Unisexual Ambystoma

Unisexual Ambystoma

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Catching diamondback terrapins on Kiawah Island

Turtles. I love them. You love them. From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the University of Maryland Terps, the members of order Testudines are iconic, remarkable animals. Unfortunately, wild turtles have had a hard time in recent historical time, with almost 50% of turtle species endangered or threatened worldwide. In fact, last year (2011) was designated the year of the turtle in order to raise awareness about turtles' plight. 
This past week I was in Kiawah Island, South Carolina participating in the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) survey ran by Davidson College and The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL). This long-term survey of diamondback terrapins has been going steady since 1983 (crazy!). The work that has been happening at Kiwah Island has revealed a decline in terrapin populations across the duration of the study that is associated with crab traps.  

Diamondback terrapins are the only turtle in the U.S. that lives in brackish water, and they have several unique adaptations to deal with the difficulties of saltwater, including salt-excreting glands around their eyes.

A male terrapin with a damaged right foot
How do you catch terrapins? Well, you have to wait until low tide and drag large seine nets through muddy, oyster (sharp) covered tidal creeks. It can be tough work, but you can't really complain while hanging out by the ocean and catching turtles all day.  
A nice haul of terrapins ready for weighing, measuring, and marking, etc.

When not catching turtles, we had a few opportunities to run around and observe wildlife like this beautiful pair of eastern coachwhips (Masticophis flagellum).

The highlight had to be Matt Holding and I giving two Davison College students their first experience in armadillo chasing: a true pastime of wildlife scientists.
From left to right: Rob Denton, Whitner Chase, Tia Akins, the armadillo, and Matt Holding
For more information about Southeastern Reptiles and Amphibians along with the great work done by Dr. Mike Dorcas and his students, visit here.

Salamander research featured on The Weekly Wienersmith

  Cool news! I got to talk about our salamander research on this week's episode of Weekly Wienersmith, a really neat podcast about science. You can listen online or download here.

The episode features the work of Dr. Ryan Earley at the University of Alabama. I got to meet Dr. Earley when he came to give a seminar at Ohio State in the winter, and he is one cool scientist. Check out his webpage for some fascinating research on the mangrove rivulus.

Zach and Kelly are super nice and fun to talk to, so go to their webpage and give them some support.

Also, when I talk about folks coming into the field with me to check out the salamanders in the wild, I was serious. Contact me if you are ever interested in tagging along with a scientist in action!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

SciFund Day 20

Just a few days ago, my SciFund project reached 100% of my goal thanks to some very generous folks. Unfortunately, I was preparing to leave for South Carolina and didn't get a chance to properly document all of my gratitude. 

Here are the folks who brought me to my goal and even pushed me over the top. I emailed everyone who I don't already know and asked for some details that I could share. This is the result.

Kari Bragg - Of course, my lovely mother chipped in to my project. Because she knows how much I love her, I will go ahead and put the most embarrassing photo I have of here right here. Thanks Mom!

Tom Beauvais - Dr. Beauvais is a retired geographer who now does research at the Field Museum in Chicago. Tom has many connections to Ohio herpetology, and is particularly interested in the historical occurrence of the Eastern Massasauga, a state-endangered rattlesnake. My project caught his eye because it is based in Crawford County, Ohio, an area that he has written about in a Massasauga manuscript. Thanks so much Tom!

Louanna Mossburg - Louanna "Nan" Mossburg is my great Aunt and one of the best people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Nan has sent subscriptions of National Geographic to me for years, inspiring me to think scientifically about the natural world. Thanks Nan!

MW Chase - MW Chase is so mysterious, he/she doesn't even have a full first name. I'm going to just assume that MW is a great person and a real science fan. Thanks to MW Chase!

Max Lonetto - Max was kind enough to donate to my project, and that makes him a great guy in my book. Thanks Max!

Andrew Baldwin - Andrew, or Dr. Baldwin, is a recent PhD in civil engineering from San Fransisco, California. He donated to my project because he found it to pose an interesting hypothesis and he feels strongly about supporting science research. Thanks Andrew!

Anil J - The only things that I know about Anil is that I am grateful for his/her generosity! Thank Anil!

Dale Hoyt - Dr. Hoyt is a retired university professor from the University of Georgia. He mainly worked on population genetics questions, but has always had a love for herpetology. He even went to grad school with Tom Uzzell, who was one of the first scientists to study the unisexual salamanders. Thanks Dr. Hoyt!

James Palmer - James is a physics graduate who lives in the UK and is a big fan of science. The fun fact about James is that he enjoys juggling, a skill that I would certainly abuse to impress people at parties. Thanks James!

Joe Bartoszek - Dr. Bartoszek received his PhD from Wright State in 2009 working with Ambystomatid salamanders. He was one of the authors of Sex in Unisexual Salamanders, one of the most influential papers written recently about the unisexual salamanders and one of the first papers I read when I got interested in this study system. It feels pretty good that he is now donating to my project! Thanks Joe!

WHEW. Thanks so much to everyone who has helped me reach my goal. It has been great to meet so many new people who are now part of my project. 

I have a few things planned for when I get back from South Carolina in a couple of days, including an update about what I'm doing down here (catching turtles!), some media that I'll be in this coming week, as well as a profile of some of my favorite SciFund projects.

