Exposing Our Belly Buttons in the Name of Public Science

Photo credit: Jalb, Flickr Creative Commons

Oh man, you’re thinking, WHAT are those wacky Your Wild Life folks up to NOW? (Sometimes, when we have a sec to pause and catch our breaths, we find ourselves asking that very same question.)

Last week, you read about our first published findings from the Belly Button Biodiversity project. We reported that the 60 belly buttons we studied were a veritable jungle of microbial biodiversity. In those navels we found more than 2300 species; eight of those species – we called them oligarchs – were quite frequent and abundant, present in more than 70% of the individuals we sampled. Moreover, these frequent and abundant oligarchs were predictably so.

And yet, as Rob explained, while it’s interesting that we can predict which species of bacteria are frequent and/or abundant in belly buttons in general, we haven’t been able to account for which species are present in any particular belly button.

And that, my friends, is why we want your help!

We’re trying a grand experiment – As you might well know, citizen scientists largely get involved in the data collection phase of scientific research. We’re gonna shake things up a bit: we want, rather we need, your creative and analytical minds to help us. We’re convinced that collectively, you are so much smarter than us. So today, we’re opening up the belly button data for public analysis.

I’ll kick it over to Rob to explain the details.


By |2016-11-22T13:47:30-05:00November 16th, 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
    Jan November 22, 2012 at 3:21 am - Reply

    Have you considered the religion of the participants? Perhaps different religious groups have genetically similar flora. Also, the different religious groups have common traditional foods and drinks that are not eaten as often in the general population.

  2. Avatar
    Lyn Hawkins November 28, 2012 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    re navel flora: there are 2 basic types of people in Australia who can be differentiated by whether they are attractive to mosquitos and sand flies (midges).
    According to ‘sandfly’websites it’s about 50/50 in our population.
    Could the skin microbes change your body odour attractiveness to biting insects? This would be a simple test for your 2 main groups.
    Incidently, anecdotally, those attractive to mosquiotoes and sandflies also acrry the allergy to sandfly bites. so their bites are super itchy and last about 3 weeks whilst the others hardly show any reaction.
    I’m not sutre if this is inherited. I am allergic to sandflies and a mozzie attracter, whilst my husband is not. Neither of my children are allergic to sandflies and mosquitos seldom bite them, but my grandson is allergic as is his father.

  3. Avatar
    Charles Crookenden February 20, 2013 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    What a terrific project. I wonder if lint has anything to do with specific bacteria? My father-in-law and my daughter are legendary in our family for large collections of lint in their respective belly buttons, not to mention a nightly ritual of emptying them before bedtime! Perhaps the combination of different lints and dirty fingers may contribute in some mysterious way. Alternatively, until the age of about 6 years, my daughter always believed that a monster with very sharp teeth lived in my belly button. This would certainly account for varied bacteria since monsters are notoriously messy eaters while like all of us they have other bodily functions that may build up bacterial deposits.

  4. Avatar
    John May 24, 2013 at 9:52 am - Reply

    Showering vs. using a bathtub? Maybe certain bacteria form on the bathtub between washes and this affects what sort of bacteria live in the navel.

Leave A Comment