The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action


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Eat It, Eat, Everyone Wants to Take My Cheez-Its

(Originally posted on our 2012 Field Blog —  by Chris Thawley

In the conference room of good old Mueller 508, PSU, Happy Valley, the walls feature mementoes of important lab events: cover pages of published articles, our Christmas door decoration trophy, a sticker chart of all papers in review/press, and, in prominent position, our Lab A-Cheez-ments, a trophy wall of the boxes of all the different Cheez-It species we’ve sampled. As various people and parts of our lab have migrated South for the summer, it’s been no surprise that our slightly ridiculous obsession with Cheez-Its has come along for the ride.

Upon first rolling solo into Andalusia in my PSU-issued Ford Fusion (not recommended, the blind spots are ludicrous), I diverted for a quick detour to the local Walmart to stock up on groceries and supplies. While wandering the aisles and marveling at the bounty of different foods (carp and anchovies, orangutans and breakfast cereals…), I chanced upon that holy grail of snacks, a new-to-science taxon of Cheez-Its, the Cheddar and BBQ Snack Mix! Was this a regional delicacy or the debut of a new (and delicious) product? All thoughts of further shopping aside, I snatched a sample with both hands, headed for the self-checkout line, and made a beeline to the Pond House to share my discovery with the rest of the lab.

Nothing else gives quite the same rush as finding a new flavor of Cheez-Its.

Nothing else gives quite the same rush as finding a new flavor of Cheez-Its.

On entering the Pond House, I shared my startling new findings with Travis, Gail, Sean, and Jill around the dining room table. I felt right at home too, as, in addition to the soothing tones of Travis’ snores, the table itself had, including my new box, remnants of 6 different types of Cheez-Its!

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Research and Cheez-Its go hand in hand.

As we’ve begun our summer research program this year, we’ll be adding a few components to the research we’ve done last year. One piece that I’m really excited about is looking at the differences in arthropod (bug) communities between the enclosures that have fire ants vs. those in which we’ve eliminated them with our famed, medieval boiling water method. To quantify the arthropods, we’re using a combination of techniques, including pitfall traps, ant mound censuses, and baits. Cheez-Its, in addition to sustaining hungry researchers through the rigors of field work, may have a scientific role to play as well. Our initial tests indicate that they function as a highly attractive bait for many ants, including fire ants! Apparently, a love of baked crackers with the taste of 100% real cheese is not unique to the phylum Chordata.

Fire ants recruit quickly to Cheez-Its, defending them from rival ants with venomous stingers and a surly disposition.

Fire ants recruit quickly to Cheez-Its, defending them from rival ants with venomous stingers and a surly disposition.

As the field season progresses, I’m sure there will be many more vital updates on the contribution of Cheez-Its to ecology featured on this blog. In the meantime, I’ll be chilling on the porch with a Diet Mt. Dew in my hand, watching the bass jump in the pond, and enjoying the most recent fruits of my field labor: a box of Smoked Cheddar/Monterrey Jack Cheez-It Duoz.

The author of this post cheezin' it up.

The author of this post cheezin’ it up.

Update: Gail informs me that the Cheddar and BBQ Snack Mix has debuted in the State College area. Look for it at a store near you!

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Enclosure Exposure

(Originally posted on our 2012 Field Blog —  by Jill Newman)

Chris and I have been working on finishing up enclosures out in front of the Pond House. We finished putting up the rest of the fencing, killed fire ants with boiling water, and set up logs and wooden pallets within the enclosures. We’ll be putting the lizards here soon! Here are a few pictures:

Chris boiling fire ants

Chris boiling fire ants

Me mowing Enclosure #1

Me mowing Enclosure #1

Chris weed whacking along the enclosure fence

Chris weed whacking along the enclosure fence

Enclosure #4 (aka Skull Island because of its shape)

Enclosure #4 (aka Skull Island because of its shape)

Here are some more cool pictures of herps down in Alabama:

Loggerhead musk turtle

Loggerhead musk turtle

Florida softshell turtle

Florida softshell turtle

Three-lined salamander

Three-lined salamander

Bird-voiced treefrog

Bird-voiced treefrog

 

-The Intern


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Summer 2012 Season Begins!

