Lab News

May 2024

Check out this great article on BAELab friend Dr. Sarah Stellwagen!

April 2024

The first BAELab Ph.D. student, Tyler Brown, successfully defended his Ph.D!! Dr. Brown will be moving to UNCC to continue research on reproductive tradeoffs in glowworm development with BAELab Buddy Dr. Sarah Stellwagen.

September 2024

We’ve got a new name (Burns Arthropod Evolution Lab or BAELab) and logo, designed by artist and teacher Shelby Hawk!

May 2023

Congrats to Ryan and Tyler, who were both awarded research grants from the American Arachnological Society. Ryan will be using the Vincent Roth funds for Systematics Research to study Leiobunum sp. in Central America. Tyler will use his Arachnological Research funds to complete his field work to estimate North American Opiliones species phenology and density.

April 2023

Jessica Diaz successfully defended her Master’s thesis! She is the first graduate student to graduate from the BurnsLab. We’re so proud!

March 2023

Laís Grossel, a Ph.D. student from the University of Sao Paulo, is visiting the Burns Lab this summer to study tropical harvesters that provide parental care to their offspring. Our mission: to discover whether large, territorial males (“majors”) regularly care for offspring of smaller, wandering males (“minors”).

Welcome, Laís!

February 2023

Mercedes has been awarded a NSF CAREER Grant! Read all about it here.

March 2022

Ryan was offered a Highlands Biological Station Grant-in-Aid! Congrats Ryan! He will be using his funds to attend the Spiders of the Appalachians course this summer.

Mercedes was invited as a panelist on the Red de Arachnologia Emergente Latina (Emerging Latin Arachnology Network) on International Women’s Day.

August 2021

Mercedes and former postdoc Sarah Stellwagen have been awarded a NSF collaborative research grant, entitled “Genetics and biomechanics of non-Newtonian prey capture adhesives across Panarthropoda.” This 4-year research project will focus on developing an understanding of how different predators make glue to catch prey. We’re so excited to get started in 2022!

June 2021

Ryan Bacon has officially joined BurnsLab! Welcome aboard! I’m excited to keep working together on badass science!

May 2021

Tyler Brown spent the month collecting and filming opilionids at the Mountain Lake Biological Station.

Moulting specimen
Forest Millipede






April 2021

A new species of trapdoor spider was named after Mercedes! What an honor!

images of a male and female trapdoor spider
Ummidia mercedesburnsae

“The specific epithet is a patronym in honor of Dr. Mercedes Burns the first female African American arachnologist (to our knowledge).”

March 2021

Congrats to Tyler Brown, who was recently awarded a Washington Biologists’ Field Club grant! Tyler also won the Data Blitz category at this years’ UMBC GABS meeting. Dude is cruisin’.

January 2021

After years of work, we (Tyler, Mercedes, and colleague Dr. Nobuo Tsurusaki) successfully published our paper on reproductive modes determined by genomic SNPs in parthernogenetic Opiliones!

November 2020

Tyler Brown successfully passed his qualifying exam! He’s the first BurnsLab Ph.D. Candidate!

October 2020

Mercedes was recently granted a Templeton Foundation Ideas Challenge award!

August 2020

Check out recent BurnsLab publication on spermathecae in Opiliones— a collaboration with UMBC undergrad Zulekha Karachiwalla and Keith R. Porter Imaging Center director Dr. Tagide deCarvalho.

July 2020

Congratulations to Tyler Brown, who took 1st place in the 2020 AAS virtual poster contest with his presentation titled “Genomic determination of reproductive mode in facultatively parthenogenetic harvestmen”! Tyler’s been very successful communicating research and teaching online. Way to go!

June 2020

As biracial woman born and raised in Minneapolis, I (Mercedes) have been strongly affected by the murder of George Floyd and subsequent violence to peaceful protesters of all backgrounds. I am thankful to the Executive Committee of the American Arachnology Society, of which I am a member, for helping to thoughtfully craft a statement, part of which I am posting here:

As our communities are rocked by direct confrontation of the long-standing, violent, widespread and pervasive racism and inequities in our society, I reach out on behalf of the American Arachnological Society (AAS) Executive Committee (EC) to state our support for Black members and aspiring Black members within our society. We also extend broad support to scientists of color whose paths are addled by societal norms of racism.  The challenges of people of color in our community are magnified in the background of this time when impacts of Covid-19 threaten the livelihoods of so many.  Black members of our society: as a community, the American Arachnological Society supports you. …

… there are reasons why the AAS community is particularly well disposed to provide insight and leadership in efforts to work against racism in our society. These are well articulated by AAS EC Director Mercedes Burns. As a society the AAS is “in the unique position, and indeed, tasked with the duty of describing the diversity and demystifying this historically maligned group to the general public. I believe a society that appreciates the diverse forms of arachnids in nature has also the capacity to appreciate the diversity of human experience. Many Americans have grown up with fear of the dangers of arachnids– in fact, I know members of our own society found their way to arachnology in an effort to confront these fears. These concerns may parallel the fears many of us have of speaking about the historical mistreatment of people of African origin in the Americas. It is only when we choose to move forward by engaging with the source of our discomfort that we grow as scientists and humans.”

May 2020

Congrats to Tyler Brown, who was recently awarded a research grant from the American Arachnological Society!

During the quarantine, we’re trying to stay productive. Sarah has set up a “top secret remote lab” and has made great strides sequencing the genome for Leiobunum manubriatum!

