The 2012 field season has begun!

…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!

I met up with my field crew at an old ranch house nestled in the rolling hills of Appalachia. The U.S. Forest Service owns the house and allows visiting researchers to crash there for free, which is a huge help when you’re on a tight research budget. We’ve got a great mix of people in the field crew this year, and I’d like to introduce them:

  • Lauren Augustine, an animal keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center
  • Brad Nissen, an intern in our Amphibian Research and Husbandry Program and recent grad of Mary Washington University
  • Dan Nissen, a retired hydrologist from the Virgnia Department of Environmental Quality (and Brad’s dad!)
  • Jeff Storey, a graduate of Lord Fairfax Community College, wildlife photographer, and strongman (seriously—he plays in the Highland Games!)
  • JD Kleopfer, a biologist for the state of Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and overall herpetological guru

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