Over the summer, Jacksonville State University’s Martin Hall received an extreme makeover that has everyone talking.
Dr. Chris Murdock of the Biology department applied for the REAL Classroom Design Initiative this past summer in hopes of receiving funds to benefit the department. The grant helped to outfit classroom 250 with new paint, new carpet, new desks and updated technology. This grant came from the Faculty Commons Department and has gone to benefit the School of Science.
“They came in and prepped the walls, painted, put new lights in,” Murdock said. “There was not any structural damage, but it still took several months to complete the remodel. All of the old infrastructure was taken out—they took all the old desks out and everything. We really just started with a blank slate.”
With new desks and new technology, the biology classroom is able to incorporate elements of interactivity that is not seen in any other academic building on campus. The rolling desks allow for students to easily transition from rows of students to small or large groups. The newly installed projectors can either project onto whiteboards or serve as interactive smart boards. The technology was not part of the grant but instead came from funds generated by the student technology fee.
“The technology was supplied to us by the IT Department,” Murdock said. “I think it’s important to let students know that this is where your technology fee goes. The nice thing about the projector [in the renovated room] is that it projects on a whiteboard. So, if we have any faculty members that do not want use the smart board, and they just want to use the whiteboard, they can turn the projector off and you can write on the board.”
Murdock said he has heard only positive feedback from students.
“The new room is pretty cool. I actually look forward to going to class,” senior Carter Robertson said.
Martin Hall was not the only building with renovated rooms. Merrill Hall recently renovated their Finance Lab and fourteen classrooms that are used by various professors in the back of Merrill. Each room has a different colored back wall, matching rolling chairs, tables and carpeting.
See the remodeling in Merrill Hall below! Photos by Hollie Ivey
When Jacob Garmon and Griffin McDaniels set off for a four-day excursion into the Conecuh National Forest in May, they hoped for a relaxing trip filled with sightings of their favorite reptiles and amphibians. What they didn’t expect was to find one of the most elusive and threatened snakes in the country: the eastern indigo snake.
Garmon, a senior biology major with a concentration in ecology, and McDaniels, a second-year biology graduate student, were driving through the forest when McDaniels spotted the indigo snake just off the road.
“He hopped out of the truck before it had even stopped moving,” Garmon laughed, “and I couldn’t get the keys out, so I just threw the truck in park and left it running.”
Once ranging from Mississippi to the Carolinas, the indigo snake now only has native populations in Florida and southern Georgia and is a federally protected species. It vanished from Alabama in the 1950s and remained absent until reintroduction efforts began in 2010. Since then, Auburn University has released 107 microchipped snakes into the Conecuh forest.
“Of the 107 that Auburn’s been releasing on Conecuh, only three have been seen in the last three years,” McDaniels said. “What’s interesting is that the one that we found was about five, five and half foot long, which is smaller than all the 107 that they released.”
It is not yet known if the snake Garmon and McDaniels found was one of the three confirmed recaptures. If not, it is possible that this snake is a native-born individual, one that hatched in Alabama in the seven years since reintroduction efforts started.
The indigo snake is the longest snake native to North America, growing up to 8.5 or 9 feet in length. Despite their intimidating size, they pose virtually no threat to humans; indigo snakes are non-venomous and ophiophagus, meaning that they eat other snakes, including venomous ones like rattlesnakes and copperheads.
These characteristics were also factors in the indigo snake’s decline. Garmon and McDaniels identified three key issues that have contributed to the snake’s place on the federally threatened species list: fear, the pet trade and habitat loss and accidental persecution.
Many people, afraid of the snakes because of their size and color, would kill them without knowing or realizing that they are harmless. The docile nature of indigo snakes made others believe they would make good pets, and this led to what McDaniels calls “pet trade poaching.”
Finally, the indigo snake suffers from habitat loss—but not directly. During months of extreme heat and cold, indigo snakes seek shelter in gopher tortoise burrows, and this sandy soil habitat is rapidly being destroyed. Without these burrows, indigo snakes can die from exposure.