 

 

 

(Originally posted on our 2012 Field Blog —  by Jill Newman)

 

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And this is what we have been up to so far:

Travis got his fix of catching gravid female lizards for his project back at Penn State and left to join his wife because they have a child on the way. Good luck and congrats!

Sean’s band, Personality Mirroring, is preparing for the release of their new album, “Too Much Information.” I have heard a couple of the hit singles and they are very catchy!!! As a side project, he is herping around southern Alabama, looking for neat herps such as the rainbow snake.

Nicole, who was the lab manager of the Langkilde Lab before I started working here, came to visit us for a couple days. Nicole and Sean took me to the spring near the Solon Dixon Center. Half-expecting to see a dirty, alligator-filled swamp, I was pleasantly surprised to see this tropical resort:

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Gail joined us for about a week after catching lizards in Arkansas with Travis and Sean. She stayed to help us with enclosures when Chris arrived in Alabama. The enclosures are up and Chris will be teaching me how to be a fire ant assassin soon.100_0388-thumb-960x720-320819

As for me, I have been enjoying my first visit to Alabama. So far, I have avoided getting a sunburn and getting stung by fire ants, which is a pretty big accomplishment for me.

I have always been interested in herpetology and Sean has really gone out of his way to teach me about the different herps in Alabama. For instance, on our second day in the field, Sean risked his life to dive after a speedy coachwhip snake that paid him back by hitting him in the face with its tail. Thanks Sean! Travis and Sean are also helping me publish some distribution notes for new county records that we found.

I’ve seen some really awesome herps so far (some of them in the field and some of them on road cruises). Here are a few pictures:

Pine snake

Pine snake

gopher tortoise,

gopher tortoise,

narrow-mouthed toad,

narrow-mouthed toad,

red salamander,

red salamander,

six-lined racerunner

six-lined racerunner

Pictures from top to bottom: Pine snake, gopher tortoise, narrow-mouthed toad, red salamander, and six-lined racerunner

Other miscellaneous items:

~The theme of this summer has become: “It’s not my problem”

~Favorite quote so far: “When there is a handle on one side, there is work on the other” – Punky

-The Intern


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The 2012 Research Team

(Originally posted on our 2012 Field Blog)

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Travis Robbins, Postdoc

 

 

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Sean Graham, Postdoc

 

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Chris Thawley, Ph.D. Candidate

This year, I’ll be a returning veteran of several lizarding campaigns, and I’m excited to get back to the warmth and excitement of the herpful South after a long, cold, and dark winter at Penn State. This summer, my research will focus on nailing down the effects of fire ants on lizard survival, behavior, and stress via the second round of my enclosure experiments. I’ll also be helping coordinate lizard logistics and learning how to fish for bass in the pond out back.

 

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Gail McCormick, Ph.D. Candidate

I am glad to be returning south, however briefly! While touring the
south, I hope to collect a boatload of male lizards and to help out
with general herping. This summer, I will return to Pennsylvania with
my boys (lizards) to investigate how hormone levels affect immune
response and parasite load (chiggers) in fence lizards. This involves
a lot of hormone manipulation in the lab and a field component later
in the summer.  The real question is why-oh-why am I studying
chiggers? My ankles are already complaining!

 

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Jill Newman,  Intern

I’m currently a senior at Northeastern University (Boston, MA) and am on co-op as a field assistant in the Langkilde Lab at Penn State University. After working on wood frog projects for two months in Pennsylvania, I will be down in Alabama working on fence lizard projects until August. In addition to working with graduate students, I’m hoping to conduct an independent research project while I’m down south.

 

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Melville, Staff support, chief minivan 

This is my sixth year of carting Langkilde lab scientists all over the south to catch fence lizards. With my dual sliding doors, these ecologists are able to quickly leap from my spacious interior to catch fence lizards on the roadside. When snoring is unbearable, my bench seats also provide quiet sleeping accommodations.

 

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George Brooks, Intern