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New insights on metamorphosis

16 September 2023

There's a frog in my tadpole

Sometimes a photograph can instantly give you a whole lot more information on a topic than you ever knew. 

This is a cropped close-up of a picture that I showed on the blog a few weeks back (see here). At the time that I took the picture, and later when I selected it for the blog post, I had completely failed to spot this metamorphosing frog in the image. I had never fully appreciated how the new frog in a metamorphosing tadpole was formed. Perhaps because of the colour of this Xenopus laevis frog from an invasive population in Tucson, Arizona, is so stark, you can clearly see through the transparent tadpole flesh the form of the frog coming through.

Note how the head of the tadpole and head of the frog appear to be completely different, yet the sensory organs (eyes, nares, etc.) are functioning on the tadpole and joined by nerves to those same sites on the frog head. Note also the way in which the fore-limbs (that always appeared to come at an odd place on the tadpole) are perfectly situated in relation to the frog head. 

Over the next week or so, the tadpole head will regress in size and the tail will start to shrink as the final stages of metamorphosis take place. Sensory organs will relocate into the frog head. 

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Snake handling course

03 September 2023

A demanding way to spend your weekend

While at the Amphibian Foundation at the end of my trip to the USA, I took advantage of an offer to conduct a snake handling course (level 1) that they offer (see here). I've been in situations that have called for venomous snake handling in the past, and have always felt a little under prepared. Now with the course completed I know how to be safer when faced with a venomous snake on the ground, and a group of people that want it moved away.

Looking a little overgrown (after 2 months in the field without a haircut), I was outfitted with gaiters to prevent fangs going through my trousers. Guided by a set of expert instructors I learned how to handle heavy snakes on hooks (notice the braced position of the hooks under the forearms), and importantly how to safely get the snake into a tied bag and sealed bucket keeping it more than arms length at all times. 

Being in Atlanta, we became familiar with several of the regions most venomous snakes including the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus - above), the Eastern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus  - below). 

As you can see, the snakes were all very beautiful and it was a great pleasure working with them. Carefully following each of the steps according to instructions allowed us to bag up the snakes in a very safe manor. Run by the Rattlesnake Conservancy, these courses offer experienced and professional tuition in a relaxed and friendly environment.

As you can see, I gained my certificate of competence and feel a lot more confident about how to tackle venomous snakes in future.


Revisiting the Arthur Pack Desert Golf Course, Arizona

30 August 2023

Back catching Xenopus in Tucson, Arizona

In 1995, during my PhD at Bristol University, I visited Tucson Arizona to study the population of African clawed frogs at the Arthur Pack Desert Golf Course. The population is known to have dated to the late 1970's when a local academic seeded many impoundments in southern Arizona with Xenopus hoping that he could pick up breeding animals in the future for selling on. It seems that most of the introductions were failures, but at this one golf course the population took hold.

Back in 1995,  it was really hot when I visited this site, reaching 47 C on one of the days that I was there. That's still the hottest I've ever experienced.

I've long wanted to return to the site, and so I made it a priority on my North American leg of my world Xenopus tour.  

The picture above is from 1995 and is the southernmost lake on the golf course, featuring a canoe which I was allowed to use to paddle around this lake and set traps.

This is the same site now. The willow tree is gone, but you can see the same wall above the lake.

The canoe is still around and once again I was allowed to use it and paddle out to a pole in the deepest part of the northernmost lake to set some temperature loggers.

I remember the last time I sat in that canoe in 1995 a golf ball whizzed passed my ear making me very pleased that I was wearing a hard hat. 

With the help of Becca Cozad and her ARC crew: Karen & Maya, we were able to quickly run through the catch and process all the animals needed from Arizona. We were also joined by Randy Babb who bought his seine net which made really short work of bringing in a lot of tadpoles for sampling.

A special thank you to Brian Stevens and all his staff for making us so welcome at the Crooked Tree Golf Course. They really pulled all of the stops out and went out of their way to make sure that this was a successful mission. Strapping a canoe to the top of a golf cart and driving it across the course was unforgettable. We really are most indebted to them all.  

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Stanford Spectator features article by Naas

28 August 2023

Terblanche & Measey featured in the Stanford Spectator

This month's copy of the Stanford Spectator features an article about the work that Naas Terblanche conducted and was published in PeerJ last June (see blog post here). The article is actually a printing of the blog post with some edits, and new images by Naas himself. Stanford is rightly proud of what their local man has produced. 

Measey, J. (2023) Stanfordian initiates study on frog communities. Stanford SpectatorSeptember 15.

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

The 19th Xenopus Conference in Cambridge, Maryland

25 August 2023

An amazing meeting full of Xenopus people!

It was my first time to experience the International Xenopus Conference, but I left wishing that I had been to many more. The conference abstract book is available online here, and the talks were just as diverse as the people giving them. Walking around the posters, and talking to the speakers, I quickly understood that everyone shared a passion for working with Xenopus frogs (both X. laevis and X. tropicalis), at the same time as acknowledging that this was a little unusual. 

I conducted my PhD in a department where Xenopus was used as a model organism to study neural biology. Thus I was acquainted with the other world of Xenopus users. However, I was completely unaware of the more recent scope of the work that is currently being conducted with this species. It is staggering the breadth of work being done, especially the way in which Xenopus is now being used as a model for single gene mutations in children. The speed of replicating the gene mutation suffered by a newborn child in a tadpole can really help clinicians work on finding better treatments. 

The meeting was held in a Hyatt-Regency Hotel, alongside large numbers of golfers and other holiday revelers. Certainly, I'd guess that most of these folks were unaware of the large number of frog lovers meeting in the ballroom.

Many thanks go out to the conference organizers who went above and beyond to help me attend. It was a truly great experience, and I look forward to the next one!

Home and away: the core gut microbiome of Xenopus laevis is modified by its environment

Authors: Measey, J., Ersin, M., Guille, M., Almojil, D., Araspin, L., Wagener, C., Boissinot, S., Watts, J.,
Robson, S.
Presenting Author Affiliation: Centre for Invasion Biology, Institute of Biodiversity, Yunnan University, China & Centre for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Abstract: The vertebrate gut microbiome is a community largely composed of bacterial, fungal and viral components, whose molecular component equal that of the host. The influence of the microbiome is known to be significant both on an individual basis, and also on population scales in a wide range of host organisms. The gut microbiome is known to be involved with key attributes of animal health, including assimilation of nutrients, immuno-defensive functions and host behavior. In this study, we used bacterial 16S rRNA amplicon-based sequencing for metataxonomic classification of the gut microbiome of individuals from eight populations of Xenopus laevis. These populations were selected to represent an altitudinal gradient in of the host species (0 to 3000 m asl). From the 16S rRNA community profiles, we determine the components of the core microbiome of X. laevis, and ask whether deviations from the core are associated with the environmental context in which they live. In addition, we sampled four European invasive populations and a laboratory population from the European Xenopus Resource Centre (EXRC) in the UK, to determine what aspects of the core microbiome are retained by non-native populations. This represents the first time that the microbiome of X. laevis has been assessed across such diverse conditions,
and provides data that will help understand the role played by the environment and inform monitoring of health within this model organism.

  Frogs  Lab  meetings  Xenopus
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