But indigo snakes aren’t always safe inside gopher tortoise burrows, either. Rattlesnakes also seek shelter in these burrows, and one method of getting rid of rattlesnakes is to “gas” them out by throwing gasoline down the burrows, often resulting in indigo snake casualties.
Today, there are federal laws in place to protect these snakes. Under the Federal Endangered Species Act, a person found to have killed an indigo snake can face a fine of up to $50,000 and up to a year in prison.
Special permits are required to own or handle these snakes as well, either in captivity or in the wild, so Garmon and McDaniels were not legally allowed to touch the snake they found, even to hold it until a park ranger or specialist could come to the scene.
Garmon and McDaniels’ sighting has garnered attention across the state. Dr. David Steen, an assistant research professor at Auburn University, tweeted one of Garmon’s photos of the snake, saying, “Thanks to Griffin McDaniels and Jacob Garmon for observing the animal without disturbing it and reporting the sighting.” And Mark Bailey of Conservation Southeast, Inc. reported the sighting at an indigo snake conference at Troy University the day after the snake was found.
For state biologists and snake enthusiasts, this sighting is important.
“It spread like wildfire,” Garmon said. “It’s a big deal. It’s the first sighting in about a year and a half.”
“People are more excited about the possibility of a native-born snake than anything else,” McDaniels added. A native-born snake would be proof that reintroduction efforts are succeeding, and it would indicate that the indigo snake population is on the rise.”
Garmon and McDaniels saw about 17 different species of reptiles and amphibians on their trip, including gopher frog tadpoles and southern cricket frogs. Both are exciting finds, because gopher frogs are endangered in the state of Alabama, and southern cricket frogs have orange, yellow and green color variations in not seen in the brown coloring of the northern cricket frogs found in Jacksonville.
Garmon and McDaniels want people to appreciate the wildlife in their state parks and own backyards but remind budding naturalists that nature is the animals’ territory.
“Be sure to read up on the species of local fauna [before you travel] so you know what to expect and what you might encounter,” Garmon advised.
And when it comes to snakes, the consensus is that it’s best to leave them to the professionals.
“If you aren’t familiar with snakes and can’t identify them, leave them alone,” McDaniels said.
If you think you’ve spotted an indigo snake in the Conecuh National Forest, do not touch it, but keep it in sight and contact Tim Mersmann, Conecuh National Forest District Ranger, at (334)-222-2555 or email@example.com as soon as possible.
You can find more of McDaniels’ wildlife photography here.
Calling all future Bill Nyes, Jane Goodalls and Sheldon Coopers: JSU’s School of Science is the place for you. Formed during a campus-wide restructuring in the fall of 2016, the School of Science is home to the biology, chemistry, geography, geology, math and computer science departments.
“I have absolutely loved JSU,” said Amber Smith, a sophomore chemistry major from Bremen, Ga. “It has been a great experience, both educationally and socially. If I had to pick my favorite part of the entire experience, I would have to say developing a close group of friends that share the same goals as me.”
Students in the School of Science can major in any of the departments in the School, but many are pre-med majors and plan to go to medical school after graduating.
Such is the case with Smith; she fell in love with the sciences in high school and plans to pursue medical or pharmaceutical work in the future.
“I love finding out how the world and the human bodies work, and I feel like there is more we don’t know,” Smith said. “That’s basically why I love it: I feel like it is a field that encompasses all aspects of our lives and it has room to grow.”
Smith encourages female students like her to continue to pursue their love of science, despite it being a traditionally male-dominated field.
“My advice to any incoming freshman girls planning to major in science is to develop relationships with professors and peers who can encourage you and help you when you do not understand something,” Smith said. “Also, do not go into your science courses simply trying to make the best grades. Rather than striving for the A, strive for a better understanding of the material. Enjoy studying and learning.”
