Several members of the KU herpetology division joined the Kansas Herpetological Society recently for their biannual herp survey which took place near Russell, Kansas from April 24th to the 26th. Russell is in the heart of post rock country. This term comes from the presence of many old limestone fence posts built by the early settlers to this prairie. With few trees, the abundence of limestone just beneath the surface provided an excellent resource for building barbed wire fences. Much of this same rock, having been exposed, cracked and weathered, provides excellent hiding spots for an array of snakes, lizards, and frogs not found in Lawrence, KS.
Rafe Brown and Jackson Leibach search beneath exposed rock along a hillside
Just one of the many neat finds. This milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) from just a couple of hours drive to the West looks a bit different than the ones we are used to finding around Lawrence.
We are still early in the registration process, but space in all of our tours and field trips is filling quickly. We are offering tours of KU Herpetology and a field trip to the Henry Fitch Natural HIstory Reserve on the afternoon of the meetings' first day (Thursday, July 30th) and a tour of Allen Press on the day after the meeting (Monday, August 3rd). Capacity for all of these trips is limited due to space and transportation issue, and all of them are already at least half full. Be sure to sign up soon if you want to go on a tour or field trip! You can book a spot in any on of these trips or tours at the time of registration. If you are already registered and would like to book a spot on one of the trips please contact the conference coordinators via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Nearly four months after the KU Antarctica team returned to campus, the 5,000 pounds of fossil material they collected in Antarctica will arrive at KU on Monday, April 13.
Staff and students will start unloading 50-60 wooden crates of material that is 260 to 180 million years old, from the Permian and Jurassic periods.
Although most people think of Antarctica as a barren, cold environment, 200 million years ago it was a land of lush forest – a forest that now permineralized can yield clues to the climate change of the past, and how plants today may react to climate change as well.
The fossil material will help scientists study floral changes during the Jurassic in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica.
“This research is important in understanding what climate and environment was like at the poles during one of Earth’s past greenhouse climates and how plants responded to both climate changes and instantaneous disruptions through the rise of volcanoes,” said Rudy Serbet, collection manager of paleobotany at KU Biodiversity Institute and a team leader for the trip. “These sorts of times and environmental stresses are key to understanding how current climate change may effect high latitude plants.”
During the seven weeks they were in Antarctica, the group took several camping field trips “out to the ice,” including the Odell Glacier area and the Allan Hills.
No staff or students have seen the material in the intervening months as it made its way from Antarctica to California to Kansas.
"Today is like Christmas in April,” said Paleobotany Curator Edith Taylor, lead PI on the National Science Foundation grant that funded the research.
Archived posts from the group are available here.
We previously noted that any students are eligible for the student member rate ($160) so long as they are a member of one of the three major North American herpetological societies (SSAR, HL, ASIH), or any other international, national, or regional herpetological society. We also previously noted that we would require written documentation of such membership. However, we have now eliminated the requirement that students provide this written documentation. We trust you. If you are a student and a member of any herpetological society you are welcome to register at the student member rate without the need to provide written documentation. We reserve the right to later confirm membership and provide registrants with renewal reminders where appropriate.
SSAR 2015 will close with an outdoor picnic in a field directly behind the main meeting venue and adjacent to KU's football stadium. This location is beautiful and centrally located. In addition to easy access to the main meeting venue and nearby lodging (e.g., The Oread Hotel and the GSP Dormitories), the picnic location also features several turtle ponds and a small forested area. The price of a picnic ticket will get you admission to the picnic tents as well as two drink tickets and a full buffet. The picnic option is very popular among early registrants, so we urge everyone to get a ticket while you still can. Due the events popularity and the need to confirm total attendance prior to the day of the event, picnic tickets must be purchased in advance (ideally at the time of registration) and will not be available on-site after the meeting begins.
KU Herpetology received this photo recently of a lizard found inside of a shipping container arriving from the Philippines. Can you identify this species? It's unlikely that this lizard did in fact come from the Philippines. How it got into a shippment of goods from Southeast Asia is quite a mystery.
Led by undergraduate collections assistant Matt Buehler, other undergraduate help remove beetles and their frass from a python skin. A recent inspection of the KU Herpetology dry specimen holdings indicated that several specimens were infested with descructive dermestid beetles. The specimens in danger are being frozen to kill all the beetles and cleaned by hand.
