Magazine On-line [spring 2009]
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Biology professor makes television appearance

James WagnerIf you’ve tuned in to the Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet lately, you may have seen a familiar face. Biology professor James Wagner appeared on an episode of Weird, True and Freaky that aired on the channel in November.

This isn’t Wagner’s first experience with the Discovery Channel. In 1999, his research in wolf spider cannibalism was profiled on Discover Magazine. For Weird, True and Freaky, he was called in as a cannibalism expert to provide commentary on footage of animal behavior.
“If you do a Google search for cannibalism,” Wagner said, “my name comes up. That’s how the producers of this show found me.”

Wagner watched footage that had been compiled from a variety of sources and chose his subject matter. “I told them, ‘Yes, I’m comfortable talking about this,’ or ‘No, I’m not comfortable with that,’” he said. “Basically, I explained the behaviors.”

He said it was enjoyable, and a little strange, to delve into the behaviors of a lot of different animals, rather than focusing on wolf spiders, his usual field of expertise.

Working on the show was a positive experience, but Wagner pointed out that Weird, True and Freaky falls under the category of sensationalism.

“There was one segment that I disagreed with,” he said. “A voice-over that they used didn’t make sense. It was dramatic, but biologically what they were saying didn’t make sense. They used it anyway. So, that was a little bit frustrating.”

Wagner said he won’t be seeking out television appearances in the future, but he’s open to any that come his way.

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