About

A successful morel hunter and her haul

UPDATE: As of July 5, 2011, this blog moved the bulk of its activity to Scientific American. Find it now here.

The Short, Short Version

This is a blog about biodiversity and natural history, although I dislike that first term. I think it turns people off to the subject. It’s too often used for platitudes about species richness that tell you nothing about what’s actually out there. I’m here to work on fixing that with a healthy dose of wit, humor, and obscure sci-fi references. Think of this as the MST3K version of biodiversity.

(News 8/2010: Like Anne Hathaway’s second-best bed, this blog was dubbed Second-Best Biodiversity Blog! : ) Hey, I’ll take it.)

I anticipate updates to this blog 1-2 times a week. If I know it will be longer, I will let you know!

The Slightly Less Short Version

Several years ago I worked as a weeder and waterer in a small family-owned garden center. One day a man came in asking for an ostrich fern. I led him back to the shade plants where we kept our selection of about five ferns. As I sorted through the chaos, he remarked, “I had no idea there were so many kinds of ferns!”

According to my copy of “Plant Systematics: A Phylogenetic Approach”, there are about 10,000 fern species. And we are lucky if the public  recognizes there are five.

The discovery of DNA was inarguably important for biology. The revolution it inspired in taxonomy was equally so. But we have lost something in the years since. The Victorians had their flaws, but one thing they did well was natural history. That’s something we don’t do so well. There’s an unspoken bias in biology against studying “taxonomy”. It’s all just semantics, some might say. I say: it’s not the fine print of the taxonomy that’s important to 99% of humans. It’s what taxonomy represents — learning about the diversity of life on Earth.

And we don’t have to go to Mars to find living wonders. Though I respect those that want to, I wish the 100% real living organisms on Earth could get half the attention the putative creatures on a planet millions of miles away do. The curiosity cabinet is long gone, but the curiosities are still here, just waiting for us. All 10,000 ferns. All 70,000 known fungi. All untold millions of species on Earth. I want to show you. I’m passionate about this stuff, and I like to make it fun. Please join me.

So Who Are You, Anyway?

My name is Jennifer Frazer, and I’m a science writer living in Boulder, Colorado (now located in Austin, TX!), land of Subarus, microbrews, and overpriced outdoor gear. But Lord, how I love it. I have a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in systematics and biotic diversity from Cornell University, a master’s degree in plant pathology with a concentration in mycology (also from Cornell), and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT. I set out to be a scientist, but like many science writers, realized in horror that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a windowless lab staring at racks of Eppendorf tubes filled with clear liquids. That’s not why I became a biologist.

So I took a different path, one that led me through grad school in science writing, three months as a reporter intern at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, three years in Wyoming as the health and environment reporter at the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, and finally here to Boulder, where I work as a science writer for a large science nonprofit for myself!(updated 5/11) In 2007, I won the AAAS Science Journalism Award in the small newspaper category for work I did into the investigation of a swarm of mysterious elk deaths in Wyoming (thank you, Robert Lee Hotz!) You can see my four-minute acceptance speech here and you can get the links to the story on my Portfolio page. In my spare time, I do all manner of outdoor activities from caving to skiing to mushroom hunting to snowshoeing to climbing ridiculously high peaks where boiling water would not cook a wet noodle.

And I do this. This, truly, is what gets me out of bed in the morning: sharing my excitement about all the amazing creatures that share the planet with us. And I promise — you will be amazed.

Jennifer Frazer

Ardent naturalist, science writer, and finder of very exciting slime molds


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily Ruppel August 9, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Hello, Jennifer!

