Dr. Sarah Baker accepted a position as a herpetologist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department in October 2018.
Dr. Baker began at INHS as a graduate student conducting research on the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. She was at the forefront of the discovery and subsequent research of Snake Fungal Disease in Illinois Massasaugas. During her 12 years here, she authored and co-authored several papers and collaborated with researchers across the country.
Sarah will remain an affiliate of INHS and we look forward to future collaborations.
M.S. Research Position in Amphibian Ecology and Conservation
Drs. Michael Dreslik (Illinois Natural History Survey) and John Crawford (National Great Rivers Research and Education Center) are seeking a graduate student to pursue a Master of Science with the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences department at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). This is a funded project that will investigate the population ecology and demography of Jefferson-complex (Ambystoma jeffersonianum and A. platineum) and blue-spotted salamanders (A. laterale) in Illinois. Census techniques will include the use of drift fence arrays, minnow trapping, and dip-netting. There will be opportunities for the student to ask additional ecological questions within the study system. Additional research responsibilities will include: entering and analyzing data; presenting results at scientific meetings and writing scientific reports and manuscripts.
Competitive applicants will have: 1) a B.S. in Biology, Ecology, Wildlife or other related fields; 2) field research experience; 3) a strong work ethic; 4) ability to work well with others; and 5) a valid driver’s license. The successful applicant will be expected to enroll at the University of Illinois for the Spring 2019 semester (November 1 application deadline). Preference will be given to students with prior experience working with amphibians and/or drift fence arrays. To apply, combine cover letter, resume/CV, transcripts, GRE scores, and contact information (e-mail and phone) for three references into a single PDF document and submit by e-mail to Michael Dreslik (email@example.com) with the subject heading, “AmbystomaEcology”.
For more information, email Dr. Michael Dreslik (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or Dr. John Crawford (email@example.com).
Members of the Population and Community Ecology and Herpetology labs here at the INHS gave several presentations at the first Venomous Herpetology Symposium in Miami, Florida, at Zoo Miami from September 8th-9th. The work showcased the diversity of projects on venomous snakes the graduate and undergraduate students in both labs are working on. Recent graduate Yatin Kalki had received a travel award to attend and present at the symposium.
August 2018 marks the 4th year of the long term mark recapture movement study of mussels in the Kishwaukee River, led by malacologist Sarah Douglass. In addition to the staff from INHS, local forest preserve districts and IDNR, this year we were joined by several dedicated high school students and their teacher.
Earlier this year, Douglass came across a poster at the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society Mollusk Health & Disease Workshop that immediately caught her attention. The poster “A Comparison of Substrate Preferences for Native and Invasive Mussel Populations in the Kishwaukee River,” was presented by two students from an environmental science class at Sycamore High School. Led by teacher Scott Horlock, the “Watershed” class studies the South Branch of the Kishwaukee River to learn ecological lessons in a real world setting.
Always eager to inspire the next generation, Douglass invited Horlock and his students to join in the annual survey conducted on the Kishwaukee River. Despite it being summer break, Horlock accompanied a small group of students to the study site each day to learn about the sampling methods being used and become more comfortable with mussel species identification.
Even with a bit of rain, the river was what Douglass referred to as “nearly prime” for sampling. Like last year, we set out into the river, each claiming one of the 10m transects marked off by orange flagging tape. We waited for the timer to yell “Start!” stuck our heads in the water and fingers in the substrate to locate as many mussels as we could before hearing “Time!” After each timed survey we’d head back to our station under the bridge with bags of mussels to be marked and measured, gently ribbing each other about who found the most or best mussels.
Teams assembled to tag and measure all of the mussels, being careful to keep the mussels from each transect separated to return to their locations. The students joined in, eager to learn more about the mussels they had collected. While cleaning and tagging the shells, the malacologists pointed out the subtle differences between similar species. With each batch, the students (and other non-malacologists) became more confident in their skills.
Over the course of the three days, we found over 600 mussels, representing 17 species. Many of the individuals collected already had a color coded tag from a previous year, which is imperative to monitor the survival and movement of mussels in the stream. We added 4 new species to our list of live species this year: Fawnsfoot, Creek Heelsplitter, Threeridge, and Round Pigtoe. We also found one shell of a Pistolgrip, a species we hope to find live individuals of in future surveys.
Baker, S. J., E. J. Kessler, and M. E. Merchant. Antibacterial activities of plasma from the Common (Chelydra serpentina) and Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii).
Dreslik, M. J., E. J. Kessler, J. L. Carr, D. B. Ligon, and S. Ballard. Mortality is too damn high: challenges of Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) translocations.
Edmonds, D., R. Nyboer, and M. J. Dreslik. Population dynamics of the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata) at two sites in Illinois.
Kessler, E. J., K. T. Ash, S. N. Barratt, E. R. Larson, and M. A. Davis. Assessing the efficacy of environmental DNA to detect Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) at the edge of their range.
Merchant, M. E., E. J. Kessler, and S. J. Baker. Differences in innate immune mechanisms in Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles.
Ross, J. P., D. Thompson, and M. J. Dreslik. Demographic influence of head-starting on a Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) population in DuPage County, Illinois.
The Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), a dark bodied dragonfly with bright green eyes, is a federally endangered species that lives in spring fed marshes and sedge meadows. The biggest threat to the species is habitat loss and currently the only known populations are in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
Hine’s Emerald Dragonflies spend most of their life as an aquatic nymph. After 2-4 years, and several molts, the nymph climbs up onto vegetation and molts one final time. The wings unfold and the soft body hardens. While some dragonfly species can be found flying throughout the summer and into the fall, the Hine’s flight season is much shorter. Adults emerge from late June through mid-July.
One bright and sunny day at the end of June, I was able to accompany 2 of the state’s top dragonfly experts, Richard Day and Jim Wiker to one of the few remaining populations in Illinois. Equipped with sharp eyes and binoculars, they are part of a study with Erika Bilger and Dr. Mike Dreslik to design a non-invasive, rapid survey protocol for documenting and tracking populations of this endangered insect.
As the day warmed, dragonflies took flight, often followed by a flock of swallows and kingbirds. Being a rusty amateur dragonfly enthusiast, I pointed out the dragonflies I saw flying and had the professionals identify them, excited at how often my silent identification matched theirs. As my confidence grew, I’d point to a dragonfly and offer a hesitant ID.
A few hours into the day, Wiker spotted a black bodied dragonfly with bright green eyes darting around the wetland and called out “Hine’s!” All eyes turned to where he was pointing. This was my first time seeing a Hine’s Emerald and Day’s first time seeing one in Illinois. Truth be told, I had to trust them because it was moving too fast for me to fully process.
We continued our surveys throughout the afternoon, with Wiker and Day spotting additional Hine’s Emeralds and my eyes and camera missing all of them. Even though we saw at least 14 species of dragonfly, I returned home slightly disappointed, but nothing compared to the next day.
Sitting in my office, the phone rang and Mike Dreslik excitedly told me they were looking at a teneral (freshly emerged, not yet hardened) Hine’s Emerald on a cattail! Dragonflies can’t fly until their wings harden, so they were able to stand back and admire this individual.
Determined to actually see a Hine’s, I returned to the site with them for three days the following week. While most people were enjoying barbecues and fireworks, I was in a wet prairie straining to see every insect zipping by me. On my last day, with temperatures in the 90’s, and the clouds promised by the weatherman non-existent, I thought I might have been hallucinating when Wiker began excitedly pointing out a Hine’s patrolling a small area in front of me.
The curious male flew back and forth over his territory, occasionally turning towards me with his bright green eyes. Dragonflies have greater maneuvering ability than a helicopter, quickly changing direction and zipping off to your right only to return from your left. I watched this dragonfly on patrol, he chased off other intruding dragonflies including another Hine’s emerald! We even had a Hine’s Emerald female fly through the site! I continued to watch the male patrol until it was time to move to our next site.
The team completed 126 surveys for Hine’s Emerald Dragonflies over a three week period. Sadly, they only found Hine’s during approximately 19 surveys and many of those surveys had only one individual. Despite the low abundance of Hine’s Emeralds, the site still had a variety of dragonflies, including:
While conducting surveys today in DuPage County, INHS entomologist Jason Robinson and his assistant Maria Repisak came across Rusty Patched Bumblebees at two sites! This species was recently added to the US Endangered Species List because of its drastic decline across its range.
Herpetological Field Assistant Taylor West came across a Western Hognose Snake last week while surveying sand prairies. Given the hot temperatures, she and fellow field assistant Tristan Schramer offered the snake some water. Video of the encounter has been shared over 10,000 times!