Hi guys, I have some time off today after teaching, so after getting a whole mess of requests that I do one of these, here we are!

I'm a field biologist, technically an ecosystem ecologist, who primarily works with wild bird populations!

I do other work in wetlands and urban ecosystems, and have spent a good amount of time in the jungles of Costa Rica, where I fought off some of the deadliest snakes in the world while working to restore the native tropical forests with the aid of the Costa Rican government.

Aside from the biology, I used to perform comedy shows and was a cook for years!

Ask me anything at all, and I'd be glad to respond!

I've messaged some proof to the mods, so hopefully this gets verified!

You can check out some of my biology-related posts on my Redditor-inspired blog here!

I've also got a whole mess of videos up here, relating to various biological and ecological topics!

For a look into my hobbies, I encourage everyone to visit our gaming YouTube with /u/hypno_beam and /u/HolyShip, The Collegiate Alliance, which you can view here!


EDIT: Okay, that was nine hours straight of answering questions. I'm going to go to bed now, because it's 4 AM. I'll be back to answer the rest tomorrow! Thanks for all the great questions, everyone!

EDIT 2: IM BACK, possibly with a vengeance. Or, at the very least, some answers. Woke up this morning to several text messages from real life friends about my AMA. Things have escalated quickly while I was asleep! My friends are very supportive!

EDIT 3: Okay, gotta go do some work! I answered a few hundred more questions and now willingly accept death. I'll be back to hopefully answer the rest tonight briefly before a meeting!

EDIT 4: Back! Laid out a plan for a new research project, and now I'm back, ready to answer the remainder of the questions. You guys have been incredibly supportive through PMs and many, many dick jokes. I approve of that, and I've been absolutely humbled by the great community response here! It's good to know people are still very excited by science! If there are any more questions, of any kind, let 'em fly and I'll try to get to them!

EDIT 5: Wow! This AMA got coverage on Mashable.com! Thanks a whole bunch, guys, this is ridiculously flattering! I'm still answering questions even as they trickle down in volume, so feel free to keep chatting!

EDIT 6: This AMA will keep going until the thread locks, so if you think of something, just write it in!

EDIT 7: Feel free to check out this mini-AMA that I did for /r/teenagers for questions about careers and getting started in biology!

EDIT 8: Still going strong after three four five six months! If you have a question, write it in! Sort by "new" to see the newest questions and answers!

EDIT 9: THE THREAD HAS OFFICIALLY LOCKED! I think I've gotten to, well, pretty much everyone, but it's been an awesome half-year of answering your questions!

Comments: 7310 • Responses: 170  • Date: 

StellaMaroo1388 karma

Just wanted to say that you're awesome, Unidan!

Unidan2831 karma

This isn't a question, you son of a bitch!

Just kidding, thanks a bunch for the kind words, as always! :D

StellaMaroo559 karma

Well shit... I'll rephrase it.

"Do you know how awesome you are and are you planning on staying this way forever and ever?"

Well I guess a serious q to: Do you have any new projects you're planning to do in the future? I assume it would have something to do with nutrients and birds. :)

Unidan1760 karma

Do you know how awesome you are

I own my own machete, so yes.

Are you planning on staying this way forever and ever?

Until I accidentally kill myself with my own machete.

As for new projects, yes! I'm doing a joint venture that's about to start this summer involving greenhouse gas research in wetlands. We're going to be working with cattle and seeing how grazing can influence greenhouse gas emissions under specific circumstances to try to put more research behind a very new theory in biogeochemistry!

retneftw236 karma

is it a kukri machete? 'cause kukri machetes are the best machete.

Unidan822 karma

Unfortunately no, but it is pretty big!

retneftw261 karma

wow that is a bad ass picture. you should check out /r/PenmanshipPorn too.

thank you for everything you do.

Unidan364 karma

Haha, thank you!

BlackGuyOne972 karma

This guy is fucking awesome. But more importantly...what is another ridiculously awesome fact other than that unbelievable Sahara Desert to Amazon thing?

Unidan2196 karma

Thank you very much, that's very kind!

A fun fact? Hmm. The slow loris is pretty amazing! It's a poisonous primate! It produces a toxin from its elbows which it then licks off and spreads all over its body.

Its "fighting stance" is essentially an arms-behind-the-head posture, like so!

CaryGrantLives557 karma

are there any other posionous true primates?

Thank you for your help in saving the exclamation point from internet extinction and also making me feel happy again tonight as you have countless other nights. It's been a rough one!

Unidan849 karma

Nope! All of them are lorises, I believe.

And you're quite welcome!

purpy_skurpies276 karma

is that pronounced "loris-is" or "loris-sees"?

Unidan583 karma

The first one.

bloomcnd290 karma

you started this AMA 9 hours ago and you're still going??!! you're awesome dude!

btw, love your enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge - i really hope some of it rubs off on some of the younger folk here and decide to pursue something similar

Unidan1277 karma

I am bleeding from me fingas.

1stCovert82 karma

"I've got blistas on me fingas!"

Unidan105 karma


AdeptCoder298 karma

Anthropologist here!

Lorises are amazing!!! However, the "fighting stance" (I'd call it a fear-response) is a huge draw for pet owners who think they're adorably putting their arms in the air when you play with them.

Nope, you're just scaring the hell out of a primate that shouldn't be a pet. In fact, the illegal pet trade is considered one of the biggest threats to the Nycticebus genus.

For an example of this soul-crushing ignorance, this video has almost 4 million views.

Unidan230 karma

Yup! Fear-response is what I was looking for! Thanks for the term, my brain has been fried trying to get back to everyone, so thanks for the added details!

Nioxa175 karma

What advice would you give to a high school student who is considering going into botany research?

Unidan591 karma

Consider it even more!

We are desperately short on botanists. Almost no one knows their plants, and, to be fair, animals don't mean anything in comparison to the effect that plants have on this planet.

[deleted]172 karma

Wait, so at what point in the evolutionary cycle did the Loris' DNA think: "Hey guys... guys... lis.. listen guys... Poison e... right... guys listen, Poison elbows!"

Unidan342 karma

Sometimes DNA mixes it's 5 end for it's 3 end if it gets a little too drunk.

Cozmo23953 karma

So you study birds? Could you tell me how a 5 ounce bird carries a 1 pound coconut?

Unidan2041 karma

Are you suggesting that coconuts migrate?

Cozmo23661 karma

You are the expert. What have your studies shown?

Unidan2342 karma

Coconuts do migrate, but swallows are not involved. They actually migrate through buoyancy and water currents.

A better term would be "disperse," as we don't quite expect that the coconuts will return home anytime soon.

Cozmo23565 karma

Best TIL ever. Thank you.

Unidan629 karma

You're quite welcome!

choixpeau540 karma

So that means that Patsy's coconuts fell off a coconut tree somewhere where coconuts grow, rolled into the ocean, and floated to England? Awesome!

Unidan716 karma


prairiebean902 karma

Not a question, but every time you comment and start with, "Biologist here!" it makes me wish you had a pop up graphic to accompany you, somewhere between this and this.

Unidan862 karma

Haha, I do like the idea of Spongebob talking at length about biology, I have to admit.

