The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action


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Racing baby lizards (for science)!

In the latest chapter of the “bearded lady” saga (female fence lizards bearing ornamentation that is typical of males), we continue to investigate what potential advantages these “unattractive” females could have that allow them to persist in high numbers.

We know that in many species, colorful, conspicuous ornaments have a tight relationship with levels of particular hormones (such as testosterone), which themselves are related to physical performance. One of our current guesses is that even though females bearing male-like ornamentation are not prime sexual partners in the lizard world, their offspring might be more physically competitive than offspring of the more desirable females (read more here). The costs and benefits of both strategies could be responsible for the coexistence of the two!

A good way of measuring the physical performance of an animal is by how fast they can run. With the help of two enthusiastic undergraduate students, Maggie Zemanek and Sean Dailey, I am recording slow-motion videos of juvenile lizards running on a race track. This will help us calculate how fast each of them can run, and compare that to what their moms looked like: are the faster runners offspring of ornamented females?

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Do your best!

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Body temperature greatly influences performance in reptiles, so Sean makes sure we record how warm each lizard is

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Maggie sets a contestant on its marks

Maggie, Sean and I still have a lot of juvenile lizards to race, but hopefully we’ll find some interesting patterns in our experiment. Stay tuned!

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On a frog hunt

 

Earlier this Spring some explorers from the Langkilde Lab went on a trip to Connecticut to take part in some exciting field work with Lindsey Swierk, former lab member and current postdoc at Yale University.

Lindsey is investigating the possible impacts that urbanization and road noise might have on wood frogs’ (Lythobates sylvaticus) mate calling behavior. To do so, our team went out to collect male wood frogs from vernal ponds of different degrees of urbanization in the area of Madison, CT – from deep into the woods, to a friendly neighbor’s backyard.

Lindsey’s research is important especially because frogs are extremely dependent on acoustic signaling as a form of communication and mate attraction. Most likely, these animals are still not well adapted to urban environments with intense noise (think of heavy traffic and construction work), despite being exposed the them for a considerable amount of generations. If sound suddenly becomes an unreliable cue for mate selection and predator detection, the dynamics of natural and sexual selection could be altered, potentially removing adaptive traits from natural populations. We don’t know exactly how (or if) wood frogs cope with these changes in their surroundings. Amphibians are some of the organisms most sensitive to environmental change, and to protect them, it is crucial that we better understand these impacts.

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Hi there!

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This trip was an excellent experience: it was the first time some of us got to work with frogs. Also, the residents we came in contact with all seemed captivated by our work and science in general – a great opportunity for us to exercise our science communication skills. Special thanks to the folks at Field House Farm, LLC, we had a great time!

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There’s always time for a little posing

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Between behavioral trials, some lacrosse with the kids at Field House Farm

Finally, I was really happy to have my first contact with a real, colorful, living salamander! Being from Brazil, where these charismatic creatures sadly do not occur, I felt accomplished after having this much anticipated encounter.

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My first salamander – Ambystoma maculatum!

Besides all the field work, we also went out to explore the New Haven area, local restaurants (Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is highly recommended!) and part of Yale University’s campus. We also got to spend time with Lindsey’s family, two adorable dogs included, but most importantly, we learned about our mate Cam’s great culinary skills after a taste of his famous baked ziti – great company in the field indeed!

As you read this, Lindsey is processing the overwhelming amount of data obtained in this field season, so make sure to check her website to hear about her results in the near future.

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Team Swierk – a job well done!


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From Brazil to Happy Valley

Hi everyone, my name is Braulio, and I’m one of the three new members of the Langkilde lab in 2015. I come from Brazil, where I got my bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Universidade Vila Velha. My first research experiences as an undergrad were related to the effects of toxic compounds, natural or synthetic, on the activity of enzymes related to oxidative stress in plants and vertebrates.

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Me as an undergrad in Brazil

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After graduating, I joined the M.S. in Biology program at Adelphi University in Long Island, NY. Since then, my research interests have shifted towards the study of evolution, particularly sexual selection. Some of the questions I would like to answer in the future are why do some animals exhibit such unusual mating behaviors and under what circumstances can certain sexual traits become advantageous.

During my years at Adelphi I worked with a fascinating species of orb-weaving spider that has some unusual mating behaviors, including, but not limited to, sexual cannibalism and spontaneous male death.

Now that I am part of the Langkilde lab, I want to follow up on the research being done here and further investigate the adaptive significance of male ornaments on female fence lizards (a.k.a. “bearded ladies”). Since previous lab members have demonstrated that they are unattractive to males (as you would expect), we still don’t understand how they are so frequent in certain populations. We suspect that male ornaments might come as a side-effect of high testosterone, which could be advantageous to females in certain situations. For instance, they could be faster runners or exhibit more aggressive behaviors (stay tuned…).

In my free time, I like doing sports (especially swimming), playing Nintendo video games and playing the electric bass.

My first impressions of the lab, the people and the town of State College are that people are indeed happy here in Happy Valley. I like the friendly atmosphere and the variety of outdoors activities that can be done around here. I’ve been slowly getting into the some of American sports, mostly baseball and hockey. I still don’t get what’s the big deal with American football, but maybe being at Penn State will change that in the future.