KURT SCHWENK (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley)
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Connecticut
- 1.1 CONTACT INFORMATION
- 1.2 EDUCATIONAL AND PROFESSIONAL HISTORY
- 1.3 LINKS AND DOWNLOADS
- 1.4 COURSE LINKS
- 1.5 PUBLIC INFORMATION PAGE SERIES (LINKS)
- 1.6 MAJOR RESEARCH INTERESTS
- 1.7 INFORMATION FOR PROSPECTIVE GRADUATE STUDENTS
- 1.8 PUBLICATIONS
- 1.9 BOOKS:
- 1.10 EDITED COMPILATION:
- 1.11 PAPERS, BOOK CHAPTERS AND REVIEWS:
EDUCATIONAL AND PROFESSIONAL HISTORY
- 1976: Zookeeper (intern): Bronx Zoo (Herpetology)
- 1977: B.A. (high honors) Oberlin College, studied with Warren F. Walker, Jr., and Jim Stewart
- 1977-78: Zookeeper: Bronx Zoo (Mammalogy)
- 1984: Ph.D. Dept. of Zoology (now within Integrative Biology), University of California, Berkeley, with Marvalee H. Wake
- 1984-87: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Instructor in Anatomy: Dept. of Oral Anatomy (now within Oral Biology), University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry with Karen Hiiemae (deceased, 2007)
- 1987-89: NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, Lecturer on Biology: Museum of Comparative Zoology, Dept. of Organismic Biology, Harvard University with Fuzz Crompton
- 1989-present: Assistant, Associate and Full Professor: Dept. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut
- 2007-09: Chair, Division of Vertebrate Morphology (DVM), Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB)
- 2004-06: Associate Editor, Evolution
- 2006-10: Associate Editor, Journal of Comparative Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology
- 2010-2021: Editorial Board, Journal of Comparative Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology
- 2006-present: Editorial Board, Journal of Anatomy
LINKS AND DOWNLOADS
- My CV
- My Classic Works in Evolutionary Biology pages: Introduction and Annotated List
- My student guide to proper scientific citation: Faculty appearance and faculty quality: is there a connection?
- My student guide to writing: How to write real good (in preparation)
- Some of our work featured in a recent blog.
- Chuck Smith's Copperhead Institute
- My brother John Schwenk's page (follow link to view some of my father's [George Schwenk] paintings)
- Schwenk the World (too weird to explain—you have to see for yourself...)
- Winessing Evolution's Great Truths UConn PR video about me
- True Facts: Killer Tongues Hilarious Ze Frank video about our work
- EEB 3254/5254 Mammalogy
- (next offered fall 2023)
- UConn Today article about teaching outside the classroom, featuring Mammalogy
- EEB 3273 Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
- (next offered fall 2022)
- EEB 3265 Herpetology
- (next offered spring 2023)
PUBLIC INFORMATION PAGE SERIES (LINKS)
The list below represents a series of public information pages I will be creating to address commonly asked questions about biological issues—particularly issues and questions about vertebrate animals that I have direct or personal knowledge of. I have been motivated to create these pages because of running across web pages that purport to provide 'answers' to people's questions about animals, evolution and biology generally. While some of the information available on the web is reasonably accurate, I have found that most of it is misleading or downright erroneous. The 'answers' are usually written by people who, although well-intentioned, are mostly ignorant about the topics they address. In any case, the information is nearly always cobbled together from secondary and tertiary sources of information—or worse—rather than direct knowledge of the science or the primary literature on the topic. The aim of these pages, therefore, is to provide accurate, scientifically validated information on some topics in my areas of expertise that come to my attention as being of general interest. I was motivated to do this mostly because of the widespread misinformation being propagated on the web about the first question, below. Since the information used to 'answer' this question is almost always based on a distorted or misunderstood representation of my own research, it seems appropriate for me to set the record straight.
- 2. Why do snakes flick their tongues? [in preparation]
- 3. How do snakes eat? [in preparation]
- 4. How do lizards eat? [in preparation]
- 5. Can snakes hear? [in preparation]
- 6. Are Komodo dragons (and other lizards) venomous? [in preparation] Short answer—NO!
