Thursday, August 14, 2014


Hi, everyone! I just finished my first year here in the PhD program at Clemson, and I’m in the middle of my first round of research. To begin this project, I needed to collect gravid female Eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) and bring them back to our lab to rear their eggs under different experimental conditions. I spent a few weeks in April and May looking for field sites in the Long Cane Ranger district of Sumter National Forest—a large section of national forest land that stretches between Greenwood, McCormick, Edgefield, and the SC-GA border.

All that green is the Long Cane Ranger District. The red "X"
marks my field site.
This is the first picture I took of my field site. Not too far
from this spot is where I caught that first lizard.
After a month of off-trail hiking a few days a week in spots all throughout the forest, I finally found my site in the first week of May. And it’s been a great site!  On my first visit to check out the site, I found half a dozen lizards in about 30 minutes, including one gravid female. In fact, the first fence lizard I ever caught was also the first gravid female I caught for this project. I returned with my advisor, Mike Sears, and easily caught two more gravid females. We sent those three off to Arizona for a collaborative project to sequence the S undulatus genome (which is awesome!). Then I spent the rest of May, June, and July exploring my site and tracking lizards 6 to 8 hours a day, several days a week.

I had a lot of fun exploring my field site and working hard to find lizards. If off-trail hiking in the back woods of a primarily pine section of a national forest in the southern part of South Carolina in 90°-plus weather looking for elusive lizards sounds fun to you, then you can understand why I had such a good time. Even on the days when I returned empty handed (which happened more often that I would have liked), I got to see all kinds of other wildlife and enjoy time to myself in the outdoors. Also, I got tons of exercise and sweated off all the extra pounds gained from sitting around all school year reading papers and writing grant proposals.

This is that first female I caught.
One of the first males I found.

As I write this, I am on a break from measuring heart rates of the embryos I’ve been incubating all summer. Some time over the next few days, they will start to hatch and the next stage of my project will begin. Then I can post again and update you all on the growth rate, metabolic rate, and sprint speed measurements I'll be taking (I can’t wait to build and try out our sprint track and camera setup). Plus, I can share some baby lizard pictures!

Here are just a few of the many, many pictures I have taken so far:

Feeding time! have a little something
on your chin.
Learning a lesson about keeping the
terrarium closed. She jumped on me
and climbed up my arm onto my shoulder during
feeding time. So I snapped a picture
before putting her back.
Here you go, Chris. The only turtle I saw out there.
Anoles were all over the place. So were skinks, though I
haven't grabbed any pictures of those yet.
A rough green snake I found hanging out in a bush.
I almost stepped on this little guy. Thankfully, I saw him
right before I dropped off a fallen tree he was hiding near.

This guy was so well camouflaged,
I didn't see him until my face was
a few inches away (I was going after
a lizard that had climbed up the tree).
Sexual dimorphism can be funny.

And here's a video from one of the feeding days: