Welcome to the Jungle

A belly button microbial 'portrait'

We’ve been hinting for weeks now… through our tweets and updates to the Belly Button Biodiversity project website

And now it’s official! We just published our first findings from the Belly Button Biodiversity project in the scientific research journal PLOS ONE (It’s an open access journal so you can read and download the whole thing right here).

We approached the data collected from this first batch of 60 navels much like an explorer approaches a newly discovered patch of rainforest; we started by asking very basic questions, namely what and how many species live there.

Turns out, belly buttons are a jungle of microbial biodiversity: we detected over 2300 species! And get this, only eight of those 2300 species– we call them oligarchs – were quite frequent and abundant, present in more than 70% of the individuals we sampled.

Our fearless leader Rob Dunn shares his thoughts on what these results mean and what mysteries remain to be solved (hint: there are many) in a new post on the Scientific American Guest Blog.

Check out our photo gallery of the oligarchs, those frequent and abundant navel-dwellers, as well as our gallery of belly button bacteria ‘portraits.’ Perhaps yours is in the mix?

And here’s some more great news coverage on the paper from:

And as always, we’re eager to hear what you think – Were the results surprising to you? What factors do you think might explain individual variation in belly button microbes? Join the conversation by commenting below or sharing your thoughts on Twitter #bellybutton.

By |2016-11-22T13:47:31-05:00November 7th, 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
    tammy November 7, 2012 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Would love to be a participant in this study. please advise, this is so interesting.

  2. Avatar
    Heather November 7, 2012 at 11:15 pm - Reply

    Very intriguing topic! Have you thought about how microbial populations on the belly button change over time with particular individuals? I know there was a PNAS paper recently which suggested that bacteria from human skin (hands) could be used for forensic studies. I am wondering how specific these bacteria really are to individuals. I think it could be interesting to observe whether there are differences in biodiversity of belly button microbes when the same individual is sampled at different time points on the order of hours, weeks, or even months.

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    James Coulter November 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    Where do i find my results? I submitted a swab over a year ago…Thanks! Can’t wait to hear…

    • Holly
      Holly November 8, 2012 at 5:18 pm - Reply

      Hey James! If you participated in our project by mailing in your swab, we’re still working on analyzing those results (we’re in the process of extracting and sequencing microbe DNA). We hope to be sharing those results with participants in the next few months. If you participated at a “live” event at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, go to http://www.wildlifeofyourbody.org/?page_id=514 where you can locate your belly button’s bacterial “portrait.”

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    Carmine November 10, 2012 at 1:40 am - Reply

    Did you take samples of cadaver belly buttons to see if there are living bactirium on those and how they differ? Or if the whole community of bactirium on cadavers also die with their hosts? I know this is a little morbid but I am curious if the bactirium are supported by the host or are dependent on each other for survival. I suspect they are supported by the host.

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    Sherry November 10, 2012 at 2:33 am - Reply

    Does the difference in the bacteria from one body to the next have anything to do with evolution? Are the bacteria evolving differently because of the difference in the chemical/biological environment of your body?

  6. Ravtul's Blog – THE CONCEPTUAL PROJECT November 10, 2012 at 11:06 am - Reply

    […] batch of 66 navels much like an explorer approaches a newly discovered patch of rainforest,” said Holly Menninger, Director of Public Science for North Carolina State University. “We started by asking very […]

  7. […] batch of 66 navels much like an explorer approaches a newly discovered patch of rainforest,” said Holly Menninger, Director of Public Science for North Carolina State University. “We started by asking very […]

  8. Avatar
    Olivia Halton January 31, 2013 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    How are you meant to thoroughly clean your belly button?
    What are you meant to use to correctly clean your belly button?

  9. Avatar
    Jennifer Milre April 3, 2013 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    For me your study is voyeuristically fascinating because I don’t have a belly button; it was surgically obliterated by a double umbilical hernia operation when I was 3 1/2, and I have no memory of it.
    I’m sure there are others out there like me, so thanks for exploring the unknown.

  10. […] scientists at Your Wildlife wrote that among all those species, there are some common forms found in most […]

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