Science Filmmaking Problems

Have you noticed that the science documentary networks that used to present 100% factual science content have now started drifting into an odd abyss of reality programming? I’m not saying it’s all bad, but there seems to be a diversion from solid science – the stuff I remember loving as a budding biologist in the 90’s. The situation has been on my mind a lot lately, having now done shows for various networks, including a TON of pitching various programs. I present the problem I’ve found with the current trends here:

The real problem I see is that networks get ratings for shows that most of us educators think stray too much to the sensational. Is it because people love the show, or because people are in a stat of shock as they flip the channels – essentially a race for the most viral-type program. And look, maybe it’s not all bad if it can be packaged in something that’s clickable, something I do often myself.

I’m not sure what the solution is. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the trends, the problems, or ways to view it in a new light.

Truth or Lies - Rob Nelson Naked Jonas Stenstrom
Do shows get more views (or website clicks) if they’re naked and afraid?

We’re Starting Up Untamed Science as a Show!

This year I am putting all my efforts into making a show about biodiversity. In particular, we’ll be looking at plants, animals and everything in-between. The show is something that we’re starting small with and we’ll expand as we get viewers. If you’d like to be a part of it, we’re actually sending postcards like the one below here to patrons.

To be a patron go here: Or, if you’re not sure what it’s all about, here is a video.


How to Build a Bug Hotel

Bug hotels are structures created from plant material that provide shelter for common garden insects such as bees, beetles and butterflies.

Bug Hotels: An Effective Teaching Tool

Building a bug hotel is a great opportunity to teach children about the natural world that surrounds us. This activity is an ideal choice for educators seeking a more hands-on approach to making kids enthusiastic about nature. Children will relish the chance to get involved in the design and construction of the structure and the fun doesn’t end there, as they can then keep a close eye on the visitors it attracts. Not only do bug hotels teach kids how to identify native animal habitats, but they also help to instill a sense of stewardship for the earth that will hopefully trigger a lifelong appreciation for the planet.

What You Will Need

While pre-made hotels are available for purchase, building your own is far more fun. Assembled from plant material and garden miscellanea, bug hotels are inexpensive to make and offer a creative way of recycling otherwise useless odds and ends.

When constructing your hotel, it’s important to cater to the needs of the specific insects you are trying to attract. You will need to take this into account when selecting your materials and location.  As such, the design process offers an opportunity to learn about animal habitats. For example, for Ladybirds use dry leaves, sticks and straw and for bees for include holes and small tubes made from wood.

Find out More about Bug Hotels

If you are curious about bug hotels and would like to learn more, you should check out the infographic below from Capital Garden Services. This super informative graphic offers some simple, yet practical guidance about how to build your very own bug hotel and outlines some of the considerations you will need to keep in mind throughout the build.

Why should we protect pandas?

To answer the question “Why protect pandas?,” we will first introduce you to some biological terminology. It will help you to understand the issue at hand for panda conservation. As a bonus, using these terms will make you look sharp at your next BBQ. You are welcome.

The Extinction Threat

Let’s get started with extinction. If you were born in the eighties, your mind probably wanders to Jurassic Park and zombies. But did you know that it is estimated that at least 10,000 species become extinct every year? After the last individual dies, a species is gone. Forever. You might have heard of Lonesome George. He left us in 2012 and was one of the rarest creatures in the world at the time; his passing marked the end of Pinta tortoises. However, extinction of species can be imminent long before there is only one individual left. Obviously, you need at least two. Preferably of a different sex. We hope you remembered that much from high school. In reality, we need a lot more.

A species is determined to become extinct when numbers get so low that a) the individuals are not able to reproduce, or b) inbreeding leads to a loss of biological fitness. No, not the gym kind of fitness. It means that their gene pool is losing quality because there is not enough variation in it. This is also the reason for breeding programs in zoos. Which brings us to conservation biology. A science that aims at preserving the different forms of life on our planet.