CharSiuBao9A270 karma

You know, I came to know about reddir because of that weird guy with the horrid subs and he was very popular on the interwebs for a bit of time for being creepy.

I think you may be his complete antithesis. Thanks for hanging out here, you actually contribute to the community and your positivity is super charming.

Unidan428 karma

No problem, glad to be of service!

Warlizard607 karma

Please justify your existence.

Unidan1215 karma

Sure thing!

I help to make policy decisions involving water quality that affects people's drinking water and air quality. I also make recommendations for general health and safety!

Most recently, I helped to re-do plans for a business park that had planned to put a children's nursery on top of a former chemical spill site contaminated with PERC.

Additionally, I've done comedy shows to raise money for Veterans and Animal Shelters.

I worked in the jungle to re-establish tropical rainforests, preserving native biodiversity and habitat for rare species, and am currently a college instructor, educating many of tomorrow's doctors and medical professionals!

lilyth88573 karma

Obligatory penguin question.

If you had a penguin for a pet, what kind of penguin would you choose and what would you name it?

Unidan1630 karma

If I had a penguin as a pet, I'd probably choose a Magellanic penguin. I love the little guys. Here's a photo I took of one!

I'd name him Slippy.

Cainedbutable336 karma

Interesting titbit about the word penguin (well, to me anyway). Penguin is one of the few Welsh words in the English language. It is derived from Pen Gwyn which means White Head.

Unidan322 karma



Sadly that adorable etymology is disputed, at least in part for not being proper Welsh (don't look at me...)

PS: for those wondering what the heck a Welsh word is doing being applied to a bird from Antarctica, it was first used on a bird from Newfoundland which is now, of course, extinct :-/

Unidan70 karma

Double interesting!

Unidan362 karma

Damn straight.

erratically_sporadic495 karma

erratically_sporadic here!

Would you rather fight a Equus ferus caballus-sized Anas platyrhynchos or 20 Anas platyrhynchos-sized Equus ferus caballus?

Edit: I just saw my question phrased differently somewhere else :( and Fixed!

Unidan1195 karma

Next time, italicize those species names, my friend! EDIT: Atta-boy!

Also, I'll copy and paste the answer I just gave elsewhere:

100 duck-sized horses, for sure.

Have you ever fought a duck? Just a regular duck? Or, failing that, a swan? I have. It's awful.

Trying to fight one the size of a horse would be a nightmare! Just imagine a duck the size of a horse. Huge keel for flapping its 20 foot wingspan, probably enough to break your bones if it hit you.

Plus, the honking.

Take the loudest duck you've ever heard and scale it up until its honking is like an airhorn with the depth of Barry White.

erratically_sporadic268 karma

That sounds quacky!

How do you feel about bird puns? Whats your favorite bird joke?

Unidan1179 karma

Some yolks about birds are pretty fowl, but owl give it a shot! I'd just hate to come off as a raven loon-atic if I miss the opportunity to make a pheasant joke.

Your tern.

erratically_sporadic388 karma

I don't know feather or not I can compete against you in a joke cont-nest! I bet you know a hen-dred!

Unidan625 karma

Go for it, you shouldn't live life with any egrets!

Nartila440 karma

  • What's your favorite bird and why?
  • Least favorite and why?

Unidan1307 karma

Haha, I actually have a very specific favorite bird!

I'm very partial to the Golden Pheasant, as I got the opportunity to meet this one (apologies for the blurry photo, he was moving quite rapidly). This pheasant was courting the female in the pen with him, but she was totally not into it.

I felt so bad for the poor guy, strutting his stuff, looking fabulous and never succeeding. Imagine being locked in a room with the only other person you'll ever meet, and they refuse to talk to you! How tragic.

My least favorite bird? Hmm, probably the European starling. They were introduced to America by a guy who wanted the US to have all the birds of Shakespeare. He released them in Central Park and they have essentially run rampant on many of our native birds and taken up a lot of their habitat.

Nartila1023 karma

Europeans coming into America and running rampant. Then they're taking up land and habitat from the natives. Where have I heard this before?

Unidan1150 karma

Stupid repeating history, always repeating itself.

What a jerk.

iRideDragons331 karma

Also, as a Washingtonian, I fucking HATE the asshole that started Scotchbroom in North America. 3 fucking plants. That's all it was. And now its so bad we use fires to control the shit.

Unidan501 karma

Oh god.

A friend of mine is from Oregon and knows your feels.

iRideDragons159 karma

It's all shitty mustard colour, with a horrible smell and it lines the highways!

By the way thanks for replying!

Unidan271 karma

You're quite welcome!

Skyler_ln29 karma

I'm from Oregon, am I your friend?

Unidan83 karma


missyouwiggles43 karma

I work at a wildlife rehab where we take in lots of song birds and i have to say that out of all of them the european starlings make the MOST god awful noise.

Unidan132 karma

They're described as making a "digital" sound.

My friend has one as a pet that she raised from a nestling.

MsRenee31 karma

Don't forget that they'll mimic other birds calls and send you running across the landscape looking for something cool when it's just a damn starling.

Unidan69 karma

other bird calls

and phone sounds, and you, and itself, and everything

neropow363 karma

What other passions in life do you have?

Unidan851 karma

I used to do improv and sketch comedy for a number of years and I still occasionally perform! I did a show not too long ago in NYC with a few friends from the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre.

I also used to be a professional cook, so I enjoy cooking quite a bit, too!

neropow262 karma

Where did you grow up, if I may ask...?

Unidan777 karma

Long Island, New York.


osnapitsjoey245 karma

hi five for living close to me!

Unidan620 karma


explodyhead153 karma


Unidan256 karma


i get it

aequitas327 karma

Would you rather have some Hemp-in-stead?

Unidan62 karma

Haha, I'm actually closer to Smithtown!

Every_Name_Is_Tak3n108 karma

I have to know. As a bachelor with a frying pan what is the best meal I can make in it? I do cook some dishes on my own so i'm not completely clueless :p

Unidan312 karma

You'd probably do pretty well making a nice steak. Get yourself a nice strip, or possibly a skirt steak and get the pan nice and hot. You can essentially baste the steak with butter in the cast iron and make yourself a tasty meal!

iamanurse327361 karma

You are so interesting! This is a weird thing to say, but I love the inflection you give off in your posts, with using bold and italics. It makes you seem way more excited. ;)

Unidan575 karma

Haha, thank you!

iamanurse327259 karma

I'm all aflutter!

Unidan994 karma

You have arrhythmia.

It's natural.

...see a doctor.

qweswr279 karma

Please be my friend?

Unidan284 karma


lkf15924333 karma

After reading about your other hobbies of performing and cooking, I now am certain that I correctly tagged you as "I want to marry this man." Those are my same hobbies and I'm a biology major at my college.

So...are you married? =D

Unidan597 karma

I'm not, but I do have a significant other. I'll let her know.

lkf15924292 karma

She is just the luckiest! I'm quite jealous.

If you find anyone that is exactly like you in every way, send them my way!

Unidan663 karma

Clone myself, got it.

Full_Of_Win347 karma

Can I have one? I just want a reliably smart friend.

