Welcome to my website. Because I was born in Germany, most of this website is designed in German. But I am trying to make this site as accessible as possible for English speakers. Please feel free to contact me if you want to know more. A downloadable CV is available here and at the top of this page.
As an entomologist people often ask me for news: “So what’s up with the bumble bees?” “Will honey bees go extinct?” I usually don’t answer but ask instead if they have seen any bees in their back yard and what they think about that. The scientific method is not some obscure thing reserved for scientists. Curiosity and interpretations of our observations belong to everyone. We all explore, question and find answers, which are only good enough until we find better ones. This is what I do as a scientist.
But the answers I find do much more – they inspire and encourage me. I am an enthusiastic photographer and illustrator. I used to think that science and art were mutually exclusive, but I learned that every artist is also an explorer who improves with each experiment. And I have yet to meet a scientist who did not find his work was a bit of art. If you observe an insect, say, a bumble bee, flying clumsily yet gracefully from clover to clover – it’s almost like the whole dance was perfectly choreographed, it’s as if the bee’s anatomy was meant to do this. The wonderful thing is that this is just nature. Evolution is such an impressive mechanism.
As a scientist I also see myself as a storyteller, and an essential part of who I am is talking about and presenting the things I do. I do this using words, pictures and photographs. A glimpse of this can be found on this website. Thank you for stopping by.
My scientific career must have begun during my Undergraduate studies at the University of Bochum. I fell in love with animal ethology. Unfortunately, I noticed that studying large animals can be quite difficult. And I think this is where my interest in insects originated. These were animals that can easily be observed. It was almost like they were in a different world from my own.
Termites are fascinating animals. They are among the oldest of insects and build underground or above-ground, earthen tunnels to their food sources to hide from potential enemies like ants, spiders, birds and mammals. Their main defense strategy is the development of a soldier caste, but a huge population size and a robust nest structure make it almost impossible for a predator to significantly harm a colony. In the Philippines, I was able to follow some colonies on a daily basis and study their defense behavior. Later I studied the learning behavior of a large termite, Macrotermes natalensis, in the South African Soutpansberg mountains. Interestingly, it turned out that termites can be just as smart as ants and bees (the model organisms when it comes to insect learning behavior).
Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) are creatures I am particularly fond of. In Germany, I investigated their foraging behavior and odor preferences and found that they … don’t necessarily prefer Silver Linden odor to others. But this setback did not discourage me from studying insect ecology and especially insect pathology. Over 3 years, I focused on the diseases and other influences that could be causing the decline of bumble bees in the U.S. I particularly focused on a pathogen called Nosema bombi, an incredible fungus that seems to be distributed all over the world.
My fascination for the evolution and ecology of insects has led me to the University of Bielefeld. Here I am studying phenotypic plasticity in wax moths, social parasites of honey bees. In search for an invertebrate equivalent of something like personality, I experimentally try to find the origins of individuality in these tiny insects. Wax moth, which attract females with ultrasonic songs, are nearly perfect for finding out why some individuals appear so much bolder than others.
I think I already liked to draw back in kindergarten. As I grew more experienced and learned more and more techniques, the pencil has almost complete been replaced by a mouse and tablet on my desk. Creating illustrations on a computer is fascinating. One of my dreams is to one day design illustrations that help readers and students better understand biology. Until then, I enjoy using my pencil and computer for outreach projects, creating posters, postcards, logos, or bookmarks. Here are a few of these illustrations I made for special events or on commission:
The last two images are from a cookbook produced to support the University of Illinois Pollinatarium, a museum about plant pollination. The book is available at Amazon.com. Here are a few pictures from some very personal projects. This includes my first attempt at designing a website, something from an art class and a surprisingly successful design contest entry:
That last photo (the one with socializing monkeys) was taken in South Africa. While studying termites I was often visited by baboons that seemed to be curious about what I was doing. While they were not particularly aggressive, seeing them this friendly and social towards humans would have been very unusual. Thank you to Katie for posing for this photo … and thanks to Photoshop for the rest.
I am just a simple amateur photographer with a camera, but even though – I think persistence is one of the most important things in photography. It took me a long time to learn that often only every 50th photo turns out nicely. But in the end, the effort is worth it. Here are some of the photos of which I am particularly proud. Most of them took a lot of patience and time, but you will find one or two lucky snapshots among them too. More recent photographs can be found at 500px.com/nilscordes.
My journey through the world has led me to the spaceship-like campus of Bielefeld University. My new home is now a growth chamber of the Department of Evolutionary Biology, which I share with numerous tiny wax moths. I can be reached via the address on the right.
I will gladly help with any kinds of entomological or zoological questions you may have. Just send me a quick email and I’ll help as best as I can. By the way, I am also happy to hear feedback about my website.
If you enjoy my artwork, I would be happy to work on commission. Whether it is the design of logos, scientific illustrations or simply posters and cards for kids birthdays – every idea you may have is worth a short email. I am sure we can work something out.