I came across your blog as I was e-meandering my way through online brochures about oh-so-many attractive grad school programs… Your blog is really excellent, and I couldn’t help but write a comment here when I noticed you spent some time in my neighborhood, at the Courier Journal in Louisville! I, myself, am wrapping up an internship at the Louisville Magazine, and am looking forward to getting back to school, hopefully for science writing!
I don’t have an extensive background in physics or biology, but of all my undergraduate classes, I truly enjoyed the ones I took in Darwinism, Ecology, and Nature Writing more than seemingly all my English degree-program courses (Lit Crit papers, anyone? Didn’t think so…)
Anyway, I would simply love to ask you a few questions about the Science Writing program at MIT. Their website makes it seem very down-to-earth, the kind of place where a knowledge of science might be nurtured rather than required for admission. Is that true or am I pipe-dreaming? What kind of a chance does a 23-yr-old Bellarmine grad and freelance artist/journalist (who’s sweating the math portion of the GRE) have for attending a school like MIT?
Thanks for your thoughts–Looking forward to hearing from you,
Emily Ruppel

Margot Becktell September 23, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Hi Jennifer!
Not sure if you remember me – I was a grad student in Bill Fry’s lab at the same time you were at Cornell. I came across your blog while looking for info/pics of Scutellinia scutellata – of which you have (it’s wonderful). I’m over on the Western Slope teaching biology (mycology this semester) at Mesa State (my alma mater). Your blog is great – excellent pictures and nice prose :-)
Just thought I would drop you a line and say “hi”.

Margot

Arriel Atienza November 5, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Jen Frazer! It’s great to have been reading our Class Notes in Cornell Alumni magazine and finding you again. Your blog is so adventurous and lighthearted that I smiled and even held back giggles reading about Aspergillus. Take the best care of yourself! :::AEA

Phil Plata November 20, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Hi,
I came across your blog while looking for some info on fungi. It’s super cool, thanks for doing it. I’m passing it on to several friends.

Good luck,
-P
Austin, Tx.

Jennifer Frazer November 20, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Thanks Phil, for the kudos, and thanks to everyone who’s posted here so far! I try to get back to those of you who do with personal messages so feel free to keep putting general comments here. Your positive thoughts keep the blogger going when she gets home from work dead-tired and has no energy to post. Muchas gracias!

Warren January 15, 2010 at 8:00 am

Great blog. I have a question for you: Could you recommend any source of information on where to buy a microscope, and what to get, if you want to study cellular and vascular structures inside aquarium plants, as well as algae, single celled and small aquatic lifeforms, like hydra, newly hatched nauplii from artemesia (brine shrimp), etc. What magnification level am I looking for? What features do I really need? Etc. “Microscopes for naturalist hobbyists”.

Warren

cheryl reed February 3, 2010 at 11:25 am

Jennifer,

Do you write freelance? Could you give me a call 773-834-8089.

Susan Hinson August 1, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Hello Jennifer! You had me at slime molds – er, diatoms, actually. I was taking a break from designing a cover for my microbiology notebook and decided to look at pretty pictures of diatoms. Your blog is terrific, and I have marked it for future browsing. I admire your spirit and appreciation of the sheer beauty and wonder of natural things. My friends thought I was crazy at first for posting pics of our Apple-Cedar rust. I sucked them in with progress photos until the anticipated slimy orange telial horns “magically” appeared! Thanks for all the hard work you’ve put into this blog -

Susan H.

Jennifer Frazer August 5, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Awesome! Thanks so much for the comment — it really means a lot to me. Good for you on the Apple-Cedar rust-cam — whatever we can do to evangelize to the masses about the beauty of nature is good by me. A-C R is one of the more magical backyard displays of nature. I just stumbled on another one yesterday — my first-ever real life stinkhorn!

Mekayla October 15, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Hi Jennifer,

I came to your Weird and Wild Colorado talk and Loved it! Do you ever lead hikes around here? I’d love to come on one (hint hint)

Mekayla

Jennifer Frazer October 15, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Thanks, Mekayla! So glad you enjoyed it. : ) As for guided hikes, I lead private hikes for friends and I teach a class called “Mushrooms of the Front Range” through the Boulder County Nature Association, but otherwise no organized hikes yet. Watch my blog, though, and if there is one, that will be the first place to look!

Katie Haggerty November 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Hi Jennifer,
I enjoyed your presentation on fungi and other strange things at the Longmont public library. Where could I find that set of drawings you had of bread molds (I think) from pre-1800 or so (were they?). Quite beautiful. You said that the scientist had idealized them. They did look very precise. Thanks for the good show. K

Carly Miller March 31, 2011 at 10:38 am

Hi there,

I am trying to earn some publicity for the Nature Conservancy’s “Adopt an Acre” project.  I would like to discuss advertising options with you. If you wouldn’t mind emailing me back that would be great.

