We are thrilled to welcome to RealScientists conservation biologist and science educator Phil Torres, who will be curating the account this week (March 10-17) from the field. And when we say ‘the field’, we don’t mean ‘the coffee shop across the street from the lab’. Phil’s field is the jungles of Latin America, having been based deep in the Amazon in both Ecuador and Peru for the last year and a half. His research focuses on how butterfly populations are affected by abiotic factors, like salt, and by biotic factors, like mammal-hunting humans and defaunation.
Phil was first introduced to the art/science of studying butterflies by Dr. Andy Warren at the age of seven. Andy was (and still is) traveling around the world to exotic locations researching and discovering new species of butterflies. Phil thought that sounded like a pretty awesome life, and decided at a young age he would do the same, and focus on rainforest conservation in Latin America. And, following careers as a model, a TV presenter and journalist, and in public science education in Los Angeles, he’s done exactly that. His work has ranged from investigating reforestation in the jungles of Puerto Rico to demonstrating nature’s cool evolutionary defences by getting lethal African Spitting Cobra venom shot into his eye, which maybe wasn’t that clever, but probably cheaper than Botox off-the-shelf in LA. He has also been fortunate enough to participate in scientific expeditions in Venezuela (where he was held at gunpoint) and Mongolia (where he got lost in a forest full of quicksand) and has assisted in discovering over 40 new species.
His own finds include a new species of spider that creates a spider decoy in its web, and this fuzzy caterpillar. The decoy spider, which he discovered in 2012, is the only animal known to construct another animal from scratch, and was featured in Wired, BBC, National Geographic, ABC News and CNN, amongst others. So far he has resisted the temptation to name it something daft, indicating he’s more grown up than most Drosophila geneticists.
Having survived the scariest, hairiest, this-makes-Bear-Grylls-look-like-Liberace* moments the world’s nastier jungles could throw at him, his next high-risk adventure will be taking on an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD at Rice University in Houston. Finally, a Dr. Phil who we actually WANT to see on television. Phil’s twitter handle the other 51 weeks of the year is @phil_torres. He blogs at TheRevScience.com and from his Peruvian base at the Tambopata Research Center at blog.perunature.com. And remember kids, as Phil always says: “Only tough guys catch butterflies.”
I did mention he’s an ex-model, yeah? And has three times as many Twitter followers as me. Not that I’m bitter. BRB, making voodoo doll.
*Thought experiment: would Bear then be obliged to lobby for his own banning from the scouting movement? Answers on a postcard