Blogs

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Introducing Hebron Kelecha

My name is Hebron Kelecha and I am a senior studying Biochemistry and minoring in Economics. I am originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and raised primarily in Gardner, Kansas. This trip really interested me because it was different than any other research I have conducted. Having primarily done cancer biology and other biomedical research, I wanted to get the chance to try something different, and have heard nothing but great feedback from students who went. This trip also gave me the chance to finally study abroad before I graduate. I hope this trip continues to affirm my love for research while also challenging me. I can't wait to explore the culture and all that Costa Rica has to offer.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Introducing Delaney Bates

Hello! I am Delaney Bates, and I am an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major (junior) at the University of Kansas. I plan to pursue a career in medicine. Traveling the world has always been a dream of mine, and being in Costa Rica is surreal. I first studied abroad in France and Spain when I was 15 years old; I have been craving to travel abroad again. This Costa Rica program allows me to explore biological research, expand my knowledge of organisms in their natural environment, and develop field research skills while immersing myself in an unfamiliar culture and country. Studying abroad at the University of Kansas has been an ambition of mine, and I’m ecstatic to fulfill this goal in Costa Rica. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fisherman Discovers 200-Year-Old Chinese Giant Salamander

A fisherman in southwest China stumbled upon a 200-year-old Chinese giant salamander weighing over 100 pounds. The four-and-a-half foot long specimen greatly surpasses the average lifespan of the critically endangered species. Giant salamanders are thought to live 80 years in the wild. The salamander found in China has been transferred to a research facility for study.

An adult Japanese Giant Salamander(Andrias japonicas).

Species of the giant salamander are found in both China (Andrias davidianus) and Japan (Andrias japonicas). Oddly enough, the closest relative to these living fossils is the Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) found in eastern North America. The hellbender, on average, grows to half the size of the giant species. KU Herpetology Collections Manager Luke Welton says giant salamanders diverged from the hellbender 65 million years ago.

Despite the distance between their homes, all three species have similar habitats and lifestyles. Welton says the three species spend little time on land due to poorly developed lungs, and instead absorb most of their oxygen through folds of skin on their sides. As a result of this preference, all three prefer cold, fast-running streams and lakes. Salamanders often seek refuge beneath large submerged rocks and boulders.

Several specimens of the hellbender and both species of giant salamander are part of the KU Biodiversity Institute Herpetology Collections.

A KU Herpetology lab snaps a selfie before releasing a hellbender found in the Niangua river near Bennet Springs, Missouri.

 

 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dinner or Dinosaur? Both!

 

This Thanksgiving, don’t think of the yearly tradition as just carving up a turkey. In reality, you’re dissecting your very own dinosaur.

KU Paleontologist David Burnham studies ancient raptors of all sizes. Studying these ancient relatives fills the gaps between raptors of the past and the turkeys we eat today. Upon studying this lineage, one can see that turkeys and raptors have much more in common than you may think, despite differences in how we traditionally picture a “bird.”

“The public’s perception of what a bird may be might not be the definition a scientist would use,” said Burnham.

The public largely defines birds by their feathers and flight capabilities. By comparison to their ancestors, not only do both prehistoric raptors and modern birds share feathers, but many living birds also either rarely or never use flight including ostriches, emus, cassowaries and turkeys. 

“The loss of flight has evolved several times throughout that lineage,” said Burnham. “If we want to draw a line when theropod dinosaurs became strictly avian, well, we’re still refining that even today due to the enormous amount of new discoveries.”

What’s important to remember is that dinosaurs never fully became extinct. The ones that survived mass extinction merely changed. Birds such as turkeys and chickens share their lineage with theropods, or two-legged meat-eating dinosaurs. The skeletal structures of turkeys and extinct theropods such as Velociraptor, Bambiraptor and Microraptor retain several similarities in particular. 

