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Entomology Takes the Stage (and the Airwaves) at Science Friday Live

science friday live - field visit

On September 9, radio show and podcast Science Friday recorded an episode live on stage in Wichita, Kansas, featuring a segment with Rachel Stone and Emmy Engasser (middle and right on stage), two graduate students at Wichita State University studying dung beetles and carrion beetles. (Photo credit: Jordan Kirtley/KMUW)

Last Saturday, on the stage of the Orpheum Theatre in Wichita, Kansas, entomologist Rachel Stone told the audience gathered there that a pile of animal poop is a lot like a pile of cheeseburgers—to a dung beetle, that is.

Stone, a graduate researcher working in forensic ecology at Wichita State University, was a guest for a live recording of radio show and podcast Science Friday, hosted in partnership with station KMUW. The episode, airing today, explored “the science beneath your feet,” and host Ira Flatow welcomed Stone and fellow WSU grad student Emmy Engasser to the stage for a 17-minute segment on dung beetles and carrion beetles. Stone offered her fast-food analogy in response to a question from a boy in the audience about why some beetles roll dung into balls.

science friday live interview

Wichita State University graduate students Rachel Stone (middle) and Emmy Engasser (right) told Science Friday host Ira Flatow about the hidden world of dung beetles and carrion beetles. (Photo credit: Jordan Kirtley/KMUW)

“They’re going to this pile of poop that’s suddenly plopped on the ground, and you have to imagine it like it’s this incredible resource,” Stone said. “It’s like you’re in the desert and there’s no food at all, and somebody drops this tray of cheeseburgers on the ground. And everybody’s rushing all at once, and they’re greedy; they want their fair share of this really limited resource. So this is just one strategy that dung beetles show; what he’s doing is he’s trying to tear a hunk off for himself and take it away from all the chaos of that pile of cheeseburgers—or poo—and he’s taking it away so he can have it himself.”

Stone and Engasser earned some laughs—perhaps inevitiable given their milieu—but their enthusiasm for nature’s “sophisticated cleanup crew” showed. “If we didn’t have them, we would have a lot of dead animals just littering the earth,” Engasser said. “Same with dung too. We don’t want to be stepping in that stuff.”

rachel stone and emmy engasser

Rachel Stone (left) studies dung-beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) communities on rat carrion microhabitats at Wichita State University. Emmy Engasser (right) researches the influence of habitat, season, and abiotic factors on carrion beetle (Coleoptera: Silphidae) communities within the Kansas Flint Hills. (Photo credit: Mary Liz Jameson, Ph.D.)

The duo—both student members of the Entomological Society of America—work in the lab of WSU Associate Professor Mary Liz Jameson, Ph.D. Before the event, they took two Science Friday producers out on a field trip to visit a beetle collection site. After the event, they reflected on the value of such an opportunity to talk about their science.

“My experience being on stage was a blast,” Stone said. “It was really something to interact with an audience that was so engaged and interested in the topic. I was especially pleased to see lots of young and aspiring entomologists coming up to ask great, informed questions about beetles and their biology.”

Engasser concurred: “I hope to inspire listeners to learn more and ask questions about the natural world around them. Everyone should pursue their interests, even if others view them as ‘weird’ or ‘gross.'”

Listen to today’s episode of Science Friday online, or find Science Friday in your favorite podcast app.

1 Comment »

  1. it was a great day to listen and learn about insects- and not just the ‘pretty’ ones that typically make the news

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