But the School of Science can help students achieve an array of goals. Caelan Goss, a senior from Piedmont, Ala., is a math major hoping to break into the field of philosophy through mathematics.
“I wanted to be a math major because in Plato’s Republic, he argues that mathematics is the beginning to understanding philosophy,” Goss said. “So, I majored in mathematics insomuch as I would be able to understand philosophy and the under workings of the universe.”
After graduation, Goss plans to pursue an advanced degree in philosophy to further understand the physics and metaphysics of the universe, and he hopes to one day become a professor of philosophy.
“It may not seem an essential part of society today,” Goss said, “but it is an underlying question which every human being queries upon; thus, I deem it a suitable query in which to base a study.”
More information about the School of Science and its respective departments can be found on JSU’s website or by calling Tracey Casey at (256) 782-5225.
On April 4, a student in Dr. George Cline’s herpetology class found a rare species of snake in a flowerbed in Baldwin County.
The Brahminy blind snake has been found in Alabama on only two verified occasions. The first was found in Theodore, Ala. in Mobile County only a month ago and released back into the wild.
Cline’s specimen was sent to Auburn University on April 7 where Raymond Corey of the Alabama Herpetological Society confirmed its identity. It will be used for educational purposes in their herpetology department. According to Auburn University, this is the only vouchered specimen for the state of Alabama.
The scientific name for the species is Indotyphlops braminus, which comes from Indo, meaning India or Indonesia, typhlops, a Greek word meaning “the blind” and Brahmin, a caste of Hindus. Brahminy blind snakes are found on almost every continent, but cold temperatures prevent northern expansion. The blind snake spends most of its time underground and has developed reduced eyes that sense light and dark as opposed to seeing like most snakes.
Brahminy blind snakes are often mistaken for worms due to their small size. The snake is very slender and typically only reaches around 200 mm, or 8 in. in length. The blindsnake is not venomous, and if it were, its mouth is too small to be able to bite a human. They feed on soft-bodied invertebrates such as ants, ant eggs and termites.
This species of snake is the only known all-female species.
“Females are able to produce viable, fertile eggs without being fertilized by male sperm. his process is called parthenogenesis, and it can be seen in numerous invertebrates and vertebrates (some fishes, amphibians, and lizards),” said Cline. “This is the only species of snake in the world that can reproduce in this manner.”
Furthermore, this species is also considered triploid, meaning that even though they only have one parent, they have three sets of chromosomes.
While triploidy is common in plants, most sexually reproducing species, including humans, are diploid, receiving one set of chromosomes from the mother and one set from the father.
“Usually, individuals that have unbalanced (odd-numbered) sets of chromosomes suffer high mortality,” said Cline. “Brahminy blind snakes have somehow solved that problem evolutionarily.”
The implications of finding this non-native species in Alabama are hard to pin-point.
“It’s a non-native with no native predators,” said Cline. “Its ability to reproduce from a single specimen suggests that its population size could increase rapidly.”
If left unchecked, Brahminy blind snakes may dominate fossorial competition and have negative effects on native underground invertebrates.
Invasive species are appearing in the country, both accidentally and intentionally, at an increasing rate. Several species, such as geckos and anoles, have been introduced by the sale of ornamental plants. Others, like cane toads and pythons, have been introduced through the exotic pet trade.
“More insidious are the diseases that have been introduced, for example the chestnut blight, Dutch Elm disease and avian flu in birds,” said Cline. “We just don’t know what impact blindsnakes could have.”
JSU received some special scaly visitors this Monday in Martin Hall room 111. Dr. George Cline of the biology department invited Corey of the Alabama Herpetological Society to bring a few of his 50 slithering friends to meet the herpetology class. The goal was to introduce students to some of the wildlife they may experience on their upcoming trips to the field. As budding biologists, these students may very well come face-to-face with some of Alabama’s most feared and misunderstood reptiles. Corey’s “friends” included venomous snakes and an alligator.
