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.
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.
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
News has been circulating recently of work conducted by Dr. Rafe Brown along with other members of the Herpetology Division, which was focused on Philippine wildlife trafficking in Manila's black markets. The story even shared the top of KU's facebook page with news of president Barack Obama's visit to the campus last week. Follow the link to read all about Brown's unexpected findings during a 5 year investigation into Manila's illicit wildlife trade http://bit.ly/15552Sa
PhD student Scott Travers recently shared an article from the Solomon Star featuring a 2 week biodiversity research expedition he took part in while leading his own expedition to the island nation. This two week trip was organized by Ecological Solutions Solomon Islands and along with Travers was composed of a multinational team representing a number of fields in the biosciences.
Graduate student Scott Travers has just returned from a very successful expedition to the Solomon Islands. New material acquired during his trip includes two of the most spectacular lizards in the world: the prehensile tailed skink (Corucia zebrata) and a giant crocodile skink (Tribolonotus).
Undergraduate herpetology collections assistants Rooney and Matt with two newly accessioned snakes from the Philippines. On the left is Rooney with a burmese python (the longest non-venemous snake in the world) and on the right is Matt with a king cobra (the longest venemous snake in the world).
Rafe, Robin and Matt at iDigBio Summit
The Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio; https://www.idigbio.org/) is the national resource for digitization of vouchered natural history collections and was established by the community strategic plan for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA). iDigBio is supported through funds from the NSF’s Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) program. The vision of the ADBC is a permanent database of digitized information from all biological collections in the United States. It is anticipated that this effort will lead to new discoveries through research, a better understanding and appreciation of biodiversity through improved education and outreach, and subsequent improved environmental and economic policies. Key partners in this effort are the Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs), which form a national grid of institutions that are digitizing specimens and associated resources. Within this context, animal vocalizations (like that of birds and anurans) and electrical signals (such as by fishes), which also form vital specimen-associated resources for research, are currently being digitized and archived by the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (http://macaulaylibrary.org/) and other institutions around the country. Avian and anuran calls recorded by researchers at KU have been being digitized and contributed to this repository, with a substantial part of the collection already accessible to the public.
Exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History
The 2 day iDigBio IV summit, which was held in Gainsville between October 27–28, 2014 saw Rafe and I, along with Matthew Medler (who represented Mike Webster, Director of the Macaulay Library) as the attending members of the fledgling TCN devoted to digitizing animal vocalizations and electric signals. Eighty-four on-site attendees and nine remote attendees from TCNs, iDigBio, NSF, USGS and other biodiversity informatics initiatives convened for the summit. A series of brief presentations and demonstrations were made by representatives of the various TCNs and Matthew made a presentation of the basic components of our TCN and the progress made so far. One of the more inspired demonstrations was that of John La Salle, who showcased the Atlas of Living Australia portal (http://www.ala.org.au/), which was supported by a $45 million investment by the Australian Government. I guess I would be very inspired too, had I had that kind of money backing me. Another interesting demo was that of augmented reality for public outreach, education and research purposes, where digitized 3D images of specimens can be viewed through a device such as a mobile phone, iPad, or a desktop webcam; the following video illustrates the point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STc8Nsx36MI. Following the talks and demos, we then spread out between a set of four breakout discussion groups. The afternoon saw a poster session that was offered in a unique format, where posters were displayed on 55-inch high-definition flat screen televisions instead of the traditional posters printed on paper. The day culminated in a reception at the Florida Museum of Natural History at Powell Hall on the University of Florida campus, where a sensational Megalodon exhibition had just opened to the public. Overall, the Summit offered valuable insight into the ongoing multi-dimensional digitization and archival processes and the efforts to make them openly accessible, along with networking opportunities in this respect.
A few interesting webpages that were highlighted at the Summit:
- The Society For The Preservation of Natural History Collections: http://www.spnhc.org/
- Digital Morphology library: http://www.digimorph.org/
- Photosynth, a software application that analyzes digital photographs and generates a three-dimensional model of the photos and a point cloud of a photographed object: https://photosynth.net/preview/