The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…

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…but we were last week! Tracy, Chris (Howey), Mark, and I roadtripped it from State College, PA to Lawrence, KS to attend the 2015 SSAR annual meeting, where we presented our research, heard lots of other exciting presentations, and had a great time. While the following is a travelogue of the past week for us, you can also check out the content of the research that we presented on.

Our travels began despairingly early (5:55 am) on a Thursday morning with Tracy picking me up from my place, subsequently rounding up the rest of the lab, and obtaining our fleet vehicle (a newish Chevy Impala named “Vlad”). One look at the GPS revealed how far we had to go: 1,021 miles to Lawrence.

Map

It doesn’t look very far on this map…

The drive was filled with all sorts of fascinating sights and occurrences:

CarSelfie

We started out with high levels of excitement!

OhioCorn

The corn in Ohio was beautiful for the first hour or so….

Ohio

but we were soon grateful for a change of state.

CornIllinois

However, the corn in Indiana looked almost exactly the same as that in Ohio.

Upon seeing the vasts swathes of corn billowing across the landscape, Mark Herr, resident undergraduate student extraordinaire, asked perhaps the most profound question of the trip: “Is popcorn corn?” The older and wiser among us proceeded to explain that popcorn is indeed corn (Zea mays, though there are specific varieties that make the best popcorn) that has been heated until enough pressure builds in the kernel to pop out of the hull. The group also made use of our phones to learn other fascinating popcorn facts, including: popcorn has likely been eaten by humans for over 6,000 years and that popcorn is the official snack food of the state of Illinois. Speaking of Illinois…

Illinois

We rolled into the Land of Lincoln, the 5th state on our trip.

Highest

We kept our eyes peeled for the highest point in Illinois, and we’re mostly sure this is it.

Topo

At this point, it seemed that the populace had become so bored with their landscape that they were digging holes and making hills in the middle-of-nowhere just to produce some topographical variety.

Miss

Crossing the wide Mississippi River, was a good indication that we were getting closer to our final destination!

Traffic

At least until St. Louis foiled us with traffic…:(

Rush hour in the St. Louis area meant that our best move was to pull off of the cursed Interstate 70 to stretch our legs and fill our bellies with some much needed grease and starch. We accomplished this in the most delicious manner by checking Yelp for reviews of local fast food restaurants and settling upon Freddy’s Frozen Custard.

Custard

The crew destroying steakburgers, shoestring fries, and various custard concoctions in the balmy St. Louis evening.

Custard2

‘Nuff said

The final leg of the trip saw us reach our destination at the University of Kansas and the Oread Hotel just in time to grab a glass of wine at the opening social and then drop off to sleep with visions of the next day’s talks dancing in our heads.

Our three days at the conference were a whirlwind of talks, poster sessions, chats between researchers, good food and drink, and late nights. Some of the highlights were:

A visit with “grandpa” Rick Shine, Tracy’s former advisor and eminent herpetologist, who also happens to be the president-elect of SSAR.

ShineFam

One big, happy, research family.

Enjoying the beautiful weather and gorgeous campus.

UK

View from the top of the Oread Hotel, where the closing picnic was held.

At the annual SSAR herp auction, there were many amazing finds to be had, including lots of herp-themed artwork, rare books, and the highest-grossing object of the night, legendary herpetologist Bill Duellman‘s personal machete from the 1960’s (with a winning bid of a cool $700).

I took home a selection of anuran auditory history with vinyl of Charles Bogert’s Sounds of North American Frogs and 78’s of Voices of the Night, the first frog song recording release in the U.S.

Auction

A sexy face for sexy frog songs.

The keynote speaker, David Hillis, showed the rest of the crowd how it is done by arriving with a cardboard box bar for making margaritas and martinis.

Auction2

Auction revenues increased in direct proportion to the number of drinks dished out from David Hillis’ bar.

And of course we actually did discuss our research occasionally.

TracyTalk

Tracy discussing the benefits of stress for fence lizards when dealing with fire ants.

We also did not go home empty-handed in the awards category, with Mark Herr taking 2nd place in the Herpetological Quiz (undergraduate division).

MarkLaugh

Mark enjoying being the only male lucky enough to snag a seat at the “Eminent Female Herpetologist’s Table” during the picnic.

The final night ended with a party in the backyard of local host, Rich Glor, an exceptionally fashionable gentleman.

Stubbies

Rich rockin’ the stubbies.

And no herpetological systematist function would be complete without David Hillis schooling some youngsters in leg wrestling.

LegWrestling

Another one bites the dust (after being flipped over completely). Photo courtesy of Kelly Zamudio.

The return trip was, not surprisingly, very similar to the outward journey. We were denied the opportunity to visit recent lab graduate Brad Carlson (via a slight detour), due to Brad becoming a father for the second time <48 hours before our trip…congrats Brad!

Sleep

Most of us were exhausted from the trip, but Howey proved to be a tenacious driver, powering through the boredom of I-70.

We also fulfilled a wish of Mark’s by getting a drive-by glimpse of the St. Louis Arch.

Arch

Perhaps the least scenic photo of the Arch ever taken.

As day faded into night we were hit with dramatic thunderstorms and downpours, but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for the next herp meeting (New Orleans!) or the fact that we were closing in on a return to our own beds.

End

The home stretch.

We’ve got one more lab conference this summer, a visit to the meeting of the Ecological Society of America (just next week!) so keep your eyes peeled for a final set of conference proceedings coming soon!

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Author: Chris Thawley

Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Rhode Island; ecologist, herper, discslinger

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