The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action

Leave a comment

Portland: Talks and Trolls

The fifth airport of the day was thankfully the last. I opted to save $200 in airfare by selecting a rather awful itinerary, but I’m not sure I would do that again. In spite of traveling during the post-holiday rush, by some stroke of luck I arrived in Portland on time (midnight local time, which felt like 3am!), eager to sleep and then take on SICB!

The 2016 annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) began with a plenary talk by Dr. Terrie Williams from UC Santa Cruz. Dr. Williams discussed a number of her research projects involving the energetics of big carnivores. This of course meant many awesome photos of her study organisms, which include polar bears, pumas, killer whales, and lions. For me, the most memorable part of her talk was about her research on narwhals. Yes that’s right, narwhals.


Narwhals doing their thing.

Williams described narwhals as “endurance animals.” They cannot swim very quickly and attempt to escape predator attacks by submerging under arctic ice and hoping to “outlast” the predator’s need for air. The normal resting heart rate of a narwhal is about 60 beats per minute (bpm), similar to humans, but this slows to about 20 bpm when they dive. However, narwhals are very sensitive to disturbance, including shipping noise, and, when disturbed, their heart rate slows to as few as 3 to 4 bpm! It takes over an hour to return to the dive rate of 20 bpm. The consequences of this drastic physiological change are unclear, and Williams wonders how these animals will be able to cope as the Arctic is further disturbed by seismic surveys and exploration for oil and other resources. Much of Williams’s other research was just as interesting (polar bears on treadmills!), and her talk was a fabulous opening the conference.

In addition to really cool talks like this, SICB is a great meeting for grad students to attend for several reasons. They have strong financial support to allow cash-strapped students to attend. For instance, SICB offers the Charlotte Magnum program, which gives discounted housing in exchange for volunteering to help out at the conference for up to a half a day (though you should find a friend since you’ll be sharing a bed or sleeping on a floor!). The volunteering involves helping at the registration desk or running A/V for a particular session. This can be a great chance to meet a cool group of scientists who are presenting in a session of special interest, and mostly just involves watching talks you want to see anyways!


SICB student accommodations often include unheard of amenities, such as the incredibly rare toiletphone, so you can conduct business while….conducting your business.

SICB also offers special support for women grad students and post-docs as well as competitive grants for graduate student travel and research. The divisional structure of SICB also offers lots of chances to meet big-name scientists at smaller events, like socials, and provides great opportunities for networking or figuring out possibilities for your next position, either in a grad program or as a post-doc.

Lastly, SICB is one of the better-organized conferences out there (maybe due to all the brilliant grad students helping to run it!). Testing and posting your presentation is very easy (our lab’s videos of lizard behaviors always work at SICB…unlike at some other meetings…). This year, for instance, with registration, SICB included weekly passes for unlimited rides on the Portland public transit system, including the convenient MAX light rail, which made getting around Portland really easy.

Chris T and I were up for student awards in our respective divisions (the Division of Ecology and Evolution (DEE) and Division of Comparative Endocrinology (DCE)), and our talks were back-to-back on the first day of the conference. Our talks were well received, and we were in good company–the other talks in our sessions were great!

Also quite memorable was the Division of Comparative Endocrinology’s Data Blitz, which took place during the DCE social. In this event, speakers have 2 minutes to describe research results, and they usually do so in unconventional ways. Poetry, photoshop, and Star Wars references abounded. One speaker also told a story of a research assistant meeting–and leaving field work for–a unique and sensual man. Suddenly my field stories don’t seem so exciting!


DCE’s flyer for the Data Blitz. I’ll be sure to attend next time I’m at SICB!

I also took the opportunity to explore the area. My first stop was to the unfathomably large Powell’s Bookstore, which boasts an inventory of over two million books. Two million!! I spent time in two of their eight rooms but easily could have spent hours perusing their stock. They also had a great quantity of board games and other novelty items. I should have brought a larger suitcase!


Don’t be fooled, Powell’s takes up the entire block!

Just down the street from Powell’s, I stopped in at Billy Galaxy, which has an impressive display of (overpriced) vintage toys and collectibles from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I drooled over some Star Wars and Jurassic Park toys and continued onward with my bank accounts intact.


Billy Galaxy’s small but impressive store, with plenty of collectibles from Star Wars, Smurfs, Transformers, Jurassic Park, Nintendo, Godzilla, and more!

I also stopped at Voodoo Doughnut, a Portland staple. They had all kinds of novelty doughnuts, stuffed with colored cream and topped with cereals. I took on peanut butter oreo doughnut, which was delicious but horribly sweet. Definitely something to be shared. Next time I’ll bring a friend!

The unique and protruding neon sign at Voodoo Doughnut and the squished peanut butter oreo doughnut that I conquered.

The unique and protruding neon sign at Voodoo Doughnut and the squished peanut butter oreo doughnut that I conquered.

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to investigate at least one antique store while in the area. I rather enjoy visiting antique shops and even have an instagram account dedicated to some of my more “unique” finds (h/t to Chris for the name!). I visited Antique Alley, which was only one light rail stop away from my hotel. As a troll collector, I was pleased to find more than a few to add to my collection, including the santa trolls pictured below. I can only imagine TSA’s reaction to scanning a bag lined with trolls…

All in all it was a successful trip, full of good science talks, satisfying food places, and even a few trolls.


