Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
All that nerdiness aside, I often joined my friends for fountain cherry Cokes and
French fries at Warrensburg's only drugstore, where we envied the guys with letter
jackets who were always surrounded by girls.
Despite the gartersnake debacle, our science teacher arranged for me to join other rural
Midwest high school students at the University of Kansas Summer Science and Math
Camp following my junior year. For two weeks in Lawrence we attended classes ranging
from astronomy to zoology, and most importantly, we did things, like making acetate
prints of cross-sectioned fossil plants and examining live chick embryos under a micro-
scope. Meanwhile my father retired from the air force to teach college in Fort Worth,
and after the K.U. stint I joined our family there. By then intent on being a scientist
and eager to meet like-minded folks, I attended meetings of a local amateur natural-
ists' group. My new acquaintances included Ben Dial, who was a year older and like me
kept snakes in his bedroom, had published scientific papers, and loved folk music. We
traveled all over Texas in his 1957 Chevy, searching for herps, our conversations run-
ning the gamut from Texas alligator lizards to the long-haired woman in a folk singing
group called Peter, Paul, and Mary. Ben and I would remain friends for the rest of his
I was selected with nineteen other Science and Math Camp students to apprentice
with a professor and spent the summer after graduation working at K.U. for Henry
Fitch, with whom I'd already corresponded. Because camp policy against riding in cars
prohibited me from working at the Natural History Reservation a few miles north of
town, Henry suggested I study lizard reproduction by examining specimens in the Mu-
seum of Natural History, under daily supervision of two graduate students. Jay Cole
came with undergraduate research experience from summers at the American Museum
of Natural History's Southwestern Research Station in Arizona and was preparing his
first papers for publication. Linda Trueb was newly arrived from Berkeley, where she'd
been inspired by a natural history of the vertebrates course taught by renowned Mu-
seum of Vertebrate Zoology herpetologist Robert Stebbins.
Those two months hooked me on biology. Each day I walked from my campus dormit-
ory past imposing stone buildings that mirrored childhood notions of a university. At the
museum I removed skinks from jars of alcohol, laid them out on a tray, and recorded col-
lecting dates and localities from paper tags attached to their hind legs. One by one I slit
scaly bellies with sharp-pointed scissors, then counted and measured developing eggs
with calipers. I was gathering data, and the lizards provided snapshots—two shelled
eggs in each oviduct would have been laid within days of when a female was caught,
for example, while five enlarged yellow follicles in her ovaries portended a second, lar-
ger clutch later in the season. Collectively my records would describe reproduction
throughout a species' geographic range. Our goal was to compare tropical and temper-
ate skinks for a better understanding of how climate fine-tunes breeding.
Henry and I examined more than six hundred specimens and discovered that larger
ground skinks laid more eggs than did smaller ones. Moreover, in the southern United
States, between March and August, they deposited four clutches of two or three eggs
each, whereas northern lizards had time to produce only two clutches of five to seven
eggs—so the annual total per female was about the same at geographic extremes. Cen-
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