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Science as Leisure

Liz Marchio

I am a trained ichthyologist interested in what gets people interested in natural history, biological sciences, and science careers. My passion is to find out what fuels curiosity for the natural world.

Biology-related serious leisure activities can impact people's interest in ecology, biology, and natural history. Do these activities promote biological understanding? If so, how does that progress and to what level does it progress to? 

If you're interested in a starting a dialogue, please feel free to contact me. If you're curious about how I got here, my story can be found on the About Me page.


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Feral Cat Colonies & Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome

We've all heard about the negative effects feral cats have on wild bird populations. It's a fact that cats are hunters and they're good at it. After all, there are probably millions of barn cats employed because of their wonderful work ethic! 

Image from

Image from

The most interesting thing about the feral cat issue taking place in our society today is the straight up crazy conflict over the situation. We all know cats kill other animals. We know they do it well and whenever they can. Regardless of what we all know, take a look at any social media post regarding feral cats killing birds and you see the cat defenders come out and swat away those negative cat statistics. 

Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders .

Why would spay/neuter help keep cats from eating? This is a common argument of cat-defenders.

Above you can see the cat-defenders using several different tactics to defend wild/feral cats. Strategies include an appeal to emotion, appeals to humanity, placing blame, offering (biased) information to support pre-determined decisions, logical reasoning, and threats. It's intense and flies in the face of the information we all know: cats are killers and bird populations are on the decline because of it. So why defend cats so vehemently?

Enter: Toxoplasmosis. 

Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis gondii. Photo from Wikipedia.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that is found in cats and cat feces. It is also found in rats. Basically, an infected rat is eaten by a cat (yay barn cats!), which then infects the cat. The cat does what all cats do, and poops. The feces house Toxoplasmosis and make it "available" to the environment. Uninfected rodents can get infected via fecal contact and so can people.

So, if you have a cat and you clean its box, or the cat gives you "the brown eye"... you may have Toxoplasmosis. 

Up to 80% of people could have Toxoplasmosis! 

This isn't even the scariest part. I haven't told you what the parasite can do... 

In rats, it has been shown to cause a reduction of fear. This is a "plan" by the parasite! If eaten, especially by a cat, the parasite can continue its life cycle. If the host rat doesn't fear cats, then cats get Toxoplasmosis. Here's a video to help explain:

This lack of fear response could also be an affection response.

It's well known by most people that people who keep a cat have an increased propensity to own another cat... and so on... and so on... This can lead to hoarding and an intense, self-destructive affection towards cats. 

This is Crazy Cat Lady Syndrome and it involves Toxoplasmosis.

 If social media stories on feral cat issues have replies/comments that are made up of 50% cat-defenders, are 50% of the people replying to that story "suffering" from Toxoplasmosis?  

After all, they are defending cats based on a reduction of fear and a strong, almost insatiable,  emotional attachment towards cats. 

Perhaps the feral cat issue can be aided by research in the "suffering" of Toxoplasmosis in the public? If people who will not aid bird conservation by limiting the number of cats in the wild actually have a disease and cannot act any other way towards cats... maybe there can be some middle ground forged? 

No one wants to know they're a part of a parasite's plan, or life history, so I doubt this gets much attention, but damn, isn't this at least interesting?

TransRacial Families on the American Race Debate

Are there race issues in America right now? Taking a look at social media outlets...

The majority of African Americans say YES. White people are either ambivalent or they take a side. Many say NO.

If one group of American citizens almost all say the same thing, doesn't this alone tell you that there is a problem? If you still need persuading, perhaps another perspective on the issue will help shed some light on the "problem".

After Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice and the almost racially dichotomous side-taking, I want to hear from people who bridge the gap.

I want to hear from One race of Americans who have adopted another race into their homes.

This tiny section of the American society is almost never heard from, and yes, they do exist! 

I have had the privilege to speak to a white woman, Amanda Scott, who has fostered and then adopted several non-white children into her home. Amanda and her husband Jacob have many fears for their children as they grow up in our current American society. But first, what do we call these kinds of families? Mixed? Or what?

Amanda said: "I tend to prefer transracial, but that gets confusing, so mixed is fine. It's also totally fine to call us biracial, since I really believe once one member of your family is not white, you are a non white family." So, since Amanda self-identifies as transracial, let's take a look at a transracial parent's feelings toward the race issues going on in American society today:

The main question I asked her was: What do you worry most about your children and growing up black in America? 

The long answer is:  "I'm scared that I won't be able to properly prepare them to live in a country that's steeped in institutional racism. There are some things I can do - like telling my sons to raise their hands and never move them and to not talk back to officers and only respond politely. But, as Tamir Rice demonstrates, they might not even get the chance to do anything that could help them survive an encounter."

"I'm also afraid I can't protect them from the other realities they will face. Like the fact that my older son will be less likely to be called in for a job interview because he has a less traditionally White sounding name. Or the fact that accounting for SES and education, my non-White kids will (statistically) have worse health outcomes, a fact that many researchers are beginning to attribute to the multitude of large and small interactions people of color have with a racist society that increases their stress and is linked to things like premature infant birth (and higher mortality), higher blood pressure, more risk of diabetes, etc. Those are the two things that scare me the most."

"I worry about what happens to them when my privilege no longer transfers. When my being white doesn't protect them."

So, with that short interview, I think it's evident that social media, and all media, could do a heck of a lot better by asking transracial families, of either variety, what they think of the issue.

Amanda and Jacob's beautiful family photo! These are families we need to hear from on these racially-charged issues.  

Amanda and Jacob's beautiful family photo! These are families we need to hear from on these racially-charged issues.  

These are the only people that bridge that gap and their voices should be, and deserve to be, heard.

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