The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action


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Solon Dixon!

Hey everyone!

Even though I am continuing the same project from last year (how maternal stress affects the offspring in fence lizards), there are still some striking differences. One of the biggest is that there are fellow grad students and a post doc this summer!

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From left to right: Cameron (PhD), myself (PhD), Kirsty (post-doc), and Dustin (PhD).

Also, last year we made the drive in one day, however this year we broke the drive up over 2 days. This gave us an excellent opportunity to experience different parts of the USA on our drive. For the night we stopped in Knoxville, TN and had dinner at an amazing place called Calhoun’s On The River. True to its namesake, it had a beautiful view of the Tennessee River!

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After all the driving, we finally made it back to Solon Dixon and started catching lizards. As usual, the lizards’ personalities were very evident.

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Male fence lizard unamused with our attempts to catch him

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Apparently the female lizards found that corner of the tub to be very interesting.

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As I went to put this female back in her tub, she refused to let go of my fingers!

On top of finding many fence lizards, we were also about to see many other reptiles and amphibians!

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A barking tree frog tightly hugging my finger.

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An American alligator, at a very reasonable size to handle.

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A yellow bellied slider who found a little bit of water to sit in.

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A glass lizard!

As I spend more time down here, I find it rubbing off on me more and more.

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Very tempted to get a cowboy hat.

After catching the females, our first trip came to an end. However, we were quickly back down to release the females and run experiments with the hatchlings. With us this time we had an undergraduate researcher, Jen!

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The Bayfront Park, overlooking Mobile Bay. Located right next to one of our field sites, Blakeley State Park.

As we wait for more hatchlings to emerge, we have been focusing on removing fire ants from some of the enclosures we built. As fire ants are highest in the mounds earlier in the day, this means some early mornings. On the up side, it also means we always get to see the sunrise.

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Sunrise right near the enclosures.

Most things have gone well, with only one piece of equipment starting to show signs of wear, but this just gave me an excuse to do some handywork!

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Used some steel epoxy to seal a leak in the pot we boil water in for fire ants.

Things have started to pick up in terms of hatchling, so soon you should be able to hear about how things are going with them. Until then, here is a pic from right here at Solon Dixon

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With the drier weather they are finally able to do prescribed burns.

Cheers,
David

 

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What’s all the fuss about Alabama?

Since joining the lab, I’ve heard nothing else more than field seasons in Alabama; from the heat, lizards, those darn fire ants, and the wonderful people they come in contact with. So of course, I was anxious as ever to finally embark on my first field season in the Langkilde lab. After months of preparation, designing projects and all the logistics involved, May 9th had finally arrived and it was time to head south.

The first round of people in the Alabama crew this year had 3 newbies to the lab; Dustin Owen (our personal herpetology specialist), Dr. Kirsty Macleod (our Scottish Post Doc who should’ve been born in the southern US) and Myself aka Frog stallion (long story). The last member of the crew was David Ensminger. This was his third year there, sort of making him our expert of all things and everything that we needed to know (in other words he was our ear to ask a million questions).

The wonderful staff of The Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center welcomed us to the 5 starred field station (in my opinion – I don’t know who could possibly refute that). There were also lots of Auburn University students that were super interested in our work and simply cool people to hang out with. Essentially, everyone we met made sure we left knowing that southern hospitality is 100% real. I now understand why everyone in the lab loves and talks about it so much.

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Some Auburn students were successful on their first lizard hunt. It was Herp week in their class, luckily for them, they had some experienced catchers around

Now on to the fun science! In case you’re reading this and don’t know, the Langkilde lab is well invested into the Fence Lizard and Fire Ant system, but I’m just going to focus on my specific part for now. In the broadest of terms, I am interested in the diet of the Fence Lizards, but of course I can’t help but wonder about other aspects of this creature. A former member of our lab (the undergrad king Mark Herr) published a paper that suggests fence lizards seemingly build an addiction to the fire ants. My first thought was the possibility that the fire ants may be more nutritious. In Alabama, I collected loads of ants to quantify carbs, lipids, and proteins in comparison to fire ants, hoping for something to support a risk-reward relationship. My next thought was, if the lizards are presented with a second option, what will they pick? To test this, The Lizard Queen (Dr. Tracy Langkilde) and I ran food preference trials. We used the fire ants and “Dory ants” (still waiting for a true identification, but we call them Dory ants) in tubs with one lizard to see the choices they made. Now back in State College, I’m going through and analyzing all the data. I won’t spoil the surprise, which will hopefully be published, so stay tuned in the near future.

 

 

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My first Catch of the trip. Gotta love when they just pose and hug your thumb!

 


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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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The Natural State

Happy Memorial Day!

I am happy to report that the “uninvaded” team has returned to PA, lizards in hand–or bag as it were. Our team, consisting of Braulio,  Caty, and myself, traveled to Tennessee and Arkansas. Arkansas prides itself on being “The Natural State” for its “natural scenic beauty, clear lakes and streams, and abundant wildlife.” I can’t speak to most of that, but it does have lizards!

