The summer is flying by! We are collecting lots of swabs down here in TN. We have two main sites that we sample from. The first is at the place where I am staying… Hotel CRESO. The land used to be an old landfill for many years. The second site is the University of TN arboretum. We are using the arboretum as our control and the landfill as our variable so we can see if the human disturbance at the landfill has increased the prevalence of Snake fungal disease (SFD) because of destruction of habitat and human impact. Currently I have over 100 samples from our control at the arboretum and about 75 from the old landfill (Hotel CRESO).

We have mixed emotions about hiking one of our control fields at the ARBORETUM. It has a LOT of hills but just look at the awesome view behind us once we get to the top!

In order to get a good swab we need to get break open the skin lesions and get the pus and blood underneath in order to get good DNA (yum!). At the end of the summer I’m going to take all the samples back to the WEL lab and extract the DNA from the swab that we will then test for snake fungal disease. The results for the presence of SFD are not just YES or NO.  It is a scale of how strong of a positive the SFD results are. The test is  done via qPCR and it gives you the NUMBER of fungal copies that are present.

this is the lesion post swabbing! I classified this lesion as a pustule because when we swabbed it, the lesion broke open. The blood and pus that is underneath is what we want for a good swab!

We take pictures of the lesions prior to swabbing them as part of our data so we know what they look like. This lesion is a pustule.

Sophomore in high school, Liv, enjoying the satisfaction you get from swabbing a crusty lesion! (its like picking a scab – addicting!)

Kelsey Waterson is a senior in undergrad at the University of TN and is my right hand for this project. She welcomed me openly and taught me the their techniques here at CRESO. I came down here with a lot of new protocols, changes and additions to be done to the snake surveys and Kelsey not only welcomed them but helped me instill them in the CRESO  students. We make a great team both on and off the job.

Let me just say that Kelsey is a a LOT stronger that me. One day out at snakes I was confident enough to help roll down a hill a giant mower called the “Beast” that we use to make paths through our snake trails. Sure enough the beast just about rolled off the hill while taking me with it. Kelsey was standing next to me all proud of my growing strength until I quickly wrapped my arms around her legs and hung on for dear life. Hoping she would have my back and save me from doing a nose dive into briars. Don’t worry, she saved me, all while my boss just shook his head. We are a real group of unique people here. Being normal is boring.

The famous “Beast” that almost took me off the edge of the hill along with the famous John Byrd/Senior Olympian/My boss. (He’s not that strong)

As you know I’m a 3rd year veterinary student so I love all animals. Well, on the 4th of July while I was driving home I saw a cat on the side of the road. Not only do I brake for snakes and turtles but also kitties. So next thing I know I have this cat in my car that I’m taking back to hotel CRESO. I named him Oliver Byrd after my boss and his wife because they have been so wonderful to me. Lets just say John Byrd walked into a surprise the next morning (oops). But it worked out because he now uses a high pitched voice when calling out to Oliver for him to come out of hiding. I think that means he loves Oliver? …. Yep, I think so too.

Oliver and I have developed a special bond out here at hotel CRESO (nope, i’m not attached at all).

Oliver Byrd had bad ear mites when I found him, I had to put baby mittens on his hind feet to prevent him from scratching his ears and causing self harm.

This past weekend we had a really good snake day. We caught 4 snakes! 2 racers (they’re pretty quick), 1 worm snake (they like to burrow in the soil like worms), and 1 brown snake (you guessed it- they are brown). I wrangled up the group and the snakes to get a picture together after such a successful morning. Each member of the snake team brings something unique to the group and my project. I have gotten to know the students pretty well and I guess you can say I’ve grown quite fond of them.

The poses of CHAMPIONS after catching 4 snakes in the July heat.

You weren’t really there if you didn’t take a selfie, right?

I’ve come to know the strengths of each student and I also have come to know the weaknesses. Everyone has these, but part of being a good leader and Veterinarian is utilizing their strengths and helping to improve their weaknesses. I feel honored that I get the chance to be that person in their lives if only for a few months.

For example: sometimes we have hard study sessions after snakin’ all morning. We’re building on our strengths and improving our weaknesses.

Improving our weaknesses: Learning that snakes (or SNEKS), do NOT have legs.

Strengthening our team working skills: listening to each other’s thoughts and putting them down on a white board.