New Paper on Glass Frog Behavior Published

Just a few days ago, a paper came out in the journal Phyllomedusa by myself and former student Andrew Georgiadis (COW class of 2011). This paper, based in part on Andrew’s undergraduate thesis, describes parental care in male glass frogs (Hyalinobatrachium orientale) from the island of Tobago in the Caribbean.

What Andrew and I found was that males were often in direct contact with eggs on leaves overhanging streams. This seems likely to be an example of parental care as the males may increase the survival of their offspring by providing this care. Also, we found that developing embryos in the egg masses on the leaves will explosively hatch out of their egg capsules when prodded with foreceps or a stick. These “exploding embryos” can launch themselves up to 36 times their own body length! Stay tuned for future studies of these interesting behaviors in this species.

Photos by RML.

Evolution Conference in Ottawa, Canada

The last few days I’ve been at the 1st Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology being held in Ottawa, Canada. I’ve heard some amazing talks from the likes of Peter and Rosemary Grant, Dolph Schluter and Jonathon Losos. Lots of excitement about advances in the field, lots of good work going on. I gave my presentation this morning entitled “Speciation in reverse? Evidence for extensive gene flow and weak pre- and post-zygotic isolation in two hybridizing salamanders.”

Had some great Indian food to boot! Not a bad day…

Caribbean Skinks Explode!

A recent paper by Hedges and Conn, investigated the known skinks from the Caribbean region using morphological and molecular data. This is the first comprehensive attempt to understand the diversity of these interesting lizards using modern approaches. At the time this paper was published, 26 species in one genus were known from this region. Using a combination of morphological measures and DNA sequences, the authors identified a shocking 61 species in 16 genera! Many of these new species are island endemics, and the vast majority are endangered or (in some cases) already extinct. The Indian mongoose (introduced to many Caribbean islands during the sugar era) seems the likely culprit in the decline or extinction of many of these species.

This study shows the power of using integrative approaches to species delimitation and how, despite the very large number of known species on Earth,  we are still in the “Age of Discovery”. Now that superficially similar species can be discerned from one another with the help of DNA sequences, studies like this one will continue to greatly add to the known life forms on our planet. Let’s just hope they’re not driven extinct by human foolishness before we are even aware they exist. 

Pictured: the Anguilla Bank Skink. See for photo credit and another account of these recent discoveries.


Hedges, S.B. and C.E. Conn. 2012. A new skink fauna from Caribbean islands (Squamata, Mabuyidae, Mabuyinae). Zootaxa 3288: 1-244.


Info and Advice for 2012 Trinidad and Tobago trip

Hi all,

Below is some collected advice and information about our upcoming trip. If you haven’t purchased your tickets yet, please do so soon, while tickets are cheap (and remember to run the itinerary by me before purchasing). Remember we depart July 27 (arriving the morning of 7/28), depart Tobago for Trinidad the morning of 8/4 and depart Trinidad for the U.S. the night/morning of 8/5-6. Please consult earlier emails from me on the particular flights we’ll be on.

Before departing the US, make sure that you check out the Transportation Security Administration’s website for lists of items you cannot bring on a airplane or an airport and information on how to get through security with a minimum of hassle ( We’ll meet up at the departure gate in Newark and be together from there. Also, when you arrive in Trinidad, you will have to fill out some paperwork to pass customs upon arrival. They usually hand out the forms before landing, so its a good idea to fill it out while you’re still in the air. You’ll need your passport, information on your flights, and an address where we’ll be staying. You can give the following: Castara Cottage, Castara, Tobago. Phone: 868-757-1044.

Upon arrival, we’ll probably change some US dollars for T&T dollars, get some cell phones activated, grab some coffee/breakfast and wait for our flight to Tobago.

Health and Vaccinations

Trinidad and Tobago poses relatively few health risks to travelers and no immunizations are required for entry. However, the Centers for Disease Control do recommend the following vaccinations: yellow fever, Hepatitis A and B and typhoid. The risk of all of these is small, especially in Tobago. Note that there is no malaria in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s never a good idea to take unnecessary risks with your health, so check out the detailed information on the CDC website:
Also, don’t forget to bring any prescription medicines you take and make sure you have enough to last the whole trip. Keep them in their original prescription bottles and always in your carry-on luggage. Also, medicine for diarrhea and stomach upset is wise to bring along as these maladies are common (if brief). Lastly, wearing sunscreen and staying well hydrated can be important as we will be spending lots of time outdoors and it will be sunny and hot.
Note that if for some reason you will be arriving in T&T from someplace where yellow fever is present, you will need to provide a yellow fever vaccination certificate upon arrival at the airport. This will not apply if you are traveling from the United States.
Also, let me know if you have any serious allergies or have any dietary restrictions. We will be doing almost all of our own cooking and everyone will be expected to participate in this effort (whether that be cooking or cleaning up afterwards). Note that I am a vegetarian and while I won’t disallow meat at our meals, it may not be as frequently consumed as you may be used to.
Lastly, I mentioned that I advise the purchase of travel insurance for the trip. I’ll get back to you soon with a specific recommendation on that.

