This past weekend 7 Blue Valley School District vans with 68 students and staff chaperones participated in the annual spring field trip of the Kansas Herpetological Society (KHS) in Cherokee County, Kansas. Although the trip was led by Eric Kessler with Kelley Tuel at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), there was significant participation from Blue Valley West, Blue Valley North, and Blue Valley Southwest under the guidance of Ben Myers, Chris Ollig, and Deb Sisk, respectively. Every district high school was represented by at least one student participant. Other trip chaperones included Kyle Winkley, as student teacher from BVW, and Jeff Haug, a research scientist at the Stower Institute for Medical Research.
Cherokee County located in the southeastern corner of the state where there is plenty of precipitation happens to have the greatest diversity of herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) relative to other counties in the state. Overall, students observed 26 species of amphibians and reptiles during the field trip. The specific organisms witnessed included four salamander (Smallmouth Salamander, Longtail Salamander, Cave Salamander, and Eastern Newt), five frogs and toads (American Toad, Blachard’s Cricket Frog, Gray Treefrog, Plains Leopard Frog, and Bullfrog), three lizards (Prairie Lizard, Five-Lined Skink, and Ground Skink), eleven snakes (Eastern Racer, Milksnake, Rough Green Snake, Flathead Snake, Copperhead, Western Worm Snake, Ringneck Snake, Plainbelly Water Snake, Brown Snake, Western Ribbon Snake, and Common Garter Snake), and three turtles (Common Snapping Turtle, Eastern Box Turtle, and Slider).
Although the beginning of the trip was hampered by wet weather, the sun eventually came out and our surveys ended up quite successful!
This week has been quite eventful to say the least! Students have continued to work on their two group projects that include their preparation for the KS Envirothon Competition, and their work on either the Invasive Garlic Mustard, Polar Bear, or Endangered Mussel Projects. Do to unforeseen circumstances we had to cancel our planned excursion to the Newt research pond/study site in Miami County on Wednesday, but we were able to keep our scheduled meetings with Debra Ryder, Kelley Martin, Tracy Divis our clients at the Kansas City Zoo for the Polar Bear and Mussel Projects.
It was nice to finally get back to a full week of school, and what a week this was for the ESAH students. On Monday, we traveled to the KC Zoo to meet with Gayla Tippett and Kelly Martin, both members of the education staff their, who introduced the students to their freshwater mussel program where they are raising populations of several threatened and endangered species of mussels in an effort to stabilize wild populations of mussels in region that have experienced declines in the past few decades. The students will be helping to create media for communicating the zoo’s effort to the boarder public, as they assist with some of the work of growing the populations as well.
On Tuesday, students were treated to an informal talk by Dr. Scott Hawley, a drosophila researcher and member of the National Academy of Science who is the principal investigator for a laboratory at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. Dr. Hawley was impressed with all the work that the students have been doing with fruit flies, and helped them more fully understand the significance that this organism plays in our understanding of biology.
On Wednesday, the students were participants in the first ever Blue Valley School District Science Collaboration. Student from zoology classes at BVN, BVNW, and BVW, along with their instructors Chris Ollig and Ben Myers were in attendance too. For this event, Erin Stiers, a pest survey specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture for CO, KS, and MO came to talk about her career and insects, and present the students with a challenge in helping her to determine if the exotic invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetle has made it to Johnson County, KS. This destructive pest was first discovered in Michigan, where Erin began her career, and this past summer was found in Platte City, Missouri and in Wyandotte County, Kansas. We hope that we are unsuccessful as we survey for this insect in the area. Its presence would present a dire state for the Ash trees in the area.
On Thursday, students visualized their eye pigment chromatography they conducted using wild-type fruit flies and five eye color mutants. Next week, they will use their result to uncover the genetic and enzymatic pathways responsible for the variety of eye color mutants.
