A new chapter in Paris

If this blog were a book, this post would start a new chapter (and if I had my way, it’d start with a big illuminated lizard standing in for that I in if). For those of you subscribers who feel like the last chapter ended with a bit of a whimper of unresolved story lines, I’m afraid you’re right. I’ve been holding my research progress a bit closer to the chest these last two months, and everything else was so mind-numbingly hectic that in the thick of it I didn’t really feel I had much to share on the blog. In hindsight, though, a few retrospective posts might be in order, so I’ll be interspersing those over the next couple of weeks.

All that changes now! I’m writing from Paris and will be for the remainder of 2018. If you remember, my postdoctoral fellowship granted me funding for three years of working in and around natural history museum collections. The first year was spent at Harvard with its exceptional lizard specimens. This next year is going to be based at the Muséum Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris in collaboration with long-standing friend-of-the-blog, Anthony Herrel.

What am I up to? Well, 2017 was such a grueling year for data acquisition that my first research priority is just writing up the mountains of data I’ve already collected. Grueling is the right word, too. I ended up leading expeditions to Antigua and Barbuda (3 people), the Bahamas (11 people), Greece (10 people), and two trips to Turks and Caicos (4 people), and all that permit writing, logistics problem solving, people minding, and data gathering left me just about as burnt out at the end of the year as I’ve been since my dissertation defense. Oh, and that doesn’t include co-managing a thousand-lizard animal colony on campus. Don’t get me wrong, the field adventures were memorable and the data immensely valuable, but all that’s left me eager for a “quieter” 2018 with somewhat less fieldwork.

So that’s the plan! I arrived in Paris yesterday and got my MNHN ID badge today. My wife is along for the adventure (thank goodness!), and we’re settling down into a teeny tiny 200 sq ft apartment in Le Marais – about 5 minutes walk from Notre Dame and a 20 minute walk to my office in the Jardin des Plantes. I’ll be posting more stories about settling in to Paris but if you want a closer look at the day-to-day adventures and faux pas of becoming Parisians, check out her new blog “Practice Makes Parfait.”


À Paris… Ahh, Paris

If you read that as “In Paris…. <wistful sigh> Paris” then we’re on the same page. I’ve left Paris but in many ways, reluctantly. Lucky my flight was going to bring me to the Greek islands or I think I’d have stayed.

My stay in Paris was very productive! Lots of meeting new people, talking about lizards, and hearing about the cool functional ecology research happening at CNRS. One of the things that always makes me happy coming to Europe is sitting down to a meal with a group of friends and listening to the conversation flit through half a dozen languages. I tried to keep up with a German conversation by contributing a hearty “dah” only to realize (with some embarrassment) that I’d missed Germany and brought us to Russia. (For future reference “ja” would have been more germane).

I also got to give a short talk about my research to the lab in this awesome room:

photo 2It’s “only a couple hundred years old.”

My talk was followed by about a dozen impressive talks from the MS students in the working group. Many were in French, and my french needs work, but it was very cool to see the breadth of research being done spanning fossilized boar ankles to coelacanth flipper frequencies!

Also, this super neat diorama was in the room. I had to share it:

photo 1And now I’m in Athens and it’s time to get to work!


Hi Everyone,

I’m safe and sound in Naxos. I haven’t actually slept yet; I had meetings all afternoon, but have a stated bedtime of 9:00 pm tonight. I was last solidly asleep Sunday at 6 am… someone else is going to have to do to the math for me. Whatever the count, I’m afraid I’m not going to be super articulate. Still, I want to post some pictures of the Paris trip before too much time elapses.

Remember, the point of the Paris layover was to meet up with Dr. Anthony Herrel so I could borrow his bite force meter (I promise to show you how it works soon!) After hiking around Charles de Gaulle looking for a spot to store a bit of my luggage, I took a couple of different trains and ended up on the Rue Buffon at the Musée d’Anatomie Comparée. Here’s the beautiful old front door. ImageThe building is right next to the Jardin des Plantes and so after a great talk with Anthony I went for a really nice walk through the gardens:ImageAnd saw a statue of Lamarck!ImageAfter that was a quick walk down to Notre Dame:Image


Did you know it’s the 850th anniversary of Notre Dame?! That’s pretty awesome! It was my first time in Paris so beginning to see the sights was really exciting. I’m looking forward to going back later this summer for work, and hopefully a bit more sightseeing.