Hope in Conservation

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, publishes a Red List of Threatened Species. In this list, they evaluate the conservation status of plant and animal species and the threats they are facing. They have nine categories ranging from extinct to least concern. To determine these categories, they look at the population size; the speed at which the size is reducing; the number of mature individuals; and the geographic range. The species that are most likely to extinct are the ones that are threatened, vulnerable, or (critically) endangered.

The Common Denominator: Humans

So what is driving these species to extinction? It is perfectly normal for species to become extinct. There were some freak mass extinction crises, like asteroid strikes, volcano eruptions, and natural climate shifts (remember Ice Age?). Apart from that, some species just lose “the struggle for existence”, as Charles Darwin liked to phrase it in On the Origin of Species. What is not normal though, is the most common factor in species’ decline nowadays. It is all of us.

Allow us to list some of the ways we drive plants and animals to extinction. We consume them; take away and fragment their habitat; hunt them; pollute them and their environment; spread diseases; and introduce invasive alien species. We figured you wanted to know more about that last one. To make matters worse, they are all threatened by climate change. Which humans are causing. Humans, yes that includes you, are the number one cause of species decline. Over the last 35 years, biological diversity (the number of different species) has declined by more than a quarter. Moreover, things are not looking up for the future.

So, one of the reasons to protect species is morality. We have a moral responsibility to preserve our planet, and the species that live on it. Instead of destroying it.

If this is too much of tree-hugging hippie shizzle for you, here is another reason: ecosystem services. Ecosystems–and the plants and animals that are part of them–provide humans with food, raw materials, fresh water, and medicinal resources. Without honeybees, for example, we will be out of fruit and veggies. And fast, too.

Pandas as Posterboys

So how does all of this apply to pandas? They are lazy buggers and do not exactly reproduce at the speed of light. In fact, what is the use of a panda, besides being cute and getting rid of your excess bamboo? Bingo! Pandas are poster boys because they are cute. People are psychologically predetermined to like fluffy things with big eyes. That is why conservation organizations, such as WWF, use Pandas as a symbol. They draw people in, making it possible to educate them about extinction and conservation.

So no, you do not have to protect panda’s. However, it might be nice to think about where you stand in all of this. What could you do to help save species from extinction? Here are some options:

And while you’re at it, spread the word. Or wear a panda suit to your next BBQ.

David Moskowitz

What insect/bug/arthropod best describes you (or what’s your favorite one(s)?

Honestly, my favorite insect is the one I am looking at. But I do hold the beautiful Tiger Spiketail dragonfly (Cordulegaster erronea) in special esteem. The Tiger Spiketail was the focus of my Ph.D. research at Rutgers University where I obtained my degree in Entomology. This amazingly beautiful and fascinating insect has provided me with countless hours of pleasure studying its life history and behavior in its amazingly beautiful woodland stream habitats. A few years ago, my son Sam helped me with a video that spotlights my research and has an awesome sound track too. It actually won 1st place in the Entomological Society of America competition in the Research Division.

As for my Bug Addiction, I wrote this some time ago and it still holds true:

I admit it. I am a bug addict. I am deeply and profoundly addicted to the six-legged things. And I have been for a very long time. I often find myself daydreaming about bugs, and the instant one passes my way, I lose focus on everything around me, except the bug, much to the annoyance of my very tolerant wife, family and friends. It is often butterflies and moths and dragonflies and damselflies, but beetles, and bees, and even woodlice cause the same reaction. I can’t help it. Give me a bug and everything I should be doing fades into the background. I am quite certain I am addicted, that this is not some passing fad, or hobby. But fortunately, the cure is pretty simple. I just need to find more insects!

What is your “job description”

I am a Partner and Senior Vice President with the environmental consulting firm, EcolSciences, Inc. I have been with the company for 30 years and have been lucky to find a place that has provided an endless array of cool ecological studies and the opportunity to work day in and day out with other amazing ecologists. I am also the Co-founder of National Moth Week , the global Citizen Science Project focusing much needed attention on moths. I also created the Bug Addiction – Confessions of a Bug Addict Facebook page that spotlights my adventures with insects and entomology and that is a group of some of the coolest bug addicts on Earth.