Thanks to Chris T for adding in why SICB is such a great conference!


1 Comment

Gearing up for SICB!

Happy New Year!


New year, new beginnings. And hats. Lots of hats.

As we start to wrap up our holiday break, Chris T. and I are preparing for a trip to Portland, Oregon for the 2016 annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB). We will both be presenting talks on Monday.

I will be expanding on results I presented at ESA in August, which address how stress (fire ants) experienced in early life or in previous generations affect adult physiology and immune function in lizards. My talk is Monday, January 4th at 11:15 in room B110/111.


Chris will be sharing his results from SSAR with a new audience. He will discuss how invasive fire ants have reversed geographical patterns in fence lizard ecology, including their behavior, stress responses, and morphology, across their range in less than 75 years. Chris’s talk is also on Monday, January 4th at 11:30 in room B114. A determined Langkilde Lab follower could attend both talks back to back in nearby rooms! 🙂


Come say hello if you will be there!

Leave a comment

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore…

…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.


It doesn’t look very far on this map…

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


We started out with high levels of excitement!


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


but we were soon grateful for a change of state.


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…


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


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


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.


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


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.


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


‘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.


One big, happy, research family.

Enjoying the beautiful weather and gorgeous campus.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


Rich rockin’ the stubbies.

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


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!


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.


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.


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!

Leave a comment

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!

Leave a comment

Animal Behavior Conference 2014

While the rest of the lab was attending the JMIH meeting (read about it here!), I was headed toward the 2014 annual meeting for the Animal Behavior Society in Princeton, New Jersey. Armed with a Penn State Dodge Avenger, a fellow Penn State Ecology student and I braved New Jersey drivers and the unlabeled campus buildings ready to present our research! While campus was quite difficult to navigate at night to newcomers, during the day it was beautiful!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The fun part about traveling to a new place for a conference is being able to explore! This installation was particularly memorable…

heads2 heads1According to the internet, these heads were designed by Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei. Apparently, these were based on sculptures located in Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat outside Beijing, that were originally designed by an Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione in the mid-18th century. The original sculptures were stolen, and only 5 have been returned to China. In addition to having a neat source of inspiration, these heads are 10 feet tall and super weird and awesome. I approve!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The plenary talks were located here. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Mornings began at 8am with plenary talks by some fantastic researchers in animal behavior. Dr. Iain Couzin started off Day 1 describing his work on collective behavior of swarms and schools, like those of locusts and fish. His lab applies theoretical principles from physics to help understand the ecology of these groups. So cool! In both his talk and many others throughout the week, I was amazed at the tracking software available to scientists. With this software, you can track each individual in a school of fish and other variables like position or velocity–all automatically! I was able to talk to Ian briefly during the dance (yes, scientists sometimes dance!), and he shared that his early research interests did not include collective behavior. Initially he wanted to study lizards, though he didn’t have many options in Scotland. I don’t blame him; lizards are pretty darn cool!

The plenary speakers gave their talks in this amazing room!

The plenary speakers gave their talks in this amazing room!

The other sessions took place on the other side of campus in the more recently constructed science buildings. Because we were presenting on a college campus (vs. at a conference center), most of the talks took place in big lecture halls. I’ve never given a talk to such a big room before! In my presentation, I discussed the terms we use to describe stress and what characteristics of stress are important when predicting the outcomes of that stress (I’ll share more details on the blog later!). I gave my talk on Sunday, the first “official” day of the conference, which left the rest of the week to relax and learn about animal behavior! Two other graduate students from Penn State presented their work, and a graduate student and two undergrads from Penn State gave poster presentations. All did a fantastic job!

Here Gabriel Villar, a grad student in the Penn State Entomology Department, just finished presenting his work on honey bees.

Here Gabriel Villar, a grad student in the Penn State Entomology Department, just finished presenting his work on honey bees.

Although my research doesn’t always include animal behavior, it was really neat to hear about the many techniques and study populations used to study animal behavior. Many research groups have long-standing study systems, having observed hyenas, meerkats, zebras, or primate groups for 10 to sometimes 40 years! They have some really neat research about personality, dominance hierarchies, and other group dynamics. And some really cool photos!


It was fun to meet so many interesting people and learn about their research during the conference. I look forward to the next one!

1 Comment

What Happens When Hundreds of Herpetologists Get Together?

This past week, the servers, waiters, bartenders, and other townsfolk of the fair city of Chattanooga, TN were probably all wondering similar things: who are these crazy people blocking the sidewalks, clogging our bars, and loudly discussing reptiles, amphibians, and fish all over town? And why do they have an inordinate fondness for Hawaiian shirts? The answer, of course, was that the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (2014 edition) was in town for their annual conference. The Langkilde Lab sent a sizable delegation to the meeting with 6 attendees: Tracy (the PI), Chris Howey and Travis Robbins (the post-docs), Mark Herr and Mark Goldy-Brown (the undergrads), and me (the lone grad student). Starting on a Wednesday morning, we all piled into a fabulous white whale of a Chrysler minivan and roadtripped our way down to Chattanooga. Our first evening got off to a blazing start when, upon receipt of our pizza and beer at Community Pie, we were forced to tell our lovely waitress that her story of a friend being swarmed and attacked by 15 fascist cottonmouths was, in fact, bogus. We also had a grand time at the informal social sipping a few local brews while wondering at the ludicrousness of Sharknado 2, which was playing throughout the hotel bar.

