Snakes Around Town; How a Fish Lost (and Regained) Its Worm; Observing the Extremes of Antarctic Weather & Climate



“Wednesday Nite @ The Lab” Public Science Seminar

Wednesdays at 7pm CT

Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison WI, 


Stream at


For 3 August 2022    

Hi WN@TL Fans,

Like Eve, my up-close interactions with snakes have been few and memorable. My Dad threw stones at a western diamondback rattlesnake coiled up on an old iron bridge over Franklin Creek in Lee County, Illinois, to save the life of my brother while we were fishing as young boys.  Of course, it was probably a bull snake.  But, still.

On another fishing excursion a couple of years later, this time solo, I went to step over a log along Clear Creek in Ogle County when I saw a king cobra where I was about to set foot; instead, I set a world record in the high jump.  Alas, nobody was there to witness the feat.  Of course, it was probably a bull snake.

Recently I have begun to reform my serpentine ways. In 2015 at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota I spied a prairie rattlesnake lolling in the mowed grass along a sidewalk near the visitor center.  I fired up the video camera on my iPhone and beckoned my children over to get a closer look;  my wife fired up her iPhone and threatened to call her divorce lawyer. The ranger on duty strolled over, confirmed it was a prairie rattler, walked away for a moment, and returned with a snake hook in his hand.  By then the snake had slithered into the taller grass, and although I knew it was there and I was looking right at it, my brain could hardly make out its shape, except for when it moved.  I was delighted, and it was a rattler.

The coming and going of snake populations also get our attention.  St. Patrick made legendary waves by driving the snakes from Ireland. The invasive arrivals of brown tree snakes on Guam and of Burmese pythons in the Everglades have shaken those ecosystems. This week (August 3) we get to hear how the homecomings–and in the case of Picnic Point, the not-yet-homecoming—of our home-grown snakes can give us insights into how these reptiles help round out the biological diversity of restored prairies.



On August 3 Will Vuyk of the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve will speak on “Snakes Around Town: Baseline Snake Species Occupancy in Madison-Area Prairie Restorations.”

Description:  Reptiles and amphibians around the world are threatened by habitat loss and degradation due to urban and agricultural land development. Snakes are Wisconsin’s most abundant and diverse reptile taxon, and they play an important role in our state’s native ecosystems. Of sixteen species known to be present in Dane County, seven are species of special conservation concern and two are endangered. 

Urban environments are especially perilous for snakes with roads, pollutants, pets, and human hostility all contributing to higher mortality and limited mobility. Understanding how and where snakes live in the urban environments is thus crucial not only for snake conservation but also for restoration efforts that aim to recreate functioning native ecosystems within urban and suburban areas. This talk will report on baseline snake species occupancy data collected in 2021 from eight prairie restorations near Madison and emphasizes the importance of snake research to the field of restoration ecology.

Bio:  Will studied biology and history as an undergrad at UW-Madison before graduating this spring. He is currently the President of the Friends of the Lakeshore Nature Preserve and works as a research specialist in the David O’Connor Lab at the UW AIDS Vaccine Research Laboratory. Will has long had an interest in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), which inspired him to volunteer with a snake, turtle, and frog monitoring projects at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee and travel to Ecuador for a study abroad trip with his project advisor Catherine Woodward. In 2021, with the pandemic keeping his research opportunities local, Will decided to apply the snake monitoring techniques he learned at the Urban Ecology Center to document snake populations in Madison-area prairie restorations.

Explore More:   Wisconsin DNR Snakes of Wisconsin:

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation:

Madison-Area Herpetological Society:

Citizen science reporting with Herpmapper:



On August 10 Jesse Weber of the Department of Integrative Biology will speak on “How a Fish Lost (and Regained) Its Worm:  Evolutionary Genetics of Host-parasite Interactions.”

Description:  Marine threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) are highly susceptible to Schistocephalus solidus tapeworms, but freshwater populations across the globe have evolved to resist the parasite. Interestingly, freshwater fish in different areas evolved resistance via different mechanisms, and parasites evolved to counter the resistance of their local hosts.

We can replicate the parasite’s complex life cycle in the lab. This allows us to perform thousands of controlled exposures between different host and parasite populations.  These experiments allow us to pursue pivotal questions in parasitism, including: 

What genetic changes underlie host-parasite coevolution?  

How often are new genes or strategies deployed, as opposed to recycling existing variation?

How does gene flow among many populations impact the rate and trajectory of (co)evolution?

Explore More:


On August 17 Matthew Lazzara of Space Science & Engineering will speak on “Observing the Extremes of Antarctic Weather and Climate.”

Description:   Antarctica offers some of the most extreme weather and climate on planet Earth.  Its breathtaking views and vistas are balanced by extreme cold, strong winds, and storm-force conditions. This presentation reviews some of these extremes and outlines some extraordinary weather events as captured by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Automatic Weather Station network, now in its 42nd year of operation. The trials and tribulations of maintaining such a network will be illustrated. The value of observations and data will be discussed including the debut of the Antarctic Meteorological Research and Data Center data repository, and a joint project between UW-Madison and Madison Area Technical College, with an ever-growing collection of Antarctic meteorological datasets. The culmination of these efforts provides observations of the extremes in weather and climate of the world’s southern-most continent.

Bio: Dr. Matthew A. Lazzara is a Senior Scientist and Research Meteorologist at the Antarctic Meteorological Research Center (AMRC), Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC), University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW–Madison). He is also a full-time faculty member and Department Chair of the Department of Physical Sciences in the School of Engineering, Science, and Mathematics at Madison Area Technical College. He is the Principal Investigator of the Antarctic Automatic Weather Station (AWS) Program and Antarctic Meteorological Research & Data Center Project which is a part of the United States Antarctic Program. He has worked on-site at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and at UW–Madison from 1995 to the present, with 10 deployments to Antarctica. His areas of expertise include Antarctic meteorology and climate, satellite meteorology, education, and interactive meteorological processing systems. Dr. Lazzara is currently the President of the International Commission on Polar Meteorology.

Explore More:


Hope to see you soon, in person or by zoom, at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H

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UW-Madison:  5.9 million owners, one pretty good public land-grant teaching, research and extension university. 

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Here are the components of the WN@TL User’s Guide

1. The live WN@TL seminar, every Wednesday night, 50 times a year, at 7pm CT in Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center and on Zoom at 

2. The WN@TL YouTube channel

3. WN@TL on the University Place broadcast channel of PBS Wisconsin 

4. WN@TL on the University Place website 


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