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Creatures Large And Small Are Stuck In Labs After Coronavirus Pauses Research

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Creatures large and small have found themselves stuck in labs as scientists have watched the coronavirus lockdown interrupt many of their projects.

TODD WATERS: Researchers with animals to care for were kind of, like, in a panic.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's Todd Waters. He cares for an insect zoo at the University of Maryland. So when it came time to work from home, Waters took his work home with him - spiders, assassin bugs, mantises.

WATERS: Oh, I forgot I also have baby scorpions and baby tarantulas.

CHANG: He also has four human housemates, which made things a little awkward at first.

WATERS: When I brought the wolf spider home, one of my housemates seemed a little bit (laughter) dismayed.

CHANG: But soon his roommates learned to love the critters and even gathered round to watch his mantises feed.

WATERS: Once people can look at them up close, their fears about them subside, and their understanding grows.

SHAPIRO: Things went less smoothly for ecologist Anna Hargreaves. She uses sunflower seeds to study threats by seed predators like chipmunks, squirrels and rodents. But no one warned her about the dangers posed by a 4-year-old human.

ANNA HARGREAVES: I looked at him, and I saw these little sunflower seeds stuck to his face. And I said, have you been eating the sunflower seeds? And he's like, yeah. They're delicious.

CHANG: Hargreaves had stashed her experimental seeds in the fridge but left one lone packet on the kitchen counter. Lo and behold, her son found it and treated himself to what Hargreaves calls one of the healthiest snacks.

HARGREAVES: That felt like a fail from a parenting perspective and from a science-ing (ph) perspective.

SHAPIRO: Then there are some study subjects that cannot be brought home, like a type of fish called a gar.

SOLOMON DAVID: Imagine an alligator with fins instead of legs. That's essentially what a gar is.

SHAPIRO: Fish biologist Solomon David spawns them for genetics work, but with the lab shut down, his team freed the fish back into the Louisiana bayou. And a few days later, David saw his experiment happening right there in the wild.

DAVID: In 20 years of studying gars, I've only seen spotted gar spawn in the wild three times, including this time.

CHANG: So one case at least of the research lockdown leading to scientific serendipity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.