The Lizard Log

The Langkilde Lab in Action


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SEECoS 2014: Madagascar Hissing Cockroach Project

The lab’s high schoolers from the Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) program SEECOS (Summer Experience in the Eberly College of Science) have been hard at work in the lab. Here is an update from Kiara and Jermayne, with some extra details from Melissa.

My name is Kiara Camacho and my partner’s name is Jermayne Jones from the Upward Bound Math and Science program. Our research assignment this year was “Measuring Stress: Is timing really everything?” The weather has not been cooperating with us lately, so on July 3rd our trip was cancelled to go hiking for lizards. Instead, we did an experiment to test stress in Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. During this experiment we created our own habitat or arena for the hissing cockroaches using two 2-liter soda bottles that we cut open. We had one dark end and one light end with food or heat stimuli. We created the dark end by covering one soda bottle with a black trash bag. Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches live under leaves in the rainforest, so they are more comfortable in dark environments. In the wild, being out in the open could make hissing cockroaches more vulnerable to predators, and we wanted to see whether food or heat would persuade the cockroaches to face their fears and come out of the dark. After setting up our arena, we numbered the cockroaches and stuck them in the dark end. We left them in there for five minutes and measured how far they came out into the light end. We conducted a total of 6 trials (2 trials for food, heat, and control treatment groups). For food treatment groups we placed bananas covered in fish food in the light end of the bottle. For heat treatments we placed a heat lamp over the light end of the bottle, and for control treatments we did not place a stimulus in the light end of the arena.

 

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The Penn State Entomology Department was kind enough to lend us 25 Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches for our experiment. Photo by Melissa O’Brien.

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This image shows our experimental design. You can see that the cockroach is in the light end of the arena near the food (fish food-covered banana in this case). You can also see the dark end of the bottle with a black trash bag taped over the end. Photo by Tracy Langkilde.

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Two Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches in the dark end of the test arena. We labeled the cockroaches as number one or number two using masking tape. Photo by Tracy Langkilde.

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Jermayne and Kiara monitoring two hissing cockroaches during one of their trials. Photo by Tracy Langkilde.

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Kiara using a sharpie marker to mark the location of a hissing cockroach that ventured into the light end of the arena. Photo by Tracy Langkilde.

Our results showed us that the heat and food treatments convinced 50 percent of the cockroaches to come out of their usual dark environments to the light end (which is a dangerous battle zone for them). Only 16 percent of them came out when there was no heat or food on the other half of the bottle (see control treatment).

This graph shows the proportion of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches that came out of the dark for each treatment. 50% of cockroaches came out of the dark for heat and food treatments, while only 16% of cockroaches came out of the dark in control treatments.

This graph shows the proportion of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches that came out of the dark for each treatment. 50% of cockroaches came out of the dark for heat and food treatments, while only 16% of cockroaches came out of the dark in control treatments.

The results also show us that the food caused the cockroaches to come out farther than the heat did. This tells us that sometimes cockroaches will be brave and face their fears if the reward is great enough for them (Ex: warmth via heat lamp or fish food-covered sliced bananas). This experiment like many others had its challenges. One major challenge that we faced was an escaping cockroach coming out of the side of the bottle causing major panic between our research projects. On the other hand, we managed to catch the cockroach and return it safely to the bottle and proceed with our experiment.

This graph shows the distance Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches moved out of the dark for each treatment group. Cockroaches in the food treatment moved about 18 cm out of the dark and cockroaches in the heat treatment moved about 12 cm out of the dark. Hissing cockroaches in the control treatment moved about 6 cm out of the dark.

This graph shows the distance Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches moved out of the dark for each treatment group. Cockroaches in the food treatment moved about 18 cm out of the dark and cockroaches in the heat treatment moved about 12 cm out of the dark. Hissing cockroaches in the control treatment moved about 6 cm out of the dark.

To learn more about Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, visit the Animal Diversity Web or this informational fact-sheet by Oklahoma State University.

 

 

 

 

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PA Lizard Catching Adventures

*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!

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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!

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A pregnant female Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) which we found wandering around behind a wood shed only 10 minutes after arriving at our destination!

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.

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Male Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). Note how much brighter the orange coloration is compared to the female above.