Just yesterday, my newest paper was published online in the journal The Science of Nature: Naturwissenschaften about a rather unusual fish from the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation of southeastern Utah. The fish, Hemicalypterus weiri, was a deep-bodied, disc-shaped fish, with enameled ganoid scales covering the anterior portion of its flank, and a scaleless posterior half, which presumably aided in flexibility while swimming. Although Hemicalypterus was first described in the 1960s (Schaeffer, 1967), recent collecting trips recovered many new specimens of Hemicalypterus, and I decided to reinvestigate this enigmatic fish as part of my dissertation research.
While cleaning specimens of Hemicalypterus at the University of Kansas Vertebrate Paleontology prep lab, I noticed rather unusual teeth on the lower jaw that I had exposed from the rock matrix. These teeth look like a mouthful of little forks, and there were at least six individual teeth on the lower jaw. As I prepared other specimens, I found that these teeth were also on the premaxillae. Each tooth has a long cylindrical base and a flattened, spatulate edge with four delicate, individual cusps. I hadn't seen anything like this before in other fossil fishes, and so I started searching the literature and talking to other ichthyologists.
Well, as it turns out, this tooth morphology has evolved multiple times in several independent lineages of teleost fishes, and quite often fishes with similar dentition scrape algae off of a hard substrate. These teeth indeed act like little forks (or "sporks" might be more appropriate) for these herbivorous/omnivorous fishes. Examples of extant fishes with similar teeth include freshwater forms such as the algae-scraping cichlids and characiforms, as well as many marine forms that are key in controlling algae growth in coral reef environments, such as acanthurids (surgeonfishes, tangs) and siganids (rabbitfishes). Of course, these modern-day fishes also feed on other things (e.g., phytoplankton), but algae is often the primary staple, and these fishes use this specialized dentition for a specific feeding behavior.
So while it is impossible to prove definitively what a species of fish that lived over 200 million years ago fed upon (without gut contents being preserved....or a time machine), it is still safe to infer that Hemicalypterus occupied an ecological niche space similar to algae-scraping cichlids or other modern-day herbivorous fishes and may have scraped algae off of a hard substrate, based on this unusual tooth morphology and its similarity to modern forms.
This discovery also extends evidence of herbivory in fishes clear back to the Early Mesozoic, whereas prior to this discovery it was assumed that herbivory evolved in the Middle Cenozoic in marine teleost fishes. Frankly, there was no evidence to say otherwise, as most Mesozoic fishes have general caniniform or styliform (peg-like) teeth, or they have heavy crushing or pavement-like teeth consistent with crushing hard-shelled organisms. The teeth of Hemicalypterus are very delicate, and wouldn't really do well with durophagy. This is the first potential evidence of herbivory in the Mesozoic, and in a non-teleost, ray-finned fish.
Original Source: Gibson, S.Z. 2015. Evidence of a specialized feeding niche in a Late Triassic ray-finned fish: evolution of multidenticulate teeth and benthic scraping in †Hemicalypterus. The Science of Nature — Naturwissenschaften 102:10.
While Rudy Serbet, Carla Harper, Erik Gulbranson, Lauren Michel and colleagues have returned to their universities to continue their research, the Antarctic Sun has meanwhile compiled this video about their research in Antarctica.
The KU Herpetology Division was in attendance at last night's Sexy Science event held at the Natural History Museum. The event, which was very well attended, invited attendees to explore the suggestive side of natural history and hosted representatives from Herpetology as well as Entomology and Ornithology. Matt Buehler, Andressa Bezerra, Manuella Folly, Jackson Leibach and myself were there with a display of reptile and amphibian specimens which typify some of the fascinating reproductive biology in these organisms. For example did you know that some species of lizards are able to clone themselves? That's right. And you might be surprised that they can be found here in our own backyard. The New Mexico whiptail of the American Southwest is one well studied example. The entire species is composed of females which reproduce by cloning themselves. What makes them even more interesting is that the entire species is the result of a hybridization between two closely related species, the little striped whiptail and the western whiptail. This cloning phenomenon may actually occur more frequently that we thought. Species that typically reproduce through sex such as the copperheads, which are quite common around Lawrence, Kansas, have shown they have the ability to clone themselves as well. Why they do so is still a mystery. A mystery that if solved may tell us something about the evolution of sex in animals.
Matt Buehler talking to some visitors about reproduction in frogs.
Jackson Leibach pointing out the hemipenes of a reticulated python