Here are some points to look for while dissecting your “dinosaur” this Thanksgiving:

  • Wishbone - The furcula, or wishbone, is a major connection between the turkey and its ancient theropod ancestors. The furcula is made up of two formerly separate collarbones, fused together. This evolutionary change aided in flight capabilities of ancient raptors such as Microraptor, and continues to help modern birds, such as turkeys, reach liftoff.
  • Wings - The turkey wing deserves careful inspection. The fleshed-over tip is where claws protruded from theropod arms such as those of Velociraptor, Bambiraptor, and even the massive Dakotaraptor. Imagine those on your dinner plate! As theropod dinosaurs evolved, their arms became longer and those claws were covered by flesh forming wings suitable for extended flight – an easily recognizable feature of avian species we see today.

  • The fleshed-over tip of a turkey wing, where raptor claws once protruded to snatch prey
  • Thighs and drumsticks - These are often the most sought after pieces of the feast, and still quite similar to the legs of theropods. This leg structure allowed raptors to reach impressive ground speeds; Velociraptor is thought to have been able to run as fast as 40 miles per hour! The turkey on your table is no slowpoke either thanks to this ancient design, with a top running speed of 25 miles per hour. 

Turkey hips (left) as compared to  those of a pre-historic raptor (right)

While the turkey still possesses many remarkable features harkening back to its raptor relatives, there are some things we can be thankful were lost during evolution.

“Of course, turkeys don’t have teeth,” said Burnham, “and that’s probably a good thing.”
 

 
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Field Work in Bahamas

I'm currently in the Bahamas for a field trip with recent Glor Lab PhD graduate and current Harvard University postdoc Anthony Geneva. We started our trip with a few days of sampling on Eleuthera Island and are now on our way toward South Andros Island, where we'll spend a few days before proceeding to North Andros Island. We're primarily interested in sampling two widespread species of Anolis for a few projects about speciation and adaptation, but are also sampling herpetofaunal diversity more generally. The photograph above is of a Bahamian Racer (Cubophis vudii) that crawled into my camera bag.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Seeking a Communications Intern

The KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum seeks a Science and Public Programs Communications Intern

Position description:
This student position assists the director of external affairs. The intern will work on a variety of projects spanning the outreach programs of the museum and the research programs of KU Biodiversity Institute scientists and students. Content may span written, audio and video formats, depending on the skills the intern brings to the position. Candidates with an interest in science writing are strongly encouraged to apply. 

Specific tasks may include:
conducting interviews and developing features for biodiversity.ku.edu;
supporting our efforts in social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; and
assisting the director with communications to  the public, media, and museum members. 

Required qualifications:
Junior, senior or graduate student level standing; 
Majoring in journalism, communications, biology or a related field; 
Strong English writing and editing skills as demonstrated by coursework, samples, resume and cover letter;
Familiarity with social media platforms as indicated in application materials; 
Experience with basic Office software skills (Word, Excel); 
Available to work 10-15 hours per week during weekdays

Preferred Qualifications:
Experience with writing about science or research; 
Proficiency with Adobe programs (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign); 
Experience with online content creation and/or video production. 

Full details and application at employment.ku.edu.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Marsupial Frogs: Gastrotheca & Allied Genera by William E. Duellman

Curator Emeritus Bill Duellman saw two books published in the Summer of 2015: Herpetology at Kansas: A Centennial History (published by SSAR) and Marsupial Frogs: Gastrotheca & Allied Genera (published by Johns Hopkins Press). Here, from it's back cover, is a bit more detail on the marsupial frogs book that is now available via Johns Hopkins Press: "This scientific masterpiece reveals many aspects of the lives of marsupial frogs and closely allied genera. Native to central and south America, these amphibians differ from other frogs in that they protect their eggs after oviposition by either adhering them to the female's back or placing them in a specialized dorsal pouch (thus the common name, marsupial frog). During mating, the male typically collects the eggs from the female with his feet - often one at a time and always out of water - fertilizes them, and then tucks them into the female's pouch or attaches them to her back. In some species these eggs hatch as tadpoles, but most emerge as minatures of the adults. Even among the tadpoles there is remarkable convergence, with some behaving in the typical manner (feeding and metamorphosing) and others not feeding until they metamorphose. In Marsupial Frogs, William E. Duellman's synthesis of all that is known about the  unique family Hemiphractidae is largely based on decades of his own careful laboratory and field study. He reveals the diversity of the frog's exotic color patterns and geographic distribution. More than 200 photographs, illustrations, and maps accompany the detailed text. This exceptional reference should find its way into the libraries of serious herpetologists, tropical biologists, and developmental biologists."

