This past August, I returned to the University of Kansas – and Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute – becoming the new Collections Manager in the Division of Herpetology. August couldn’t have made for a better homecoming, as KU was celebrating 100 years of herpetological research by hosting the annual SSAR (Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles) meeting. The meeting offered a perfect opportunity to connect with so many whom have helped build this division into one of the greatest centers for herpetological research in the country, if not the world.
Over these few first, short months I’ve received nothing but support from students and colleagues, making the transition from student to employed researcher nearly seamless. This support has afforded me the flexibility to take on the responsibilities associated with managing a collection of more than 340,000 herpetological natural history specimens, while simultaneously wrapping up dissertation work towards a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology.
With the aid of a stellar group of undergraduate volunteers, an incredible curatorial assistant, and a cohort of graduate students that are second to none, we’ve been able to close outstanding loans of material that are years and even decades past due. We’ve also accessioned and incorporated into our collections several thousand specimens of amphibians and reptiles from the Philippines, Kansas (US), and Madagascar. Over the next few months, we’ll be doing the same for recent collections from the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Cameroon. Additional projects on the horizon include continued digitization of specimen photographs, calls, and other ancillary data, and a complete inventory of our tissue and dry collections.
I’m very much looking forward building on the storied history of herpetology at the University of Kansas. From modernizing the use of the collection, to maintaining it’s availability for researchers in the international community, and even contributing to it directly through my own research endeavors, I hope to play an integral roll in the future of herpetology here at KU.
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.
Salamander, Luke Welton, China, Herpetology
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.
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."
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."