Gory Details is National Geographic reporter Erika Engelhaupt's new book about the science of creepy, interesting, and real things such as face mites (above), the caloric intake of cannibals, the unpleasantries of earwax, and the psychology of coulrophobia. From an interview with Engelhaupt in Science News:
SN: Do you have a favorite reporting field trip?
Engelhaupt: Probably the most fun travel I did for the book was going to biologist Rob Dunn's lab at North Carolina State University to find my own face mites. There are two species of little eight-legged mites that live on all of our faces — and elsewhere on our bodies, by the way. Seeing something that was living in my pores squiggling around on the microscope slide — for me, there's nothing more fun than that. I still keep pictures on my cell phone of my face mites so that I can show them to people[…]
SN: You also write about a lot of new scientific research. Any standout papers where you thought, I have to write about this?
Engelhaupt: A study where scientists fed different human bodily fluids to blowflies to see which ones the flies found tastiest. [The scientists] were looking at how flies might transfer human DNA picked up from bodily fluids to different parts of a crime scene. [DNA analysis] techniques are now so sensitive that we're picking up DNA from fly poop. If the flies have previously eaten human blood or semen or saliva, there can be DNA from that person that gets pooped out by the fly. That [DNA] might get interpreted as blood spatter or get picked up incidentally at a crime scene and really confuse the situation. Who would have thought that you need to study fly poop to analyze DNA at a crime scene?
SN: I was sure you were going to say the paper on the calorie count of a human, from the chapter on cannibalism.
Engelhaupt: That's one where it was a question I didn't know I had until I saw that a scientist had answered it. And those are some of the kinds of things that I wanted to fill this book with: You didn't know you wanted to know this, but I'm hoping that now you're glad you do.
Gory Details: Adventures from the Dark Side of Science (Amazon)
image: All Species Wiki