The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action


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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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Adult Outreach

As Chris explained in his latest blog post, the goals of scientific outreach are numerous. One such goal is simply to interest others in scientific research. This is fairly straightforward to accomplish with kids, and there are many great opportunities in place to interface with young adults. Like Science-U, there are numerous annual science outreach events established for K-12 aged kids.

A few years ago, some of the Langkilde Lab participated in WPSU’s Eventapalooza, where we discussed the biology and ecology of cats. As Chris mentioned, getting people over to your table when you don’t have flashy demos or robots can be a challenge. Our solution: arts and crafts! Kids made “whiskers” to learn about sensory mechanisms and crawled through a maze while blindfolded to test them out! We also had plenty of coloring pages and a matching game to see how well different wild cat species blend into their habitat.

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Brad helping a young adult into their whiskers!

Jenny explains how cats hear.

Jenny explains how cats hear.

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My matching game demonstrates how cats blend into their habitat.

These types of events are great for kids, but there are fewer established opportunities to interact with members of the adult public. Scientific literacy—or at least interest—of adults is incredibly important, as adults utilize scientific information to make informed decisions about health and lifestyle. Additionally, adults can influence the outcome of science-related political issues. Science outreach for adults is thus quite essential, and something in which I have become very interested.

With this in mind, myself and a number of others from the Ecology Graduate Student Organization organized a Science Café series at a local bookstore.  At these events, two graduate students or faculty members present a five to ten minute Ted-Talk like presentation on a pertinent topic in ecology, such as invasive species or climate change. After each general, accessible presentation, the floor is opened for discussion with the audience. These discussions have proven quite fruitful, and we have received positive feedback about each of our events. Last spring, we held 3 Science Café events at Webster’s Bookstore Café in Downtown State College. At one of these events, I had the opportunity to present about stress with fellow grad student Lauren Chaby in an event entitled “Why is stress stressful? How animals and humans respond to challenges.”

Graduate Student Lauren Chaby discusses the consequences of stress. March 2014

Graduate Student Lauren Chaby discusses the consequences of stress. March 2014

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Moderator Andie Chan introduces graduate student speaker Danelle Laflower and Dr. Tomás Carlo, who spoke about Invasive Species in April 2014.

Following the success of last year’s series, we had two additional Science Café events earlier this year, and two more are forthcoming. If you are located in the State College area, I encourage you to attend! At our next Science Café (Wed March 18th at 6pm), Ecology graduate students Megan Keplar Schall and Will Miller will be discussing disease in wildlife and fisheries. This event is free and, of course, open to the public—bring your questions! More details are located below. Hope to see you there!

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“Wild animals get sick too! Case studies from Pennsylvania fish and game species:”

  • Wednesday, March 18 from 6-7pm
  • Webster’s Bookstore, 133 E Beaver Ave, State College, PA 16801
  • No cover charge. Drinks and snacks can be purchased from Webster’s.
  • Suggest Parking: Pugh Street Parking Garage

 

Our final Science Café event this season will be on Wednesday April 8th at 6pm, investigating the topic of soils, roots, and nutrients (and why we should care about these things!). Follow the EGSO website for more information.

These events are a great way to communicate the kind of research happening at the university that the community might not otherwise know about. They also provide an informal environment in which to ask questions. We hope the Science Café series continues for years to come!

 


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So Many Lizards

by undergraduate Tommy Cerri

This semester, being my fourth semester working within the lab, I like to think I have heard about all the research that’s been going on in one way or another. I had previously finished working with Bradley Carson last Spring semester on tadpole analysis and was eager to delve into something new. Dr. Langkilde got me in touch with Gail and we quickly met to discuss more work for the next 14 or so weeks. Taking 19 credits this semester and getting ready to apply to medical school rendered me nearly unavailable during the week. Gail of course knew the feeling and set me up on something I could do on my own time, at my own pace. This something was a project I had not heard of within the lab, and this excited me. When I went to meet she immediately brought up about 7 or so videos of lizards. The set up looked something along the lines of this.

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When I saw this I immediately asked myself a few questions. First, why are there so many lizards in this video? And second, what’s that huge log in the middle of their bins? Gail started to explain her research to me and answered these questions. She was observing the lizards’ behavior over a short period of time within these bins to see how they would react to different hormone treatments. This experiment allows us to see if treatment with stress hormones (corticosterone), sex steroids (testosterone), or both have lasting effects on behavior–like aggression. She also let me know that huge thing in the middle of the bins is just a small shelter. I have been spending my time watching these lizards show all different types of behaviors. I see some lizards spend 10 minutes running circles around their bins and other lizards so lazy I have to zoom in on their stomachs to check if they’re actually breathing! Some of the lizards aren’t very social.

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While others seem to be good friends with one another.

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Nonetheless, these videos have occupied much of my time and have continued to keep me interested. I look forward to see what Gail does with all the behavior charts I have filled out for her and am eager to help her with the next step in this experiment.

(Ed. note: Hopefully this helps us explain how hormones affect behavior. Maybe lizards dosed with testosterone are more aggressive? Maybe stressed out lizards are more solitary? Stay tuned for the results!)


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The Riveting Life of Jumping Beans

by undergrad Cecilia Zemanek

Being placed in charge of my first independent research project my 3rd semester, I was very excited to get started. Maybe a little bit too excited, as I happily signed up to present a poster for Tracy’s Undergraduate Poster Exhibition that was less than two weeks away. Needless to say, I miraculously managed to pull something off in that time frame and was relieved to have something ready for the judges. While at the event, Tracy introduced me to freshman Greg Reiley, who apparently had a huge passion for jumping beans. Tracy told me how he was looking to get involved with some research, and asked if I would like some help with mine. After seeing how much work it took just to collect one round of initial data, I realized any help would be extremely beneficial.

bean1My project involves looking at why some jumping beans posses more of a propensity to jump than others. It was thought that maybe it had something to do with physical constraints, so Tracy and I devised an experiment that would test the number of jumps per bean versus larva and pod size, larva body condition, and larval activity outside of the pod.