Unidan406 karma

Okey doke.

4a4a326 karma

What do you suggest for parents who want to get their kids excited or interested in biology and or ecology?

Unidan731 karma

A pair of binoculars is a good start. A lot of things we don't get a chance to see up close because they flee from people, but binoculars can close the gap pretty quickly.

If they're old enough to not smash the thing, that is.

Zoo tickets are always a winner. Sierra Club membership, I believe, has some cool stuff for kids. I got a little backpack for being a member pretty recently, and you can always take them out for a hike. A little handlens (probably less than 10 bucks) is also excellent for getting a close-up look at things without having to go crazy with high-powered optics.

kiraella97 karma

I have the little backpack from the Sierra Club! I also got the hookup of some sweet shirts....but that's because I was working on a campaign.

Seriously, that thing is awesome.

Unidan233 karma

Seriously, that little pack is awesome. It makes an awesome little side-pack for field research because I don't give a shit if it breaks, but the thing has kept up!

senor_moustache320 karma

What fact still blows you away even though you've known about it forever?

Unidan1041 karma

We're on a floating rock in space, hurtling through an incomprehensible amount of space at an absurd speed.

senor_moustache295 karma

Dude. Stuff like that always gets me all soul searchy.

Thanks for the speedy reply!

Unidan376 karma

I know the feeling!

And no problem!

LorienDark315 karma

In my mind, you sound exactly like Professor Oak in Pokèmon Snap. Just FYI.

Unidan450 karma

I gladly accept that.

jscottfoshizzle299 karma

Hit me with the coolest biology fact you got. GO!

Unidan1259 karma

There are so many!

Alright, here's one: some bees will defend their colonies by swarming an invader and buzzing loudly. They buzz so much that they actually heat up the intruder to the point where it actually burns to death.

jscottfoshizzle530 karma

I am happy.

Unidan445 karma

Haha, I'm glad I could satisfy your craving for biological factoids!

KarlC617 karma

Are these bees in England? If not I am happy knowing I am safe from someone having to read "Burned alive by bees" at my funeral

Unidan41 karma


ZMild260 karma

I'm curious about how birds adapt to urban environments. I live in DC, which is densely-built but has a fair number of trees (mostly ornamental). Just wondering how the birds have adapted as the city's grown, where there are trees but no underbrush, lots of odd food and tons of noise?

Unidan594 karma

Great question!

Dr. Marzluff and his colleagues have, quite literally, written the book on this topic.

Some birds are known as "urban exploiters," for example: the pigeon. They contain a huge amount of pre-adaptations that made the movement to cities a no-brainer for the species. Their natural habitat involved laying eggs on cliff faces. This quickly translated to laying eggs on building ledges and the like, with very little modification to their behavior being necessary.

Additionally, pigeons can utilize a wide variety of foods found in the urban environment to feed their young. Many young birds require specific food which may not be available in an urban environment. Pigeons, on the other hand, eat the food and convert it to a weird, sludgey material called "crop milk," which they can feed to their young!

As for the noise, there was a slew of recent studies showing that urban birds will increase the pitch of their calls to compete with traffic sounds! It's really quite fascinating!

FarmParty213 karma

Crows too!

If you haven't already (and I suspect you have) you should look up some of the crazy shenanigans that crows have pulled in urban environments.

Some will drop a nut in the middle of a crosswalk and wait for a car to run over it, wait for the "walk" signal to turn on, and retrieve their meal.

You can also look up the "decoy nests" that they have made. Tricky little bastards.

Unidan374 karma

Yup, they're ridiculous. My main research is on American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), so most of their shenanigans, I've seen first hand!

cuppincayk32 karma

How do you feel about... the grackle? ಠ_ಠ

Unidan37 karma

I'm okay with them. They're pretty crazy looking if you get the chance to see them up close. Neat metallic purple feathers!

ZMild75 karma

Hey, thanks. I'm told we get migrating birds passing through, is a city more disruptive to them than other parts of their route?

Is it useful at all to wildlife to have small, busy parks in a city -- think Dupont Circle in DC, or Bryant Park in NYC - or does it make much difference?

We also have foxes pretty close in -- what other 'unexpected' animals adapt well to big urban areas?

Unidan229 karma

It depends on their needs. The Prairie Pothole region of the US, for example, houses a huge amount of wetlands required for migrating ducks, where a city might be able to be just fine for some small passerine birds!

Yes, those little parks can be quite a refuge if they're managed properly! There is a park near me that is very vibrant and nice looking, but because it has very little plant diversity, it houses almost no species of birds. We found less species there than we did along a derelict railroad track running through the worst neighborhood in our city.

As for unexpected animals, hmm, not quite sure, a lot of the ones I can name would be ones you would expect! There's a good variety of predatory birds in your cities! Peregrine falcons, bald eagles, ospreys, merlins, all kinds of neat stuff that prey on the abundance of "vermin" species that cities have. Eagles will be in cities along waterways, like my own!

skidoos249 karma

No question. I just wanted to say this is one of, if not, the best AMAs I have ever had the pleasure to see. Thank you.

Unidan311 karma

Haha, really? Why's that?

Thank you for the very kind compliment, cheers!

Threemor179 karma

Dude. You're funny, knowledgable, you give full answers and not one liners, you respond to responses, you're like the wet dream of AMAs. Tell THAT to your significant other.

Unidan248 karma

I will.

ioneeuropa22 karma

Thoughtful answers and lots of them.

Unidan21 karma

This might be the first time I've ever been called thoughtful.

birdguy244 karma

Other ornithologist here:

How excited are you about some of the new conservation work looking to bring extinct species back to life?


How great would it be to get the Passenger Pigeon, Dodo, Carolina Parakeet, and many other back?!

Unidan663 karma

It'd be pretty neat, that's for sure. Whether we could reintroduce them without restoring their habitat is what concerns me!

You might find this of interest, I recently got to go behind the scenes at Cornell's Lab of Ornithology and put together this little album of some of their extinct birds:


SexyEyebrowMan319 karma

Will the newly un-extinctified passenger pigeon ride on carrier pigeons?

Unidan229 karma

I have to admit, I chuckled at this.

pencil_pusher235 karma

I've recently become a fan / slight (slight!) stalker.

Now, I need to think of a biology unrelated question to ask...

If you had the opportunity to travel to a new life supporting planet (in cold storage, or however it'd work...), with all the materials you needed to set up a lab and work there, would you? Even if it involved not coming back to earth?

Unidan488 karma

I'm okay with that, I am always welcoming to some new stalkers!

Hmm, I probably wouldn't, if it meant never coming back to Earth! As much as I'd love to be world famous for being the first person to live on Mars or something like that, that fame means nothing to me in comparison to being with friends and loved ones.

That said, there's probably some crazy fuck out there who would gladly do this.

pencil_pusher96 karma

I thought so! I mean, there is just so much about this plant that we don't know or understand. Like oceans.

It seems like we've developed an almost symbiotic relationship with cries, are there any other animals we've done this with? (Outside of domestic pets)

Unidan297 karma

Humans have a symbiotic relationship with a particular type of bird called the Honeyguide!

