This is the first in a new series of posts from SSAR! Our members often join SSAR to learn more about the organisms that fascinate them. Each month, we are excited to profile the herpetological interest of one of our community members and to feature their focal amphibian or reptile species/system.
Featured SSAR member: Molly C. Womack
What is your study species (or species group) and why is it interesting?
Most tetrapods (including you and your dog) have a tympanic middle ear that aids in hearing airborne sound on land. Yet, many anuran species (frogs and toads) have lost tympanic middle ears (termed earlessness), despite anurans’ use of acoustic communication. Furthermore, earless anurans are found in many habitats, unlike other sensory loss cases (e.g., eye loss in cavefish) that share selection environments.
What is it about this species that you study?
My work on earless frogs tries to understand both why so many frogs are earless and how (at the genetic and developmental level) they lose these structures. I have found, compared to eared species, earless species are less sensitive to high frequency sounds, show no additional differences in their skulls, have smaller average body sizes, and have larger genomes. My work in the Hoke Lab at Colorado State University points towards changes in development rate or length predisposing the tympanic middle ear (an already late-forming structure) to evolutionary loss. It is then likely that lineage-specific environmental, life history, or ecological selection pressures select for or allow this loss.
Who are you, how did you get where you are, and what’s your story?
I am an Oklahoma and Florida raised LGBTQ member of SSAR. My interest in herpetology was spawned when I discovered evolutionary research during my sophomore year of college at the University of Florida (go gators!). My first research project investigated the morphology and function of sea and water snake cloacas. I fell in love with histology and morphology and haven’t looked back.
Why are you a member of SSAR?
I am a member of SSAR because I really enjoy the passion that people in the SSAR community bring to their work. I was not destined to become a herpetologist but the amazing diversity of herps and the diversity of those that study them that inspire me to continue working in this field. I look forward to contributing to and protecting that diversity.