For many of us, summer is the season where we can kick back and take a break – whether it’s on the beach or in the comforts of our own backyards (or, if you live in the swamp we call Raleigh, the air-conditioned bliss of your living room…). The kids are out of school and our gardens, parks and favorite wild places are buzzing with life.

Summer is also a FANTASTIC time for getting yourself, your friends and loved ones involved in doing some SCIENCE!

Over the last couple weeks you may have noticed that posting here on the Your Wild Life blog has been a tad sluggish. Some of us (ahem, me) were out on vacation while others were busy leading summer education programs, participating in scientific meetings, and in the field doing research and collecting data. We’ll share more about all of these activities over the course of the coming weeks.

I’ll admit that I tried not to think too much about work as I explored parts of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest with my family. Yet I found that opportunities to participate in scientific research just kept popping up and I couldn’t help myself!

Below I want to share some of my experiences to inspire you to think about seizing your own summertime opportunities to participate in science.

Spitting for science

While seeing the sights in Seattle, we stumbled upon the Seattle Science Festival EXPO. There were over a hundred booths and exhibits featuring hands-on activities, interactive displays (for example, I was lucky to find and walk through a “human colon”), and opportunities to participate in research. In fact, at one of the booths I contributed to the Craniofacial Features Normative Database maintained by researchers at Seattle Children’s Hospital – I spit what seemed like a ridiculous amount of saliva into a tube, answered a brief questionnaire, and sat down for measurements of my head and face (even had a 3-D picture of my noggin taken). The goal of this project is to help researchers quantify normal facial features, providing a baseline for investigating craniofacial conditions like cleft lip. My spit will be used to look for genes that contribute to variations in facial features.

Be on the lookout for other science festivals or outdoor exhibitions near you (or your vacation spot). Lots of science centers, museums and outreach organizations, including Your Wild Life, like to attend these sorts of events (even if they aren’t entirely focused on science) to spread the good word about our work and share opportunities for you to get involved in research.

Humpback whale flukes (Photo credit: Holly Menninger)


In Juneau, Alaska, my family hit the water with a few others in quest of humpback whales –a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife adventure. We were lucky to find and observe whales playing, feeding, and breaching the water’s surface to breathe. These magnificent creatures had recently arrived in the food-rich Alaskan waters after a long oceanic trek from their breeding grounds in Hawaii. Our tour guide shared a flipbook of whale fluke photographs, each unique to an individual and used by researchers to track whales over the years. Folks who are lucky enough to get that perfect fluke shot (we, alas, were not) are encouraged to share their photographs with researchers and post them in publicly searchable databases like Flickr.

If whale watching isn’t on your summertime itinerary (like I said, it wouldn’t normally have been on mine), there are a plethora of other citizen science programs out there asking for your wildlife observations: ladybugs, jellyfish, butterflies, fireflies, our very own School of Ants and Camel Cricket projects – the list goes on and on. Check out the links above or visit where you can search for projects according to geography and your critter interest.

Later in our trip, my family and I took a scenic drive along the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. We drove to the top of Mt. Walker to take in the spectacular views it afforded of Puget Sound and the Olympic Range. Much to my delight, I spotted a small swarm of dragonflies – and remembered another great citizen science project: the Dragonfly Swarm Project. Since 2010, my colleague Chris Goforth, aka Dragonfly Woman, has been collecting observations contributed by thousands of citizen scientists about dragonfly swarming behavior. I noted the day, time, location, weather conditions, number of dragonflies and some basic observations about their behavior and the habitat so that I could submit my observations when I returned home (which I just did this morning!).

You can't see the small dragonfly swarm, but it was there (Photo credit: Holly Menninger)

The point here is to be a keen observer – Did you see an interesting natural phenomenon? Take mental notes and pictures, and consider investigating it further – you just might find that your observations could help contribute to research and important new discoveries.

Happy Summer, everyone!