Your Wild Life Landing 2017-06-26T14:26:57+00:00

The Arthropods of San Francisco (and beyond)

What's that crawling under your bed... sitting in your light fixture... lurking in your cabinets? Perhaps it's a new insect species! The Arthropods of Our Homes project has expanded beyond Raleigh -- to San Francisco, and from there all seven continents will be sampled for the common arthropods in homes. Watch the video to see more about the arthropods found in San Francisco homes as well as some familiar faces (Matt Bertone and Michelle Trautwein). "Other than a few pest species, we know very little. There's still a lot to discover... You don't have to be an entomologist to stumble upon one of these unique organisms. If only you take the time [...]

May 28th, 2015|

12 Questions from students about the (Wild) Life of Our Bodies

Today we have a special Q & A from Kelly Allen and her East Chapel Hill HS Biology II (Human Biology) students. Each year Allen's students participate in Biology Book Clubs and this year they read Rob Dunn's The Wild Life of Our Bodies. Without further ado, questions asked by high school juniors and seniors to Rob Dunn:   Amanda: Why did humans lose their ability to detect who a person is by their scent, while other primates and mammals still are able to do so?  Since its something needed for survival, I would have thought that our ability to smell would have improved, so why did it get worse? Rob: This is a fascinating question. [...]

May 18th, 2015|

Help us Solve The Mystery of the Danish Underpants

Recently, Pernille Hjort from the Danish Museum of Natural History visited us in Raleigh to exchange ideas about new projects in public science. It was an opportunity for grand scheming, but also to take note of things available in the American South but missing from Danish society. The Danes may have universal health care, free college education and a bike culture that makes biking to work easier than driving, but as Pernille noted, they don’t have turkey vultures, blue birds or robins. But while life in Denmark and the American South may be relatively similar apart from these subtleties there is one thing that is very different, the behavior of cats. [...]

May 4th, 2015|

On Joining the Lab (Boat)

Some people go from early life to death focused on one mystery. This approach, I am told, can be very satisfying. One of my mentors, Carl Rettenmeyer, spent fifty years studying the animals that live with army ants. In this endeavor Carl found enough rewards and mystery to sustain another dozen lives. Yet while I appreciate (at least in an abstract sense) the fruits of such an approach, it is not for me. My greatest scientific joys come instead from making connections across fields, connections that require me to read about and engage scientists who do work very different from that which I do. These connections inevitably lead me in new [...]

April 26th, 2015|

Invasion of the House Finch

Once upon a time, House Finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) only lived west of the Rocky Mountains. Then, in 1940, a group of captive birds flew to freedom from their New York cages. Their numbers slowly grew until there was a population explosion. Today, House Finches reside throughout the U.S. and Mexico. There’s a downside to dense populations though – disease. In the 1990s, a bacterium (Mycoplasma gallisepticum) started swirling among groups of House Finches. The infection causes conjunctivitis (like “pinkeye”) in the birds. If you’re a bird with swollen eyelids and crusty build up, you’re not going to be very good at flying or avoiding the neighbor’s cat. Today, roughly half as many [...]

April 22nd, 2015|

Tracking Kleptomaniac Cats

Aya the cat has an interesting secret life, to say the least. When we started tracking outdoor cats with Cat Tracker in Raleigh/Durham to see where they were going when they weren't lazily sitting on their human's porches... we never expected that one of the cats that would sport a GPS unit would be a famous kleptomaniac living in Copenhagen. Three-year-old Aya is a Danish cat; a semi-serious looking black male cat with a penchant for work gloves. It all started innocently enough in the Summer of 2012 -- when Aya's human neighbors were getting a new roof put on their home. There were a lot of working gloves around their [...]

April 16th, 2015|

The Bear

I was staying in a one, room shack beside a river. The river, a majestic river, reminded me of the sound of a washing machine. My girlfriend was visiting. At night she punched me when a mouse ran over her face. It remains unclear whether her intent was to hurt the mouse or, as I now suspect, me. Each morning the old Czech woman across the dirt road would bring me a glass of fresh milk from the cows. She spoke little Spanish, I no Czech. I couldn’t convince her of the truth, that I am unable to digest milk much less the rich and creamy deliciousness offered warm from the [...]

April 13th, 2015|

Could there be 200 million species on Earth?

Recently, one of my colleagues, Brian Brown, found thirty new species of flies in urban Los Angeles. Species not yet named. Species not yet studied. Species that could be of great value to society (or, less likely, great cost) but that had just gone missed, flying among highways and movie stars. The discovery made by Brown and his team is wondrous, revelatory, awesome, and makes me want to look for new species of flies in my own backyard. But, in a broad sense, it is not a surprise, for one simple reason, two hundred million species live on Earth and just two million of which are named. That is to [...]

April 13th, 2015|

Chimps and Humans are Less Similar than We Thought

Mary Claire King, as much as any individual scholar, has changed how we think about what it means to be human. She did so using genetics as a lens through which to see what was otherwise invisible. In her hands this lens offered many insights. It was King who first identified a key gene in breast cancer. It was King who helped to identity the missing dead in Argentina in the 1980s. It would also be King who, in 1975, first compare the genetic similarity of humans and chimpanzees. It was known chimpanzees and humans were similar, kin, but just how similar? One could only really guess. And to compare a chimpanzee and a human, [...]

April 8th, 2015|

The Magic Seeds of UCONN EEB

The amazing thing about trees is that they start as seeds. Some small enough for ants to carry. Others that ride in the guts of bats. Others still that float in the wind, tumbling across fields and continents. Similarly, the amazing thing about the best scientists is that they start as students. As I say this, I am not thinking about my own students (though my own students have been wonderful, the highlights of my professional life), I am thinking about the young people with whom I started graduate school. I went to graduate school at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB). My [...]

April 6th, 2015|