Posted by: salamandercandy | May 25, 2008

Southwest critters

My fiancée and I recently drove through the American Southwest, stopping at several national parks and other notable spots. Here are some of the biological highlights:

Pronghorns. I couldn’t believe how many pronghorns we saw just driving on the interstate in New Mexico. We spotted several dozen, possibly over fifty. As a population geneticist, I always get excited when I see large numbers of one species in the same place, waiting to be studied. This is not to say that collecting tissue samples from these guys would be easy. They’re the fastest land animal on the continent, adapted to outrun the cheetah which is now extinct in this hemisphere. I guess you could always hope they leave some fur stuck to a bush as they go zooming past.


California condor. Seeing one of these huge rare birds soaring over the Grand Canyon was breathtaking. There are only about 300 of these birds alive, and only about half of these live in the wild. The white marks on the wings are actually tags.

Joshua tree. Mojave National Preserve is full of these Dr. Seuss plants.

Petrified wood. Petrified Forest National Park features enormous jewel-encrusted tree trunks from the Triassic. They’ve also unearthed skeletal fossils of some of the ferocious amphibians and reptiles of the period.

Jackrabbits. We saw these symbols of the America West at the Very Large Array.

Velvet ant. More of a wasp than an ant. We wisely chose not to pick it up.

Lizards. The tally for this trip included a common chuckwalla, fence lizards, western whiptails, striped whiptails, and side-blotched lizards.

Posted by: salamandercandy | May 3, 2008

Trailers For Extremely Dorky Molecular Biology Movies


“Did you genotype those samples yet?”

“I keep seeing this weird band on the gel, Professor Brown.”

“What are you using as a positive control?”

“My own tissue. The size actually matches that rare microsatellite allele you carry… I think my sample is contaminated with your DNA.”

“I’m afraid I did contaminate your sample with my DNA… 25 years ago.”


Romantic Comedy:

“Susan was a vegan, scrabble-playing ancient history buff. Michael was storm-chasing cowboy who collected Soviet-era computers. The only thing they had in common… was that neither had anything in common with anybody else. J. Felsenstein Productions presents: Long Branch Attraction.

Converge with someone.”

Science Fiction:

“We found the reviewers’ comments to be helpful and insightful, and we believe our new manuscript, which incorporates their suggestions, is a substantial improvement over the original.”

Posted by: salamandercandy | April 22, 2008

Creepy Amphibians that post-Nataly Develop Young…

This is just a quick post to announce that the first lungless frog has been discovered in Indonesia. Lungless salamanders and caecilians are well known, but no other lungless tetrapod has ever been described. Amphibians accomplish a lot of gas exchange over their skin. Being ectothermic, their rate of oxygen consumption is lower than ours, and being small, their surface-to-volume ratio is relatively high. All of those factors, combined with life in cold, fast-flowing streams where the water holds lots of oxygen, makes lunglessness an feasible adaptation. Still, it’s not very often that a species loses an entire major organ… how many vertebrates do you know with no heart or no brain? Okay, other than Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.

It just goes to show how many weird creatures are still out there, unknown to science. Like many amphibians, Barbourula kalimantanensis is threatened by anthropogenic factors, including habitat destruction and climate change. We are destroying things even before we know they exist.

(By the way, people have complained about my obscure titles in the past. Google them, people. It’s not that hard).

The Salamander Candy crew would like to encourage you to participate in Earth Hour this Saturday, March 29, 2008. All you have to do is turn off all the lights in your home between 8pm and 9pm your time (whatever time zone you happen to be in). If enough people participate around the world, this will not only reduce energy consumption for one hour, it will send a message about the need to change our habits in order to prevent catastrophic climate change and other global problems.

Posted by: salamandercandy | March 7, 2008

Salamanders linked to decades-old unsolved crime

Good heavens, it appears we have neglected this site, haven’t we? The demands of grad school are taking their toll, I suppose. Well, this story is too good to pass up, and anyway it’s already written for me. Here’s a salamander-related adventure Ivan and Jacob had recently that made it onto the local news:

Posted by: salamandercandy | September 30, 2007


Welcome to the new face of Salamander Candy, here at WordPress! We will no longer be posting on our old site, and will eventually phase it out. However, we hope to continue our biologically sweet antics from this new location. Why the transition? It’s all a big metaphor, really. As herp enthusiasts, we can’t help but compare ourselves to recently metamorphosed amphibians, having left our aquatic larval home where money flowed from our pockets to stand for the first time on solid ground where we are free just like the web hosting here. We look a little different now, and sometimes we might be a little awkward on our new legs, but soon we will be more comfortable in our new environment and able to pursue our main purpose for being here: to find a mate um, to connect with a community?

