Once a year, thousands of evolutionary biologists, students, and educators from all around the world converge on a single city for the annual Evolution meeting. The Evolution meeting is jointly hosted by three professional scientific societies: the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE), the Society of Systematic Biologists (SSB), and the American Society of Naturalists (ASN). Scientific meetings like Evolution provide an opportunity for the scientific community to come together to share ideas and research findings — formally through talks and poster presentations and informally at evening socials and in pubs and restaurants, where these scientific ideas are often scribbled on the back of beer coasters.

This year, Evolution 2014 took place in our own backyard: Raleigh, North Carolina. So what do you do when 2000 scientists interested in evolutionary biology descend on your city?  You sample them for face mites, of course!

On the final day of the meeting, attendees came down to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences for an evening of food, adult beverages, and networking — an event called the Super Social. We seized this event as an opportunity to share Meet Your Mites with our scientific colleagues, sample the meeting’s international attendees (representing over 38 countries!), and demonstrate that one can indeed engage the public in the study of evolutionary biology.

Visitors saw Demodex face mites up-close, posed for photos with their face inside a giant face mite, and, for 102 lucky people, had their faces scraped for science. We specifically sought out international attendees as we’re trying to better understand how human-associated face mite species (and their DNA) vary across the world.

As someone who studied evolutionary biology in graduate school, I must say that there is something particularly awe-inspiring about realizing that another researcher’s data is nestled inside the pores of my own face. I like to imagine that this is what the meeting-goers were also feeling when we sampled their faces.

To see more photos from the event as well as other scenes from around the lab, take a look at our Behind the Scenes Flickr album!


Megan Thommes, a PhD student in the Dunn Lab at NC State University, samples a student for mites during the annual Evolution Meeting. Megan has some evidence that there might be genetic differentiation between mites on people from different countries and is sampling a broader international population to continue to study the evolution of mites.



Dan Fergus samples a participant for mites.



Meeting attendees had the chance to look at live face-mites under a microscope.


Meeting attendees react to the live mites on display.


Lea Shell also put together a video of the sampling event at the Super Social: