Anthony Auletta - Ph.D. Candidate
New York City, NY
I'm interested in understanding the neural bases of behavior in arthropods, particularly arachnids. Spiders are remarkable in that they exhibit a wide range of very "advanced" and complex behaviors, and do so with such numerically small nervous systems. My research aims to understand how these "little brains can do big things." To that end, I am currently developing a project to examine the dynamic role of dopamine— a known modulator of many complex behaviors in other animals— in the behavioral development of the Floridian wolf spider, Hogna lenta.
B.S. in Entomology, Cornell University (2010)
M.S. in Biology, Western Carolina University (2012)
Insects are awesome, but my heart belongs to the Arachnida. My love affair with spiders began back in 1994, when my first grade teacher decided to think outside the box and incorporate spider biology into her curriculum. Since then, I've never really stopped being fascinated by spiders, scorpions, and their kin. Spiders are incredibly abundant in nearly every terrestrial habitat, exceptionally diverse, behaviorally fascinating, ecologically [and sometimes medically] important, incredibly beneficial to humans, and intricately woven into our culture. But despite all of these compelling reasons to study spiders, remarkably little research to date has focused on understanding how the central nervous system of spiders works. My hope is that my research on the neural mechanisms behind spider behavior will serve as an important early step towards filling this alarming gap in our collective knowledge.
Why University of Minnesota?
Many reasons! I really love being in a department that appreciates the intrinsic value of studying arthropods to learn more about their biology. There is a trend in modern science to move away from that type of research in favor of investing in a small pool of "standard model organisms," and while those model systems have their uses, it's all too easy for many people to forget that less conventional organisms (such as spiders!) are also worthy of study. Everyone I've met in the entomology department— my advisor, my labmates, other students and faculty— realizes this and has been very supportive of my research goals, however off-beat they may be. This fosters a healthy and productive research environment that I really enjoy and thrive in. Also, I'm a pretty big fan of winter weather… so I like how cold and snowy it gets around here!
I'd like to continue my research on how the spider brain works because there's so much left to discover about it, but I also really like to teach. So, my ideal job would have a good balance of research and teaching responsibilities.
Since I'm an arachnologist, I'm going assume that you really meant to ask about my favorite arthropod. And for that, I would have to choose Portia, a remarkable genus of jumping spider that exhibits incredibly complex problem-solving, learning, and memory capabilities— it's basically a spider that thinks it's half monkey and half cat. I also have a soft spot for scorpions and my favorite group of insects is probably the Diptera (true flies).
Learning new languages (currently Icelandic), spider collecting, exploring the cities, cooking/eating food (especially Italian and Korean), reading, exotic arachnid husbandry, and chilling with my #1 dog-bro.
Coffee or tea?