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.

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

Send Us Your Dead Cicadas!

2014 BroodsPeriodical cicadas are emerging in several locations throughout the South and Midwest this summer:

Louisiana, Mississippi

Ohio, Kentucky

Iowa, Illinois


Prior to their late-spring emergence as red-eyed, orange-winged adults, periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) spend 13 or 17 years underground, tapped into tree roots. That’s a long time to be exposed to pesticides, heat and other stressors associated with the urban environment.

Last year, we launched Urban Buzz, a citizen science project, to document the effects of urbanization on periodical cicadas. Specifically, we’re looking at how urban stress affects cicada […]

By | May 29th, 2014|Urban Buzz|1 Comment

Swimming in Feces

Some food, er feces, for thought. Above is another thought-provoking figure from the students in Rob’s Community Ecology of Humans class. Data analysis by Ryann Rossi, Michael Just, and Benjamin Hess. Visualization by Neil Mccoy.

Did you miss last week’s figure about the movement of trash? Check it out now.

By | May 29th, 2014|Science Art, Student Features|5 Comments

That Wonderful Time of the Year (for Cicada Citizen Science)

For the last few weeks, I’ve been eagerly scanning my Twitter feed for updates about the emergence of this year’s broods of periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.), those charismatic red-eyed, orange-winged beauties that emerge triumphantly in late spring after 13 or 17 long years spent underground.

Nearly every year, there’s a different population of periodical cicadas (known as broods) emerging in a different part of the eastern US. In 2013, we witnessed Brood II, a population of 17-year cicadas emerging in a long band from Georgia north to Connecticut. Cicadamania swept the East Coast last summer, and even […]

By | May 26th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard, Urban Buzz|0 Comments

The Birth of a Zombie Wasp

Graduate student Emily Meineke had one of those ‘OH S&^%!’ moments while in the lab the other day. Best part is she caught it on film.

Emily studies scale insects, small bugs that spend most of their lives sucking the juices from willow oaks. She’s also interested in the insects that attack scales. You can imagine that a scale insect stuck on a branch sucking plant juice is an easy target for a predator.

Scales are particularly vulnerable to attack by parasitoid wasps. Female wasps lay their eggs inside the scale. The scale essentially acts as a womb for […]

Who Ate My Cake?

Today we have a special treat: Another delicious watercolor sketch from biologist and illustrator, Dr. Jennifer Landin. You may recall Jennifer’s action sketch of the overprotective red-shouldered hawk a couple weeks ago.

Last weekend, Jennifer had a close encounter with ants in her kitchen. And by close encounter, I mean hundreds of ants attacked a fresh-out-of-the-oven birthday cake she left to cool in her kitchen.

Like any good biologist, Jennifer wasn’t satisfied surrendering her cake to unidentified ants. She consulted Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants and the Who Ate My Cookie? Urban Ant Key to learn the […]

By | May 20th, 2014|ants, Nature in Your Backyard, Science Art|0 Comments

Time to Explore the Umbilicus: New Belly Button Biodiversity Website

It’s been many moons since 500 or so intrepid citizen scientists twirled a Q-tip in their belly buttons for science.

With that swab we did two things:

We quickly delivered on the portraits. The molecular part… well, our science is SLOW. It took a few years, but we FINALLY finished those analyses.

So today we are proud to share a new and improved Belly Button Biodiversity website, complete with […]

By | May 15th, 2014|Belly Button Biodiversity|0 Comments

CSI: New York, Lead

Sometimes we discover things that we don’t yet understand. We like to share those findings with you, even before we make sense of them. Here is one.


This map shows the concentrations of lead in the soil at about 60 sampling sites across Manhattan, including the medians of Broadway and Central Park. Our team, led by Amy Savage and Elsa Youngsteadt, took soil cores and worked with microbial ecologist Krista McGuire at Barnard College to analyze the soils’ nutrients and contaminants. Here we’re highlighting the lead results.

At first glance, it […]

By | May 12th, 2014|Urban Ecology|3 Comments

Neighborhood (Nest) Watch

This latest installment of Nature in Your Backyard comes courtesy of my friend and colleague, Colleen Brannen.

Last Wednesday evening, while strolling home from the gym, Colleen decided to take a shortcut through her neighborhood park. It’s a lovely little urban park, a postage stamp parcel with many big, old oak trees, the kind that give Raleigh its nickname as the “City of Oaks.” Colleen was enjoying her quiet walk home when all of a sudden…


She felt a wallop across the backside of head. Startled and stunned, she turned around, and tried to figure out what just happened.

Her first thought: […]

By | May 8th, 2014|Nature in Your Backyard|5 Comments

Your Wild Life Heads to Washington!

This weekend (April 25-27, 2014), hundreds of thousands of students and science enthusiasts will swarm the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the Nation’s Capital for the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

Your Wild Life will join over 700 other exhibitors for 3-days of non-stop science awesomeness that include thousands of hands-on activities and over a hundred different stage shows (including performances by our friend, Science Comedian Brian Malow).

Come find us in the NSF & Friends Pavilion (Exhibit Hall A, Booth 423) – Meet and greet the ants and camel crickets that call your backyard and […]

The Future of Discovery

In March 2014, Rob spoke at TEDxSantaCruz, explaining how much we don’t know about the species living on us, in us and around us – the life, large and small, inhabiting our belly buttons, our foreheads, our homes, our backyards.

He shared the approach we’re taking at Your Wild Life (and in our new Students Discover education initiative) to harness the power of the public – via citizen science – to make real discoveries about these species with whom we share our daily lives.

To quote his final thought in the talk, “We can see more together than we can […]