Here's an awesome video about them!

pencil_pusher66 karma

Amazing! I'm glad to hear that we can coexist with nature, and not simply harm it which I hear too much about.

I've thought up another question if you don't mind, this one is about my dog. He is a special fellow, a border collie/German Shepard. He refuses to go after any animals that entire the yard, and will very much so leave them alone. However, when we are on a walk he will lunge after almost anything that moves (today it was marmots). Did I accidentally do something to condition him out of removing small pest animals at home? Or is this common dog behaviour? (Pest animals as in mice, chickens, and other guys).

Even a random guess at this point would be great, thanks!

Unidan192 karma


He may just be uneasy with a new environment, so feels more aggressive outside of his usual territory.

Similarly, he might assume you as the leader of the "house" territory, thus waiting for you to make the first move on your homestead.

That'd be my random guess!


How dangerous is a cassowary?

Can I actually survive on water from cacti in the desert?

Do peacocks actually shit as much as they breathe?

If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be?

How easy is it to train half a dozen stray dogs, a house of mice (side question: what is the name for a group of mice?), about a dozen or so songbirds native to America and a tiger?

What the fuck is up with seahorses?

Unidan475 karma

How dangerous is a cassowary

Very. They have a ridiculously sharp talon that could easily disembowel a person powered by an extremely muscular leg. Many ratites are equally dangerous.

Big shoutout to my friends over at /r/cassowary!

Can I actually survive on water from cacti in the desert?

Probably not to definitely not, depending on the cactus that you're trying! Cacti certainly have water, but they defend it heavily!

If you were to cut open a barrel cactus, you'd be very disappointed with the "water" that was inside of it. It would be in the form of a viscous slime that you would not want to drink, or even chew.

Other desert plants contain milky sap or latex, that can be quite painful to ingest. Some will burn you on contact. I actually just made this video showing the latex that comes out of an African milk tree, for example. The latex contains inflammatory agents, while others can contain things like tannins (which cause the dry feeling in your mouth when you drink red wine) which will bind up protein and make it indigestible, so you'd actually make yourself thirstier and hungrier.

If you were a bird, what kind of bird would you be?

Southern Screamer. I just like the name. Maybe a lyrebird, so I could mess with people more often.

How easy is it to train half a dozen stray dogs, a house of mice (side question: what is the name for a group of mice?), about a dozen or so songbirds native to America and a tiger?

Easy at first with the dogs, and then exponentially harder.

The collective term for a group of mice is a "mischief of mice."

What the fuck is up with seahorses?

They're weird guys. The usual fact is, of course, that the males "have the babies," but in all honesty, males are the ones doing the majority of the parenting in fish.

Why is that? Because they're the last ones with the babies! Fish are externally fertilized, so once the females lay the eggs, the males have to fertilize them, making them the last ones to have them in their care. This has led to selection for them to become the main "caretakers."

Seahorses simply have an extremely intense version of this!

whisperingsage71 karma

With something like a lyrebird, if they make the sounds of so many other species and other things found in the forest, how do their mates actually find them?

Or are those other songs and noises interspersed into their actual song?

Unidan168 karma

The whole repertoire is how they find their mates, so a female will evaluate the male based on a whole bunch of different songs, the more varied and interesting, the better.

I believe the bird has its own "base" call, too, but it gets modified with all the other sounds it incorporates.


Oh my god that bird. I want one and then I want someone else to take care of it after I get annoyed with all the noise.

Follow-up question: would it be easier to fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?

Thanks for the informative response! Now I can rest easily at night.

Unidan44 karma

100 duck-sized horses, for sure.

Have you ever fought a duck? Just a regular duck? Or, failing that, a swan? I have. It's awful.

Trying to fight one the size of a horse would be a nightmare! Just imagine a duck the size of a horse. Huge keel for flapping its 20 foot wingspan, probably enough to break your bones if it hit you.

Plus, the honking.

Take the loudest duck you've ever heard and scale it up until its honking is like an airhorn with the depth of Barry White.


I thought of anyone you would know a duck's weak spot.

Unidan73 karma

The genitals.

Ducks are one of the few birds to have external genitalia, so hit em where it counts.

fabulous_frolicker79 karma

Do peacocks actually shit as much as they breathe?

Since he didn't answer that one I'll help you out with it, yes. I used to live in an area with a lot of peacocks, there was always shit on the roof and driveway. And they like to lay their eggs in places where I will accidentally knock them over so my dog will eat it.

Unidan171 karma

Oh wow, I completely skipped over that. My bad!

Yes, they poop quite a bit. The white is actually uric acid, as birds have high water conservation aimed kidneys, so it comes out as a dry mass. The colored part is the feces.


Where did you live where there were a lot of peacocks?

fabulous_frolicker44 karma

Florida, they roamed the streets in packs, and watched you while you bathe.

Unidan102 karma


fabulous_frolicker37 karma

It's really weird when it's night time and you can see the faint outline of one sitting there.

Unidan37 karma

That would be weird.

dezzie192 karma

I say I've quit reddit for good, come back and you're a power user.

God dammit, Ben. God fucking dammit.

Fuck you, you get no question. But we can spoon sometime.

Unidan235 karma

Deal with it.

I'm going to literally beat you to death this summer.

NeverNix37 karma

Take pictures! You know, for science.

Unidan71 karma


mileylols173 karma

Would you rather fight 100 snake-sized Costa Ricas or 1 Costa Rica sized snake?

Unidan685 karma

I'll pick the 100 snake-sized Costa Ricas, as Costa Rica has no standing military.


captain_zavec112 karma

I always thought that fact was really cool.

Unidan160 karma

Yup, they're a pretty neat country!

iNeedchocolate165 karma

Have you ever been to Australia? Too many birds over there. I'm scared of them because kookaburras stole my pork bun :(

Reavers_Go4HrdBrn149 karma

I have you tagged as "Thinks rocks are people" after your post the piure that was on WTF. What is the one biology fact you know that is hardest to get people to believe?

Unidan776 karma

That evolution isn't a directional process and that human intelligence isn't the pinnacle of it.

sassychupacabra189 karma

ok you've officially been upgraded to actually my hero.

Unidan238 karma

Haha, I try my best!

jcamilo704 karma

What's the pinnacle of it thus far, then?

Unidan5 karma

Literally nothing.

Unidan263 karma

This is a neat little bot. Thanks for joining my AMA, mister!

sassychupacabra135 karma

What's the scariest thing that's happened to you out in the field? Funniest?

Also you manage to actually make me grin and laugh you day-brightener, you.

Unidan461 karma


I was in Costa Rica, working in a former banana plantation when a Tico worker in front of me called out that he found a terciopelo. That's a fer-de-lance, for those that may know it as that. Bothrops asper. Here's a picture of what their bite can do to a person (NSFL). That's after a two-week treatment with antibiotics, but no antivenom.

So the guys yells that he found one. I cut down a banana tree to get to him, but as I lift the trunk, there's my own viper right under the tree. I had my machete out so I cut it to pieces.

I want to say I cut it up like a badass (not that you should ever, ever try to kill a snake, in fact, as someone commented below, stepping backwards is a much better way to avoid a strike), but it was more like I hacked at it like a chimpanzee while trying not to shit my pants. I felt bad for killing the guy, but when the nearest hospital is four hours away by dirt road, I don't take chances.