Fence lizard with a regenerating tail.

Fence lizard with a regenerating tail.

Rainy and overcast days slowed us down a bit. As ectotherms, lizards rely on external sources of heat, which means they like to bask in sunny spots in order to warm up. The thick clouds didn’t provide many good basking opportunities, but thankfully a few lizards made an appearance in the brief moments of sun.

Sometimes fence lizards like rocky habitat.

Sometimes fence lizards like rocky habitat.

2blendinMany other lizards like to bask on trees.

We did see a few sunny days, which gave Braulio and Caty the opportunity to catch their first lizards.

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Braulio with a Tennessee lizard.

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One of Caty’s first catches!

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Lizard selfies are the best selfies.

We even managed some “expert” catches, on more than one occasion slowly driving by a basking lizard and noosing it through the open car window.

Because we were looking for females, we of course became experts at catching males. One male lizard really hoped I was a tree. We tried to return him to his log, but on two separate occasions he ran up my leg. Sorry little guy!

Nope, not a tree.

Nope, not a tree.

Another male, pictured below, really surprised me. Lizards vary in coloration, but not usually by much. I’ve never seen a fence lizard so dark!

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A very dark fence lizard. His chest badges were impressive as well!

After two weeks of catching, we headed back to the lab. Our females are now happily housed in their nesting boxes, and one has laid her first clutch of the season. We’re all excited to see the resulting hatchlings!

Check back soon for more stories and photos from the field as well as updates on the specific research projects happening this summer.

We even spotted a fence lizard on a fence. So satisfying. A fence lizard on a fence. So satisfying.


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Starting the year with a bang!

2015 ended in style for the Langkilde Lab, and we are proud to report that thus far 2016 has been just as exciting! In the last few months, we have celebrated a number of lab accomplishments and enjoyed some attention from the media. Here’s a taste of what we have been celebrating:

 

Press:

LangkildeLizard 2Penn State News featured the lab’s work on adaptation to invasive species and anthropogenic noise in this great article by Matt Swayne, complete with disco references. It’s definitely worth the read!

 

Tracy1Penn State Science recently covered the lab’s research on the effects of stress, our collaborations, and Tracy’s mentoring style. The story quotes many lab members and also includes a “person-to-person” feature on graduate student Gail McCormick.

 

 

Other achievements:

  • PI Tracy Langkilde recently accepted the position as the Head of the Department of Biology.
  • Gail McCormick successfully defended her PhD dissertation and won the Alumni Association Dissertation Award. This award is among the most prestigious available to Penn State graduate students and recognizes outstanding achievement in scholarship and professional accomplishment.
  • Chris Thawley won the Intercollege Graduate Student Outreach Award, a university-level award that recognizes outstanding achievements related to bringing scholarship to the community. Chris will be defending in February and will be starting a post-doc with the Kolbe Lab in May, where he will be investigating the effects of urban light on anoles.
  • Kirsty MacLeod will be joining the Langkilde and Sheriff Labs as a post doc this spring. We are excited to have her!
  • Michaleia Mead will be staying on as a Masters student with Chris Howey. They will be investigating the effects of prescribed burns on amphibians and vernal pools.
Hooray!

Hooray!

Stay tuned throughout 2016 for more exciting research and updates from the Langkilde Lab!


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Science Communication and Art!

In addition to answering herp- and stress-related research questions, the members of the Langkilde are also very interested in outreach and science communication. I am personally quite interested communicating science and recently exercised my scicomm skills by interning with Penn State Research Communications. I wrote two stories over the summer and hope to write a few more later this year.

The first story covers the use of drones in research and conservation by recent Penn State Ecology graduate Jeff Kerby. Jeff does great work across the globe and is a photographer himself. Check out the story, entitled “Ecology on the Wing,” for more on his research and some of his photos. (For more of Jeff’s amazing photos, check out his flickr and instagram.)

Penn State graduate student Jeff Kerby used drones for his ecological research in Greenland and is sharing his expertise to enhance research and conservation efforts worldwide. Image: Martin Holdrege

Penn State graduate student Jeff Kerby used drones for his ecological research in Greenland and is sharing his expertise to enhance research and conservation efforts worldwide. Read the story at Penn State NewsImage: Martin Holdrege

The second story I wrote was a news story, which, unlike the “feature” story highlighted above, is written in AP (“news”) style and focuses on the results of a recently published paper. I summarized a study by Penn State Ecology and Neuroscience grad student Lauren Chaby, which was recently published in Animal Behavior. Lauren investigated whether stress in adolescence affects problem solving in adult rats. Read the story, entitled “Stress in adolescence prepares rats for future challenges,” for more information.

