Neil Losin

Biologist, Photographer, and Filmmaker

Young Explorers Grantee

Photo: Lizard on finger

Photograph by Neil Losin

Photo: Neil Losin

Photograph courtesy Neil Losin

Birthplace: Madison, Wisconsin

Current City: Los Angeles, California

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I went through phases, like any kid. When I got really into dinosaurs, I wanted to be a paleontologist. When I discovered the birds around me, I wanted to be an ornithologist. But all of my phases had something in common: whether I became an entomologist, wildlife photographer, herpetologist, or something else, I always knew it would involve wild animals and wild places!

How did you get started in your field of work?

When I started college at the University of Virginia, I knew I wanted to study biology but I wasn't sure what kind of biologist I wanted to be. As soon as I took my first advanced course in evolution, though, I knew that I had to be an evolutionary biologist. Darwin's idea is simple, yet it gives us amazing insight into nature and ourselves.

My photography and filmmaking are an extension of my scientific interests. I don't just want to capture beautiful images; I also want to communicate effectively about science. Visual media can help us do that! So when I'm not working on my research, I'm usually working on a film or photography project to bring science to a bigger audience.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to biology?

We know a lot about our world. But what we do know pales in comparison to what we don't know yet! As a scientist, I'm excited about all the discoveries we haven't made yet. I also think that everyone deserves to experience how science can help us make sense of the dazzling complexity and biodiversity around us.

What's a normal day like for you?

Every day is different. When I'm doing fieldwork, I might be outside for ten hours a day, catching lizards under the blazing Miami sun. When I'm back home in Los Angeles, I spend most of my days on campus at UCLA: teaching, analyzing data, writing papers, and applying for funding so I can keep my research going!

Do you have a hero?

Well, Darwin revolutionized biology. You can't really beat that. But if you're looking for a modern-day hero, for me it has to be Sir David Attenborough. More than anyone else, Sir David has brought nature (and science!) into the homes of millions of people all over the world. How many biologists must have gotten their start watching Sir David's programs on TV when they were children? Even if you aren't a scientist, you can't help but be swept up by Sir David's wonderful natural history storytelling and inimitable enthusiasm!

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

Fieldwork definitely has high points and low points, and some experiences fall into both categories. A few years ago, I was in Indonesia to search for some orioles that I wanted to study. Things weren't going well; I was having miserable luck finding the birds. I was on a rickety longboat bound for Batanta Island, my last destination on a one-month trip, and I was starting to worry about the captain's navigational skills (we should have made landfall two hours ago). "Jam karet," I reminded myself, recalling the Indonesian phrase, literally meaning "rubber time," that described the local approach to timekeeping.

Outside the boat, the sea seemed to sparkle unusually brightly in the moonlight, so I emerged from the cabin to see what was going on. Our wake was glowing—not with reflected light from above, but with living light from below! Bioluminescent creatures flashed and blinked in the churning seawater. As I leaned over the bow, a huge bright shape materialized beneath us. It was unmistakably a dolphin, but all I could see in the darkness was a dolphin-shaped apparition, thousands of tiny, gelatinous creatures appearing and fading as the dolphin brushed by, leaving a glimmering afterglow in its wake. Seconds later, the dolphin overtook us and vanished below. It was an unforgettable moment!

What are your other passions?

I love spending time in nature when I'm not working—it's a rare luxury for a field biologist who does a lot of his work outside! I also love making music, doing anything that entails flipping (trampoline, gymnastics, diving), and juggling.

What do you do in your free time?

Free time? What's that?

If you could have people do one thing to help reduce the human impact on the planet, what would it be?

I think the best thing we can all do is to keep an open mind, think carefully about our activities and how they impact the planet, and be open to change.

Neil's Blog Posts


  • neil-lizard-blog.jpg

    A Rainbow of Lizards in the Mediterranean

    Most people know Ibiza, the largest island in the archipelago, for its spectacular beaches, crystal-clear waters, and world-famous nightlife. But as anyone who has visited Ibiza will tell you, the island's official symbol is one you'd never expect—a lizard!

  • Photo: Brown Anole

    Finding Florida’s Exotic Invaders

    "Invasive species" have become a well-known phenomenon, in part because of dangerous invasives like the Burmese python (Python molurus) in the Everglades. But many people are hard-pressed to identify even the most conspicuous non-native species in their area.

In Their Words

I think the best thing we can all do is to keep an open mind, think carefully about our activities and how they impact the planet, and be open to change.

—Neil Losin



  • bite-force.jpg

    Bite Force

    Neil Losin visits Puerto Rican crested anoles and observes their bite force.

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