Chaboo taking the zany zip-lining plunge in Costa Rica.
In June 2015, I visited Costa Rica with 14 KU undergraduates for the annual field course. The research part, funded by KU’s Office of International Programs, was to examine the arthropod communities of Zingiberales host plants (bananas and ginger are the most familiar examples). I personally enjoyed the country so much, that I returned with my family for Christmas holidays, spending the week at the spectacular Manuel Antonio National Park in the Pacific coastal town of Quepos. We enjoyed the adventurous personality of Costa Rica, with beaches, hiking, and zip-lining. Then came my eight KU undergraduates for the field course and new adventures in this beautiful country.
I am Luke Schletzbaum from Overland Park, Kansas and I’m a Junior majoring in Organismal Biology. Some of the things that inspired me to enter my field are habitat loss, species conservation, and science education. I chose to go on this field biology trip with Dr. Chaboo mostly due to the location and the ability to conduct fieldwork in a location renowned for its incredible biodiversity. Over the course of the trip I hope to gain experiences locating and obtaining specimens and how to categorize and prepare them for study.
When I entered KU I heard many things about how great the study abroad program is.I waited until an opportunity intrigued me, and this was the one!
My name is Shannon Pelkey, but I go by Nikki. I am a freshman at KU studying Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Organismal Biology and Environmental Studies. I also am interested in becoming fluent in French! Hopefully this trip to Costa Rica will give me a chance to explore the Spanish language and gain experience in field research, biology, and conservation. I chose this study abroad trip to experience a new culture and learn the basics of being a biologist, so I can get a glimpse of my future career. I am inspired by nature and people, and I feel like we have not lived in harmony with the earth for some time. I want to educate governments and people in conservation and sustainability so that we do not drive ourselves off this planet we are destroying. Although space travel would be extremely cool, I would rather have a future more like the television series Star Trek than the movie Interstellar! This time spent in Costa Rica will hopefully give me new knowledge and experiences so I can gain skills and make a few good memories along the way.
My name is Tracey Funk and I am a freshman at KU studying Biology. I have always been interested in ecology and enjoy spending time outdoors. Participating in the Field Biology program in Costa Rica will give me an opportunity to develop my research skills and experience true fieldwork. I am especially looking forward to seeing a cloud forest firsthand and learning more about the dynamics in the unique ecosystem. My favorite aspect of ecology is exploring the relationships between different organisms. While in Costa Rica, I hope to compare and contrast the relationships in tropical ecosystems to those in the prairie ecosystems I am familiar with in Kansas.
Hello! My name is Xiaomin Zhou and I currently study Molecular Biosciences at the University of Kansas. I am participating in the Costa Rica field biology program for the unique opportunity to expand my class-based Biology background with new experiences: living in the ecosystem, observing the live plants and animals, learning about species interactions, and the classification and identification of characters. During this course, I hope to gain insight into fieldwork and field research to broaden my understanding and appreciation of biodiversity, while exploring the tropical environments of Costa Rica. I also look forward to learning more about Central American culture because I study the Spanish language.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.”
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.