MAJOR RESEARCH INTERESTS
- Phenotypic evolution
- Evolutionary constraint
- Evolutionary and functional morphology of vertebrates
- Evolutionary and functional morphology of feeding in tetrapod vertebrates, especially lizards
- Evolutionary and functional morphology of chemoreception in lizards and snakes
- Evolutionary and functional morphology of the vertebrate tongue
My research program is three-pronged: I pursue empirical studies related to the functional and evolutionary morphology of feeding and chemoreception in squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes), and theoretical work related to evolution and constraint. Feeding and chemoreception are functionally and evolutionarily related in squamates owing to their shared use of a single, complex organ, the tongue. From a biomechanical point of view, optimization of the tongue for feeding function makes it less effective in (vomeronasal) chemoreception and vice versa. Thus, there is a classic functional (and evolutionary) trade-off between the two principal functions of the tongue. Phylogenetic character analysis reveals how each major clade of squamates has found a unique 'solution' to the problem of this trade-off. The dynamic nature of the evolutionary tension created by competing sources of selection pressure has led to my theoretical work on internal selection, functional integration, phenotypic stability and evolutionary constraint. Much of this work has been done in collaboration with Günter Wagner at Yale University. Although theoretical, the work is firmly grounded in my empirical work on squamate feeding and chemosensory systems, which have proven to be compelling model systems for approaching these broader issues.
INFORMATION FOR PROSPECTIVE GRADUATE STUDENTS[note that I am no longer accepting new graduate students]
Students in my laboratory develop their own, independent research programs under my supervision. Although I expect there to be some overlap or mutual interest in student projects, I do not require students to work in my specific research areas. Ideally students will incorporate elements of morphology, evolution and/or function into their projects. Ecological or conservation-related projects are discouraged (because they lie outside my areas of expertise), although these can be elements of a research program centered on the former topics. Although I am best able to supervise work on squamate reptiles, I am open to projects dealing with any vertebrate group. I principally do laboratory-based work, but recent graduate students have included significant field components in their research. Applications from potential doctoral students are preferred, but doing a Masters is possible in some circumstances.
The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UConn is very integrative and interactive, and there is a great deal of cross-fertilization among labs. The department comprises 30 full-time faculty, all of whom work in the general area of organismal biology. There are an additional 60+ biologists in our sister departments of Physiology and Neurobiology, and Molecular and Cell Biology - and this is not to mention a variety of wildlife biologists in the School of Agriculture, biomedical researchers in the School of Medicine, etc. Thus, there is virtually no area of expertise unavailable to students when they assemble their research advisory committees.
There are nine vertebrate biology faculty in the department (4 herpetology, 3 ornithology, 1 ichthyology, 1 mammalogy), and along with postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, they constitute a very active and interactive research group. We have informal weekly meetings called Vertlunch in which we read and critique recent papers (and laugh a lot) and every Friday at 4:00 the Schwenk and Rubega labs (and others) meet for Beermorph in which - well, it's pretty self-explanatory. For those morphologists with a developmental bent, we also have sporadic meetings of an Evo-Devo Journal Club in which we read and discuss current literature. And this is not to mention, of course, the frequent graduate seminars on various topics offered by faculty in the department, as well as weekly departmental seminars and occasional 'Tuesday Evening Seminars' run by the EEB graduate students. All-in-all, a very active place where you can be intellectually challenged and exposed to a variety of viewpoints - often while drinking at the same time.
Before applying directly to the department for admission into the graduate program, you should contact me by email and describe your research interests and goals so that we can determine if there is an appropriate match. You should also explore the departmental web page to get as much information about EEB as you can. If you have any questions at all about the department or the University, don't hesitate to email me. I can also put you in touch with current graduate students if you would like to hear about the program from their perspectives.
Students accepted into the doctoral program are guaranteed 5 years of support (mostly by means of Teaching Assistantships). Support beyond 5 years is usually possible for students making good progress, but is not guaranteed. Masters students are guaranteed 2 years of support. The support package includes a tuition waiver and full health benefits.
Email for reprints not available here as pdfs: firstname.lastname@example.org [PDF LINKS TEMPORARILY BROKEN—EMAIL REQUESTS FOR PDFs]
Schwenk, K. (editor) (2000) Feeding: Form, Function and Evolution in Tetrapod Vertebrates. Academic Press, San Diego. xv + 537 pp.
