One of my main research areas is the interplay of anatomy and biomechanics to understand how these aspects ultimately drive animal behavior. Most of my work centers on the wonderful world of amphibians and non-avian reptiles, but some of my students have also looked at fish, mammals, and those super annoying mammals, humans. Below are some of the highlighted projects currently being worked on in the lab.
My interest in this system is the ability of these salamanders to propel themselves into the air. Unlike most jumpers, plethodontid salamanders don’t possess large hindlimbs suited for this task. Instead, it appears that these salamanders bend and rapidly straighten their torso, providing the momentum required for the jump. After originally describing this behavior, I’m interested in seeing (using EMG) how the axial musculature powers this ability, as well the role the hind limbs do play in this matter.
Currently, I’m collaborating with Dr. Lisa Whitenack at Allegheny College, and Anthony Hessel, a former undergraduate at Allegheny now completing his PhD at Northern Arizona University, which has resulted in several publications on the comparative mechanics of jumping as well as how the tail functions during jumping.
As part of the NH-INBRE program, we acquired ten baby ball pythons to see how body condition changed with time. Like any good researcher with a high-speed camera, we filmed them striking. This turned into Weimin’s first paper, in the Journal of Experimental Zoology, with the cover! Describing the kinematics of striking in the little ball pythons in their first 6 months of life, we found that they move just as fast as all the big names in snake striking, despite their small size. We look forward to seeing if this changes as they grow.