What a Year it has Been

September 14, 2020

A lot has happened in the last year - a global pandemic, new jobs, and a baby (but not necessarily in that order). I am now at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, as my other half landed a tenure track position here. We are grateful, in these trying times, to be gainfully employed and to have a healthy new family member.


Science-wise? Things are happening behind the scenes, but here is a picture of a bolas spider from Maryland. These spiders use a glob of glue suspended at the end of a silk line to capture moths. They are incredibly difficult to find. Despite living on the east coast my whole life, being a life-long spider enthusiast, and their huge size, I had never seen one until I went out looking. 

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Collecting Trip to Japan (whaaaat?)

July 31 - August 11, 2019

Fearless Leader Burns and I went to Japan to collect Leiobunum manubriatum harvestpeople and extract some fresh DNA for genome sequencing. Mercedes' long-time collaborator Nobuo Tsurusaki from Tottori University hosted and toted us around the island to collecting sites with a few tourist stops along the way. The last couple of days were spent exploring Tokyo. What an amazing experience!


The arachnid we were after - Leiobunum manubriatum. I was able to capture a few lucky images of them mating (male on the left). Copulation happens quick!

Shomyo Falls - the tallest waterfall in Japan. We collected in the forest around the visitor's area. 

Collecting at Hirayu Campground. 


A few days of lab work yielded a whopping half a gram of DNA! Enough to troubleshoot with and beyond!


Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto, and a busy Tokyo street. It was HOT, but so fun!

Biology of Spiders 

July 14 - 27, 2019

The whole group in front of a wall of magical rhododendron at the station.

Every two years, the Highlands Biological Station in Highlands, North Carolina offers a course where students and enthusiasts can learn all about the biology of spiders (for more details, see the Teaching tab). This year, I also had the privilege of learning a few macro photography skills from co-instructor Kefyn Catley. Nothing like learning skills while teaching skills!


One of the most famous spiders we find during "spider camp" is Hypochilius pococki. An ancient spider lineage, it produces a "lampshade web," and rests centrally against the rock. 


We also collected in Panther Town Valley.

Found some lovely Argiope aurantia during a collecting trip to Wild Cat Creek in the Clemson University Experimental Forest, SC. I was so excited to get these shots!


Lab work learning to identify the spiders we find on our collecting trips is always fun, and can last well into the night!

Show your pedipalps!

Annual Meeting of the American Arachnological Society Meeting

Lexington, VA

June 16-20, 2019

The AAS meeting this year was hosted by Nadia Ayoub in Lexington, VA, not too far down the road from the BurnsLab. I gave an invited symposium talk honoring arachnological legend Bill Shear, and a poster detailing the trials and tribulations of sequencing the genome of a very complicated harvestman.


Spider Glue paper officially published and WE GOT THE FRONT PAGE OF Reddit!

June, 2019

The Spider Glue paper was published in G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics! On the day it came out, UMBC published an article covering the work at the same time I posted a Conversation piece. UMBC's article gained traction on Reddit, which made the top post on June 10, 2019, and received nearly 46K "upvotes"! My co-author and I then did an AskMeAnything as a followup to the media blitz. Can't say there's anything much more exciting than seeing the general public get jazzed about spider silk! Very exciting week!

International Congress of Arachnology

Christchurch, New Zealand 

February 10-15, 2019

The ICA was hosted by Cor Vink in Christchurch, New Zealand this time around. It was a fantastic meeting in an amazing place, and I gave my first talk at an ICA about sequencing the genes that encode for spider glue.

Success! After two years of hard work, we finally sequenced the spider glue genes!!!

November 3, 2018

This year, a colleague and I sequenced the genes that encode for spider glue protein. It took a lot of trouble-shooting, and there were some moments of absolute abject frustration, but ultimately we prevailed! We posted a preprint of our work on bioRxiv to get our discovery out into the world-at-large during the review process.

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November 3, 2018

The BurnsLab hosted the Fall Edition Arachnogathering this year! DMV arachnologists and company united for a spooky evening of socializing and fun! 


Girl Scouts Presentation

October 21, 2017

I received an email from a Girl Scout troupe leader asking if I would give a presentation during their annual campout. She said some of the girls overreact unnecessarily when they see a spider in their tents or lodges, and maybe learning about them would help reduce some of their fears. Usually by the time I'm finished talking at events like these, many of the girls shift from fear to fascination, especially after seeing a female role-model and learning that ladies rule in the spider world.  

Baltimore Museum of Art

Opening Day: Tomás Saraceno

October 1, 2017

The Baltimore Museum of Art contacted me to ask if I would host a table to teach the public about spiders on opening day for artist Tomás Saraceno, who has done a lot of work with webs and web-inspired installations. The Baltimore Sun also asked for a short interview to promote the event. I had a fantastic day interacting with everyone and talking about my favorite critters! Saraceno's "Entangled Orbits" will run through June, 2018. 

Museum guests were fascinated to learn that spiders molt!

I collected webs on tape-covered rings, then dusted the webs with corn-starch to make them stand out. 

Saraceno's artwork was beautiful and included webs built by different species displayed in a glass box. 

I was invited to give a seminar for the Maryland Entomolgical Society on the UMBC campus. I had a great time having dinner with some of the society members and chatting after the talk.


“Spider Glue: aggregate gland secretions coating the orb-web’s sticky capture spiral”  

Maryland Entomological Society

April 21, 2017

International Congress of Arachnology

Golden Colorado

July 2-9, 2016

Hanging out with my arachnological family always leaves me feeling motivated and happy. What a great week with awesome science and good conversation with the largest gathering of arachnologists...ever.  

Bring Your Child to Work Day

US Army Research Lab

April 28, 2016

A colleague and I ran the DNA workshop for ARL's Bring Your Child to Work Day. It was a long and exhausting day, but well worth the effort, as we were apparently "one of the most talked about activities during the day." Participants smashed up strawberries, added 'lysis buffer' (detergent) and 'extraction buffer' (isopropyl alcohol), then watched the snot-like DNA form in tubes they could take home.