Pets of Tri-I: Punxsutawney Pill

Audrey Goldfarb

This month I was lucky enough to meet Punxsutawney “Punx” Pill, a pill bug who currently resides with Camila Villasante, a Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. student, and Denis Torre, a Ph.D. student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Per CDC guidelines, Punx preferred to perform the interview over Zoom. Although he is over 60 in pill years, the vaccine has not yet been approved for crustaceans. Punx’s reputation as a cute but astute pill preceded him, so I was a bit nervous going into the interview, but Punx’s keen demeanor immediately put me at ease.

Audrey Goldfarb: It’s an honor to finally meet you, somewhat in person! To start off, could you tell me the meaning behind your name?

Punx: On February 2, I was going for my usual morning walk. I started under my little rock, then came into the sunlight. Suddenly I saw my shadow! It scared me so much that I almost rolled into a ball. My humans, Camila and Denis, saw this, and named me Punxsutawney Pill Bug, “Punx” for short. Sorry everybody for the six more weeks of winter…

AG: Wow, I’m glad Camila and Denis saw you before they stepped on you! How long had you known them before you introduced yourself?

P: I’m a shy little bug, honestly. I really wanted to befriend Camila and Denis but was nervous they’d be scared of me. So, for a few months I crawled around the walls of their apartment to test the waters until they decided to adopt me!

AG: Well, clearly you had nothing to worry about. But I heard you underwent a move a couple months ago, one of life’s most stressful events. How was that?

P: Whew. I don’t have many belongings, being a pill bug, so thankfully the move itself wasn’t so bad. But the change of scenery was big. Denis had just made a terrarium full of goodies and tasty treats from Central Park (soil, decaying leaves, moss…great stuff). Moving from the barren apartment walls to a toasty greenhouse was actually great—and did wonders for my pores. I made fast friends with the two worms in my terrarium (courtesy of Irene Duba, Ph.D. fellow at Rockefeller).

Punx enjoys the view from his new digs

AG: You look like you’re in great shape. What’s your secret?

P: Aw shucks, Audrey, thanks for asking! I’ve been doing a lot of virtual pill-ates recently because I’m working on my pill-bod for pond season this summer.

AG: Nice, I love the pond too! Maybe I’ll see you there sometime. Speaking of getting out and about this summer, do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

P: As a pill bug, there is nothing I love more than curling up into a little ball. So, while it may seem like I’m an extrovert talking to you Audrey, I am definitely an introvert!

AG: I would have never guessed! What do you hope to check off your bucket list in 2021?

P: I want to go on a pill-grimage to Pill-adelphia this summer. All my friends will be there.

AG: Do you find the term “roly poly” offensive?

P: Frankly, the term alarms me a little bit. But at least it’s not “cheesy bugs” or “monkey peas” like they say in England.

AG: Noted. Switching the subject, do you have a traditional owner-pet relationship with Camila and Denis, or do you consider yourself independent?

P: My humans check on me from time-to-time, like last week when they found a centipede in my terrarium and vanquished it for me (So scary! So many legs!), but otherwise I’m a pretty independent pill.

AG: You certainly seem like you’ve got it all together! What are you planning to do with your stimulus check?

P: As an Upper East Side pill bug, I really want to get myself a pill-oton bike. I need to get a special bike with seven sets of pedals for all my legs, though—so it’ll cost me a small fortune!

AG: Are you single?

P: My humans keep asking me when I’m going to have grand-pills for them! But I’m just waiting for the right pill-partner to crawl by.

AG: I’m sure the ideal partner is out there for you, pill bug or otherwise. In the meantime, how do you unwind at the end of a long day?

P: By cracking open a nice, cold Pill-sner.