Thanks y'all.

Monday, May 14, 2012

James and Other Apes

On a non-salamander tangent, I want to share an extraordinary set of photographs with you taken by James Mollison: James and Other Apes.

The synopsis of the photos really says it all, but these photos seem to peer into the personalities of these animals like I've never seen. Check them out.

You can purchase Mr. Mollison's book here.

Monday, May 7, 2012

SciFund Day 7

It is day seven of the SciFund challenge and we are entering the marathon portion of the month. My project is still around 1/3 of the way to my goal after some generous donations from some family, some colleagues, and some folks I've never even met.

Part of being a scientist that communicates with the public is challenging some common stereotypes, such as:

I wear a white lab coat to work everyday, have crazy white hair, and laugh maniacally when I get an experiment to work.

I have no personal skills.

I only talk to other scientists and only speak in a foreign language of scientific jargon.

In reality, scientists are an extremely diverse group of individuals who all share a passion for asking "why?"

Check out this video from SciFund that introduces the scientists who want to share their work with the world.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Plenty of thanks to give on SciFund day 3

SciFund Challenge Day 3 update:

I'm now 32% ($511) on the way to my goal! I've got plenty of folks to thank from the last two days.

Tim Earnest - Tim was my boss during my summer jobs as an undergrad and one of my groomsmen in my wedding. He told me that his oldest daughter wants to name their salamander "Glitter Shine" or "Tim Mannix". Thanks Tim!

Tim Mitchener and Kari Bragg - The first donations to come from family members! Thanks so much Mom and Tim! My Mom was the first to break the $100 barrier, so awesome.

Kyle MacLea - Kyle is a fellow SciFund participant this year and a postdoc at Colorado State University. You can check out Kyle's project here. Kyle studies asexual (just like my salamanders!) crayfish and supporting him will help do some of the first genetic studies of these animals. Check it out!

Stephen Richter - Stephen is my former advisor at Eastern Kentucky University and an all-around great guy who got me some of my first good opportunities in academia. To pay him back, I'm teaching his sons how to play chess.

And last but certainly not least is Ann Fro from South Hadley, Massachusetts. What makes Ann so special? Well, she is the first contributor to my project who I don't know and my project is the first SciFund she has supported. How cool is that? Thanks so much for your generosity Ann!

Thanks again everyone!

Columbus Public Schools Exceptional Science Fair

When I'm on campus, I'm often tied to a computer or a lab bench. While I love the work that I do, this can often get tedious, and many grad students can describe the malaise that sets in after months of working on a project. Sometimes it is difficult to remember the essence of why you love science in the first place.

To remedy this and provide some service to the community, there is always science outreach that can be done. I really got interested in outreach work with my former advisor at Eastern Kentucky University Dr. Stephen Richter and the EKU division of natural areas. I got to talk to a bunch of kids about wetlands and amphibians for two years, and I hope to make more of those connections at Ohio State. 

One of those potential connections, Beechcroft High School, invited our department to participate in this year's Columbus Public Schools Exceptional Science Fair on April 27th. The Exceptional Science Fair is an opportunity for special needs students to present science projects that they have worked on and meet scientists. I loaded up the car with some live animals and headed there with no idea of what to expect. 

 The participants in the Exceptional Science Fair were an incredible groups of students that were curious, determined, and enthusiastic. I could barely keep up trying to answer their questions!

For grad students, I can't recommend community outreach highly enough. It is a brilliant way to make science accessible and reignite some of the emotions that are at the core of scientific inquiry.  

Also, I admire the teachers and staff at Beechcroft for hosting this event. They did a great job of keeping everyone involved and excited. 

Here are some additional pictures of Beechcroft High students and other students from the Columbus public schools enjoying salamanders and snakes!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

SciFund - Day 1 Success

The first day of the 2012 SciFund Challenge is almost at an end, and it sure was exciting! I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on Facebook and I've already reached 15% of my goal ($225)!

Initially, I've been pleasantly surprised at the diversity of my first six contributors. The feeling that I've maintained lasting relationships with folks from near and far is just as rewarding as the financial support. It really is.

So, a big thank you to my supporters from SciFund day 1!

Specifically, thanks go out to:

Dr. H. Lisle Gibbs, my major advisor, and appropriately, my first donator. 

Dr. Emily Taylor, snake biologist extraordinaire from Cal Poly. Read Emily's blog about everything snake-y

Nate Berggoetz, my former hockey teammate and mutual lover of Michael McDonald. Nate's $25 will allow me to continue takin' it to the streets ("it" being "science").

Shannon Evers, my colleague and former Ball State Cardinal. If you are lucky enough to be anywhere near Hawaii this May, take in Shannon's M.S. thesis talk on May 11th, entitled "Effects of increased load on locomotion in the brown anole, Anolis sagrei".

Dr. David Hayes, my biogeography professor from Eastern Kentucky University and with whom I've played many hours of 4-square. Here is a recent picture of Dave in his office:


Allison "Chewie" Treadway another former Ball State Cardinal who is currently wandering Western Illinois searching for small mammals, I think. I wonder how cute she thinks they are after spending two years studying them?

That is it for today. I hope everyone looks forward to their rewards and hearing more about what your hard-earned dollars are funding: cool science!