Greg analyzing a grub's length, width, and area.

Greg analyzing a grub’s length, width, and area.

From the masses and dimensions of both, the size of the pod and the size of the grub were both compared to the number of jumps. Body condition of the grub was also taken into account, using the mass of the grub compared to its length and area.

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Cutting open the bean reveals the grub inside!

Grub activity trial.

Grub activity trial.

It was very cool extracting the larva from its pod. Grub activity was observed with video analysis. I looked at the number of head thrashes, the number of grub contractions and distensions, and the number of grid lines crossed.

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Measuring bean temperature.

 

One interesting thing I saw was that as the size of the Mexican jumping bean increased, the slower the temperature of the bean rose.

 

 

 

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Greg hard at work!

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Cecilia with jumping beans.

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Many jumping beans!

Greg and I have been working hard collecting all the data we need. This week, we will be sitting down with Tracy to discuss the results. I am so appreciative to have the opportunity to work in such an amazing lab with such amazing people!

 


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Herpy Halloween!

While everyone else is dressing up as superheroes or their favorite monsters, sometimes herpetologists need to dress up as…herps! See below for some of the many variations on herp costumes that we’ve seen online and from friends over the past few weeks:

A fellow herpetologist, Matthew Lattanzio, sporting a Sceloporus undulatus halloween costume. Given the gorgeous badges this is likely a male, or a fabulously-bearded lady:

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If Matt were hugging a tree, no one would be able to see him with that camouflage.

Some of the most amazing herp costumes I’ve seen are the work of professional costumers making them for education and outreach purposes:

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This amazing mole kingsnake costume was made for the The Herp Project at UNCG by Sandy Durso, the mother of a friend (click on her name to link to her FB page for more costumes and photos!)

 

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This sweet hellbender costume was made for the Buffalo Zoo by Ellen Paquette (click here for her blogpost on the process and to see her handmade plush hellbenders…Christmas presents?!?)

We’ve seen people dressed up as fire ants as well!:

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Fire ants are attracted to candy, so this cute little fire ant will fit right in.

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Fire ants are apparently pretty popular as mascots as well! You can check out this customized one here (with moving mandibles), or buy your own on Amazon (just $1300!)

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And sometimes people dress up as fire ants (though this is a little fire ant, Wasmannia auropunctata) to spread invasive species awareness.

And last, but not least, sometimes people even dress up the herps themselves. Here’s a tortoise dressed up for the Ren Faire (Friar Tuck-His-Head-Inside-His-Shell perhaps?) by the Minnesota Herp Society to raise awareness and funds:

 


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Undergrad Research in All Its Glory

The Eberly College of Science held it’s first Undergrad Experiences Poster Exhibit last week, which I coordinated in my current role as the Tombros Fellow for Undergrad Research in the Dean’s Office. It was a huge success – if I do say so myself.

Signage directing students to the poster exhibit, and featuring Lindsey Swierk and ** and ** (undergraduate researcher lab alum)

Signage directing students to the poster exhibit, and featuring Lindsey Swierk and Erica Green and Edward Owen (undergraduate researcher lab alum).

We had 47 undergraduates present their research and international experiences, and over 300 attendees!! The place was so packed that it was difficult to move. OK, so many of these students were there because their professors mandated attendance; but they assure me they would have come anyway (right?). All evidence suggests that everyone got something out of the experience.

Early in the evening – you can see the line of students up the stairs in the background, waiting to get in.

Early in the evening – you can see the line of students up the stairs in the background, waiting to get in.

Standing room only.

Standing room only.

I had several goals for this event. Many of the attendees were first year undergraduate students in their very first semester in college. Many of them have heard and maybe even thought about becoming involved in research. This gave them the opportunity to see the types of research being conducted in the College, and to ask the presenters about their experiences. (I tell them that they should become involved in research, but it’s been a while since I was an undergraduate so it’s much better if they get this from their peers).

The presenters had the opportunity to talk about their research with a scientific audience. (There is a University-wide Undergraduate Poster Session, which allows students to present to a general (non-scientific) audience).

Several Departments and Programs across the College sponsored prizes, and we had over 30 judges volunteer their time to select deserving students.

Our Excellence in Life Science Research Overall Winner, Josh Bram, with our guest alumni judge Dr. McManigle.

Our Excellence in Life Science Research Overall Winner, Josh Bram, with our guest alumni judge Dr. McManigle.

Our very own Mark Herr took out the Outstanding Poster Presentation prize provided by the Center for Brain, Behavior and Cognition (the same project for which he received honorable mention at JMIH).

Me and Mark with his award certificate. With everything going on, we forgot to do this on the night. So we staged a photo with a “hand” from Chris Howey and Gregory Reilly (our newest undergrad lab member).

Me and Mark with his award certificate. With everything going on, we forgot to do this on the night. So we staged a photo with a “hand” from Chris Howey and Gregory Reilly (our newest undergrad lab member).

And Cecilia Zemanek definitely wins the award for “most-productivity-in-the-shortest-amount-of-time”. Cecilia decided she was going to do a poster before even starting her research – and only 1 week before the presentation. She managed to design an excellent project on Mexican Jumping Beans, collect and analyze the data, and put together a fantastic poster in just 7 days. Extraordinary!

Cecilia at the Exhibit with her poster, and in the lab working on her lighting-fast research.

Cecilia at the Exhibit with her poster… and some beans!