The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

Leapin’ Lizards: Starting Out as an Undergraduate in the Langkilde Lab

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In the last of our undergraduate blog posts for this semester, we’ll hear from Tommy Cerri, a sophomore in the Langkilde Lab. Tommy is majoring in biology- vertebrate physiology option with an intended minor in psychology. In the community he is a member of the Morale committee for THON, a part of Global Medical Brigades, and also a member of Pre-Med Society. After college he plans on attending medical school and becoming an emergency room attendant. His post is below:

Last semester, in the spring of my freshman year, I applied for and received a grant to work in the Langkilde Lab from the NASA freshman undergraduate research program (FURP). Since then, my time in the lab has been split between recording data for Travis Robbins, a post-doc in the lab, feeding the animals, and assisting with collecting data on tadpoles for Brad Carlson, a graduate student in the lab. As I’m only in the midst of my second semester in the lab, I haven’t had the time to begin my own research project yet. I currently am gaining experience and understanding, so that in the near future, I’ll be able to take on such an independent project.

During my first semester in the lab, I began with entering and managing data regarding juvenile lizard reactions to fire ants under various stresses. I worked to compile this data into one spreadsheet to be easily analyzed for Travis’s study on these lizards. I also fed the lizards weekly. Feeding the lizards was always a task because, ironically given that I am a biology major, I am frightened by them. I had to fill up their water bowls and after this give each lizard a few crickets; I am actually even more frightened of crickets! I got the hang of the feeding in the first few weeks, and Travis even showed me how to handle lizards! All my progress came crashing down one afternoon, though, when I was dropping some crickets to one angry lizard.  Suddenly, he jumped up (about six inches) onto my arm and then jumped one more time out of the cage. I was frozen in absolute fear. A more experienced undergrad was nearby to quickly scoop up the pesky thing and return him to his tub. However, I was scarred forever from the experience, and I can no longer see lizards in the same way again.

This current semester, I have been working with Brad on photographing groups of tadpoles. Brad’s research primarily focuses on the variability of tadpole phenotypes induced by the environment. We know that animals can vary among one another within populations, but what Brad is trying to uncover is what factors impact how much of this variability there is. He raised groups of tadpoles in wading pools and subjected them to three different treatments. The first treatment was the presence of a predator or lack thereof. The second was either a large density of tadpoles within a pool or a small amount of tadpoles. The last treatment was whether food was distributed evenly or unevenly to different areas of the pool in which the tadpoles are held.

Figure-1

Figure 1: A few tadpoles which are siblings of the same age raised within the lab. You can see the amount of variability in size that can occur.

Figure-2

Figure 2: Jason Langshaw and Jennie Williams (spring interns) around pools of tadpoles used in the experiment.

My role in the experiment comes with the collection of data. I am responsible for weighing all the tadpoles from each pool as well as photographing a randomly selected 15 tadpoles from each group. The selected photographed 15 tadpoles will then be viewed to measure the length and depth of the tail of each individual (described in Andrew Watt’s post). The resulting data will then be analyzed to determine the amount of morphological variability that occurs within the same population of tadpoles from the differing environmental treatments.

Figure-3

Figure 3: A sample picture showing how a tadpole is laid out to be measured after it has been weighed.

The results of the data have not yet been analyzed to determine how the experiment turns out. Up to now I have had a great experience working with scientific tools and really getting hands-on experience with research here at the university. It has been an eye-opening experience up to now seeing what really goes on before papers of findings are published and how much work really goes into it! Next semester I am taking an ecology and ecosystems class and am very interested to see how what I have experienced in the lab ties in with what else I will learn. I still have so much to learn and am very excited to improve my knowledge of biology and contribution within the lab.

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