Professor of biology


  • B.A., Bowdoin College (2002)
  • M.S., Boise State University (2006)
  • Ph.D., Arizona State University (2012)

My Love for Teaching

While there are multiple components to my teaching philosophy, one aspect has to do with promoting students’ abilities to apply their scientific learning to multiple contexts. For example, one bedrock skill of a scientific education is the ability to engage in experimental design. At its heart, experimental design is the careful approach of deciding how you will get information that you can use to make decisions. While this skill lets students engage in original research, the generalized form also paves the way for almost any future career. 

In my courses, we spend a lot of time developing an understanding of underlying concepts and then seeing if we can apply this thinking to new situations. For example, after we learn about how skeletal muscle works in Human Physiology, we then examine what happens in specialized weightlifting scenarios. And being able to apply the process of science is really important to me. In both BIOL 251 and 275, students form groups and carry out an experiment of their own design, and then present their findings at the end of the semester. 

Knowing how your body works or why animals do what they do—it appeals to the kindergartener in all of us. And these topics are all around our daily lives, from playing with a pet, to choosing a healthful meal, to being in nature—a lot of the courses I teach inform those moments.

My Research Interests

I work with animals to see how they meet challenges posed by the environment. Sometimes they can use the inner workings of their own bodies (e.g., their immune systems), or they can modify their behavior (e.g., which food item to choose). It can be a rough time out in the wild, and I investigate the tools that animals use to not only stay alive, but also thrive out there!

I always liked animals, but ended up deciding that veterinary medicine wasn’t for me. I then had a few great professors in college who showed me other ways to work with animals and think scientifically. Without their guidance, I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

Why Lafayette?

The EXCEL program and similar types of summer support for students are essential for my research program. I collect a lot of data when birds are breeding, which happens to be during the summer. Without students, who are an integral part of my research program, I wouldn’t be able to collect enough data. Not even close.

Awards and Honors

  • Fellow, American Ornithological Society (2021)
  • American Ornithological Society, Marion Jenkinson Service Award (2020)
  • American Ornithological Society, Ned K. Johnson Young Investigator Award (2017)
  • Elected Member, American Ornithological Society (2016)

Selected Publications

  • Butler MW, ZE Cullen, CM Garti, DE Howard, BA Corpus, BA McNish, JK Hines. 2023. Physiologically relevant levels of biliverdin do not significantly oppose oxidative damage in plasma. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 96:294-303, 10.1086/725402.
  • Butler MW, EN Stierhoff, JM Carpenetti, MA Bertone, AM Addesso, SA Knutie. 2021. Oxidative damage increases with degree of simulated bacterial infection, but not ectoparasitism, in tree swallow nestlings. Journal of Experimental Biology 224: jeb243116, 10.1242/jeb.243116. *Cover image associated with article*
  • Butler MW, ME Stine, KC Ki. 2020. Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) use color patterning, but not the colors themselves, as a cue to eject interspecific parasitic eggs. The Auk: Ornithological Advances, ukaa047, 10.1093/auk/ukaa047. 
  • Armour EM, TL Bruner, JK Hines, MW Butler. 2020. Low-dose immune challenges result in detectable levels of oxidative damage. Journal of Experimental Biology 223: jeb220095. 
  • Baylor JL and MW Butler. 2019. Immune challenge-induced oxidative damage may be mitigated by biliverdin. Journal of Experimental Biology, 222:jeb200055.
  • Butler MW, SC Bociulis, AR Little, JA Minnick, NJ Ritter, ME Rockman, ML Rossi, JK Hines. 2017. Quantifying biliverdin in liver and spleen samples from multiple avian species. The Auk: Ornithological Advances, 134:11-21.
  • Butler MW, TJ Lutz, HB Fokidis, ZR Stahlschmidt. 2016. Eating increases oxidative damage in a reptile. Journal of Experimental Biology, 219:1969-1973.
  • Moller KT, MW Butler, DF DeNardo. 2013. The effect of hydration state and energy balance on innate immunity of a desert reptile. Frontiers in Zoology 10:23.
  • Butler MW, ZR Stahlschmidt, DR Ardia, S Davies, JR Davis, LG Guillette Jr., N Johnson, SD McCormick, KJ McGraw, DF DeNardo. 2013. Thermal sensitivity of immune function: evidence against a generalist-specialist tradeoff among endothermic and ectothermic vertebrates. American Naturalist 181:761-774. 
  • Butler MW and KJ McGraw. 2013. Eggshell coloration reflects both yolk characteristics and dietary carotenoid history of female mallards. Functional Ecology 27:1176-1185.