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Box Turtles are so named because of their unique defense, as seen above.  They have a hinged plastron (bottom shell), which allows the turtle to nearly completely close off his interior from predators, making the appearance of a box!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Prior to this photo, this male Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) was mating with a nearby female.  Here, you can see him basking on the log to heat up for the day.

Prior to this photo, this male Eastern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) was mating with a nearby female. Here, you can see him basking on the log to heat up for the day.  If you look closely at his lower neck and stomach, you can see some of his bright blue coloration!


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).

Nestled up under a fallen tree trunk, we stumbled across a Northen Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen).  We found him right next to a lizard that we had just caught, and thankfully we saw it before we accidentally stepped too close.

Nestled up under a fallen tree trunk, we stumbled across a Northen Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen). We found him right next to a lizard that we had just caught, and thankfully we saw it before we accidentally stepped too close.

 

A chrysalis found hanging from a small plant.  I wonder what is going to emerge from it?

A chrysalis found hanging from a small plant. I wonder what is going to emerge from it?

In our searching for fence lizards, we managed to find one of PA’s other native lizards, the Common Five-line Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus).

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A Common Five-lined Skink crawling along the side of fallen tree that we found him basking on.

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There are two other skink species in PA, but we were able to identify our skink as a Plestiodon fasciatus because it had 4 supralabial scales (above the “lip”) before the scale immediately below the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa, a student researcher in the Langkilde lab, posing with the first Eastern Fence Lizard she ever caught!

Melissa, a student researcher in the Langkilde lab, posing with the first Eastern Fence Lizard she ever caught!

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.

Chris posing with one of the Fence Lizards that we caught during the day.

Chris posing with one of the Fence Lizards that we caught during the day.

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.

"Godzilla", the large female Eastern Fence Lizard we caught during the day.

“Godzilla”, the large female Eastern Fence Lizard we caught during the day.

The belly of an extremely pregnant Eastern Fence Lizard.  The red ovals highlight the approximate locations of some of the eggs.

Godzilla’s belly.  The red ovals highlight the approximate locations of some of her eggs.  She was probably going to lay in the next week or two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

A Northern Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) which we found at the same tree trunk as the Northern Copperhead.  As we got closer, it retreated inside the tree trunk.

A Northern Racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor) which we found at the same tree trunk as the Northern Copperhead. As we got closer, it retreated inside 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).

A Northern Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsi) which we found right before leaving Raystown Lake Field Station.

A Northern Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus edwardsi) which we found right before leaving Raystown Lake Field Station.

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!

-Mark

 


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Transformative Learning: Highschoolers Metamorphose into Scientists

Our next guest blog post is from Melissa O’Brien, a lab undergraduate student, who did a fantastic job this summer serving as a mentor in an education initiative for high school students, which she describes below:

This summer our lab had the opportunity to work with three fantastic Upward Bound Math and Science students through the SEECoS program (Summer Experience in the Eberly College of Science). Students selected for the program show a lot of potential in their high school science classes, but they come from inner city schools that may not give them the preparation they need for college. This is where SEECoS comes in. Once students have been accepted into the program, they come up to Penn State in the summer for six weeks of research and coursework. These courses are designed to prepare the students for high school classes they will have in the upcoming Fall. In addition, students have the opportunity to do a research project with Penn State faculty and students, for which they are required to write a research paper and, during the final week of the program, present to their classmates.

The three SEECoS students in the Langkilde Lab were:

Selena, who is entering her senior year at Reading High School and is interested in criminology and, after working with us this summer, herpetology.

Jermayne, who will be a junior at Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia, and wants to pursue a career in forensic science, and

Kiara, who is entering her freshman year at Reading High School and is interested in veterinary science.

This summer our students conducted an experiment to study tadpole behavior, titled: “City frogs versus country frogs: investigating the effects of urbanization.”

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A group photo from the first day of SEECoS. From left to right: Melissa (SEECOS undergraduate mentor), Selena, Jermayne, and Kiara.

Our students worked with wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) tadpoles lovingly raised by Jenny Tennesson, a graduate student in the Langkilde Lab. Jenny gave the students background information on her system before they designed their research project. She asked students to think about the differences between noisy and quiet environments and how these differences might influence animal behavior. Our students came up with some great ideas, and we decided to study differences in sociality and anti-predator behavior in tadpoles from noisy and quiet environments (ponds with different noise levels). Brad Carlson, another grad student in the lab, helped us develop an exciting project to investigate both sociality and anti-predator behavior over the course of three days.