The funniest?

Last summer my lab mate and I were working in a wetland with cows. They get in the way a lot, so we chase them off. We went to chase one off, until we realized it was a bull. We had to run through a wetland to escape and jumped into an experimental plot to hide. It was funny in retrospect.

EDIT: I hope in no way that I'm coming off as advocating for killing snakes, so I apologize if people got that impression!

Noxwood89 karma

I hovered over that link. It was blue, and I had hover zoom, and now I am scarred.

Unidan150 karma


sassychupacabra2 karma

Oh gosh that first one is horrifying and the second got a good laugh out of me. Thanks for sharing and thanks for doing what you do! I would never be dedicated enough to brave the little (and big) horrors you come across out there.

Unidan3 karma

Haha, glad I could evoke such emotion! You're quite welcome, thanks for asking!

better-off-ted104 karma

I'll probably get buried, but I've always wondered: What's the deal with sloths?

Unidan293 karma

I'll dig you out, no worries!

They're cool little guys! They move super slow because they subsist on such low-grade plant matter! They also come down to the ground to poop and move so slowly that their fur is covered in algae!

I saw a couple in Costa Rica, they're great because once you spot them, they just stay there.

OmnibusPrime95 karma

I can't wait to check out your videos, but I sort of fell into this thread by accident and I'm so damn tired.... but I have a burning question.

As I understand it, Varroa destructor mites typically enter honeybee colonies on drones. The female scurries toward drone cells, favorable because of the extra room. She hides at the bottom of the cell, snacking on the prepupa. Sixty hours after the cell is capped, the female mite lays an egg which will be male. She will then lay a clutch of other eggs, one every 30 hours, which will all hatch as female. The females all mate with the male. When the bee emerges, the mated females leave and are transferred through the colony, while the male and any immature females remain in the cell.

How the hell are these inbred devilspawn able to evolve? A virgin queen bee might mate with her "half brother," but she also mates with as great a number of drones as possible so there's some genetic diversity. It seems less of an issue if her half-brother is only 1/16th of her available genetic bank. Where does mutation/genetic diversity come in on the Varroa life cycle?

When I asked this question years ago at bee school, they just said "because" a few times. I get the same answer now. What am I missing?

Unidan215 karma

Good question!

The mites are haplodiploid, which allows the single female to produce offspring without mating, however, this is actually somewhat irrelevant.

Don't forget that its not always just a single mite that may infect a colony! There may be mites from different areas converging on a single bee colony, so you could have gene flow occurring there.

Even if they don't cross with other mites, that's not the only mechanism for evolution, there's also genetic drift and mutation, too!

It's possible that genetic mutations can arise that quickly sweep the population (because almost all offspring are guaranteed to have that mutated allele, as you say), so fluctuations may be quick and sweep completely in this species. There could also be methylation and epigenetic effects on these guys, too!

That said, even if they don't get new genetic combinations, is that necessarily a bad thing? Their strategy works and they may be under no pressure to evolve any differently!

PoWn3d_0704113 karma

I understood some words!

Unidan193 karma

Let me know what you need defined!

PoWn3d_070431 karma

You're such a good guy, Unidan. If anyone can get ANYONE excited about Biology, it's you. I actually have you tagged as 'Excited Ecologist' because it has a better ring.

I've also upvoted you 36 times thus far xD

Unidan89 karma

D'aww, shucks!

yabadass88 karma

Are fractals a common occurrence throughout nature? What, in your opinion, is their relevance if any?

Unidan206 karma

Yes, they are, actually!

A lot of papers will refer to Mandelbrot sets and "self-design" when talking about restoration practices.

The goal is to make a pattern at some local level and hopefully let the natural community replicate that pattern as it expands outwards. I've seen this done in wetlands and it seems to hold true pretty nicely. So if you're looking at a ten by ten meter plot of land, you'll see a certain composition of plant species and if you zoom out to the hectare level, you'll see a similar composition.

blueshirt2187 karma

If you were the host of a science show a la Bill Nye the Science Guy, what would you name said show?

Unidan545 karma

I feel like I'd be forced to call it Unidan the Biology Man.

Gilgifax82 karma

I love you

or in question form

I love you?

Unidan182 karma

Yes, you do!

And I, you.

MooJersey81 karma

Okay question: Is there any animal you are actually afraid of? (snakes, lizards, spiders?)

Unidan313 karma

I am probably most afraid of flying insects, especially when they're not predictable fliers. Things like houseflies drive me nuts when they're in my house.

hinduguru80 karma

I read an article in Scientific American today about Asian Ants and Argentinian Ants. Apparently there's a massive ant war going on between the two. Just how dangerous are Asian ants? It was a short article but I did read that they are a huge danger to North American ecosystems

Unidan222 karma

The main danger to Western ecosystems from the East has nothing to do with their inherent biology in most cases, but, rather, their context.

These are organisms that evolved under completely separate circumstances, so when they come to a new context, they are ecologically "freed" from things like predators and disease until things can adapt to them.

So while native ants struggle against diseases at home, these ants can easily invade, disease and predator free and compete against them directly.

Also, in general, Asian species tend to do better as exotic invaders as many of the species are tropical, which usually have much more competition involved in their evolution than those in North America. This is reflected in plants very readily, where many of our invading plants are Asiatic in origin, for example.

karmanaut79 karma


OdoyleStillRules168 karma

What did you do, look at his post history? I think we all know Unidan.

Unidan156 karma

Haha, that's flattering, I think!

But I sent in some actual proof of my biologist-ness!

Unidan114 karma

Thanks a bunch!

charina9171 karma

Do you have ADHD? Your high energy makes me wonder! It can have it's benefits.

Also, biology being my first love, I have a BS in biology and am interested in fisheries science and wildlife conservation. Do you have any advice on how to get work in this field abroad?

Unidan169 karma

Haha, nope, I'm actually quite a low-key, relaxed guy.

Write into the universities you may want to work in association with. A lot of them will have graduate students who require field workers who I'm sure would love the opportunity to have some extra help.

AhnQiraj65 karma

Were you already passionate by birds as a child ?

Unidan212 karma

I think birds are pretty captivating, for sure, though I certainly am more interested in birds now than I was then.

That said, I was certainly enthralled with dinosaurs, which are intrinsically related, so you could make that claim!

Mastyx63 karma

How is your work like? What do you do?

Asking because I want to do exactly what you do! (As you can see I'm practising with putting exclamations points!)

P.S. You're awesome dude!

Unidan137 karma

It's good!

I do environmental research, taking soil, gas and water samples to trace nutrients through ecosystems, but also do behavioral observations on wild animals. Then, I usually combine the two data sets to try to see if they influence one another, or even potentially cause one another!

A good amount of my time is spent outside, in the field, but there's always analysis to be done once those field observations and samples have been taken, so I run chemical analyses like gas chromatography and flow-injection analysis.

Thanks for the kind words and good luck in your goal!


What's your best biology joke?

Unidan355 karma

What did the male stamen say to the female pistil?

I like your style.

