Monday, May 12, 2014

Amphibian Feeding Mechanics Class at the Garden

This semester, the Garden's Department of Research and Conservation collaborated with GA Tech's School of Biology to offer a research course in aspects of functional morphology. As one of my favorite subjects of all time, functional morphology — or biomechanics — investigates animal movements (often with the help of x-ray and/or high-speed videography) to gain a better understanding of how animals successfully project their tongues, locomote, capture prey, swim, burrow or practically anything one can measure and sequence.

The Biomechanics of Amphibian Feeding class of 2014. From the top left: Alison Burger, Allison Miles, Emily Stephens, Rachel Whitmire, Courtney Pettiford, Erin Gish. Middle left: Paul Sanders, Leslie Phillips (Garden Teaching Assistant), Alexis Noel (GA Tech Teaching Assistant) Courtnae Ramser, Anna Morocco, Blake Christianson. Front Row: Instructors Dr David Hu and Mark Mandica
The class was offered to 10 graduating seniors at GA Tech and the purpose was to teach them how to ask testable scientific questions relating to amphibians in the Garden's conservation and research collections, and then design experiments to answer their questions. With the help of Dr Hu and myself, they students were able to investigate some very interesting aspects of amphibian biology.

Aside from the Alligator Snapping Turtle (which I captured from the Conservatory pond) the students were first taught how to safely handle the amphibians and insure the proper biosecurity of the amphibian collections. 
Dr Hu learning how to handle a Fringed Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla craspedopus
Rachel and Emily holding a Glass Frog, Cochranella granulosa
Anna and Erin measuring the adhesion of a Splendid Leaf Frog, Cruziohyla calcarifer. They compared different frog's abilities to adhere to different leaf types.
Alexis and Dr Hu (right) assisting Blake and Emily in the high-speed videography of Poison Frog feeding. 
Emily recording the feeding movements of Phyllobates terribilis, the Golden Poison Frog 
Rachel and Courtney recording the clumsy feeding movements of Bombina orientalis, the Fire-Belly Toad. It's a wonder this species is able to feed themselves at all. This species' clumsy lunges were compared to the precision of microhylid frog's tongue projections
Jeanette Yen, Director of Biologically Inspired Design at GA Tech stopped by to record orchid movements when exposed to wind. She and Lane Duncan instructed a scientific illustration course this semester as well, part of which was taught at the Garden
The transparency of Glass Frog skin was an important factor in Courtnae's research, which investigated what happens to prey once it's consumed.

Several species which were used in high-speed video experiments. These clear boxes proved to be useful tools in filming their movements.
Poster presentations of the students' research were given at both GA Tech and at The Garden in the GP Classroom on April 28th. Everyone who was at the Garden was invited to attend and see the fantastic posters. The students did an incredible job!

Alexis, who was the graduate TA for the course presented her work as well. 
Alison and Allison's posted on Tongue Luring in Alligator Snapping Turtles
Anna and Erin's work on Frog Adhesion
Blake and Emily's work on Prey Capture 
Rachel and Courtney's work on Prey Capture and Accuracy
Courtnae and Paul's work on Post-Consumption Survival of Prey
The course was a tremendous success, and I enjoyed myself very much. It was great to see these talented and interested students working throughout the Garden and asking questions. Hopefully, this will be the first of many times the class will be offered.

Lastly, here is a link to some of the videos produced by the students, if you are interested.

Everyone was charmed by the Argentine Horned Frog, but none more than Courtnae