If I had to add anything to my “job description” I would hope it would be an “entomological educator.” I love sharing the world of insects with others and hopefully turning them on to a life-time of wonder and excitement.


What do you study now?

My career provides me with a wonderfully diverse opportunity to study many different things including wetlands, vernal pools, insects, reptiles and amphibians, birds and more. But my current entomological focus is to utilize my research on the Tiger Spiketail dragonfly to develop a predictive model of its habitats that can be used by resource managers for conservation efforts.

What is the best thing about your job?

The opportunity to be constantly outside reveling in the natural world around me.

What is the worst thing about your job?

I can honestly say that there really isn’t a “worst thing” about my job. Every day isn’t perfect, but on balance I can’t imagine doing anything else. My wife and I have always told our children to do something that they are passionate about. You have to swing your feet off that bed every morning and get up and head to work, so it better be something you want and like to do. It’s pretty much that simple and I’ve been lucky to find that in my career.

What inspired you to first study science?

My interest in nature goes back as far as I can remember. I think I was probably inspired the most early on by my dad, who always shared his love of the outdoors with me. I don’t think there was ever a specific moment that inspired me to pursue a career in the sciences, I think it just came from a deep-seeded passion for nature. As Lady Gaga sings “I was born this way”.

Some of David’s Video Footage

Also check out:

More Entomologists to Follow here

Amazon Arthropod Collection

Bugs have finally brought Haley and I to the Amazon! Of all the places where new species of arthropods await, the Amazon is on the top of the list. It’s wild and remote. It’s also hot, humid and a bit of a chore to get to. Here is our new video: Bugs in Amazonia.

I have the opportunity this year to follow around bug people – entomologists from the California Academy of Sciences. Michelle Trautwein invited me to document a global study on the arthropods in people’s homes. I was pretty excited to say the least! Most of my excitement was simply because you can never know all your bugs.

House in Iquitos with entomologists

There are roughly 1.5 million species that have been described so far. Of those about 80 percent are arthropods – mostly insects. But here’s the kicker. There are still a lot more arthropods to be discovered. Some people estimate there are from 5 to 10 million more arthropods out there. Spend any time with a seasoned entomologist and they’ll tell you all the undescribed species they have back in the lab, waiting to be worked up.


Now we’re here in the amazon. For those that have never been, it’s worth a visit. This is my second trip so far. On my first one, I made a top ten list. Here is what you might see when you venture into the jungles.

Back to our bugs. We’re here to sample bugs in people’s houses. You’d expect there to be a lot of them right? Well, that’s what we thought too, until we started sampling. We saw big ones, and showy ones, but we didn’t find a ton of diversity. By that, I mean the total number of species. In the US, most houses averaged about 30-100 species in their houses. Here, the number wasn’t much different. Why not? We expect it might have something to do with the way people live. But, we’re not sure. That’s part of the study. We plan on releasing the full details of the study in future episodes.

Haley Chamberlain in the Amazon

Halloween Videos

The Biology of Zombies: The Real Legend

Zombies. What does that term mean to you? Chances are you think about something from Hollywood. I actually thought that’s all there was to this Halloween character. I was wrong.

Zombies have a true biological basis to them. The stories as we know them have their origin in the country of Haiti. This small Carribean country is famed as being one of the only places where the African slaves revolted and kicked out the Europeans. After doing that, their African tribal culture took over. Many say it’s now more African than Africa! It’s also the epicenter of Voodoo.

The Legend of Vampires – Pellagra, Corn and Niacin Deficiency

Corn, which was discovered in the new world, was brought back to Europe in the 1500s. It quickly became a crop of the poor, who would often eat nothing but raw corn as their main energy source. But, here is the problem. Corn contains the essential vitamin niacin, but it is inaccessible in its raw form. Thus, eating a diet of only raw corn leads to a vitamin deficiency known as pellagra. Victims of pellagra are hyper-sensitive to sunlight. If exposed, the skin often turns shiny with scaly areas. The brain starts to degenerate causing the person to have insomnia, anxiety, aggression, and depression. Often the persons stomach bleeds, meaning they can not eat normal food and can often digest only blood.

