As a freelance writer, my work has appeared in Nature, Science, Entomology Today, and the Washington Post. I occasionally work as a “ghost writer” for manuscript editing, and I am a member of the National Association of Science Writers.
Because the web is a fluid and evolving thing, I have archived some of my work here, in order to have a permanent record. Also, please note that writers usually do not control the headlines on their stories; those are chosen by editors.
You can find a full list of all my science writing in chronological order here.
I now retain copyright to all my WIRED.com stories, so if you would like to republish them please contact me for permissions.
WIRED — When Sam Heads started his new job at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) in 2009, he heard rumors of buried treasure. As a paleoentomologist, his research focuses on insects of the past. While Heads ramped up his research on the evolution of insects as recorded in fossils, he also started digging around in random closets and cupboards. He was looking for a treasure in amber.
WIRED — While adult beaded lacewings are delicate and lovely, they begin life as ferocious tiny predators lurking in the nests of termites. These larvae live unmolested in their nest, silently striking down termites from behind — and for one species, with their behind.
SCIENCE — This isn’t a photo of the Milky Way; it’s a deep, dark cave in New Zealand. And those blue things aren’t stars; they’re maggots. A chemical reaction in their Malpighian tubules–structures analogous to kidneys–makes their posteriors glow.
WASHINGTON POST — The beautiful medieval illustrated manuscripts of Europe were carefully inked on parchment; animal hides crafted into something resembling modern paper. Called “uterine vellum,” records hinted it might be made from the hides of calves, sheep, or maybe squirrels and rabbits. And did it really come from a uterus?
WASHINGTON POST — The CDC and the Carter Center released some great news about Dracunculiasis this Halloween season. It’s not victory over sparkly vampires, though; cases of guinea worms ( Dracunculus medinensis) decreased by 85 percent in 2015. The Latin name of “Little Dragon” refers to the fiery burning pain of these yard-long worms that live under human skin.
SCIENCE — Citronella candles are great for setting a mood, but they’re not so great for the very thing they’re advertised to do: repel mosquitoes. That’s one conclusion from a new study that tested 11 types of repellents on Aedes aegypti mosquitoes-the vectors of Zika, yellow fever, dengue, and other diseases.
WIRED “Save the Bees!” is a common refrain these days, and it’s great to see people interested in the little animals critical for our food supply around the globe. But I have one quibble: you’re talking about the wrong bees. Honey bees will be fine. They are a globally distributed, domesticated animal. Apis mellifera will not go extinct, and the species is not remotely threatened with extinction. The bees you should be concerned about are the 3,999 other bee species living in North America, most of which are solitary, stingless, ground-nesting bees you’ve never heard of.
WIRED — In an incredible international effort, 100 scientists combined their molecular, computational biology, statistics, paleontology, and taxonomic expertise to uncover some surprising conclusions about when major groups of insects evolved.
WIRED — Bees are weird. A honey bee hive is an entire insect society dedicated to stealing plant sperm (some of you call that pollen)…. The consensus among bee scientists is that honey bee declines are the result of multiple factors, working independently or synergistically.
WASHINGTON POST — Worried about ticks? There are good reasons. Ixodes scapularis, the blacklegged or deer tick, transmits Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can affect the nervous system and joints. But there are a host of other tick-borne diseases as well, and in some cases, they can make you pretty sick.
WIRED — Every single one of you – 100 percent of you reading this right now – has face mites. Before you break out the exfoliating scrubs and disinfectant, it’s completely normal to have little animals living on your skin.
WIRED — Living on a mountain is hard for bees and flowers. It’s cold. There’s extreme weather. And new research has found it’s getting even harder for both flowers and bees to make a living in alpine evironments lately. Scientists compared over 40 years of mountain bumblebee and flower records on three Colorado mountains, and found major decreases in both bees and flowers. But they also found clear evidence of rapid evolution by the bees, suggesting it’s not time to give up on mountain bumble bees just yet.
WIRED — For decades, scientists thought an excess of something special, a substance called royal jelly, elevated a regular honey bee larva to a queen. New research suggests we had it backward: It’s what future queens aren’t fed that matters.
WIRED — A photo has been circulating for a while that suggests our grocery stores will look like this in a world without bees. Is that true? Will our food choices be radically limited, come the future Beepocalypse? We already know what raising fruit without honey bees looks like. In a remote area in China, humans pollinate 100% of fruit trees by hand. The reason why they hand pollinate is not what you think, though.
WIRED — The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an Enforcement Order this week: two brands must stop claiming caffeinated underwear will make your behind smoother and slimmer. What did they do to get the FTC’s knickers in such a twist?
