“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
- Carl Sagan-
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Wolf spiders are fantastic organisms for studying animal behavior. They are voracious predators, attain a wide range of sizes, and exhibit elaborate mating behaviors. Additionally, wolf spiders demonstrate a very involved parental care system. After producing an egg sac, the female spider will attach it directly to her spinnerets and carry it around, presumably to seek out just the right conditions for optimal embryonic development, until the eggs hatch. After undergoing the first molt within the egg sac, the mother opens the sac and the spiderlings climb onto her back where she continues to carry them for about a week until they gradually fall off and disperse throughout the environment.
Incubation Temperature and Phenotype
My primary area of interest revolves around the influence of incubation temperature on behavior, morphology, and performance. The impact of incubation temperature on determining the sex of some reptiles is well known, but what other phenotypic or life history traits does incubation temperature have the ability to influence? In wolf spiders, we have found that incubation temperature not only determines the growth rate of spiderlings, but also impacts morphology, sprint speed, the number of molts it takes to reach maturity, and lifespan.
While working on my Ph.D., undergraduate students not only assisted me with my dissertation research, but also developed, carried out, and presented findings from their own independent research projects that I had the privilege of supervising. One particularly interesting study investigated the social behavior of striped bark scorpions (Centruroides vittatus). Specifically, we were interested in whether juveniles associated more closely with siblings compared to unrelated individuals.
More recently, I have supervised projects investigating learning behavior in zebrafish, (de)socialization and stress in guppies, and egg maintenance and foraging behavior in bald eagles.
Alongside researchers from Oklahoma State University and Utah State University, we are working to describe the thermal profile of native and invasive widow spiders (Latrodectus sp.). Some of our early findings can be found here: Thermal Tolerances in Widows
Additionally, I'm working with researchers from Oklahoma State and the Illinois Natural History Survey to detail how incubation temperature influences morphology and coloration in eastern collared lizards (Crotaphytus collaris).
Iowa Spider Catalogue
One of my new and long term projects will be to develop an online database that describes the spiders found in Iowa. This project is still in its infancy, but I will be adding updates as they become available. In the meantime, feel free to join, add any pictures, or ask Iowa spider-related questions on my Iowa Spiders Facebook page.