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Another version of National Lampoon’s Road Trip???

So what brings me to the land of steak, the Dallas Cowboys, steak, the Rangers, and yes…more steak?  I’ve traveled from the bright lights of Tinseltown to the land of Chuck Norris to pick up the last bit of alligator samples from my 2011 field season.  Why are they in Texas you may be wondering?  I could have brought all my samples with me last year but I was asked towards the end of my field season if I could transport 120 alligator hatchlings from Louisiana to San Bernardino, CA (all legal of course) for a professor.  I just couldn’t say no!!!  But there was a dilemma- how do I fit all my samples, 2 people (including me), and 120 alligator hatchlings in my car???  Luckily, my dad was nice enough to take my Florida samples and hold onto them until I was available to come back and get them.  It was perfect timing too for a possible mean joke.  It just so happen the lake my dad lives captured a 9 foot alligator (this is a man-made lake and everyone has said for YEARS that there was no way you would ever find a gator in ’em waters!)  My step-sis who has no hesitation in displaying her fear to me of the animal I so dearly love and studied swore she would never go in the lake again.  Of course, everyone was assuring her that there was no more.  So here is me with 120 alligator hatchlings hearing about this and I had a plot going on in my head, “What if she came over and I showed her all the hatchlings, telling her I found them in a gator nest around the corner from my dad’s house?”  I never had younger siblings growing up and I thought this was my chance to act like a “big sis.”  Unfortunately, she never came over.

So here I am- now in Dallas, getting ready for the 3 day drive back to Sunny LA.  Luckily my brother was able to find some time so he’ll be driving back with me.  Funny thing is, he agreed to drive back with me without really knowing what we were transporting…

So what am I transporting?  There’s boxes of stomach tissue samples I collected in Louisiana and Florida of places in the stomach that nematodes were infecting in the gators.  I was lucky enough to get some pretty good pictures of the nematodes inside the stomach gator walls- crawling in and out.  There were times I was finding 40 + small nematodes in one of these stomach holes or craters in the gator stomach.  There were times it looked like a plant or something- It was crazy!!!!  And I was finding multiple of these “holes/craters”.  All these tissue samples I will be utilizing these samples for immunology and histology data.  I also have vials upon vials of parasites I found in Florida alligator lungs, known as pentastomids.  These parasitic arthropods can do some real damage in the gator lungs, and can possibly infect humans.  I’m trying to learn more on the life cycle of these particular parasites, as well as try to find a trend of infection amongst the different alligator populations.  This is good info for the local human population to know too since this parasite is considered a zoonotic.

It’s really these lung parasites that have brought me to Dallas- need the data to be able to finish a project I am heading amongst undergrads in my lab so we can try to submit a manuscript by the end of UCLA’s spring quarter.  It is going to be an awesome study and everyone involved is super excited!

Of course I wasn’t looking forward to the drive, but I’ll be in good company and had a nice layover in Las Vegas on my way over to Dallas.  And of course, these trips always come with some type of adventure.  I just hope it doesn’t get too crazy like a Lampoon’s vacation…

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