Field Parasitology

Offered at the Cedar Point Biological Station, summer session (see CPBS link). The following description pertains to the course as it was offered from 1976 through 2010. It is now taught by Dr. Scott Gardner, Curator of Parasitology at the University of Nebraska State Museum.

Field Parasitology (BioSci 487/887) is a 3-week course taught at the Cedar Point Biological Station usually during various parts of the summer, depending on the year. In this course we study parasite population and community structure, life cycles, and taxonomy. The course is designed to provide students with a broad exposure not only to the methods of collection, preservation, and identification of parasites, data collection and analysis, and presentation of results, but also to the ecology of infectious organisms. Every student does an independent research project (see the "papers presented . . ." below). Field Parasitology is available for both graduate and undergraduate credit. In recent years, the course has filled by the end of January, so act early, contact the Cedar Point office [(402) 472-5977; 101B Manter Hall] in the fall if you're interested in joining other students at CPBS for another exciting summer. (See links at the bottom of this page for more details about course characteristics, policies, and requirements, as well as the student projects presented at the end-of-the-session symposium.)


My objective:

My objective in Field Parasitology is to demonstrate to students, through personal experience, the difference between reading about organisms and actually generating knowledge through original study of those same organisms in their natural environment. If I accomplish this objective, students end up with a much deeper understanding of biology, how it is practiced, how its information is produced, than prior to attending CPBS. In a typical day, we start with a practical quiz, based on the previous day's work, then go to the field in order to collect the materials for the particular exercise being done. Within a five week session, we will do class exercises on life cycles, parasite distributions, host specificity, and vector biology.

The worst things about this course?

(1) It takes a reasonable amount of work, including physical labor; and (2) we get wet and dirty.

The best things about this course?

Damselflies, dragonflies, termites, flies, snails, leeches, fish, tapeworms, gregarines, trematodes, monogenes, nematodes, acanths, frogs, toads, turtles, road kills, statistics, daily video quizzes, daily question sets, classmates, big talk, sunsets at the rock, transferrable skills, and atmospheric conditions over the prairies. And, we get wet and dirty.

Not much else to say about Field Parasit, except for the reminder that it does fill up early, so contact the Cedar Point office as soon as possible [(402) 472-5977].

Some typical scenes from a day in Field Parasitology:

The road to Roscoe, Nebraska, and thus to a number of our class collecting sites south and east of Cedar Point and north of Paxton. This particular scene has meant anticipation-fun in the river, "metaphor walks," learning to look at the world parasitologically, lots of material to work on, late nights in the lab, heavy duty discussions-all as a result of heading out the back gate and over to the South Platte River at Roscoe, or down Highway 30 to Nevens Ranch or Cedar Creek.

Seining the South Platte River at Roscoe, prelude to an evening of monogeneans, trichodinids, neascus, and assorted other parasites. The scene is a very typical one; Field Parasitology uses the South Platte River regularly, and many students have done projects, some of them subsequently published, on parasites of small fish in this river. We're right up the river from the Thalken property; the Thalken family has been very kind to us over the years and we greatly appreciate their generosity. You can also buy a CPBS t-shirt with a picture of Salsuginus thalkeni, on it; S. thalkeni is a monogene named in honor of the Thalken family and this is the type locality.

Alaine Knipes (Teaching Assistant, 2005-2007)

Alaine is finishing the third year of her PhD program. Her research deals with the dynamics of parasite communities and her study site is a set of three tributaries of the Salt Valley Watershed north and west of Lincoln, NE. She's focusing on three species of minnows (fatheads, sand shiners, and creek chubs) and their monogene and larval trematode communities. In her "spare" time she's a violinist, snowboard enthusiast, and a distance runner, having qualified for the Boston Marathon two years ago. See Alaine's web site for an introduction.

Students collecting frogs, snails, and odonate larvae at the Nevens Ranch well tank. This is a typical scene! It's not always easy to get folks out of the water when they're having fun! Actually, this particular day we were doing an exercise on frog lung fluke life cycles, collecting various species of snails for some experimental infections. This is also the type locality for Metamera sillasenorum, a septate gregarine described by Megan Wise from the leech Helobdella triserialis; M. sillasenorum is named for the Sillasen family, owners of Nevens Ranch, who have been very generous with CPBS students and researchers for many years.

Evenings in the lab. Field Parasitology meets five full days a week. Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be rather long days in which we try to illustrate some principle of parasitism, maybe complete some life cycle steps, prepare specimens, and do data analysis. Wednesdays and Thursdays tend to be spent on collections and smaller class exercises. Dissections, microscope work, data gathering and analysis, and student presentations often run late into the evening, especially Monday through Wednesday. Cedar Point has an excellent set of microscopes, and we videotape most of what we find; the next day's quiz is based on this tape.


Papers presented at the 2002 Field Parasitology Student Symposium

Papers presented at the 2003 Field Parasitology Student Symposium

Papers presented at the 2004 Field Parasitology Student Symposium

Papers presented at the 2007 Field Parasitology Student Symposium

Papers presented at the 2008 Field Parasitology Student Symposium

Letter to students about Field Parasitology

How to envision this course

Course policies

Course requirements

List of common parasites found around Cedar Point (as *.htm file)

Teaching in Eden PowerPoint show (as *.pdf file)

Field Parasitology manual (as *.pdf file)

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