"Unpredictable stress can have dramatic and lasting consequences, both for humans and for free-living animals," said Chaby. Image: Lauren Chaby/Penn State

“Unpredictable stress can have dramatic and lasting consequences, both for humans and for free-living animals,” said Chaby. Read the story at Penn State News.
Image: Lauren Chaby

Thanks to my new connections at Research Communications, I was also able to revisit one of my other hobbies–paper cutting! As you may have guessed by our herp-flake holiday door, I am also a paper artist. I was commissioned to create three paper cut illustrations for a story about the evolution of skin color in the Penn State Research magazine.

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski; Research at Penn State Magazine 35(2) Fall 2015

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski, printed in Research at Penn State Magazine 35(2) Fall 2015

The story is based on the work of Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski. The first illustration is a portrait of Nina, based on a photo by Patrick Mansell. This is probably the most complicated portrait I have made to date!

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski, created for the Research at Penn State Magazine.

Paper cut portrait of Nina Jablonski, created for the Research at Penn State Magazine.

Curious how this was made? Check out this work-in-progress video:

As part of Nina’s research, she and her colleagues created a map predicting skin colors of indigenous peoples based on ultraviolet radiation. I converted this map to paper for the story’s opening spread.

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The opening spread for the story, written by David Pacchioli.

Both the portrait and the third piece posed quite a challenge, as the black shadows blended into the background in one seamless piece. The third piece in particular was quite stubborn, but it turned out all right in the end.

Paper cut hands created for the Penn State Research Magazine. Based on a photo by Patrick Mansell.

Paper cut hands created for the Penn State Research Magazine. Based on a photo by Patrick Mansell.

I am very pleased with how these illustrations turned out! Pick up a copy of the magazine on campus to see them for yourself.

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Research | Penn State – Fall 2015. My illustrations can be found on pages 12-17.

You can learn more about my paper art on my website and facebook. I also take commissions–or at least, I will after defending!

 

Modified from a post originally at gailmccormick.wordpress.com.


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Winter Is Coming; Herp While You Can

Since my summer has been full of writing and conferences and decidedly empty of time spent working with reptiles and amphibians, I decided to take advantage of a recent family wedding (congrats Tanya!) and do some herping in North Carolina, a state I haven’t spent much time in since my undergraduate days in the Herpetology Lab at Davidson College.

Even before arrival at my final destination, I spotted a promising sign: a green anole (Anolis carolinensis) out basking in the afternoon sun near the Forest Service office.

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Ahhhh, sunlight.

I camped in the Uwharrie National Forest, a relatively small national forest with some nice campsites on Badin Lake.

Yep, pretty nice alright.

Yep, pretty nice alright.

While it’s been getting chilly here in State College, the climate in NC is still rather balmy with daytime temperatures in the 70’s and nighttime temps warm enough for a little reptile activity, at least on the roads. Unfortunately, warm roads with cars and cool weather are a pretty good recipe for snake deaths, and the first snake of the trip was a DOR (dead-on-road) scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis elapsoides). These gorgeous snakes are coral snake mimics and can be an unusual find.

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DOR snakes often look a little bug-eyed…:*(

A full day of hiking around Badin Lake, and through streams and backwoods resulted in a decent turnout, including many of the usual suspects:

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Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeiana) were common along the shoreline of the lake and in adjacent streams.

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The most surprising thing about finding this black racer (Coluber constrictor) was that it didn’t bite me….what?!?

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This little brown skink (Scincella lateralis), was moseying through the leaf litter in a sunny patch along the lakeshore. And yes, that is its “official” common name. Scientists are so creative!

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Northern cricket frogs (Acris crepitans) were abundant throughout the forest and easy to spot as they used their outrageously long jumps (> 3 ft for a frog <2 in!) to escape approaching humans (me).

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Northern dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus) were holding out in a small spring seep in an area surrounded by muddy creeks and lots of horse poop.

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Upland chorus frogs (Pseudacris feriarum) were active, but not chorusing, on a cloudy day.

 

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This hatchling midland water snake (Nerodia sipedon pleuralis) was none to pleased to be removed from its natal creek (and bit me numerous times, as watersnakes are wont to do).

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However, it calmed down (a bit) when return to its aquatic environs.

On the way back to PA, I couldn’t resist targeting one specific species, the Peaks of Otter salamander (Plethodon hubrichti). This species is found only along a 13 mile stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Peaks of Otter (surprise!) in southern Virginia and is under review to be considered federally threatened or endangered due to its very limited range. This salamander is named after the eminent citizen naturalist Leslie Hubricht (who also discovered the Red Hills salamander) and was so named after a bit of scientific skullduggery (you can read the story here). Finding this species was no problem thanks to a tip on a great locality from ex-Langkilde Lab member Sean Graham. I’d found a few, snapped a couple of pics, and was on my way home in under 15 minutes.

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These ‘manders were all dirty from their stay under the local rocks, but, as I didn’t want to disturb the population too much, I settled for some slightly less polished photos.

And of course, I couldn’t resist stopping at some of the awesome overlooks scattered along the Parkway.

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Even on a cloudy day, the fall colors were still very nice (even for a colorblind viewer!)

And with that, I’ll enter a long, dark winter of writing and working towards finishing my dissertation!