Students set up 12 tubs that they would use for 6 different trials. The tubs contained two mesh dividers (one on each end), and the center of each tub was divided into four equal zones (numbered from 1 to 4).  A subject tadpole from a noisy or quiet environment was placed in the center of each of the tubs while a stimulus tadpole from a separate pond was placed behind one of the dividers. The tubs were numbered so that zone 1 was closest to the stimulus tadpole and focal tadpoles in this zone were likely more social, while zone 4 was the farthest away from the stimulus tadpole and should be used by less social focal tadpoles.

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Tadpole tub complete with subject and stimulus tadpoles.

The tadpoles were given 30 minutes to acclimate to the tubs, after which the students added control or predator water to the center of the tubs. The control water consisted of tap water that had been treated with ReptiSafe to neutralize any chemicals that could harm the tadpoles. Predator water was obtained from water in which dragonfly nymphs had eaten tadpoles. These cues should make the subject tadpoles think there was a predator nearby. Our students were initially freaked out by the dragonfly nymphs (they do look like aliens with large protruding jaws), but we were able to convince Jermayne to pick one up!

Jermayne holding a dragonfly nymph.

Jermayne holding a dragonfly nymph.

A dragonfly nymph munching on a tadpole (photo taken by Tracy).

A dragonfly nymph munching on a tadpole (photo taken by Tracy).

After the tadpoles had adjusted to the predator cues, our students began collecting data. They took turns observing each tub every 30 seconds to record the location (zone #) and movement (moving/still) of the subject tadpoles for 15 minutes. The zone number gave us information about sociality, and taking notes on tadpole movement would help us study anti-predator behavior. After conducting their experiment, our students analyzed their data to see whether sociality and anti-predator behavior differed between tadpoles from noisy and quiet environments. Our students found that, regardless of the type of pond a tadpole came from, the tadpole tended to reduce its movement in the presence of a predator cue. Students also found that tadpoles didn’t show social behavior, although it might be possible that tadpoles from quiet ponds become less social in the presence of predators. Our students also discovered that treatment order matters. They used 36 different subject tadpoles over the course of three days, and each tadpole was used twice. The results showed that tadpoles that were exposed to predators first would stay still even when they were placed in a control tub a few days later. This may mean that tadpoles have better memories than we think they do, if they still associated the tubs with predators.

While our students didn’t see any significant differences between frogs from noisy and quiet environments in their results, they gained something much more important from this research experience. They had the opportunity to see how much fun science can be, and they learned that being a scientist doesn’t mean you have to sit in a lab all day. They had the opportunity to handle frogs, lizards, and even dragonfly nymphs! Our students also had the opportunity to go into the field and catch tadpoles and salamanders with Jenny, Lindsey, and Courtney. While they weren’t so fond of the waders right away, it wasn’t long before our students were competing with each other to see who could catch the most tadpoles with one scoop of the net.

Kiara, Selena, and Jermayne catching tadpoles.

Kiara, Selena, and Jermayne catching tadpoles.

Kiara holding a wood frog metamorph, and Selena with freshly-caught salamander larvae

Kiara holding a wood frog metamorph, and Selena with freshly-caught salamander larvae

It was easy to see that Kiara, Selena, and Jermayne became much more confident in themselves over the course of the SEECoS program. We’re sure that they developed a love of slimy critters (you know you did!). They were able to design and carry out an experiment, analyze the data, and present their results to their peers. Their enthusiasm for and knowledge of their project earned them 4th place among SEECoS presentations and 6th place for overall best research project. Most importantly, our students learned that they are very capable scientists who can be anything they want to be. We feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to work with such great students, and we know that they will be successful no matter what field they choose! Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible, and we can’t wait for next year!

Group photo on the last day of SEECoS. From left to right: Mr. Licona (biology teacher), Melissa, Jermayne, Kiara, Selena, and Tracy.

Group photo on the last day of SEECoS. From left to right: Mr. Licona (biology teacher), Melissa, Jermayne, Kiara, Selena, and Tracy.