Chris Howey and I in a deep conversation about what is the best way to hold one's hands while giving a scientific presentation.

Chris Howey and I deep in conversation at the social about the best way to hold one’s hands while giving a scientific presentation. Note the multiple Sharknado screens in the background.

JMIH kicked into full gear on the following day, with a morning of plenary speakers and an afternoon full of student presentations in the various awards competitions. Mark Herr, one of a very few undergraduates presenting at the conference, delivered a cracking talk about the relationship between stress levels and defensive behaviors in Cottonmouths. Placed in the last slot of the day, I spoke about my research from this past summer looking at how the adaptations which we see in fence lizards to fire ants (namely fleeing and twitching) may actually be maladaptive in certain situations. Fence lizards seem to react with increased flight and twitching to native ants, which don’t pose a threat, and this behavior may attract attention from native predators such as hawks and snakes (see this previous post for more info about reactions to hawk predators). I also showed data from the past four years which links higher rates of injuries (such as those I wrote about here) with the presence of fire ants. So perhaps this adaptation, while useful to survive fire ant attacks, has some serious costs as well.

Both Mark’s and my presentations were judged for the Henri Seibert Award in Ecology given by SSAR for the best student presentations at the meeting, and we did the Langkilde Lab proud. Mark won a special Honorable Mention, with the judges noting how impressive his work was for an undergraduate. I received the first place award, which, in addition to having a congratulatory letter, came with a chunk of ca$hmoney and a book of my choice from sponsors CRC Press. On the whole, a successful evening for the lab!

Tracy, Mark, and I with big grins after the awards were announced at the SSAR business meeting.

Tracy, Mark, and I with big grins after the awards were announced at the SSAR business meeting.

Other lab members presented their research as well, with Chris Howey chairing a session and talking about the effects of prescribed fire on thermoregulation of snakes, Travis discussing the long-awaited results of his fence lizard breeding experiment (too complicated for me to write up here!), Tracy discussing bearded ladies, and a guest appearance from lab alum Sean Graham looking into the effects of fire ant invasion on Caribbean anoles. Mark Goldy-Brown presented a poster detailing just one piece of the great work he’s done as an undergraduate looking at the effects of fire ant envenomation on fence lizard physiology.


MGB all spiffed up and ready to discuss the effects of fire ant venom on fence lizards.

By the time Sunday evening rolled around, we were all nearing exhaustion. The meeting had many highlights, including an opening reception at the Tennessee Aquarium; the facility was amazing and strolling through the exhibits with great food and bars spaced throughout (including the chance to pet Lake Sturgeon!) was a great experience. We also sampled lots of the great food and beverages on offer in Chattanooga and enjoyed local attractions like free outdoor concerts, a Chattanooga Lookouts minor league baseball game (with multiple used car giveaways), and others. But the choicest of attractions was the SSAR/HL auction on the final night of the conference.

Each year the SSAR/HL auction takes donations of a diverse set of herpetologically themed items for a fast-paced auction to raise money for student travel to the next year’s conference. Bidding wars often break out for even banal items, and the drama only increases throughout the evening as BAC rises and bidding inhibitions become lower. This year’s auction was MC’ed in part by Sean Graham, who kept the bidding at a blistering tempo with a speed round, and everyone in the lab came away with at least one prize from the auction. For myself, I sprung for an original 1875 print of “Check list of North American Batrachia and Reptilia, with a systematic list of the higher groups and an essay on geographical distribution” by E. D. Cope, one of the founders of North American herpetology.


The first published Bulletin of the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History)! It is now mine.

Most people purchased books, but Tracy fended off all comers to walk away with one of the hits of the night: a t-shirt emblazoned with a meticulously detailed guide to snake hemipenes (based on the research of a good friend from Down Under, Scott Keogh).


A triumphant end of auction for the Langkilde Lab and associates!

Come Monday morning, it was time to head home to State College, hoping that four consecutive nights of sleep deprivation had resulted in only temporary insanity. Travis opted for his own special recovery breakfast, destroying a gargantuan slice of chocolate cake from the diner attached to our hotel.


Travis’ epic morning-after nosh.

Meanwhile, the undergrads, despite their youth, higher metabolisms, and generally whipper-snappery, seemed to feel the effects more than the older, more experienced hands, and required some serious naptime in the backseat of the van on the return leg.


The greenhorns seem to be plumb tuckered out in the backseat…awwwwwww.

All in all, the Langkilde Lab rocked JMIH 2014, and we’re looking forward to future editions. With so many folks recently moving on to bigger and better things, future JMIH meeting will be a chance for Langkilde Lab reunions par excellence!