Its_the_Fuzz163 karma

Have no idea what those are, laughs anyway

Unidan119 karma

Stamen, pistil and style are all names for reproductive parts of plants :D


That was pretty good.

Unidan59 karma

Thanks, I'll be here all night.

taps mic

Diaper_cocktail58 karma

Another question: Have you read Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine's "Last chance to see"? And if you have how old were you and did it influence your academic career?

Unidan135 karma

I haven't read that book, but I've read the Hitchhiker series, of course. I'd argue he sees the world with an environmental viewpoint. I also identify strongly with his bizarre humor, it's great!

What's that book about?

Diaper_cocktail72 karma

Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine, a zoologist, embark on a trip around the world trying to encounter potentially extinct fauna, hence the name of the book: Last Chance to see. They focus on the White African Rhinoceros (not sure if there's an Asian one), the Yangtze River dolphin, a believe they also discuss the Mountain Gorilla and, I believe, an Amazonian dolphin as well. But my favourite animal they describe is the New Zealand Kakapo, the world's largest, flightless parrot.

As expected Douglas Adams is hilarious. I read this back in 1992 (it was published that year I guess) and recently Stephen Fry retraced Douglas Adam's steps along with Mark Carwardine with the intent of updating the perilous situations of those animals on the verge of extinction. You have to read it!!!

Unidan97 karma

That's excellent, I'll check it out!

dickparrot58 karma

What do you see the role of scientists as within the policy-making process? Does taking a specific and vocal political stance detract from being an objective scientist?

Follow-up: What do you see as the greatest threats/priorities for society in the near future?

Unidan164 karma

I wish they had a bigger role, unfortunately, politics often gets in the way. It's difficult to face the influence of money, and yes, I'd say getting too involved can be detrimental. That said, if you're not skewing your results or setting up your experiments to get the results you want to get, then it should be fine.

Disconnect with nature worries me a lot. Most people have no idea how their food is grown, or when foods are grown. To the average person, it's completely normal to get strawberries year round, or to have mangoes in the winter. There's very little thought into what that entails.

Similarly, people are very short-termed in their thinking. I actually believe that has to do with our evolutionary past. You don't evolve a species easily that takes into account something fifteen years down the line, and things like climate change are, essentially, right in our blind spot.

Fliffs45 karma

Thanks for finally doing the ama!

What was the most miserable situation you've been in on a biology related trip, and if it's different what was your most memorable experience?

If you could have any one scientific mystery answered by some kind of lab geenie, what would it be?

What's the weirdest critter, plant or animal, you've ever seen?

Does your username mean anything?

Unidan135 karma

Most miserable? Replanting trees in Costa Rica. When you think replanting trees, you're imagining an area with nothing around you. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The areas we replanted were dense with vines, poisonous snakes (terciopelos and eyelash vipers, and I ended up killing a terciopelo) and on a 45-degree incline of mud.

It was probably 95 degrees with 95% humidity at its coolest. That sucked.

My scientific mystery, for myself, at least, would to be able to know the exact position of every bird I was interested in. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to locate a radio tagged bird. It can take hours to find one.

Weirdest critter? A caecilian. They are amphibians that have gone a very strange evolutionary route and currently resemble something more like a worm than what you may think when you think "amphibian."

Yes, it does! It was the name my father read off of our "Uniden" phone when we first got the internet.

neropow44 karma

As a biologist, do you believe in creationism or evolution?

Unidan210 karma

They're not necessarily mutually exclusive!

Evolution is simply a process of changing gene frequency in a population over time, and doesn't necessarily imply anything about the creation of life, or why it was created.

That said, I certainly don't believe in creationism, so I'll pick evolution all the way!

UnhWut8 karma

No offense, but isn't this is redefining the term Creationism into Deism?

Creationism has to do with the creation of species, not just the origin of life. It is pretty antithetical to evolution which states the creation of new species is performed by natural processes.

Unidan23 karma

Sure, if you want to define it strictly as that, then no, I don't buy into creationism in the slightest.

Even without next generation sequencing techniques, it is well established, among every DNA type that we have ever looked at, that we all have come from a common ancestor. Even more remarkably, a single common ancestor.

jts503944 karma

Three days ago I suggested you do an AMA. Where's my karma?

Unidan35 karma

Here you go!

lilyth8840 karma

Tell me something interesting about Canadian Geese. We get them all over Wisconsin and I don't know a ton about them.

Unidan132 karma

They're extremely numerous because people accidentally recreate their natural habitats, which are basically big flats of grass.

bikeswithkites38 karma

Hey Unidan! I think you are fantastic, and I'm always excited to see your posts. I'm an anthropology grad student with a biological focus (who used to major in wildlife bio) so as you can probably tell, I'm a bio fan. I might get the chance to go to Costa Rica and see some primates myself next year!

As for my question...elephants and gorillas are my favorite animals, what are yours? :)

Unidan108 karma

Awesome, good luck with your degree! Go to Costa Rica, it's truly amazing. You might hate monkeys when you come out though, they are malicious creatures.

As for my favorites, I'm quite partial to quetzals and pangolins!

williemcbride29 karma

How are you, Unidan? How are you feeling today? I hope you're having a good day. Everyone deserves to have good days!

Unidan41 karma

My day's been pretty good!

How're you?

MooJersey28 karma

You are fantastic. I am bookmarking your username just so I can ask you nature related questions in the future. Glad to meet you :)

Unidan53 karma

Sounds good, and the pleasure is all mine!

Dr_Cares28 karma

How do you take your bourbon?

Unidan82 karma

With a single ice cube, usually.

I'm currently sitting on a bottle of Willett's Pot Still Reserve and Wild Turkey's Rare Breed. I shared a bottle of Willett's Rye with a friend a few weeks ago, and highly recommend it!

SirDinhDang26 karma

Unidan, you're freaking awesome and I love reading your posts.

With that said, my roommate is currently finishing his masters and wants to get into a field similar to yours. Do you have any advice that I can stream along to him?

Unidan64 karma

Get experience. Like...right now.

Try to get as much field experience as he possibly can. Did he do a Masters with research, or a non-research Masters?

dingobaby9224 karma

Forgive me, but I'm currently studying for an exam for one of my anthropology classes, and seeing how you're working in ecology/environmental thingies...
Do you work with conservation groups, or conservation projects in general? If so, how do you feel about the current set up of these groups and the work they're doing (as in the people vs. "nature" mentality, or that people are inherently bad for "nature")?
Sorry if that didn't make sense or doesn't apply!
P.S. I think you're probably the coolest guy ever. I have you tagged as Sloth King and am always super excited to read your posts :)

Unidan63 karma

Yup, I am a member of the Sierra Club, and I'm a member of several local groups for my own area.

I think they're great! The work they do is usually for the public good and takes people into consideration, though won't completely cave to their needs over the natural world. I think the major view is to try to integrate people with nature without nature always getting screwed.

Minimal impact, I believe, is the goal for most of the conservation groups. They understand people want to use and see natural resources, versus, say, a preservationist view that may literally keep people away.

elithunder22 karma

Have you ever been to the Georgia Aquarium?

