Holly Menninger

About Holly Menninger

As Director of Public Science, Holly coordinates our empire of citizen science projects and manages the online science communication here at Your Wild Life. An entomologist by training, she’s a science communicator by passion and practice.

Meet the Cleanup Crew

Last week, you heard A LOT about the important role arthropods (particularly ants) play in removing food waste from the street medians and parks of New York City. Lead author of this new research study, Elsa Youngsteadt, even appeared on Science Friday to discuss the key findings.

We thought you might be interested in learning a little more about the ants who are doing the heavy lift on the food removal front. So this is a friendly little reminder that you can learn fun facts and natural history stories about the most common ants of Manhattan in a fabulous, […]

By |December 11th, 2014|ants, Urban Ecology|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.

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

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

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

Buzz Kill

cicada killer screen shotOne of the joys of being the resident entomologist in my family and circle of friends is that I frequently receive “What’s this bug?” texts and emails.

Recently, the texts came fast and furious with questions about a giant, strikingly marked wasp. I relished in replying to these queries as this species has a most fascinating biology, the stuff that would make good fodder for a horror movie. Meet the cicada killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus)!

Cicada killers are large solitary, ground-nesting wasps that specialize on hunting – you guessed it – […]

By |September 18th, 2014|Arthropods, Nature in Your Backyard, Urban Buzz|0 Comments

Urban Cicada Safari

On September 2, as the 9-5ers emptied out of downtown Raleigh, we gathered near the State Legislature Building to embark on an urban insect adventure.

Led by Bill Reynolds, curator of the Arthropod Zoo at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, we strolled the tree-lined sidewalks of the Legislature Complex, eyes peeled and ears tuned in quest of annual cicadas.

Cicada safari commences

Unlike their periodical cousins who show up every 13 or 17 years in a given location, the annual cicadas – also known as dog-day cicadas – make a yearly […]

Citizen Scientists Make Important Discovery about Camel Crickets

Grad Student Too Busy, Annoyed to Care about Giant Bugs in Basement

In graduate school, I rented a house with a few fellow students on a quiet, tree-lined street close to our university. To be quite honest, we spent very little social time together in this house. Most of our days, nights and weekends were spent in the lab, in the field, or in our offices, toiling away on our graduate research. We came home to sleep, grab a quick bite to eat, and maybe do a load of laundry.

In fact, when I think about the years that I lived […]

By |September 2nd, 2014|Camel Crickets|49 Comments

Looking at the Past to Understand the Future

No question, our planet is heating up. So what impact will global climate change have on biodiversity and ecosystems?

This BIG question, as you’ve undoubtedly read here on our blog, is near and dear to many Your Wild Life-affiliated researchers. Over the years, they’ve taken several different approaches to studying the consequences of global climate change on organisms and ecosystems.

One approach is to do experiments. Heat something up and see what happens to say, ants living on the forest floor or tiny plant-sucking insects attached to tree branches in a greenhouse.

Another approach is to do comparative […]

By |August 28th, 2014|Global Change, Urban Ecology|0 Comments

Good News: We’ve all got mites!

Over the last year and a half, hundreds of you volunteered to have your faces scraped for science. In looking at the contents of your face goop, we’ve uncovered some of the mysteries of the tiny, some might even say charming, arthropod that lives within the hair follicles and glands of your skin — your Demodex mites. Today we’re pleased to announce the publication of our first research paper from the Meet Your Mites project:

Thoemmes MS, Fergus DJ, Urban J, Trautwein M, Dunn RR (2014) Ubiquity and Diversity of Human-Associated Demodex Mites. PLoS ONE 9(8): e106265. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106265

Get […]

By |August 27th, 2014|Explainer, Reading List, Your Mites|1 Comment

Pikas on Ice

Adorable and fuzzy, American pikas (Ochotona princeps) have become the spokes-critter for the consequences of climate change in alpine areas. These little fuzzballs, more closely related to rabbits than rodents, are specialized for living on the rocky slopes of mountains. They’re very sensitive to hot summer temperatures, and so, as temperatures are predicted to rise, pikas face a perilous future.

Researcher Jennifer Wilkening from the University of Colorado is concerned about the future of the pikas. She’s also concerned about the future of water. Towns like Boulder, Colorado, rely on the water that drains down from the highland areas above […]

By |August 20th, 2014|Global Change, Science Art|0 Comments

Meet the 2014 Students Discover Fellows

As readers of our blog and Twitter feed well know, we’ve spent the last three weeks working side-by-side with 12 North Carolina middle school teachers at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. These teacher-scientists and Museum researchers have been busy in the field and at the lab bench, co-creating citizen science projects and lesson plans that the teachers will take back to their classrooms in the fall. The goal: Create opportunities for kids to do REAL science, to make new and exciting scientific discoveries. Hence the name of this project and the ever-present hash tag: #

By |July 17th, 2014|Education|0 Comments

The Secret Life of Harley Cat

Have you checked out the growing gallery of cat tracks associated with the Cat Tracker project? Harley is just one of 76 kitties enrolled in our GPS-collar study to uncover the secret lives on indoor-outdoor cats.

And we’ve now gone international! We recently established collaborations with researchers in New Zealand and Australia. The New Zealand cats, in particular, will make for an interesting comparison group: New Zealand’s only native mammals, are bats and sea lions, making Kiwi kitties the top of their food chain.

Would you like to enroll your cat in Cat Tracker? Follow this link to […]

By |June 23rd, 2014|Cat Tracker|0 Comments

The Common Yet Relatively Unknown Bacteria in Your Belly Button

Two weeks ago, we (finally) returned data to participants in the Belly Button Biodiversity project and unveiled some slick, new data visualizations to help participants and any one who’s curious explore the microbial jungle inside our navels.

If you browse the interactive pie charts, you’ll notice that a handful of bacteria are super-common. Some of these bacteria – like Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus — we know a lot about.

Other common belly button bacteria, however, remain understudied and, quite frankly, unknown. In this new chapter in the Invisible Life project, Rob Dunn sketches out the […]

By |June 3rd, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity, Invisible Life|0 Comments

Meet the Worker Bees: Liza the Urban Buzz Intern

Summer is nearly here which means the field season is now in full swing! Last week Lauren began a new photo series on the blog called Behind the Science, highlighting our research team in action. In addition to a rockin’ crew of post docs and graduate students, our team also includes a dedicated corps of undergraduate students, high school interns, and research technicians. And so this summer we’ll continue a feature we started last year called Meet the Worker Bees, profiling all the folks who make our research engine hum in the summertime.

Today we want you to meet […]

By |June 2nd, 2014|Education, Student Features, Urban Buzz|0 Comments