WIRED, December 19 2015 — Bot flies are not generally considered festive. This is especially true if you are a reindeer, which often have reindeer nasal bot flies, or snot bots, as they are affectionately known. The nasal bot fly life cycle is a marvelous example of evolutionary WTF-ery.
WIRED, January 19 2016 — How many insects do you think are in your home? None? One? A hundred? Some new research suggests you need to step that number up by a factor of 10. Or more. But don’t panic: Insects and their relatives are living peacefully in your home. They aren’t bothering you.
WIRED, December 8, 2015 — This male lacewing has a glenofinger. That’s not an obscure Bond villain, but an inflatable “come hither” signal to females. The bulging gland gets bigger when the male is interested in a hookup.
WIRED, December 3, 2015 — Kissing bugs are not invading North America. They’ve been here for at least 12,000 years, probably longer. The link between Chagas disease and kissing bugs (Triatoma) is real, and Chagas disease is a serious, disease you do not want to acquire.
This story was reprinted by University of Arizona Extension Service
WIRED, October 21, 2015 — At dusk in North American forests, wood thrushes fill forests with a rising and falling “ee-oh-lay” song with a strange reverb. Like Tuvan throat singers, these pot-bellied brown birds have the ability to sing their own harmony and descant.
WIRED — Every few years an alarm is raised; habitat loss puts this species at risk. Will the noble pubic louse Pthirus pubis, which once grazed the rolling plains of our crotches in great herds, be driven into extinction? Do we need to erect habitat reserves for crab lice conservation in New Jersey?
WIRED — Cows moo, lions roar, and pigs oink. But for many years it’s been assumed that, except for the occasional snort, giraffes spent most of their lives in a tight-lipped silence. New research from a group studying animal sounds at the University of Vienna suggests giraffes might not be so quiet after all: They spend their evenings humming.
WIRED — All the instructions to make an animal’s body are in each one of its individual cells. But how does an embryo know that a scrotum should be built in the groin, and not on your forehead? During fetal development, a complex dance of proteins turns genes off and on.
WIRED — In the media buzz about bee losses, a lot of proposals have been floated about how to replace natural pollinators, come the beepocalypse. Robotic bees seem like a fairly simple proposition; fly the robot around to flowers, collect pollen, transfer pollen, done. Just one problem: Some plants don’t give it up that easily.
WIRED — “You do get people looking at you strangely, but the tampon is not that obvious.” That’s Professor David Lerner, explaining what it was like to conduct a research project where feminine hygiene products were inserted into streams and sewers around Yorkshire, UK. Why? It turns out tampons are an accurate and cheap way to sample water quality.
WIRED — Humans have been chasing longer and stronger erections for centuries. From ground-up ants and “Spanish flies” to modern drugs, men hope to bring back some magic into a cocked-up sex life. How far would you be willing to go for an erection? Would you take a drug made from genetically modified spider venom?
WIRED — You think you’re naughty and transgressive? Bah. Humans just don’t get that freaky compared to insects. An ongoing evolutionary tug of war to control fertilization has led to appallingly rough sexual practices in bugs. Male penises are covered in spikes, scoops, harpoons, and stabby daggers. Females occasionally kill and eat their suitors.
WIRED, October 12, 2015 — Plague! The word conjures images of horrors past, piles of festering medieval dead overrun by rats. It’s not a disease of the past though; the bacteria that causes plague can be found in the United States, and a few cases of human bubonic plague happen every year.
WIRED — Insect-themed superheroes abounded in early comics, but they tended to lack a certain… gravitas. I mean, the Red Bee had poofy pink sleeves, yellow and green striped tights, and kept a bee named Michael in his belt buckle.
WIRED — The Proposed Ark Park. Ark Encounter is a proposed creationist theme park centered around a 510-foot “replica” of Noah’s Ark to be built in Kentucky. The park is financed in part by state tax breaks and municipal junk bonds, and has some serious animal health issues.
WIRED — You’ve probably seen this headline over the last few days: “Regular conditioner effective at removing head lice!” Some newly published research did find that plain conditioner is as effective as special lice-removing products at removing lice eggs from hair. BUT, the research protocol doesn’t have a lot in common with what the average parent might do.
WIRED — Summer! A time for leisurely beach reading. Or, a time when you’re traveling and need something to read as you jet from meeting to meeting. Either way, here’s some of the new insect books out this summer that you should add to your list.
WIRED — When an insect has the nick-name of “odorous house ant,” you know it’s smelly. This ant’s scent has been described as blue cheese, rancid butter, or cleaning solution. Inquiring science minds wanted to know: What does it really smell like?
NATURE — The world of social media is just like the print and email worlds: billions of messages are competing for attention. How do you break through all that competition, and get the attention of the public? How can you mobilize and engage people to create a community of supporters (and possibly donors)?