Unidan61 karma


But I was seven at the time, so all I really remember was the cool tube thingy.

elithunder23 karma

Wait. Now I'm confused. How old are you now?

Unidan60 karma

Haha, why was that confusing?

Frankyminion12 karma

So what are you personal views on pythons in the Everglades? I have never been down there myself but i know people who have specifically went down there for a week to look for them and found none. And yet news sources say they are being over run. I may be biased but i am extremely pro-snake ownership (within reason of course) and would like to hear your opinion if you have one. It may not change my views but i am still interested. Thanks for your time.

Unidan25 karma

I assume you're talking about the Burmese python outbreak there? I haven't been to the Everglades, though I may get the opportunity soon!

I'm all for the culling, as much as I love snakes! I've handled many pythons, but the main reason I'd support the cull is due to the loss of species, especially birds, in the Everglades. It's a huge habitat spot down there and it's a major refuge for many wetland-nesting birds.

BedtimeforBonzos12 karma

I propose a new project for you: how about daily "Crow Facts?" Way cooler than "Cat Facts" I know you have nothing better to do and, well, is there such a thing as too many crow facts?

Thanks, I always enjoy reading your comments.

Unidan51 karma

No, no there is not a thing as too many crow facts!

Here's one: they have blue eyes until they get older. Some of them are quite striking.

BedtimeforBonzos20 karma

You're hired! You start tomorrow!

Unidan35 karma


outfoxthefox10 karma

I like you. :)

Unidan14 karma

I like you, too.

outfoxthefox10 karma

Aw, shucks! :3

Unidan14 karma


sephera10 karma

what is your current project?

Do you have a favourite species of bird?

Will you tell me a joke?

Unidan22 karma

I have a few, one is working on urban pollutants, another is working with American crows and another is in a wetland.

I'm quite fond of the Resplendent Quetzal!


How many surrealists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

sephera2 karma

I actually knew about the crows from a previous convo :) What kind of wetland? I have a special place in my heart for fens! There is one near my childhood home that has Lady Slipper orchids, Leafy White Bog Orchids and Pitcher plants, it's awesome.

And my sister is Guatemalan, so I have actually painted a picture of a Quetzal :)

And I dunno, how many?

Unidan4 karma

That's awesome!

It's an emergent wetland, lots of bulrushes, some cat tail, lots of mints!

That's awesome! Isn't it the national bird or something like that? I saw one in Costa Rica while on a hike, and it was great, though quite far away.

As for the joke:


Dr_Cares2 karma

Holy shit that bird is interesting. Until as late as 1992, they would kill themselves soon after being captured or caged. I can't imagine zoo protocol was completely inept during the 80's and early 90's, so is there any particular reason the zoo in Mexico was able to nullify these suicidal tendencies? Awesome looking birds.

Unidan4 karma

They require a huge amount of space, as the article says, sometimes up to ten hectares! A hectare being 10,000 square meters!

Birds in captivity will tear their feathers out if distressed, rip at their own skin, pace, refuse to eat, etc., so this isn't too surprising, though I will admit, I didn't realize quetzals did that until I re-read that tidbit!

I'm assuming the Mexican zoo has tried to enrich the bird and keep it happy as possible with lots of space!

retneftw9 karma

do you know anything about mushrooms?

Unidan16 karma

A bit, but more about their biology and ecology, I'm not very good at identification aside from some common ones.

retneftw8 karma

Wow you answered two of my questions within a minute! Thank you so much!

Unidan45 karma

When I say I'm going to answer everyone in the thread, I fucking mean it.

mrpirate238 karma

Would it make sense the believe in micro-evolution without believing in macro-evolution?

Unidan28 karma

In my opinion, no, the two are intrinsically linked.

I've never heard someone use those terms within the scientific community unless they are talking about someone's defense of intelligent design, or something along those lines.

Smellzlikefish7 karma

Great AMA! My question is a two-fer. 1) Marine biologist and underwater photographer here, so naturally I have to ask if you have considered doing an episode on marine conservation/biology? I'd be open and stoked to collaborate. 2) Also, have you ever had the chance to visit the incredible avian fauna on remote islands (Palmyra, northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Galapagos, etc)? I HIGHLY recommend it.

Unidan12 karma

I haven't, and haven't done much at all with marine systems!

And no, I haven't seen those! It's every biologists dream to trace Darwin's journey, so, of course, I'd love the opportunity if it arises!

Do you have any photos that you're particularly proud of? I'd love to check it out!

kingpugster6 karma

Hey! I'm looking into Marine Ecology, and I've been wondering, is ecology a field that you feel will become larger/more popular, as time goes on? I know that with all of the pollution/waste going into the ocean that there must be a lot of spots open for new ecologists. Thanks!

Unidan8 karma

Yes, absolutely, more and more people are becoming concerned with the environment and ecologists will be needed to assess how policy should be directed!

Diaper_cocktail6 karma

David Attenborough or David Suzuki? Or both?

PS: You are fucking cool!

Unidan17 karma

Attenborough. By a landslide.

The guy is such a legend, I don't even need to mention it. But I am. Because he's that much of a fucking legend.

Diaper_cocktail4 karma

Agreed. I just added David Suzuki cause I'm Canadian and shit.

Unidan10 karma

He's great, but it's just hard to compare to a lifetime of glory!

CowsWithGuns3045 karma

What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

On a biology topic I just love that when you feed a ruminant you are not feeding them (unless with "bypass" feeds), you are feeding the "bugs" that live in the rumen - I love and work with cattle.

For the benefit of others, the flora that lives in the rumen breaks down the feed the ruminant eats and supplies the ruminant with the resulting nutrients. "Bypass" feeds are ones that are protected from the rumen and are digested by the rest of tract similar to humans.

So, oh excitable one, what other seemingly weird and wonderful relationships exist between animals/organisms?

In return, here is a picture of one of "the boys" being bribed with an apple. http://i.imgur.com/tOSJLcu.jpg

Unidan11 karma

About 11 meters per second. Seriously.

Also, I love that you work with cows! They're fun, dumb little guys. I work with some in one of my wetland projects, here's a photo of one of the cuter ones last summer: http://i.imgur.com/cTLRC.jpg

There's all kinds of weird relationships! There's a good one with gobies and shrimp. The shrimp is nearly blind, and the goby protects it in exchange for little morsels of food the shrimp farms nearby! They actually "hold hands" when they walk, it's quite adorable.

Diaper_cocktail6 karma

David Attenborough to the rescue!


I uploaded this for my wife when she was in Portugal, just to hear her laugh over the phone!

Unidan8 karma

Thanks for the link, I had no idea there was a video! Haha, I love these little guys.

fabulous_frolicker5 karma

How did you get into your field of work?

Unidan11 karma

Mainly from networking with professors in college.

fabulous_frolicker6 karma

Maybe what they said about talking to your professors in college was true. I'll get on that next semester.

Unidan10 karma

Do it!

NonY4505 karma

I notice you said you were a comedian and a cook for a long-ass (my words) time, among other things. At what point in your life did you go back to school to become a biologist or did you already have that degree before you ventured into soup-making and joke-making?

Unidan9 karma

I worked as a cook to pay for college, so once I had full-funding for my PhD, I stopped that.

