We've spent the last couple of days with the Lizard team, tracking Texas Horned Lizards and doing miscellaneous wildlife monitoring work. Vick, the PhD student that leads the wildlife field work, has two separate grants. One of them is his actual thesis, which involves tracking and modeling the movements of Texas Horned Lizards, and the other is general wildlife monitoring work, everything from frog call surveys and turtle traps to camera traps for mammals. The way it works out is that in a given day we work on the Lizards and then do one "other" wildlife tracking activity. Rem, one of the interns on the project, said that by the time you get through all the different ones its time to do them again, so its a constant source of wildlife data for the base.
Most of our day today, which started at 2 PM (man that was nice), was spent tracking lizards. Each lizard has a radio attached like a backpack, with silicon gluing it down and a little collar around its neck. Its basically adorable. We use an antenna that looks like it came off of a hillbillie's roof and a walkie-talkie looking receiver to listen for the ping of the radio, which pulses every couple of seconds. The louder it gets, the closer you are, so its kind of like playing the warm/cold game I used to play as a kid (you're getting warmer, warmer, hot! ... and now you're cold.) After a couple of tries Justin and I have gotten the hang of it. Its really cool when you get to the end and you're really confused and then you just see the little guy in front of you and you're like "There he is!"
After we find them, we take a GPS point. We're also powder tracking some of the lizards with a fluorescent powder. When we find a lizard we're going to powder track, we cover the bottom of it in the orange fluorescent powder and mark the place where we set it down with some flags as a starting point. Earlier in the summer, the Horny Toad (Horned Lizard) team attached a little tuft of rabbit fur to the bellies of the Lizards we're powder tracking, so they hold more powder. So, not only are these poor lizards carrying a radio on their backs, they also have an unnaturally furry belly! Vick did get a picture of two lizards with radios mating, so I guess they're doing alright with it...
Anywho, once the lizards are powdered, its time to wait for night fall to track them. When we were out there, on our hands and knees with a blacklight, looking for the powder trails, and it kinda felt like CSI detective work! Where did the lizards go? Mostly they kept to bare ground and tried to avoid sticks and grass, although they did manage to lead me into a really thick gnarl of sumacs! Every time I thought (hoped) the trail had ended, I found more and had to keep going, for SCIENCE! So really what I'm saying is Science rulz.
I'll tell about the rest of that night in the next post, so stay tuned!