Oh, and finally, this:


I really like Paris, had a great meeting with Anthony, and made it back to the airport in time for my flight to Athens. All in all, a terrific day!


I can hardly believe how quickly time has flown by. I’m now three days away from departing for Greece for the summer! My lists are starting to get shorter, and soon I hope to start checking things off for good soon. Most of the logistical preparations are made though, so here’s a quick summary of my itinerary to get out to Naxos so you can follow along: 

8:15 AM Amtrak from New Haven to Newark Airport
3:50 PM Flight to Montreal and then Paris, landing at 8:30 AM on Monday.

Meeting with Dr. Anthony Herrel near the Jardin des Plantes in central Paris. There I’m going to learn how to use the bite force meter I’ll be borrowing for the summer. 
9:20 PM Flight from Paris to Athens, landing at 1:35 AM on Tuesday. 

After the flight I should have plenty of time to collect baggage and head to the metro which starts running at 5:00 AM. I’ll take the metro to the 7:30 AM Ferry in Piraeus which will get me to Naxos at 1:30 PM on Tuesday the 30th.

At which time I’ll promptly collapse and fall asleep until Wednesday.

It will be a long trip but I’m extremely excited. I’ll make sure to at least update you once I get there but I’ll likely take a few packing pictures to post as well. 

Hurrah for adventures!

My new copilot

Well, navigating Europe by myself is a challenge but I’m getting a bit better about it. I no longer spread out the map across the entire front seats and dashboard:


Instead I have the aid of this fellow sitting next to me:


In all seriousness, this is a post about making things work in the field. After all of my chargers were stolen, I was without power for my phone and true copilot. I was able to find (in the basement of a small electronics store in small town Italy) a cigarette lighter charger but it was cheap and had a hyperactive spring mechanism resulting in the whole thing popping out of the console unpredictably. That just wasn’t going to do. So, I bought two childrens pair of goggles tied the straps to the underbelly of the dashboard, cut a hole in the goggle so it sits against the charger, not the wire and voila! It works perfectly!


I’m headed to Italy tomorrow and while I’ve a touch of pride that I’ve navigated France entirely from paper maps, best guesses and dumb luck, I’ll be happy to have my phone back shouting orders to me!


As I was walking back to my tent last night after brushing my teeth I heard a colossal insect crash land behind me and knew I was in for a treat. It wasn’t too hard to find this guy, he was about 2 inches long! He was very strong and a bit hard to hold on to until I grabbed him by the horn, out of reach of his legs. According to the Internet his name is Oryctes nasicornis. I set him free again but he sure was neat.



Lizarding in France

Lest anyone forget I’m here to work and I’ve been busy! Yes I post about the fun but I’m also doing a lot of reading, writing and brainstorming! Today I went to the “Parc Régional de Camargue” at the southern outlet of the Rhône river. It’s a beautiful delta with lots of islands and some of it, from pictures, resembled the Mediterranean scrub habitats I’m looking for, so I drove around giving it a look.

I was navigating for a while based upon a drawn cartoony map of the park. While good for place names it was lousy for actual directions. On my first attempt, I overshot the park and ended up at a beach. Well, let me be more specific. It was actually a several mile long stretch of sand dune filled with people in campers, tents, RVs, even makeshift shacks all partying on the beach… On a Sunday morning. The pictures don’t do it justice but there were hundreds of RVs parked along this stretch and thousands of people out and about including one person getting around on a kite-propelled dune buggy.



I pulled myself away though it did look fun and found my way to the park. Much to my surprise many of the islands I saw from the map are actually used as rice paddies and in some parts salt- farming.

The red isn’t actually pollution, it’s microorganisms that are giving the many flamingos in the area their pink color!

Undaunted by the less than ideal conditions I went to the nature station. It was really nice with dioramas inside and trails with bird blinds out.

Bird blind.

The nature station.

One of the trails.

I saw two of these guys, larger than housecats!

As you can tell from the pictures, this area isn’t going to it the bill for my research though after several hours of looking I did find two new species for me! One, the ocellated lizard was almost a foot long (including the tail!). I’ll show you pictures when I get them uploaded. He was too fast for my iPhone.

All in all the park is a great spot for avian herpetofauna, but, much to my dismay, likely isn’t going to be what I want for my dissertation. I’ll just have to come back with a birder in tow for a visit!