[Popular Culture] A Wild 'Ride'

Features - Vehicle Safety

Urban wildlife biologist Kieran Lindsey has developed an avid following as National Public Radio’s resident expert on wildlife encounters with vehicles.

June 29, 2012
Mike Merchant
Dr. Kieran Lindsey authors a blog titled “Wildlife and Your Car” for the popular radio program “Car Talk.”

Editor’s Note: The following article appeared on Mike Merchant’s blog, “Insects in the City,” which can be found at http://insectsinthecity.blogspot.com. The blog offers readers news and commentary about the urban pest management industry and is excerpted here with permission of the author.

Any of you who find yourself out driving around on a Saturday morning, and have happened to tune into an NPR station, have probably heard the radio show Car Talk. Who would have guessed that two goofy brothers answering car maintenance questions on the radio would have been successful? I wouldn’t. Yet they’ve become an enormous hit, at least among NPR listeners with cars over a certain age.

The Car Talk brothers usually make me laugh. So I was pleasantly surprised when I got a call a while ago from someone purportedly working for the show, and who needed some advice about pest problems in cars. It turns out that my caller was Dr. Kieran Lindsey, a Texas A&M grad who now works at Virginia Tech and who is moonlighting her wildlife biology skills and knowledge as the “wildlife expert” for Car Talk. An article about Kieran and her new gig recently appeared in AgriLife Today, which is reproduced here (see related story at right).

I’m proud to report that a couple of the issues we discussed are now part of Kieran’s Car Talk webpage called “Wildlife and Your Car.” So for all the times you wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, worrying about spiders or bed bugs in your car, you now have a place to go online. I know I’ll sleep easier knowing that Car Talk has all the answers about what to do should my car be invaded by snakes, rats, goats and cats. Oh, and don’t forget the perennial worry about what will happen to your dog in the front seat should your airbag deploy.

Given the current state of the Texas budget and the economy, Dr. Lindsey gives me great hope. If a wildlife biologist can get a gig advising people how to keep wildlife out of their cars, perhaps there’s a place for an unemployed Ph.D. entomologist in the new economy.


The author has been an entomology specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension since 1989. Contact him via e-mail at mmerchant@giemedia.com.


Texas Aggie Grad Appears on Car Talk

Car Talk, National Public Radio’s wildly popular automotive call-in show, has gotten a bit “wilder” thanks to a Texas A&M University graduate.

Dr. Kieran Lindsey, with the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment, serves as staff “wildlife guru” and animal-vehicle biologist for National Public Radio’s popular Car Talk show.

Brothers Tom Magliozzi and Ray Magliozzi, also known as “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers,” field questions on all things automotive — including close encounters with wildlife. That’s where urban wildlife biologist Dr. Kieran Lindsey comes in.

“As someone who has listened to the show for years,” she said, “I’ve heard Tom and Ray respond to wildlife questions and have often thought, ‘Wow! Those guys need help!’ So several months ago I sent their producer an e-mail offering my services. He accepted.”

Lindsey became the official Car Talk “wildlife guru” — otherwise known as their animal-vehicle biologist — in 2011. Since signing up, Lindsey and the staff at Car Talk Plaza have developed an extensive “frequently asked questions” page for the show’s website. The interview-style page is now available at: http://cartalk.com/content/features/wildlife/.

She regularly contributes to a special Car Talk discussion board and the show’s Facebook page. When asked, Lindsey also will tackle specific questions received through their website, syndicated newspaper column, newsletter and on the air.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Lindsey said. “But more importantly, it’s such a great opportunity to educate the public about one aspect of living with wildlife. If you are a frequent listener, you know that Car Talk has a very broad definition of ‘wildlife,’ so basically anything that’s alive and non-human qualifies. Luckily, I have a broad professional network so I can call in a ‘lifeline’ of my own when necessary.

“Hopefully it’s all done in a way that’s entertaining since we learn best when we’re having fun.”

Lindsey said the Car Talk opportunity goes hand-in-hand with her passion for reconnecting the public with wildlife. She currently teaches urban wildlife management and human-wildlife conflict courses at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, but she’s no stranger to the media spotlight.

Since earning her degrees in wildlife and fisheries sciences at Texas A&M, she has served as the director of a non-profit Houston wildlife center, written the Q&A column “Urban Jungle”  for the Houston Chronicle, produced, written and hosted “Wild Things Radio!” on NPR-affiliate KUNM-FM, and now hosts the blog “Next-Door Nature” at http://www.nextdoornature.org.

She also serves as editor of the Journal of Wildlife Rehabilitation and co-authored the textbook Urban Wildlife Management. But she said perhaps an equally important credential in her new role with Car Talk is having been a licensed driver for more than 30 years.

The preceding article was reprinted here courtesy of Texas A&M AgriLife Communications.

Listeners Ask the Most Interesting Questions

Q. Spiders dangling from rear view mirrors have been known to cause 19-car pileups. How do we keep them out?

Dr. Kieran Says: My specialty is animals with a backbone (vertebrates) rather than those who wear their skeleton on the outside (invertebrates), so I turned to Dr. Mike Merchant, Professor and Extension Urban Entomologist for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, for help with this one. He reminded me of an old saying: “No matter where you are in the world, you’re never more than 5 feet from a spider.” So chances are you often drive around with spiders on board and only occasionally do they make their presence known by hanging from the rear view mirror or chilling out on the dashboard.

Car Talk Says: That’s not what our arachnophobic readers wanted to hear.

Dr. Kieran Says: Dr. Mike also explained that cars are not usually a good habitat for spiders. The presence of a spider, or several spiders, in your car might be a sign that public transportation would be a better choice, but there are other possible explanations as well, such as:

  • You parked below a tree or in a building that recently served as a spider nursery;
  • It’s the season during which a particular species of spider is dispersing — which they do by crawling or “ballooning” on strands of web that catch a breeze and can carry the arachnid for miles;
  • You parked your car in a lot with lights that attract insects at night; or
  • You often leave your windows open, allowing both spiders and the insects upon which they feed to come and go at will.

Regardless, unless you have a major infestation, spider control is simple. For those kind-hearted souls among us who wouldn’t hurt a fly, or a spider, you can capture Charlotte using a glass and a piece of cardboard or a credit card and simply set her free outside of the vehicle. You can also gently — or not so gently — catch the spider using a tissue. The spider can then be released or dispatched, as you see fit. A vacuum can also serve as a spider capture device. Remember, the vast majority of spiders in the U.S. are not venomous, but be careful nonetheless. And I did ask Dr. Mike if anyone has ever developed a spider repellant. In spite of what you might read on the web (the Internet — not the Charlotte — kind), the answer is no.

(Source: Wildlife and Your Car)