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Your Belly Button is Like a Rainforest, and Here’s Why

Your Belly Button is Like a Rainforest, and Here’s Why

Written by Stephen Messenger

After decades of exploring the wealth of biodiversity found in some of the planet’s remotest ecosystems, from high atop the forest canopy, to down deep within the ocean’s murky depths, scientists have now turned their attention to one of the darkest, most foreboding places of all — your belly button!

Sure, that little built-in lint trap might not seem so terribly interesting, aside from being a battle scar from the early days of our infantile independence. But for a team of researchers, lead by Dr. Robert Dunn, delving into the human belly button is actually like visiting a unknown world. And they should know; they’ve bravely participated in dozens of harrowing navel expeditions in search of new life.

That is to say, they’ve swabbed and cultured bacteria samples from 60 participants across the U.S. — discovering in the process more than 2,000 distinct species, some of which are quite uncommon.

“As we looked at belly buttons we saw a terrible, yawning, richness of life,” writes Dr. Dunn. “The average belly button hosted 50 or so species and across belly buttons we found thousands of species (and as we sample more belly buttons, we continue to find more species). The vast majority of these species are rare. Right away something struck an ecological chord. The belly buttons reminded me of rain forests.”

Interestingly enough, despite the broadness of their sampling, Dunn and his team found that the commonest species found were present in around 70 percent of belly buttons tested — though no one bacteria was present in all of them.

“Although it remains difficult to predict which species of bacteria might be found on a particular human, predicting which species are most frequent (or rare) seems more straightforward, at least for those species living in belly buttons,” researchers write in their study, appearing in the journal PLOS ONE.

What Dunn and his team failed to uncover, however, was why each person’s navel seems to be so distinct — conceding: “what we cannot seem to account for is which species are present in any particular belly button.”

But that should come as no surprise; scientists have really only begun to poke around the belly button just recently and there’s certainly far more to learn.

“The belly button is one of the habitats closest to us, and yet it remains relatively unexplored.”

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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11:39AM PDT on Apr 3, 2013

What kind of species?

10:49PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

"What Dunn and his team failed to uncover, however, was why each person’s navel seems to be so distinct." Fascinating. Does this mean that our belly buttons could possibly be like fingerprints and two alike? Or become a Distinct Society and like some Quebec separatists vote to separate from the body? Time to think of a film remake of The Fantastic Voyage but inside the belly button instead with many intriguing life forms...or the basis of a new Star Trek movie.

Does this mean that I can hibernate in my belly button until the long cold winter is a thing of the past? The climate in there could mean warmer weather and I can walk free and unhindered by -30 temperatures. Put a whole new meaning on global warming. A great groundhog hole too!

1:00PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

now I wonder if finding this info wll help in something, lmao , anyway it is interesting and some kind of funy..

12:51PM PST on Feb 6, 2013

kind of off-putting.

2:15PM PST on Nov 20, 2012

Hmm, does that mean we'll have double the chances to find the cure to cancer if there are bacteria they couldn't even acount for?

7:30AM PST on Nov 14, 2012

LMAO! I love this article, I am always remarking to my husband about how bellybuttons are mysterious and I would never want to go traveling into one. I figured from the title that this would have to do with bacterial diversity or something like it. Thanks for the laugh!

2:21AM PST on Nov 14, 2012

Thank you :)

6:14PM PST on Nov 13, 2012


9:59AM PST on Nov 13, 2012

Okay, folks, this is a little weird and something I didn't need to know.

8:15AM PST on Nov 13, 2012

If you can find it:)Just kidding!

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