The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

Looking for Mites, Ever an Adventure

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(Originally posted on our 2012 Field Blog —  by Gail McCormick)

I am interested in a lot of things. This is by no means a unique or new-found phenomenon, but broad interests nonetheless take you in fascinating directions. The latest craze? These guys:


Charming, aren’t they? They’re chiggers (yes, like the kind that feast on our ankles).  I want to know why they like lizards so much. More specifically, I want to know how hormones affect mite load in these lizards. Part of my research this summer (in theory) involves finding a site with a bunch of chiggers. There are fence lizards in some areas of Pennsylvania that have mites, so why not look close to home? I coerced Renee into attempting to survey mites at a site in Huntingdon County. In an area with a high density of mites, you can place a black plexiglass square on the ground and mites should scurry across it within a minute or two. Alas, there didn’t appear to be many mites at this site. We tried!

square watching renee

Renee and I began to drive away when we stopped for a gate. We joked about it being locked.  We shouldn’t have joked. There was a ditch on one side of the gate and a mountain on the other, so there was no going around. We were stuck inside. Well shucks. lock

Renee and I began to stress eat potato chips while calling the one contact we had who might have some ideas. No answer. One lock on the gate was a 4-digit combination lock–I tried to think of important numbers: when was the field station founded? 1974? Nope, that didn’t work. Hmm.

We made a many-point turn in our rather large field vehicle and headed back toward the little building that was locked in with us. On peering in one window, we found a white board with emergency phone numbers. While Renee made some calls, I kept looking in windows. Renee tried the first number to no avail. She began the second when I discovered a note left near a window that looked promising. I squished my face against the dirty glass and tried to read the upside-down writing. This fortuitously placed note contained our salvation! Renee and I rushed back to the car and drove to the gate. We were almost out of potato chips; this had better work! Renee slid the numbers to the appropriate code…and it didn’t work. I gave it some love, put in the numbers again, and mercifully it clicked open. Phew!  All in all, only 12 minutes of worry, though it certainly felt like much longer.

Oh, I mustn’t forget these important updates from our adventure!

cheezits3-thumb-300x450-325373 discover cheezits

The following week, I investigated another site, which also involved climbing a mountain. Again, there were no mites, and I accidentally hiked 6 miles.  Whoops.

Let no one say your many interests don’t keep you going! That “going” might just be in the direction of a locked gate or over the mountain that stands between you and your car 🙂

Author: Gail McCormick

Science writer at Penn State University; papercrafter, ecologist, theatre-lover.

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