We’ve Got the Funk

**Today’s post is written by Liz Baird, enthusiastic PitStart participant and Director of Education for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.**

I have the privilege of leading educator trips to the tropics. At about Day 4 of hiking in the rainforest, slogging through mud and climbing in caves, a certain odor starts to pervade the bus/cabin/dining hall… and a rousing chorus of “We’ve got the funk, got that jungle funk” is appropriate (apologies to Positive Force). A discussion ensues – What causes that smell? Is it the mud on our clothes? Our dirty socks? Or stuff growing in our damp, sweat-soaked clothes?

Being a part of the “PitStart” crew (where we do not wear antiperspirant, and swab our armpits every day … and then wear antiperspirant, swab, and compare what grows) might help answer a part of that mystery. No matter how much antiperspirant you put on in the jungle, you still sweat. Perhaps the antiperspirant blocks the growth of some of the potentially smelly body bacteria, but do other organisms continue to grow in our clothes? Or maybe the micro-flora and fauna are getting out of balance in this new hotter and more humid environment? Or maybe it has nothing to do with our armpits, and is simply the trapped odors in the clothes that are being released with the heat and humidity.

I don’t know that this initial study will find the answers to the jungle funk question, but I do know that being a PitStart participant makes for interesting conversations. There is nothing like having to stop at a gas station to swab your armpits (with a cooler to keep the collecting devices cold) or using “It is time to swab” as an excuse to leave a meeting.  I just hope that the jungle funk we develop in the tropics doesn’t permeate the lab as our samples grow!

Liz Baird is the Director of Education at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

By |2016-11-22T13:47:32-05:00August 30th, 2012|

About the Author:

Holly Menninger
As Director of Public Science, Holly coordinates our empire of citizen science projects and manages the online science communication here at Your Wild Life. An entomologist by training, she’s a science communicator by passion and practice.


  1. Avatar
    emily March 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm - Reply

    hello! i became aware of your website from an NPR show. fascinating discussion about gut flora, belly button microbes, etc. i am particularly interested as I have been suffering for 9 years from a yet undiagnosed malady. Among the symptoms are terrible GI issues- many food sensitivities which are continuing to grow, and no armpit sweat or odor. In fact the first 2 years of this illness i didn’t sweat at all! I only sweat if i wear a natural deodorant, and only have B.O. if i don’t shower for a couple of days. I would love to participate in your “pit” study if and when you get it figured out. thanks for doing all this research and enlightening our MDs to the world of gut flora and it’s significance in our health. it has taken me years to find MDs who are able to even talk to me, and those that do are stumped.

    • Holly
      Holly March 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm - Reply

      Hi Emily,

      Thanks for contacting us! Stay tuned to our website for new opportunities to participate in the Arm Pit project — we’ll post new information via our blog.

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