Rob Dunn

About Rob Dunn

Rob Dunn is a biologist and writer in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University. Central to all of his work is the sense that big discoveries lurk not only in faraway tropical forests, but also in our backyards and even bedrooms. The unknown is large and wonderful and Dunn and his collaborators, students, and postdocs love to spend their days in it.

Dear Students

Last week, we hosted an outstanding group of students from the NC School of Science and Mathematics for a two-day research experience in the lab, part of the CAALS 3-D (Creating Awareness of Agriculture and Life Sciences Disciplines, Degree Programs and Discoveries) program at NC State.  We were inspired by their enthusiasm and passion for science, and wish them all the very best.

Dear Students of the North Carolina School for Science and Mathematics,

I can’t remember very well what it was like to be in […]

By | July 28th, 2013|Education, Projects, Student Features, Your Wild Life Team|0 Comments

The Day My Cat Went Home

Photo credit: Megan Halpern

Recently, my friend Roland Kays, the Director of the Biodiversity Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences approached me with a proposition. As part of a new project at the museum, he wanted to put a GPS unit on my cat.  I, of course, said yes and then my wife and I spent the evening speculating about how ridiculous an idea this was. The debate revolved around whether or not the cat actually went anywhere. I thought she might go to the neighbor’s […]

Advice for Scientists Who Want to Write for the Public

by Rob Dunn

We are working on a new book in the lab called The Book of Invisible Life. In this book, we will compile stories about microscopic species, stories written by both professional writers and by scientists. The scientists involved have been asking for tips about writing for the public and so I composed of list of suggestions. These suggestions are biased as a function of my experience and preferred writing style. They are also biased in as much as my original intended audience was scientists unaccustomed to writing for the public.

1-It is about the people. Let’s say that […]

By | June 29th, 2013|Uncategorized|25 Comments

Dogs Make Me (and You) Wild: Ten Effects of Dogs on Dog People

Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain

and now there’s no chain.–Jim Harrison (from “Barking”)

This won’t be big news to you, but some people have dogs, in their houses. Dogs are domesticated wolves. They are wolves capable of spending long days inside on designer pillows, wolves often dressed in ridiculous outfits, wolves in civilization’s trampy clothing. They are no longer wild, yet capable, as anyone knows, of wildness. If I walk around my neighborhood, I see these wolves dragging their people to the park, around the block, […]

The Future of Domestic and Urban Evolution

Man, it totally happens.

Evolution happens everywhere at every moment. It happens in your refrigerator. It happens in your stomach. It is happening right now under your couch and in your eaves. Evolution gave us the marvels of the Galapagos Islands and also, of course, the terror of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Evolution happens independent of belief. It happens; but it happens some places more rapidly than others.

A number of things can speed up the rate of evolution. These include the availability of resources, how sharp and non-random death’s sickle is, and the fragmentation of populations. Make food ample, life hard and isolation […]

By | April 12th, 2013|Events, Homes, Indoor Evolution, Participate|7 Comments

Amateur Scientists Discover Asian Needle Ant Has Expanded its Range by Thousands of Miles, Unnoticed

I will try to keep this simple. Out among the leaves and rotten logs of North America lives the Asian needle ant (Pachycondyla chinensis). This ant is native to Japan 1. It was first recorded in the U.S. in North Carolina, my state, where it was largely ignored and described as being innocuous. That was a mistake; it was not.

Work by Benoit Guenard, Eleanor Rice and others has revealed this ant to now be among the most common ant species in large parts of North Carolina and South Carolina. […]

By | August 20th, 2012|News, Participate|7 Comments

Cats Do Not Drink Milk (Except When They Do)

Here is the problem. Adult mammals do not drink milk, ever. They can’t digest it. They lack the enzyme, lactase, required to break down the lactose in the milk and so consuming milk causes great quantities of lactose to be left over in the gut, which are either turned to gas by microbes or just exit the colon, unceremoniously. Some adult humans can drink milk because their ancestors evolved one of several versions of genes for digesting milk as adults. Maybe you are a milk drinker, but you are […]

By | May 1st, 2012|Cat Tracker, Participate, Stories of Your Wild Life|7 Comments

The Mystery of the Italian Ants

A few weeks ago I went to elementary school in Italy. I had been asked to visit one of the schools where professors at the University of Parma in Italy have been working with children to study ants.

There were three of us on the expedition. The other two were my six-year-old daughter and Fiorenza Spotti. Fiorenza helps to lead the Parma ant group’s work with schools. When we entered the classroom, Fiorenza introduced my daughter to the students. Seconds later, my daughter was enveloped into a sea of little Italian girls eager to hold her hands. Fiorenza then began to […]

By | April 23rd, 2012|ants, Projects, Stories of Your Wild Life|0 Comments

Ten ways to change our cities now, and lead a happier, healthier life

Cities are ecosystems. They have been for at least four thousand years. They are the ecosystem we inhabit but neglect… the ones where our children are raised. Maybe you live in the country. I used to, but life in the country is increasingly the global minority. We have moved to the city and now we must make it, ecologically speaking, a reasonable place to live. I have spent the last five months moving across Europe from one city after another, sometimes delighted, other times angry. As someone who studies the species in cities, the wild and wonderful species, and has […]

By | April 17th, 2012|Stories of Your Wild Life|0 Comments

Biologist finds aliens in his house, admits to it in public and then asks for help

This post is also cross-posted at our friend Alex Wild’s blog, Myrmecos. Check it out to see more stunning photos of camel crickets by Rob’s graduate school office mate Piotr Naskrecki, AKA Piotr the Great.

I have to be quiet so they don’t hear me. This will be short. We know so little. I have said this before. We know so little. We know so little that you can send out a survey and when you get the responses realize you have accidentally discovered that aliens are living all around you.

[styled_image image=”” w=”450″ h=”300″ align=”right” lightbox=”yes” alt=”In Piotr’s […]