Duke TIP Summer Amphibian Biology Course
|A Duke TIP biology student holding an Axolotl | Ambystoma mexicanum|
I arrived at New College five days before the students arrived to prepare and meet the other faculty, and on the night I arrived there was a thunderstorm that lasted for several hours. In the distance, I could hear the advertisement call of Narrowmouth toads (Gastrophryne carolenensis, they sound a little like angry sheep) and so I investigated the sounds coming from the edge of campus that first night.
|The 'puddle' or ephemeral wetland we used for the field studies portion of the class. 8 species were detected during the month, including some ephemeral wetland breeding obligates, which was a major focus of the class|
Later in the evening however, more species arrived and quite a frog community began to develop. It was starting to look like this was more than a grassy depression filled with rainwater ... .
|Vernal pools dry out fast without rain, and by June 22nd|
our study pond was almost gone. The students were able
to see first hand the hydrodynamic pressures vernal ponds can put on
larval amphibian development.
The students arrived, and I finally met my thirteen thirteen(ish) year-old geniuses ... a group of teens and pre-teens who wanted to spend their summer studying amphibian biology at the college level. These extraordinary students arrived excited and eager, and I only hoped I had enough material to keep them interested for 6 hours a day.
For the first day of class, I presented a 'Vernal Pond Case Study' where we looked in depth at ephemeral wetlands and the types of animals that one can find in them. In an attempt to whet their appetites, I described one of my favorite species of obligate ephemeral wetland breeding amphibians — Spadefoot toads (Scaphiopus holbrokii) and how when their seasonal ponds dry out too quickly, hormonal cues trigger a 'cannibal morph' in certain larvae so they can begin eating their vegetarian brothers and sisters. A rather interesting adaptation for reproduction with a hard deadline. When interest was piqued, I revealed that the case study pond was actually right around the corner, and that we would be using this puddle extensively for our class field biology and laboratory components. The class went from 9 - 4pm, 6 days a week; and we were able to spend an hour or two at the puddle nearly every day.
|Certain animals, such as turtles and tortoises need direct sunlight, so we took some of the class specimens out for morning walks after breakfast while we discussed the day's topics.|
|Lydia, my amazing TA, and recent New College graduate in biology demonstrating an effective belly rub on a Cane toad | Bufo marinus|
|Visual demonstration of suction feeding in Pipa pipa after discussing the biomechanics associated with different feeding strategies|
|Tadpole sifting became an increasingly common activity as the pond continued to dry out and tadpoles were collected en masse and sorted by species as well as developmental stage.|
|A student releasing Cuban tree frog metamorphs in a nearby unoccupied cat-tail pond. That is what we, as a class, decided to do with any invasive Cuban tree frogs were found in our study pond.|
|Having a HD projector in the classroom made amphibian IDs much easier|
|A student investigating the aposematic coloration on the belly of a Firebelly toad | Bombina orientalis|
|Students love salamanders! Here is a student with a slimy salamander (Plethodon glutinosus) on his arm.|
Teaching at Duke TIP was an incredibly challenging experience for me, as I had to be vigilant about providing enough material for these brilliant students. I am grateful for the time I had there with them —they, and the whole experience was incredibly inspiring.