Monday, August 17, 2015

Herpetology at Kansas: A Centennial History by William E. Duellman

Curator Emeritus Bill Duellman's book on the history of herpetology at the University of Kansas is now available. From the back cover "The University of Kansas has long been recognized as having one of the world's leading centers for research and education in herpetology. This book chronicles the people - faculty and student alike - who have contributed to maintaining and expanding KU's herpetology program and details their lives, education, research, and fieldwork. The book also describes how a true institutional program, one that transcends individuals, was created and sustained over such a long period through innovative planning and social development. The KU herpetological collections comprise one of the largest and most comprehensive museums of amphibians and reptiles in existence, now numbering in excess of 332,000 alcohol-preserved specimens, together with ancillary collections of osteological preparations, color images, frozen tissues, audio recordings, and the associated scientific literature. This book provides an insider's in depth review of the many successes as well as plans that went awry or even courted disaster. Altogether this book represents a substantial and critical chapter in the history of the discipline of herpetology."

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Changes to Printed Schedule

The following schedule changes occurred after our program was printed.

New Talk

Alfonso et al.

Population divergence and taxonomic implications in Anolis porcus (Squamata: Dactyloidae) from the eastern Cuban paleo-archipelago

Moved from poster session to oral session (Sunday, 11:45-noon in Big 12 Room)

New Poster

Gross et al.

Habitat use, dispersal, hibernation, and survival of maternal and neonatal Copperheads (Crotalinae; Agkistrodon) in a managed southeastern forest landscape.

Added to Poster Session #2

Cancelled

Kawai et al.

Stable isotope analysis of trophic dynamics and terrestrial food web compartmentalization in lizard communities in Madagascar

Oral presentation cancelled from Seibert Competition session on July 31st at 2PM

 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Live Animal Exhibit

Kansas has a very rich herpetofauna, with about 100 native species of amphibians and reptiles. Live specimens of nearly every species will be on display this week for the SSAR meeting, with the exception of venomous snakes. The live animal exhibit will occur in Gathering Room 1 of the Oread Hotel on Thursday 4-8pm and Friday through Sunday 8:30am-6pm ad is open to the public. Species on exhibit will include: Western Narrow mouth Toad (Gastrophryne olivacea), Western Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium), Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), Texas Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum), Western Milksnake (Lampropeltis gentilis), and Grahamês Crayfish Snake (Regina grahami). This will be a unique opportunity to observe these animals upclose and be able to photograph them. Staff members can answer questions and assist with photography. SSAR started live displays at its meetings in 1968 as a conservation measure to offset collection of wild animals in the vicinity of meeting venues. Turning loose hundreds of eager herpetologists in one locale is bound to have negative effects on the local herpetofauna. Additionally, many species are highly seasonal or difficult to find, so having local herpetologists make a representative collection over the course of a year or more is ideal. We are most grateful to the membership of the Kansas Herpetological Society for making the herculean effort to bring all these animals together and for getting the necessary permits from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks,and Tourism to do so. Many specimens come from the live collection of the Sternberg Museum of Natural History at Fort Hays State University. In particular, we wish to thank Dexter Mardis, Curtis Schmidt, Travis Taggart, and Chris Visser. The person in charge of the exhibit is Dan Fogell (email:dfogell@southeast.edu). Please contact him if you have any special needs, concerns, or questions.