Necessity is the mother of invention?
Sarah’s super computer, Threadripper, buckled in for a trip










Three BurnsLab members are graduating this semester: Fleurine, Harper, and Shea. We’re proud of you, and so glad to have worked by your sides!

April 2020

Fleurine, Harper, and Zulekha developed presentations in lab meeting (with a surprise birthday wish for Mercedes!) and successfully uploaded them to the first-ever virtual Undergraduate Research and Creative Arts Day (URCAD) at UMBC!

Birthday songs via Blackboard Collaborate: the song of digital zombies!







March 2020

Mercedes traveled to Germany for Spring Break, and managed to return to Baltimore in time to quarantine… phew.

Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin
Mercedes in a Mercedes-Benz!
Castle on the Rhine road









January 2020

Mercedes, Tyler B. and Zulekha traveled to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) 2020 in Austin, TX. Mercedes and Zulekha presented their recent work on harvestmen spermatheca, and Tyler gave his first oral presentation on parthenogen genotyping!

Congrats to Dr. Sarah Stellwagen, who recently had her first baby (and youngest BurnsLab member), Stella!

Hooray for Stella!


June 2019

The lab headed down to Lexington, VA to attend the American Arachnological Society meeting. Genevieve, Mayukha, Tyler M. and Sarah presented posters, Mercedes and Sarah gave presentations during the tribute symposium to William Shear, and Mercedes was elected the next AAS Director!

Collecting at Natural Bridge SP (with lab friend Shahan Derkarabetian)
Showing off our chelicerae after a lab dinner!










Sarah recently published her paper on the first full sequences of the aggregrate spidroin genes (a.k.a. spider glue) and has received several great press releases. Way to go!

Sarah holding a pet tarantula in the lab

Elsewhere, Mercedes presented research on the Japanese parthenogenetic harvestmen at the American Genetic Association Presidential Symposium in Portland, OR.

Mercedes won an AAAS-DoSER award to facilitate communication about evolution to diverse communities.

May 2019

Genevieve and Mayukha graduated from UMBC with honors! We’re proud of you both!

Tyler Brown joined the lab as a Ph.D. student. Welcome home!

Congratulations to Dr. Sarah Stellwagen, who was awarded funding from the Herb Levi Memorial Fund for Arachnological Research from the American Arachnological Society!

Mercedes has been awarded an UMBC START grant for more arachnid genomics magic!

April 2019

Genevieve and Mayukha presented their research at URCAD 2019 on April 24th!

February 2019
Sarah, Hannah Wood (Smithsonian), and Mercedes on a high UV day in New Zealand

Sarah and Mercedes attended the International Congress of Arachnology in Christchurch, New Zealand.

ICA Opiliones group, 2019











They moderated a symposium on “Outstanding Opiliones: Reproductive and population biology in harvestmen.”

January 2019

To ring in the new year, former BUILD group member Zulekha Karachiwalla presented a poster on her summer 2018 work on female morphology of UMBC harvestmen species!

December 2018
We get along like a house on fire!

BurnsLab had another strong outing at the UMBC Biology Dept. with an excellent holiday video, resin-embedded arachnid ornaments, and a gingerbread Baltimore rowhouse!

We also hosted external mentor Dr. Maurine Neiman for an excellent seminar on “Sex in the Wild”!

November 2018

Mercedes visited colleagues Dr. Tia-Lynn Ashman (U Pitt) and Dr. Michael Brewer (East Carolina) for seminars. Thanks for the invites!

October 2018
Arachnologists gather for a special Halloween

Sarah and Mercedes hosted a special Halloween gathering of arachnologists from the Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area!

September 2018

Dr. Sarah Stellwagen and Tyler Montgomery have joined the lab! Welcome!

Dr. Boyer and Mercedes at the evening poster session
August 2018

At the 2nd Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Montpellier, France,  Mercedes presented research and enjoyed interactions with an international crowd of evolutionary biologists, including collaborator Dr. Sarah Boyer.




July 2018

Mercedes gave a poster presentation at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution meeting in Yokohama, Japan, and conducted fieldwork throughout Nagano Prefecture! Meanwhile, Genevieve interned with the USFWS, conducting field work and water quality sampling!


Mercedes near Shiga Kogen, Nagano Pref.
Genevieve doing pH testing
June 2018

BurnsLab received several visiting undergraduate researchers this month, including Cierra from Dr. Kevin Omland’s lab, and three students in the 2018 Summer BUILD program. Welcome, new arachnid ambassadors!

May 2018

Freddy Flanagan graduated with his M.S. in Applied Molecular Biology. Good luck in dental school, Freddy!

April 2018

Daniel DeWaters presented his research at the 22nd Annual URCAD Symposium. See him in action on the event Flickr reel, too!

BurnsLab at URCAD 2018

Genevieve Ahearn was accepted into a US Fish and Wildlife Service summer internship for 2018. Way to go, Genevieve!

“Sex Uncovered” @ Station Biologique de Roscoff

Mercedes gave presentations at the University of Maryland, College Park and the Conférences Jacques-Monod meeting on “Sex Uncovered: the Evolution of Sex” in Roscoff, France.

February 2018 website goes live!

January 2018

Freddy Flanagan was accepted into the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, class of 2022. Congratulations, Freddy!

Mercedes publishes a paper on population genomics in the Japanese parthenogenetic harvestmen, Leiobunum globosum and L. manubriatum.

September 2017

Burns Lab starts up at UMBC!