Things to Bring (or Not)

You do not need to bring your cell phone, we will have several that work in T&T. If you are considering bringing yours, call your provider and make sure you will have coverage outside the U.S. If you make a call to the US on these phones (which is fairly expensive), you’ll have to purchase minutes to offset that. Once we get down there, you can also buy calling cards for your personal use which can be used to call the US from any touchtone phone (not just pay phones).
You do not need to bring your laptop, though you can if you’d like. Just remember, we’ll be in the field A LOT and laptops are easily be stolen. I will be bringing a laptop for research purposes and there will be an internet cafe a few blocks away when we are in Tobago. In Trinidad, it will be a little more of a hike from where we will staying but we will stay have ready access to the internet there also.
Other very useful items:
sturdy shoes for hiking
rain gear (breathable!)
flip flops or sandals
wide brim hat
alarm clock
headlamp or flashlight
water bottle
insect repellent (preferably one containing DEET)
digital camera (I’ll have a nice one along, but you may find a point and shoot handy)
T&T sometimes has different electrical outlets for plugging in electrical appliances than in the US. You will need an adapter if you want to plug in anything that you will bring with you. I will have 5 or 6 of these adapters for our use (that we will share) but if you foresee needing one of your own, get one and bring it. This is the model that I have: (NEW)
As for money, there are currency exchanges in both the Trinidad and Tobago airports. You can also use most ATM or debit cards to get local (or US) currency and these are fairly widely available. All banks in T&T will also change US dollars or traveler’s cheques (while some guidebooks advise against traveler’s cheques, I’ve never had a problem getting them cashed). Credit cards are accepted at some larger stores and locations but don’t expect street vendors to take your VISA, Mastercard or COW Card! Given all these options, don’t bother trying to get any T&T dollars before we go down.
I assume you know to also bring all of your necessary clothes, toiletries, prescription medications, etc. For clothing, I have found that a t-shirt or a thin long-sleeve shirt with lightweight (breathable) cargo-type pants is a good compromise. The pants are warmer than shorts, but protects your legs from scratches, mosquitoes, etc. Try to pack light – we really won’t be gone very long and we will have access to laundry facilities.
You also might think about getting a guidebook to Trinidad and Tobago, though this is not required. This will be especially useful for independent travel on non-class days. I like the Rough Guide to Trinidad and Tobago (the most current edition is the 4th) but there are also a few others out there that are also good.


While in Tobago, we’ll be staying here (, Trinidad lodging is still being arranged.

Smallpox for Frogs?

In the wake of European exploration and settlement of the New World, waves of infectious disease decimated Native Americans. Exact numbers will never be known but many millions surely died in what was in all likelihood the worst demographic catastrophe in human history. The culprits were the many Old World diseases unintentionally brought to the New World by Europeans. Chief among these was smallpox but many other examples are known (malaria, cholera, influenza, etc.). Native Americans had no exposure to these diseases and for historical reasons were also more uniform genetically speaking that Old World peoples.

The amphibian equivalent of smallpox is playing itself out in our own times. The pathogen is a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd for short) and it can cause a disease called chytridiomycosis in frogs, salamanders and caecilians (the three groups of living amphibians). To the best of our understanding, this is an African amphibian disease that was unintentionally transported out of Africa when African clawed frogs (Xenopus) were widely used as a human pregnancy test in the mid-20th century. Now amphibians from all over the world are being exposed to this novel disease and in many places are dying in droves. In fact, dozens of species (primarily in Australia and South and Central America) are thought to have been completely annihilated (driven to extinction) by this fungus. This is thought to be the first documented case of a pathogen causing an extinction, ever. For reasons that are just beginning to be understood, other species and other regions seem immune or less affected.

Many questions remain but in the meantime those who love amphibians are trying desperately to prevent additional extinctions by captive breeding vulnerable species and using other strategies. Unfortunately, there is no “putting the genie back in the bottle” as the fungus has been spead far and wide. This just yet one more example of how unintentional human actions can have dramatic, unanticipated  and long-lasting impacts on other life forms.