Finally, on Friday, students welcomed Debra Ryder, the Education Director at the Kansas City Zoo, and Kathryn Foat, from Polar Bears International in Bozeman, Montana for a talk entitled “All About Polar Bears” where students were introduced to polar bear biology, the effects of climate change on this magnificent species, and the steps that they could take to reduce their carbon footprint. We also discussed a project that students will be involved in where they will help to design up-to-date educational media for the zoo regarding Nakita and Berlin, as well as the wild polar bears in the arctic. Students were invited to volunteer during the Artic Days event at the KC Zoo on Saturday.
This week students have been sifting through newly hatched flies on a daily basis to segregate out virgin female flies in an effort to set up genetic crosses between our wild-type and white-eyed strains simulating the work of the father of drosophila biology, Thomas Hunt Morgan (left image). We were also able to take advantage of this recent warm spell in traveling to Swope Park to complete some reconnaissance of a woodland area off-limits to the general public (right image). Soon, we will be developing a scientific protocol for determining the effects of fire on the exotic and invasive garlic mustard that will occur there later this spring. This project will be association with the Missouri Department of Conservation and with Jackson County Parks and Recreation.
This week we have continued our exploration of the life cycle of the drosophila fruit fly. We also took a step backwards, using sea urchins to observe fertilization and early embryonic development. In order to collect ripe sperm and eggs from the sea urchins we ordered, a solution of potassium chloride was injected into our specimens (see image above). Once we found a couple of female urchins (most of our specimens happened to be males), we were able to prepare the eggs and sperm and observe fertilization under the microscope. We have continued to observe development during the week, supplemented with prepared slides of sea urchin development.
At the beginning of the week the students were able to finalize their conclusions on their Drosophila challenges. On Tuesday and Wednesday the students helped judge the 100 projects that 6-8th grade students had completed for the Lakewood Middle School Science Fair. The students enjoyed the diversity of projects and applying their recently gained experiences with experimental design in judging and leaving productive comments with their projects. Before we travelled to Lakewood each day, we developed subcultures of our main stocks of wild type and white-eyed fruit flies in an effort to expand our cultures for future work. The students also setup grape juice agar egg laying apparatus and explored the effects of yeast and scoring of the grape juice agar on the egg laying habits of the flies. The data indicate that the flies prefer to lay eggs in areas where the agar has been scored and yeast applied. While making these observations they became familiar with fly eggs. We will continue learning about the drosophila life cycle next week. To finish the week, Kourtney presented interesting information on how scientists are using dogs to help track Orca whales in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
Three students interested in veterinary medicine participated in this semester’s first KSU Cases and Careers in Veterinary Lecture titled What’s Living On (and In) Your Pet by Dr. Patricia Payne from KSU.
This week students continued their work on their Drosophila challenge. It has taken on a life of its own. The four student groups chose to determine the effectiveness of a variety of common chemical means (neem, eucalyptus, and peppermint oil, among others) for inhibiting the life cycle of these potential disease carrying insects. In order to conduct their investigation, students were introduced to standard sterile equipment and techniques used to promote egg laying in the species. Their results, though expected based on their background research, were exciting none the less showing with one group noticing that the only flies remaining alive in their experimental treatment where females. Numerous questions have come to light, and I imagine that we could continue exploring their repercussions the entire semester. On Friday, Grace Anne presented information on NASA’s exploration of Saturn’s moon Titan in an effort to learn more about whether or not it might have resident life.
This week, students were put into the shoes of an entomologist, and given a challenge to develop a means of inhibiting some aspect of the life cycle of Drosophila fruit flies using a particular common store bought natural chemical. Through the activity they are demonstrating and honing their scientific skills of collecting relevant background information, forming a problem statement and hypothesis, and developing and carrying out a procedure to test their hypothesis. As they have found it necessary to learn to use particular laboratory equipment, it has been introduced.
Students specifically learned to use our CO2 anesthetizing equipment and how to prepare two media for maintaining and promoting egg laying in populations of fruit flies. They have also quickly practiced the art of maintaining a laboratory notebook.
This week was spent getting to know each other with a number of activities promoting learning about each other and what brought them to the CAPS Bioscience Program as well as beginning to learn expectation for working in groups. We completed an activity introducing them to laboratory safety so that we could confidently get to work in the laboratory.