Thanks,
Carly

Frieda DAVIS April 4, 2011 at 11:21 am

Hi Jennifer,
I am a member of the Colorado Mycological Society and I am a member of the board at the Pikes Peak Mycological Society in Colorado Springs. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the March meeting in Denver but I have heard that your presentation was outstanding. Would you consider giving this presentation to the PPMS in Colorado Springs? We meet the fourth Monday each month at 7:00 p.m. unless the Monday falls on a holiday. We have a program set up for April but the rest of the year is open as of this date. If you can come to Colorado Springs please let me know what month works best for you (May would be great for us) and what your fee requirements are. In addition it would be a pleasure to offer you bed and breakfast at my house.
Best regards,
Frieda Davis

Sarah Metts May 19, 2011 at 7:33 am

Jennifer,

Currently I am on the cusp of being jobless and also delving into the world of freelance writing. I am a writer of micros, tiny little 100 word stories and I try to get one done a day. I have followed your blog for several months and have found nothing but inspiration (in fact I recently posted a picture of that strawberries and cream..which looks AWESOME! Watermelon snow is also awesome and serves as a great future plot device :) ). I am a bit unprepared for the change, finding it hard to find time to construct my Plan B. I wish you the best.

Thank you for the inspiration,
Sarah “Rah” Metts

Storm May 23, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Thank you for doing the Artful Amoeba, for making such a rich part of the natural world accessible and understandable to us ‘lay types’. You’ve created a delightful, intelligent site.

cheers, Storm

Jennifer Frazer May 24, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Thanks, Storm! It’s so heartening to hear. : )

Hisham J. June 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Hey Jennifer.
Thanks so much for this. I recently came across the artful amoeba and it is by far the best science blog out there. I recently added it to my bookmarks. Keep up the great job!
Cheers,
Hisham

Dale Ball November 29, 2011 at 7:49 am

I love, love, love your blog ! My husband and I just moved to the Boulder area in June of this year and are completely in love with everything…the hiking, biking , sunshine and incredible diversity of habitats. Thank you for doing what you do !
Dale

Chris Johnson December 15, 2011 at 10:52 am

Congratulations on winning the PLoS ONE blog pick of the month for your post on lichens and prions. We’re glad that you found our paper interesting and chose to feature it. Cheers!

Dave Cannon March 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Hello Jennifer,

I have some good photos of a spruce rust outbreak several years ago in the middle Kuskokwim Region of Alaska (Holitna River). If you’re interested I could send them along.

Dave Cannon
Environmental Director
Native Village of Napaimute

marcia stone June 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm

You’re terrific –you’re now on my “favorites” file and I stole your amoeba picture (the amoeba planning world domination) so I can look at it every once in a while and giggle (I too plan world domination).

Marcy

Wendy January 1, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Hi Jennifer,
I was just reading your sci american blog and I coulnd’t leave a comment so found you here.

thanks for the very interesting article on Bb and Tp. They are insidious bugs and I think the more you delve the more their biology becomes really fascinating.

I just wanted to correct one thing however. Bb can cross the placenta and can cause stillbirth, miscarriage and congenital Lyme disease is infants. These are just two published studies. Schlesinger et al, 1985, Lavoie et al, 1985. There are reports of other tick borne infections also crossing the placenta, and of course treponema does. So this shouldn’t come as any surpise.

Regards,
Wendy

LA Babs January 31, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Just read your bee article in the Scientific American blog. I haven’t read something that well written in years. The cadence was excellent and it was easily understandable. Much, much appreciated.

Marty Brandon March 6, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Thanks for your post. I’ve seen other comparisons between British and American documentary style, and the American version is inevitably more superficial and sensationalized. Whose bright idea was it to substitute the voice of one of the greatest living naturalists for that of a daytime talk-show host infamous for promoting pseudoscience nonsense?

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