Why I Use Instagram for Science Outreach

Lots of people have been asking for my response to the recent Science magazine opinion piece “Why I don’t use Instagram for science outreach,” so here it is. I never felt like wildlife biology (my field of science) was for people like me. As a young girl, wildlife content was geared towards hunters or whimsical (e.g. unicorns, ponies). My first years in grad school, I came in as “me” with make-up on and business casual clothes – not even that fancy, but I increasingly felt like I didn’t belong. Almost no one wore make-up, and Chakos and field clothes (REI, Columbia) were worn even though people did not go to the field. It was implied that any moment I would spend on myself, doing things that were not related to science (e.g. putting on makeup, shopping) was a sign that I was not a serious scientist. It was made very clear to me that almost every waking moment should be spent on science. So I conformed. I limited my makeup and wore yoga pants to show I was so busy doing my research that I couldn’t possibly have the time to put on pants with a zipper (even though it took me longer to pick out a yoga pants outfit). But I felt awful. I felt sad. I didn’t feel like me. So then I rebelled. I honestly also had so much eyeshadow that I figured it would take me forever to get through it if I didn’t wear it every day, lol. So I started wearing it again. And I felt better. I felt like me and when I feel good, I am more productive. It’s kind of like when you dress up for a job interview in a suit, you start to feel more powerful. Clothes have meaning. I’ve been giving talks to classrooms for 8 years now. Every time I enter a classroom, including this last Friday, the students tell me they thought I was a student teacher or a mom. They are SHOCKED when I tell them I an the scientist. I first changed my handle to @FancyScientist for Twitter because the teachers I worked with kept calling me fancy and I felt it reflected my personality. I started doing #FancyFriday to show that I am not the only #FancyScientist. That there are lots of us out there – to show young girls that they don’t have to choose between liking fancy, frivolous things and liking serious things like science (and to show those in academia too). Because society often casts us into stereotypes, we feel like we have to choose one. It was never my intention to show one type of scientist, or to tell scientists that they have to be feminine or frilly. In fact I have gone out of my way to show diversity in people and diversity in fanciness. But I also get that Instagram can be TOXIC for women, scientists included. That we only post when we look and feel our best (myself included). Remember it’s a highlights real – and that we usually just show our best selves. In fact, for my body, I had to unfollow any account that made me feel like I needed to sculpt my abs and started following women who love their bodies. So today I’m showing my  unfancy self. And a reminder that science is for everyone!


The Ajay Bruno Show – Stephanie Schuttler Interview

How did I become a scientist? How do YOU become a scientist? What was my scariest animal encounter? What was it like to be on What on Earth? Find out the answers to these questions and more in my interview with Ajay Bruno.


Misidentified Spots: You’re Really Wearing Jaguar Print

Previous fashion files talked feline prints leopard and cheetah, both commonly heard and used in fashion chat. But what about jaguar print? This phrase doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, but actually a lot (maybe even most) of the prints we wear give leopards credit, but are really inspired by jaguars.

Jaguars (Panthera onca) are the biggest cat species of the new world, ranging from South America to the most southern points of the US near the Mexican border. Jaguars are in the genus Panthera, and therefore most closely related to lions and leopards. Similar to the leopard, jaguars have rosette “spots”, but inside the rosettes, you will also see another black spot. Variation occurs in these big cats, so in some individuals, the difference will be more prominent (you will see the dot easily), while in others it may be more difficult to see. Also, within a jaguar coat, not all of the rosettes will have spots inside, and this will also vary between individuals; some will have a lot of rosettes with black spots, while others will have mostly empty rosettes. Like leopards, there can be melanistic jaguars, making them appear all black (colloquially “black panther”).

Jaguar on left, leopard on right. Photos from eMammal.

Jaguars are extremely elusive. If you go on safari in Africa, your chances of seeing a cheetah are pretty good. A leopard, is more difficult to spot, but many tourists still see them. Jaguars, on the other hand, are hardly ever seen, even by those who study them intensely. I recently attended a talk by Dr. Marcella Kelly at Virginia Tech, who studies these cats with camera traps, and despite spending years in jaguar habitat, has only seen them several times. This largely has to do with their forested habitat and secretive behavior.

Studying Jaguars

Camera traps, specialized cameras triggered by heat and motion, are one of the few and best ways to study these elusive animals. If your camera trap is set up in a jaguar’s home range and the individual passes by (some scientists use Calvin Klein Obsession to lure them), it will snap a photo of it stamped with the time and date. In another method, non-invasive genetics, the scientist tries to find jaguar scat (poop) to be used as a source of DNA. Finding jaguar scat in a rainforest is the quintessential needle in a haystack, which is why researchers like Dr. Karen DeMatteo, use canine companions to find the scat. These dogs can be trained to not only find jaguar scat, but also other cats and carnivores (ocelots, bush dogs, pumas). Given that dogs can walk a lot more than humans, they can also cover more ground.

Camera trap photo of jaguar from eMammal.

Through camera trapping and genetic methods, you can identify individuals. In camera traps, capturing a clear image of the spots lets you be able to tell the individual because each jaguar has a unique spot pattern. Genetic methods also allow you to identify individuals because each jaguar has unique DNA. According to Kelly, camera traps are better for capturing more individuals in the population. However, genetic methods offer advantages that camera traps do not. For example, you can infer patterns of dispersal and connectivity, which has important implications for conservation, especially since jaguar habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented.


The jaguar is near threatened on the IUCN Redlist and inhabits only 46% of its original range. One of the largest threats to jaguars is deforestation, which not only removes habitat for this large-ranging species, but also exposes individuals more to humans, making them more susceptible to poaching. Due to the success of anti-fur campaigns in the United States and the initiation of CITES, poaching for fur is no longer a large incentive. Rather competition for prey species (leopards and people hunt the same animals) and retaliation for or the fear of them killing livestock are the main drivers. As deforestation increases, it will be more difficult for individuals to move between protected areas due to poaching and other barriers such as roads, and therefore populations will become more vulnerable to the effects of genetic isolation like inbreeding.


Like leopard print, jaguar print is extremely versatile. If you want a bolder, more dramatic look, wear a large garment (e.g. coat, dress, pants) and for extra drama, add high contrast colors. If you are more demure, have the jaguar print be in a scarf, bag, or your shoes. Also similar to leopard print, you can combine jaguar with a range of colors. If you are not as adventurous, you can wear mostly neutrals (tans, black and white), or combine with pops of colors; red always is a great addition, but don’t forget about green, blue, purple. You want to choose brighter, stronger colors when combining with jaguar print because the print acts as a neutral and you don’t want the other colors to get washed in with the look.

Jaguar print was strong on the 2017-18 runway, Dolce & Gabbana. Photos from Vogue.

This post was originally created on the Wildlife SNPits.