The comedy stuff I ran during my undergrad and Masters, and now I do it for fun when I can!

urquanlord885 karma

Confronted with news about Ecuador's auctioning off the Amazon, what do you think are practical steps for governments to preserve ecosystems without staying impoverished?

Unidan14 karma

I actually thought their idea was pretty clever in a way!

They literally blackmailed the world, which, to be honest, is one of the few ways to get people to listen.

These countries want to industrialize and improve their quality of life, but without utilizing their resources and selling them to first world countries for profit, it won't happen. This is a way of selling quality of environment, essentially viewed as a luxury good, to first world countries to skip the middleman and force a win-win situation.

The Costa Rican government had a good system, which was to try to eliminate erosion from cattle ranching by essentially subsidizing it. They paid ranchers not to farm those lands, and to preserve them. Costa Rica's biggest incomes is from ecotourism, so by protecting those assets, they essentially monetized them in a different way other than ranching.


Why do animals and plants (other lifeforms??? like molds) create more of themseleves? Say for example... a Dandilion (your average run of the mill flower or... weed to some)... Springtime: sprouts and grows up, gets polinated, it dries out dies (in winter)... and seeds blown away creating more Dandilions... next Spring. In the Animal Kingdom... are born, mature, have critters themseleves, of which depending on spieces take off from the cave/nest/tree; the older (original) animals dies... WHY? do lifeforms recreate themseleves (or at least offspring that are similar to themseleves?)... What is the point of creating "others"?

Unidan10 karma

So what's the meaning of life, essentially?

That's up for debate!

What we do know is that most every life form we find tends to try to replicate itself, or part of itself to the next generation.

So, as best we can explain, the meaning of life is to propagate, well, life!

jewsian1014 karma

Hi Unidan! What made you decide that you wanted to study ecology/biology, and particularly ornithology? When did you discover your passion for this specific career?

As a college student interested in biology but not sure where to go from there, what kind of advice can you give?

What is your favorite thing to cook?

What is your wildest story from Costa Rica?

Unidan10 karma

I've always wanted to work in biology, ever since I was little. As for ornithology, I honestly didn't get into it until my PhD. I was kind of thrown into a collaboration with a famous ornithologist and picked it up as I went! I had taken classes in ornithology beforehand, but had never done research in the field.

Take all the classes you can! Go for hikes! Volunteer with grad students to do field research, they'll take you up as free labor, I guarantee it, and you'll have lots to put on a resume!

Favorite thing to cook? I do enjoy a good strip steak. I also like baking a whole lot. If you want the best brownie recipe I've ever made, try this one. It's stupidly fattening.

Wildest story?

Here's the link to where I answered that!

sofaking20014 karma


We will see...

Unidan4 karma


sofaking20013 karma


Unidan4 karma

When I say I'm going to reply to everyone, I mean it.

sofaking20013 karma

I like this guy.

Unidan4 karma

Damn straight.

theinklings4 karma

I recently switched my major to Ecology, and I am loving it! The Earth is just so cool! Anyway, I really admire you and your posts, and I hope to one day be as knowledgable as you are :)

Unidan7 karma

Welcome to the winning team!

Thanks a bunch!

POMB4 karma

Hello Unidan. I love Biology. Its hard not be passionate about it.

What do you think about Ecological Simulations?

Unidan6 karma

You mean modeling out ecosystems mathematically?

KarlC63 karma

I am so glad you took up this idea :D

Unidan4 karma

And I'm glad you came to say so!

AquaPony3 karma

So do you still believe that rocks are people too? Because thats why I have you tagged as.

Unidan4 karma

Only the piure!

HorseHeadMaskMan3 karma

If science is so accurate, why do I have the head of a horse?

Christians- 0 Atheists- 0 Shrek- 999,999,999

Unidan4 karma

Because Shrek's already covering the donkey angle.

wallflower1512 karma

What is the most incredible fact you know?

Unidan5 karma

We've evolved millions and millions of years to agree to hate on Justin Bieber.

Indisputable fact.

972222 karma

If overfishing would wipe out msot species of fish as we know it/severly reduce most known fish populations, what would the world look like and what are your predictions on it's devopment.

P.S.: I study Biology, any particular research you feel I should check out?

Unidan5 karma

I feel like it would be difficult to truly remove all fish from the ocean, but even removing the fish we eat would be extremely disastrous.

The fish that we typically like to eat are large predatory fish, things like salmon or swordfish, for example. These are top-down controllers for other fish, so removing them from the water allows other populations to boom.

With that, you lose things that those little fish eat, like phytoplankton and zooplankton or other fish, or other nekton that you rarely hear about.

With that, you could potentially throw off the oceanic primary production, which could have interesting climate effects! Within the oceans, things like whales, which rely on fish and zooplankton, would also suffer quite a bit.

972222 karma

Thank you for your comprehensive answer. Best of wishes of you.

Unidan3 karma

No problem! Have a good one.

Diaper_cocktail2 karma

Never forget a rubber ducky when walking through a forest. It can come in handy!!!

Like so

On a serious note, what are your views on cryptozoology? I guess that real life is exciting enough.

Unidan4 karma

Haha, there is some legitimate cryptozoology that I can support, but we've made calls on endangered species that we now say are "extinct" with so much less investigation than what has gone into finding Bigfoot.

Some people just can't give it a rest and will make evidence fit their views.

Derek26972 karma

What is it about the study of life that makes it so captivating? I plan on majoring in Bio ( which I love), but I'd like your opinion.

Unidan6 karma

The interconnectedness of it all!

Almost all life has, in some form, passed through the trophic levels and back again.

joey123mo2 karma

I was wondering, you've got a bunch of degrees in a bunch of different fields (bunch!!). How long did it take you to acquire all of this knowledge? How much schooling did you endure?

Unidan4 karma

In terms of college education? It takes roughly a decade.

Though many can do it in much, much less!

KoreyYrvaI2 karma

As an ecologist if you could choose a single type of ecology, or location, to study with essentially endless time and funding, what would you choose and why?

(New fan, here, so glad you did this.)

Unidan3 karma

I'd love to study the tropics more. There's just so much to see.

Not sure if I'd want to sweat my ass off all the time, though, so I might have to choose somewhere a bit drier, or cooler. I'd love to see Colorado sometime and see the alpine forests there.

animalcrackers12 karma

I have always wanted to trek though a rain-forest! Preferably the Amazon Jungle. The eco-system is unlike anything else on this planet so I assume you must see some rather unique specimens there.

My question is, what's the strangest thing you have encountered in the jungles of Costa rica? Have you been to the Amazon? Any plans to go there?

You are so fortunate to be a biologist! If I could do it all again, it's what I would choose as a career. Now I'm off to read your blog.. :)

Unidan5 karma

We actually rediscovered this Phillip's glass frog that hadn't been seen in the area for nearly three years! If you were to see underneath, you could see the frog's heart beating through its skin. Really wild!

I haven't been to the Amazon, though I'd go in a heartbeat if I could! I'd really like to see Madagascar or head to Borneo as my next "jungle trip," though I may end up going to Thailand with my SO relatively soon!

There's still time! Quit everything and become a biologist!