Clever Apes #10: Yuck

April 13, 2011

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Bill Stanley holds the skull of an African rat he discovered, being cleaned by c

Let’s consider the beauty of a seething swarm of carrion beetles picking clean the carcass of a dead rat.

Sorry – were you eating breakfast?

To a scientist, that grisly scene might evoke the cycles of ecosystems, the connectedness of life and death, and the elegant efficiency of a life form sculpted by eons of evolution to be the perfect flesh-removal machine. To most of the rest of us, it’s just gross.

Yucky stuff has always been part of the mystique of science – alluring for some, forbidding for others. In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we consider the dirty work of science, from the “bug room” at the Field Museum to the lab where scientists analyze dead critters found in food.

But we aim not to titillate. Oh no. In this part one of our two-part series, we hope to show how the yucky can also be elegant. So hold your nose and listen. 

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Chris Palenik mans the transmission electron microscope at Microtrace.