Women of STEM

A profile series highlighting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Tessie Offner, Non-native Species Biologist

Tessie Offner, Non-native Species Biologist

Tessie Offner, Non-native Species Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

As a Non-native species biologist, what do you do?

I am part of a team of biologists that monitor the effects of certain animals on Florida’s wildlife and people. The animals we study are not originally from Florida (they were brought from other parts of the world), but they escaped captivity and now live in natural areas in Florida.

My team works with many reptiles, including pythons, but my main duty is to study a large lizard called a tegu. We are worried about native Florida animals that tegus might eat, such as young gopher tortoises, snakes, frogs, and birds. I collect data about tegus during the warm part of the year, and in the winter I study the data to see what we’ve learned.

We use a lot of technology to collect data including trail cameras, GPS units, radio telemetry devices, cage traps, and burrow cameras. I remove many of the tegus I catch to protect Florida wildlife.

What is the coolest part of your job? What do you get really excited about?

I love checking my cage traps and finding a tegu inside! Especially when I’m trapping in a new area. Not only does this mean I discovered a new place where tegus are living, but I’m also saving Florida wildlife!

How did you get into science?

I’ve been an animal enthusiast since I could walk. When I was little, I didn’t play house- I spent my time pretending I was an animal instead. My favorite book when I was little was the “B” encyclopedia because I loved the photos of birds. I think I was born a biologist, and my parents let me follow my heart.

Do you have any books, movies or other STEM-based media to recommend?

One of my favorite books is The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, which is a collection of stories from Richard P. Feynman. I also enjoyed Deadly Feasts, which is a short book about prion diseases. I’m very glad my professors assigned some of the more challenging books, like The Selfish Gene and Darwin’s Origin of Species. I don’t think I would have read them on my own but they are still two of my favorite books that I read in college.

What advice would you give to a student looking to go into your field?

Don’t let math hold you back- or any other challenge for that matter! When you get to college, there will be a lot of people who want to help you succeed. Don’t be afraid to admit to your weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to seek help for them either!

Do you have any “asks” for the reader? Things they should check out or think about?

I always want people to deeply consider how human population growth will impact wildlife. When people move out of cities and build in the suburbs, where will the wildlife go? When new technology is created to harvest or extract natural resources, how will wildlife be impacted? How can we feed and care for a growing human population and still protect wildlife?

Sometimes it will require us to sacrifice convenience or money, but we can’t buy back animals from extinction, or perfectly restore damaged ecosystems. It is better for it to not happen to begin with than to react when it is too late.

Kate Page, Biomedical Sciences Masters Graduate

Kate Page, Biomedical Sciences Masters Graduate

Tami Lunsford, Teacher and Marine Education Consultant

Tami Lunsford, Teacher and Marine Education Consultant