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The Public’s Work

Citizen scientists working with NC State collect data from the wild world right under their noses (and on their noses, too)

Camel Cricket Census

Camel Cricket

Many homeowners are familiar with the leggy, jumping insects called camel crickets. When Your Wild Life asked its army of citizen scientists to snap photos of the camel crickets in their homes, the researchers were surprised to learn that 85 percent of the images submitted showed a non-native Asian species, such as in this photo submitted by a Walnut Cove, NC, citizen scientist.

Now researchers are trying to figure out how widespread the Asian cricket is, and why they’re not seeing more native north American crickets.

Belly Button Biodiversity

Bachillus subtilis Microbes in one belly button include lots of Bacillus subtilis, a beneficial bacteria species that produces antibiotic compounds that can kill other bacteria and even foot fungi.
Staphylococcus bacteria The most common genus in the sample of belly button microbes at left is an unknown strain of Staphylococcus bacteria. Most known strains are harmless or even beneficial, but a few are pathogenic.

This was the world’s first citizen science project exploring the microbial diversity of human bodies. Like many of Your Wild Life’s projects, it was spawned through a collaboration with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

To collect their microbes, citizen scientists twirled a sterile swab in their belly buttons and submitted the swabs to Your Wild Life. The researchers let the samples grow for a couple of days, creating a microbial “portrait” unique to each belly button.

The results showed extraordinary variation among the participants. While several species were found in nearly all belly buttons, most of the species were rare. Just what governs which rare species live in each belly button remains unknown. What is known is that microbes in belly buttons and elsewhere on our skin help defend us from pathogens.

Meet Your Mites

Mite

It looks as though every adult human hosts tiny arthropods on their skin. These mites are called Demodex. During the day, Demodex often hide in our hair follicles. But at night they emerge, crawl around and mate — right on our faces.

Little is known about many of these mites — only two of the human-associated types have been described in scientific literature — so Your Wild Life has been holding sampling events in which researchers use a type of spatula to gather mites by gently scraping volunteers’ noses and faces. Researchers suspect they’ll find and identify many other mites; the goal is to map the mites’ “family tree” and see how it tracks human evolution.