Here is another interesting tidbit: Pellagra was not common in the new world where corn was native. The reason for this is that peasants in Mexico and Central America prepared corn differently.  Corn tortillas were often prepared with lime (an alkali)which helped to extract niacin from the corn and thus insured that pellagra didn’t arise.

The pumpkin

For centuries, people have utilized the pumpkin and its relatives. The pumpkin is native to North America; even before Europeans came the Americas, Native Americans were using them as an important food source. The thick skin of the pumpkin could be peeled, pressed, and made into mats. Strips of flesh could be roasted on the fire and eaten. The seeds could also be cooked and ingested.

When Europeans arrived, they saw how native groups were using the pumpkin and quickly began using it as well. Early colonists also brought with them other traditions that took the use of the pumpkin to a whole new level: Jack-o’-lanterns.

The Jack-o’-lantern

The tradition of using pumpkins as Jack-o’-lanterns came from an old Irish story of Stingy Jack. The story gets long and complicated, but the gist of it is that Jack had tricked the Devil multiple times whereby the devil agreed not to take his soul. So, when Jack ended up dying, the Devil was true to his word. But God decided he shouldn’t be in heaven so his soul remained on the earth. He was given only a hot coal to light his way, which he put into a small, carved turnip or gourd. He was remembered every year when people would carve out members of the cucurbitaceae family (cucurbits) and put them on the doorsteps or window ledges.

When the Europeans discovered American pumpkins, they quickly adapted their tradition with the much larger and easily carved gourd. It also became associated with the festival of Halloween.



The traditions associated with Halloween have their roots in the Irish holiday Saween. Saween isn’t a celebration of the Devil or a lord of the dead as some people might think. It was celebrated from the night of October 31st to the evening of November 1st and is most closely related to our modern New Years’ Day. It was a celebration of the year and the harvest. In ancient tradition, carved gourds where put outside the house with coals in them to welcome back dead relatives and warn off Stingy Jack.

“Pumpkin” is just another name for Orange Squash

It’s common for more than one species to be described with the same common name. For instance, the colloquial term “banana” is used for more than one species found throughout the tropics. Most Americans see only one of these species, but there are actually many more. What we call pumpkins are phenotypically orange individuals from the following four species: C. pepo, C. maxima, C. mixta, and C. moschata.

The most difficult concept to grasp, however, is that each of these species has also been domestically bred into different forms to the point that we wouldn’t even call them pumpkins. Zucchinis, for instance, are the same species as the common pumpkin, C. pepo. We wouldn’t mistake a zucchini for a pumpkin would we? Thus, pumpkin is really a term used to describe a characteristically orange, squash-like gourd.

What about Giant Pumpkins?

Giant pumpkins aren’t the same species as the common pumpkin you find every year for sale at Halloween. The species is C. maxima and the largest ones are especially “helped” along. The kind of giant pumpkins that win competitions take special care. First, it is important that the prize pumpkin is getting its supply of nutrients without having to compete with others on the same plant. Thus, once a pumpkin starts, the other flowers are pruned off. But, the pumpkin mania doesn’t stop there.

Special fertilizers are added to the soil and lotions are even rubbed on the outside of the pumpkin. The trick though is to make sure the pumpkins grow fast but not too fast. If they grow too large, too quickly, the pumpkin will cave in on itself.

Bugs in Your Home

A small group of entomologists from the NRC and UNSU in Raleigh are conducting a pretty amazing study of arthropods in people’s homes. I got a chance to join them for this weeks video, and was it ever an eye opener. As it turns out, it is not uncommon to find 100 species of bugs in any given house. The other major findings were that 1) every house has lice 2) almost every house also has carpet beetles and 3) the most diverse group of organisms in the house are flies!



More Information About This Video

  • Learn more about what these guys are doing at
  • See more pictures by insect photographer and entomologist Matt Bertone.
  • Learn about the Citizen Science Research at the Nature Research Center in Raleigh.
  • For information about the different groups of bugs, go to our Untamed Science Insect section: