Biologist hunts for bat flies and fleas By KEVIN FRYLING, University of Buffalo Reporter
As a biologist, Katharina Dittmar de la Cruz says it’s important not to lose sight of the natural world while working long hours in the lab. Perhaps that’s why she’s set out on a planet-wide treasure hunt in which she regularly rappels into unexplored caves in remote jungles from South America to Southern Asia.
Dittmar, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, joined the UB faculty this fall to continue an ambitious research project on the physical and genetic characteristics of bat flies and fleas she began while a postdoctoral researcher at Brigham Young University.
“I’m basically collecting bat flies and fleas all over the world,” she says, noting that the goal is to assemble a complete phylogeny—“essentially a ‘tree of life’”—containing a specimen of every known species of bat fly and flea on the planet. “Using the literature that’s already been compiled as a guide, we know there are about 2,400 species of fleas and roughly 800 species of bat flies,” she explains. “It’s an extremely comprehensive study.”