomology graduate student, meeting people is often like this:

Me: Hi, my name is Emily.
New friend:
Hi Emily, what do you do?
Me: I study insects.
New friend: OMG, that’s so cool. So, I have these ____ on my _____  . Do you know what they are?**

(**I just realized doctors probably have similar conversations, but the blanks are filled with stuff I can’t fathom.)

These interactions usually leave me feeling like an imposter, because there are too many insects in the world, too many in our backyards even, to know them all. Plus, observation is the step of science I’m not […]

By |October 27th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Urban Ecology, Video|1 Comment

Before They Were Scientists: Randy Woodson

When I learned that North Carolina State University had a scientist as our Chancellor I made it my personal goal to tell his middle school story. Finally, after a year of conducting Before They Were Scientists interviews, I had my chance. I recently sat down with Chancellor Randy Woodson in his office overlooking the iconic NCSU Bell Tower. He started our conversation by opening a three-ring-binder and flipping through the exhaustive list of questions I had sent the week before to help him prepare, “I went through all the questions and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m […]

By |October 24th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|2 Comments

A Tale of Two Hemlocks

I have never poisoned anyone. I recently learned that if I were to try, I would be very bad at it. The hemlock I thought was poisonous turns out to just have an unfortunate common name. And rather than brewing up a batch of tainted tonic, I would apparently make my intended victim an aromatic cup of tea loaded in Vitamin C.

While hiking around the Appalachians this past weekend, I spied tons of hemlock trees. “What a great post for October and Halloween… Hemlock!” I thought and pulled out my sketchbook.

Sketch done, I hopped online to find out just

By |October 21st, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Belly Button Portraits – An Opportunity to Create Art through Science!

We’d like to think that over the course of the last few years, our Belly Button Biodiversity project has inspired quite a few things.

By |October 20th, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Participate, Science Art|0 Comments

Before They Were Scientists: Doug Emlen

I recently sat down with evolutionary biologist Dr. Doug Emlen when he was in town to give a seminar at NC State. We met at the Hunt Library, and after testing out a few of their famous chairs, we settled in for an interview that took us around the world. Read on to learn how Doug spent the first six months of sixth grade in Kenya with his dad studying birds, got singled out in science class and learned early on in his academic career that he would never be Indiana Jones.

Lea: We’re thinking about middle school — what’s […]

By |October 17th, 2014|Before They Were Scientists, Education|0 Comments