*In order to see all of the photos in their proper arrangement, I recommend clicking on the blog post title instead of reading it on the scrolling page*
This past week, the Langkilde lab headed out to Raystown Field station to catch some Eastern Fence Lizards (Sceloporus undulatus). We were catching lizards to record their morphology (limb size, weight, length, etc.) and to take blood samples. We took blood samples to measure their levels of a stress hormone, Corticosterone, or CORT. We wanted to catch around 20 lizards and take blood samples at various intervals over a range of 0-10 minutes post-capture to get a nice range of blood sampling times. With this range of times, we hope to find the approximate time-point at which a lizard’s CORT levels spike; is it 1 minute, 2 minutes, 7 minutes post-capture? Basically, we are just trying to better understand stress in reptiles, which is an area that isn’t well understood or explored yet. Understanding the manner that stress operates in these lizards can provide insight into how anthropomorphic stressors such as habitat destruction affect the lizard’s health and stress levels.
While our primary goal was to catch fence lizards, we found lots of other interesting animals along the way. Read below to follow our day’s journey in the wilds of South Western Pennsylvania!
We left State College around 9:15am to head down to the Raystown Lake Field Station in Huntingdon County. While the skies in State College were gloomy and overcast, as we got closer to our destination, the skies began to clear and we enjoyed what became a wonderful and sunny Tuesday afternoon.
No more than 10 minutes after our arrival at Raystown Lake Field Station, we stumbled across our first herp (reptile or amphibian) of the trip!
After we finished checking out the box turtle, we began our trek up the mountainside, hiking for about 25 minutes at a 45 degree incline (it was fairly tiring carrying all of our gear). Once we had finally made it to the ridge top where we would begin our hunt for lizards, we were greeted by another Eastern Box Turtle, but this time it was a male.
A little way up the trail, we chose a nice flat and sunny spot to set up our base camp, split up into lizard catching groups, and make sure that we had everything organized and ready to go. While getting settled, I looked around and noticed a yearling lizard just sitting on a large fallen tree only a few feet from where we were standing. A few second later, we heard some scuttling in the leaves and witnessed some brief mating between an adult male and female Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus), but unfortunately we could not get any good pictures or video before they went their separate ways.
After we finished prepping, we finally set off in our two groups to begin catching some fence lizards, which, afterall, was the purpose of our trip. However, in addition to fence lizards, we stumbled across a few other interesting animals (and of course some fence lizards).
In our searching for fence lizards, we managed to find one of PA’s other native lizards, the Common Five-line Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus).
After we had caught the lizards that we needed and taken the blood samples, we reunited with our other group of lizard catchers to start recording the morphology of the lizards. While recording measurements for the lizards can be a little boring, we try to keep ourselves entertained throughout the process.
Most of the Fence Lizards we caught that day were on the smaller side, but we did catch a few large ones, including a big pregnant female which we jokingly referred to as Godzilla.
Once we had measured all of the lizards and collected all of the blood samples that we needed, all of the lizards were released at their points of capture. While releasing the lizard we caught near the Northern Copperhead earlier in the day, we were surpised to find another snake hanging around the tree trunk.
With all the lizards returned and all of the blood samples packed away on ice in our coolers, we headed down the mountainside to return to our research van. As we packed up our belongings to make the trek back to State College, we found one final herp, the always beautiful Northern Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsii).
1 trip, 6 herp species, 21 lizards, and a tired bunch of researchers later, we found ourselves back at Penn State, having succeeded in what we set out to do.
We’ll be heading out to Raystown Lake once or twice more in the coming weeks, so be on the lookout for an update on our next PA Lizard Catching Adventure!