Cline and Corey are passionate about educating people about these animals. These reptiles may be scary to some, but they play an important part in our environment.
“The ecosystem is a very delicate balance,” said Cline. “Conserving this balance is protecting our habitats as well.”
According to Cline, 60 percent of snakes in Alabama are under some sort of protection concern. This is largely due to the fear people have for these creatures.
Corey believes that educating people will help preserve the animals.
“The only difference between danger and beauty is understanding,” Corey said.
The animals were each brought out and examined while Cline and Corey explained the different identifying features, temperament and other facts about the animals.
The first creature introduced was the non-venomous common corn snake. A camera shy but gentle and brightly colored snake, he was passed around for each student to hold. Due to their colorful scales and mild manners, these snakes are a favorite within the pet trade. This popularity has caused their numbers to decrease in the wild as people catch them and keep them as pets.
“It’s best to purchase any snake from captive breeders,” said Cline. “Snakes bred in captivity are typically less aggressive and have a higher survival rate as wild snakes often die from stress when held in captivity.”
Buying from a breeder also ensures that the wild population remains healthy and strong.
The next animal to greet students was the eastern hognose snake which is easily identifiable by the snake’s upturned snout. The hognose snake, while venomous to frogs and toads, is mostly harmless to humans. If bitten, a person might experience mild nausea and an increased heart rate for a brief period.
This snake is unique in his defense mechanism. When threatened, the hognose will widen its neck and inflate its body while making a hissing sound lending it the common nickname “puff adder.” It is important to note that this animal should not be confused with the venomous viper from Africa which also goes by the name “puff adder.” The eastern hognose, if the threat persists, will roll on the ground, and play dead.
Two baby American alligators also made an appearance, being passed around for all to experience. The range of the American alligator stretches from central America to the southern borders of Virginia and North Carolina. These animals have been known to reach more than 18ft in length and can weigh up to 900 pounds, making them one of the largest reptiles in the world.
The next group of guests are some of the most feared in the state. Corey brought a copperhead, cotton mouth and three species of rattlesnake. The copperhead is identifiable by its copper
colored bands and vertical pupils, and while venomous, their bite rarely results in human fatalities. People may experience tissue damage and even loss of limb if not treated right away.
The cottonmouth, or water moccasin, is a semi-aquatic species of pit viper. Pit vipers have small pits under their eyes that allow them to detect heat signatures. This snake can be identified by its flat, sharp edged heads, a dark line through the eye and oval pupils. Young snakes typically have dark and light bands, but most lose them as they age resulting in a dark coloration with a mottled brown and yellow belly. These snakes rarely bite humans, but their venom does cause pain.
The three rattlesnakes Corey brought were the Timber, eastern diamondback and the pygmy. These are all members of the pit viper family which account for 99 percent of venomous snake bites in the U.S. as reported by aafp.org. The pygmy rattlesnake adult only reaches 14-22 inches. They have a rattle, although it is hard for humans to hear it due to its small size. Its venom is very weak and not capable of killing a human, however it does produce intense bleeding.
Timber rattlesnakes range from Alabama to southern New York and as far west as Oklahoma. This snake is a large species with lengths from 30-60 inches. They are identifiable by their dark bands and chestnut stripe down their back. A bite from a timber rattlesnake can kill a human, but very few fatalities happen in the U.S. each year.
The Eastern diamond back rattlesnake is easy to identify as they have a distinct diamond shape pattern running down their back. This snake has a very loud rattle and does not back down from a threat. They are the most dangerous snake in the U.S., although they are not the most venomous.
If you encounter a snake in the wild, it is best to walk away and leave it alone. These creatures do not want to hurt you but will if provoked. The best way to preserve our ecosystems is to understand and respect the animals that live within it.
A baby Alligator
A baby Copperhead Snake
Taylor Prickett (left) and Donald Rhodes (right) handle a snake.