This past week, the servers, waiters, bartenders, and other townsfolk of the fair city of Chattanooga, TN were probably all wondering similar things: who are these crazy people blocking the sidewalks, clogging our bars, and loudly discussing reptiles, amphibians, and fish all over town? And why do they have an inordinate fondness for Hawaiian shirts? The answer, of course, was that the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (2014 edition) was in town for their annual conference. The Langkilde Lab sent a sizable delegation to the meeting with 6 attendees: Tracy (the PI), Chris Howey and Travis Robbins (the post-docs), Mark Herr and Mark Goldy-Brown (the undergrads), and me (the lone grad student). Starting on a Wednesday morning, we all piled into a fabulous white whale of a Chrysler minivan and roadtripped our way down to Chattanooga. Our first evening got off to a blazing start when, upon receipt of our pizza and beer at Community Pie, we were forced to tell our lovely waitress that her story of a friend being swarmed and attacked by 15 fascist cottonmouths was, in fact, bogus. We also had a grand time at the informal social sipping a few local brews while wondering at the ludicrousness of Sharknado 2, which was playing throughout the hotel bar.
JMIH kicked into full gear on the following day, with a morning of plenary speakers and an afternoon full of student presentations in the various awards competitions. Mark Herr, one of a very few undergraduates presenting at the conference, delivered a cracking talk about the relationship between stress levels and defensive behaviors in Cottonmouths. Placed in the last slot of the day, I spoke about my research from this past summer looking at how the adaptations which we see in fence lizards to fire ants (namely fleeing and twitching) may actually be maladaptive in certain situations. Fence lizards seem to react with increased flight and twitching to native ants, which don’t pose a threat, and this behavior may attract attention from native predators such as hawks and snakes (see this previous post for more info about reactions to hawk predators). I also showed data from the past four years which links higher rates of injuries (such as those I wrote about here) with the presence of fire ants. So perhaps this adaptation, while useful to survive fire ant attacks, has some serious costs as well.
Both Mark’s and my presentations were judged for the Henri Seibert Award in Ecology given by SSAR for the best student presentations at the meeting, and we did the Langkilde Lab proud. Mark won a special Honorable Mention, with the judges noting how impressive his work was for an undergraduate. I received the first place award, which, in addition to having a congratulatory letter, came with a chunk of ca$hmoney and a book of my choice from sponsors CRC Press. On the whole, a successful evening for the lab!
Other lab members presented their research as well, with Chris Howey chairing a session and talking about the effects of prescribed fire on thermoregulation of snakes, Travis discussing the long-awaited results of his fence lizard breeding experiment (too complicated for me to write up here!), Tracy discussing bearded ladies, and a guest appearance from lab alum Sean Graham looking into the effects of fire ant invasion on Caribbean anoles. Mark Goldy-Brown presented a poster detailing just one piece of the great work he’s done as an undergraduate looking at the effects of fire ant envenomation on fence lizard physiology.
By the time Sunday evening rolled around, we were all nearing exhaustion. The meeting had many highlights, including an opening reception at the Tennessee Aquarium; the facility was amazing and strolling through the exhibits with great food and bars spaced throughout (including the chance to pet Lake Sturgeon!) was a great experience. We also sampled lots of the great food and beverages on offer in Chattanooga and enjoyed local attractions like free outdoor concerts, a Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball game (with multiple used car giveaways), and others. But the choicest of attractions was the SSAR/HL auction on the final night of the conference.
Each year the SSAR/HL auction takes donations of a diverse set of herpetologically themed items for a fast-paced auction to raise money for student travel to the next year’s conference. Bidding wars often break out for even banal items, and the drama only increases throughout the evening as BAC rises and bidding inhibitions become lower. This year’s auction was MC’ed in part by Sean Graham, who kept the bidding at a blistering tempo with a speed round, and everyone in the lab came away with at least one prize from the auction. For myself, I sprung for an original 1875 print of “Check list of North American Batrachia and Reptilia, with a systematic list of the higher groups and an essay on geographical distribution” by E. D. Cope, one of the founders of North American herpetology.
Most people purchased books, but Tracy fended off all comers to walk away with one of the hits of the night: a t-shirt emblazoned with a meticulously detailed guide to snake hemipenes (based on the research of a good friend from Down Under, Scott Keogh).
Come Monday morning, it was time to head home to State College, hoping that four consecutive nights of sleep deprivation had resulted in only temporary insanity. Travis opted for his own special recovery breakfast, destroying a gargantuan slice of chocolate cake from the diner attached to our hotel.
Meanwhile, the undergrads, despite their youth, higher metabolisms, and generally whipper-snappery, seemed to feel the effects more than the older, more experienced hands, and required some serious naptime in the backseat of the van on the return leg.
All in all, the Langkilde Lab rocked JMIH 2014, and we’re looking forward to future editions. With so many folks recently moving on to bigger and better things, future JMIH meeting will be a chance for Langkilde Lab reunions par excellence!