What a week!
My team had a new technician arrive, Kyle Chadwick from Uni. Virginia, and NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr. Ashley Heers (see here for an example of new stuff she’s starting here at the RVC!), started working with me at the RVC, and then these guys showed up…
First a tiger salamander (Ambystoma) paid a visit, for filming an episode of the Windfall Films/PBS documentary “Your Inner Fish” (a la the famous book):
Dr. Stephanie Pierce (who was also a coauthor on a great open access croc paper in Proc Roy Soc B this week) was filmed with Prof. Jenny Clack to recap some of our past work on tetrapod locomotion. Watch out for the 3-part series!
And that gorgeous salamander was a star performer in strutting his stuff for the camera to demonstrate the locomotion of modern tetrapods, including some lovely slo-mo footage from our lab cameras:
(if that’s too slow for you, try the normal-speed footage. I’ll admit, salamanders don’t really need slo-mo video for normal walking, but I like it)
But then we got a special package… with three frozen fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) from colleagues in Germany!
This marks the start of an exciting new period in my team’s work in the lab. I’ve always liked salamanders and newts, and we’ve scanned and modelled plenty (e.g. this old post), but now we’re going to work with live fire salamanders (a first for me)! We are using the dead ones to plan the new studies with the live ones– these new studies will involve lots of high speed videos and force platform analysis (as shown above), in conjunction with XROMM (biplanar fluoroscopy/3D skeletal motion analysis) and other techniques including computer simulations. We got initial approval this week to work with these salamanders, and found a reputable source this week too, so it was definitely Salamander Week in my group!
This research all will feed into our upcoming studies of extinct tetrapods: we’re using salamanders to figure out how salamanders move and what limits their speed and gait, and then we’re using the same sorts of computer tools to try to estimate how extinct tetrapods may have moved and how locomotion evolved, in much more specific detail than our prior work had done, which was mainly about using 3D reconstructions of anatomy to show what those animals could not do. More about the project here.
Watch this space for more scampering salamanders!
UPDATE: And here’s one! Not quite scampering, but…
An example of the kind of footage we’re aiming for (single 2D fluoroscope view from Nadja Schilling’s team’s research; see XROMM website for more details on the methodology)
I did a CT scan with a normal medical grade CT scanner at the highest resolution we can manage (0.625 mm slices). Check out the results below, which amuse me:
Looks like a toy; too crude resolution. But we can see major structures, and we can very nicely see the “microchip” (which looks HUGE) that was placed in this animal’s back when in captivity, and then another structure is visible near the pelvis which might be another chip or else remains of some food, pathology, or a really odd pelvis– I am not totally sure!
So this is why we tend to use microCT, which can go down to as low as ~5 micron resolution, to get 3D anatomy of animals this small. It’s no surprise to me, but it is fun to see how far we could push our normal CT machine. The results aren’t horrid but wouldn’t have much scientific value for us. They did confirm for us that this specimen is heavily ossified, so the faint images of bone that we are getting in our x-ray fluoroscopes (above) are due to something going wrong with our camera system, not the animal’s immature skeleton. Stay tuned for more updates as the science happens!
20 wonderful adult Fire Salamanders have joined our team and are relaxing over the coming week before we start taking them for walks. Here is one exploring its new home: