This time it’s just me and Lauren, and we’re heading up to central Pennsylvania. Tomorrow morning we’ll meet up with Eric Chapman from Western PA Conservancy, who is leading the state’s hellbender surveys. I’ve never met Eric, but have heard that he’s a lot of fun to work with, so I’m really looking forward to this trip. It’ll be a quick one – we’re surveying all day tomorrow and driving back in the evening. After talking with Eric yesterday, I’m really eager to get some samples from this population. The surrounding area has been heavily impacted by Marcellus shale drilling (a.k.a. hydraulic fracturing or “hydrofracking”), and Eric has been finding fewer and fewer hellbenders at this site. Assessing the health of the last remaining hellbenders in this creek will be interesting – and hopefully useful from a management standpoint. We’ve got all our gear packed up (including a back-up blood centrifuge!) and are ready to go.
We woke up this morning refreshed and ready for a new day of hellbendering. I was hoping to catch at least 3 more animals in order to get enough samples for my study. Lauren and Brad had to leave yesterday afternoon to return to work, so the group was down to JD, Jeff, Dan and I. We missed Lauren’s animal handling expertise and Brad’s technical skills, but we managed to remain a pretty efficient crew. We caught our quota of 3 hellbenders before lunchtime, so we decided to try a brand new site that had never been surveyed for hellbenders. Read more
While I was busy unplugging and re-plugging the centrifuge, Jeff decided to actually do something constructive and called the manufacturer. He determined that the problem was related to a bad connection and could (theoretically) be fixed with a bit of soldering. So began our quest for a soldering iron. We found a guy on a tractor, who sent us to a guy at a nearby fish hatchery, who didn’t have an iron but thought he could help us fix it with some tools he had on hand. Standing there helpless, I felt like I was watching a life-or-death surgery. Read more
I don’t even know where to begin. Today the crew was bumped, bruised, drenched, pooped on, stung, pinched, panicked, parched, sweaty, and driven to extreme mental frustration. Read more
What a day! The first animal we caught was a juvenile, probably just 3 years old. This was really exciting because it’s getting pretty hard to find juvenile hellbenders in the wild (at least in most parts of their range). Scientists think that the lack of juveniles could mean that populations aren’t reproducing successfully, which would be bad news for the future of wild hellbenders. Read more
…though I guess I should really call it a “stream season”, since hellbenders don’t live in fields.
I left early this morning to drive down to my hellbender field site in southern Virginia (locations are not disclosed to protect the populations from poaching). On the way I stopped at the Zoo to analyze some white blood cells that I had collected last Wednesday from our hellbenders in Reptile Discovery Center. The cells are part of a study to investigate the effects of climate change on disease resistance in hellbenders. Because the cells are alive, I have to analyze them following a strict schedule. In this case it coincided with the day I was leaving on a week-long trip to survey hellbenders in the wild. Balancing our Zoo-based studies with a busy field season is going to be a challenge! Read more