Songs of the Pond Ecologist

I hope you guys weren’t looking forward to anything particularly intellectual today.  This week, I bring you Songs of the Pond Ecologist, a compilation album of my hit singles from this summer.  Apparently I hum songs to myself all day while I’m working.  They mostly all sound the same (e.g., “La la la hmmm hmmm hmm”), but there are subtle differences among them.  For instance, “The pond is not warm” has a faster tempo and more intermittent sobbing.  😉  I’ll take recommendations for tracks for volume 2 in the comments, if you’re so inclined.  


Gray Tree Frogs (Hyla versicolor) Mating!



You can see their eggs in front of them. It is hard to make out individual masses in this photo, but each little sphere is an egg.

There are two purposes for this post:  1) to share some frog love (literally) with the world and 2) to brag that my job is the most awesome job ever.


So romantic.


How can you tell if a snail is dead?

Summer is right around the corner, and I’m getting all excited to start working with our new REU students.  This is a good time to remind myself of the importance of clear communication.  I am continually surprised by how what I thought I said was not at all what I actually said when what I said was interpreted by someone else.  You see?  All very clear.

Relatedly, how can you tell whether a snail is dead?  Well, if you haven’t worked with snails for very long, I can tell you that it’s surprisingly difficult!  For instance, when I was an undergrad, my friend and I went out and collected dozens of snails, only to return to lab to find that we had collected dozens of empty snail shells that were full of mud.  Oops.

I now have some standardized tests for snail aliveness.  This isn’t on my office door yet, but its only a matter of time.


Last year, I apparently had a communication breakdown, and I didn’t explain how to identify the snail species that I wanted everyone to collect.  Unsurprisingly, I ended up with more than I bargained for on that collecting trip!  Here’s a cartoon that I made after that.  For the few snail nerds that will stumble upon this blog, have you ever noticed how deceivingly Helisoma-ish Physa snails can look?



I finally took a picture of a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) today!  I see them frequently when I first arrive at ponds, but they spook easily, so they’re usually long gone before I get my camera out.


“You’re interrupting my frog-eating.”

I also saw what might have been a green heron (Butorides virescens) yesterday.  I’m not a very good birder (yet), so I’ll have to see it again before I can be confident in my identification.  Here’s a photo of a green heron that someone else took:

Green Heron in flight (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Green Heron. Photo by Alex Lamoreaux.

And now, for the parasites!  One cool thing about having this blog is that I’m motivated to do things that I might not normally do, but that I probably should do.  For instance, I went to the Natural History Museum host-parasite database and looked up the parasites of the great blue heron.  There are a lot of potential parasites!

One of those parasites is the trematode Ribeiroia ondatrae.  You might have heard of this parasite because the metacercariae stage of the trematode encysts in larval amphibians, and is known to cause limb malformations in frogs.

A frog with limb malformations caused by the trematode parasite Ribeiroia ondatrae. Photo credit: Nature

Because Ribeiroia can cause these limb malformations, the parasite has been studied extensively to determine whether it is one partial cause of the worldwide decline in amphibian populations.  The jury is still out on that one!  I’ll probably talk more about Ribeiroia in the future, but for now, here’s a bit more information from the Parasite of the Day blog.

Any one else have heron pictures to share?  Or perhaps better yet, do you know of any other cool heron parasites?


My field season has started, which means that I’m suddenly spending a lot of time playing outside.  While I was mucking around in the pond today, it occurred to me that my wonderful blog audience might like to follow along from home.  So, in addition to posting about cool parasite ecology literature and related interesting tidbits, I’m going to spice it up with some notes about my field adventures.  (It’d be great to get some feedback about which post categories people like the best, so if you have a preference, please let me know!)

To kick off the field adventure stories, let’s start with something really exciting:  MUSKRATS!  Today, I scared the crap out of a muskrat, and it scared me too!  I was sitting quite still in the pond for a while, thinking about the best way to set up my field equipment.  I heard a little splish-splash behind me, and turned around to find a muskrat practically touching me!  The muskrat retreated upstream, and I finished what I was doing.  Then I moved further into the pond, and I waited for the muskrat to come back.  It did return, and I took a few pictures before it disappeared.  I’m so glad I brought my camera today!




Now, I should probably tell you why muskrats are so exciting from a parasite ecology prospective.  Muskrats are one definitive host for echinostome trematodes, and echinostomes happen to be some of my favorite parasites.  SO – this muskrat might be a good omen for cool parasite ecology to come!