Posted by: salamandercandy | September 26, 2007

The Future of Candy

Salamander Candy, quo vadis? Our blog is nearly two years old, and this post just happens to be the 100th entry. A lot has happened in two years. We’ve enjoyed sharing out thoughts and knowledge, but we’ve come to realize that posting a good-quality piece once a week takes a significant time commitment. Although our “About” box has always insisted that we have nothing but vast amounts of spare time, this could be a slight exaggeration. Because I am a slow learner, it has taken me the longest to figure this out, and thus I have come to dominate the blog in the last few months. We are beginning to debate whether our original vision of a “hive mind” is really working. Furthermore, after battling comment spam for quite some time, we were forced to turn off the comments a few months ago, which greatly diminishes the interactive nature of the site. So, we are wondering how we should proceed.

One option is to terminate the site entirely. Another is to convert it from a hive mind to a site that I maintain and update by myself (while allowing for guest posts, of course). A final option is to transfer the site to a no-cost blog-hosting service, where we would be free to ignore it or post whenever we feel like it, probably infrequently.

Does the fate of Salamander Candy matter to you? Would you notice if this source of musings on evolution, amphibians, philosophy, and the daily struggles of scientists-in-training, etc., were gone? If you have an opinion, please send an e-mail to salamandercandy AT gmail DOT com and tell us what you think… The fate of the world, or at least this domain name, could hinge on your correspondence.

Posted by: salamandercandy | September 1, 2007

A new bed a week

As a scholarly type, I tend to mark the start of the new year during the back-to-school season around September 1, not around January 1. As this academic year comes to a close, I notice that it has been very eventful. During the past 365 days, I have spent the night in 54 distinct locations. That’s more than one new place a week, on average. It’s probably my own personal record (the last time I totaled up my lodgings for a year, September 1 2001 to September 1 2002, I got 39), and it likely surpasses the personal records of many others. Where all have I slept this year?

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Posted by: salamandercandy | August 19, 2007

¡Pura Vida!

I have just returned from two weeks in Costa Rica, one of the world’s greatest hotspots of biodiversity. The purpose of my trip was religious, not scientific; I was chaperoning a group of 23 Unitarian Universalist teenagers on a mission of volunteer service. You can read about the social justice aspects of our adventure at the official ¡UURica! website. Here, I’d like to describe some of the amazing creatures I observed.

Costa Rica is teeming with animals; even though we weren’t there primarily to watch wildlife, I was constantly finding new species. A partial list includes: (mammals) spider monkeys, black howler monkeys, a neotropical river otter, a manatee, three-toed sloths, two-toed sloths; (reptiles) american crocodiles, spectacled caimans, basilisks, geckos, anoles, ameivas, green sea turtles; (amphibians) strawberry poison dart frogs, Stejneger’s rain frog and other leptodactylid frogs, southern roundgland toads, cane toads; (birds) roseate spoonbills, three species of toucans, anis, parrots, oropendulas, kiskidees, woodpeckers, kingfishers, a bat falcon, black vultures, jacanas, a frigatebird, egrets, herons, wood rails, anhingas, and many others; (invertebrates) heliconia butterflies, blue morpho butterflies, land crabs, tarantulas, and many many others… etc… To illustrate the intimate nature of some of these encounters, here are three examples:

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Posted by: salamandercandy | July 30, 2007

Cultural Orcanization

I recently returned from the San Juan Islands, where my sister-in-law is studying how anthropogenic noise affects the calling behavior of killer whales (orcas). I got to spend many hours watching killer whales merely hundreds of yards away or less, as they surfaced to breathe, breeched, and slapped their pectoral and caudal fins against the sea. A microphone below the waves let us hear their squeaky vocalizations. The population is so well studied that every individual whale can be visually recognized by the local experts based on the dorsal fin and the white dorsal patch.orcas

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