- REVIEWS Of FEEDING:
Schwenk, K., and J. M. Starck (eds.) (2005) Integrative organismal biology: papers in honor of Professor Marvalee H. Wake. Zoology 108(4):261-356. LINK [email me for a copy of the entire issue]
PAPERS, BOOK CHAPTERS AND REVIEWS:
- (names in bold are current or former students)
- (names in bold are current or former students)
Schwenk, K., A. Les, G. Mayor, M. Leal and L. Mahler (in prep.) The evolution of lingual displays in Anolis lizards.
Schwenk, K. (in prep) Evolution of the chameleon tongue, an 'organ of extreme perfection'.
Schwenk, K., E. Mounce, D. O'Donnell and T. Shaw (in prep.) Chameleon-like lingual prey prehension in generalized iguanian lizards.
Horwitz, S., K. Schwenk and W.G. Ryerson (in prep.) The kinematics of tongue-flicking in Gila monsters (Heloderma suspectum).
Filoramo, N., and K. Schwenk (in prep.) Tongue tips, tropotaxis and the mechanism of chemical delivery to the vomeronasal organs in fork-tongued squamates (Reptilia).
Ryerson, W.G., and K. Schwenk (manuscript) Why snakes flick their tongues.
Ryerson, W. G., and K. Schwenk (2022) The kinematics and functional significance of chemosensory tongue-flicking in northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon) on land, in water, and in between. Integrative and Comparative Biology (https://academic.oup.com/icb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/icb/icac077/6601462?guestAccessKey=a565971d-446f-48b5-a36e-6580b451151c)
- SOME PRE-PUBLICATION PUBLICITY ON THE TOPIC OF SNAKE AND LIZARD TONGUE-FLICKING:
- UConn Today—Snakes, Lizards, and Tongues
- UConn Magazine—Studying Snakes
- 'Super Slo-Mo Tuesdays', Daily Planet, Discovery Channel, Canada
- New Scientist, on Bill's SICB presentation on aquatic tongue-flicking in Nerodia
Phillips, J. R., Hewes, A. E., and K. Schwenk (2022) The mechanics of air-breathing in African clawed frog tadpoles, Xenopus laevis (Anura: Pipidae). Journal of Experimental Biology 225:jeb243102 (https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.243102)
Frank, H. E. R., Amato, K., Trautwein, M., Maia, P., Liman, E. R., Nichols, L. M., Schwenk, K., Breslin, P. A. S., and R. R. Dunn (2022) The evolution of sour taste. Proc. Royal Soc. B. 289:20211918 (https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.1918)
Schwenk, K. (2021) Tongue morphology in horned lizards (Phrynosomatidae: Phrynosoma) and its relationship to specialized feeding and diet. Russian J. Herp. 5:309-317.§ (https://doi.org/10.30906/1026-2296-2021-28-5-309-317)
Schwenk, K. (2021) Smelling in stereo—the real reason snakes have flickering, forked tongues. The Conversation (16 June 2021) (https://theconversation.com/smelling-in-stereo-the-real-reason-snakes-have-flicking-forked-tongues-142363)
Phillips, J. R., Hewes, A. E., and K. Schwenk (2020) The mechanics of air-breathing in gray tree frog tadpoles, Hyla versicolor LeConte 1825 (Anura: Hylidae). Journal of Experimental Biology 223(5). (https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.219311)
Schwenk, K., and J. R. Phillips (2020) Circumventing surface tension: tadpoles suck bubbles to breathe air. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 287:20192888 (https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.2704)
- SOME PRESS ON SCHWENK & PHILLIPS (2020):
- UConn Today
- UConn Daily Campus
- New Scientist
- Popular Science
- The Scientist Magazine, Image of the Day
- Seeker (seeker.com)
- Bionieuws (The Netherlands)
Schwenk, K. (2020) The snakes of East Haddam: foul and loathsome creatures? East Haddam (CT) Land Trust Nature Calendar.
Schwenk, K. (2017) Ingestive behavior. Pp. 787-814. In: APA Handbook of Comparative Psychology: Vol. 1. Basic Concepts, Methods, Neural Substrate, and Behavior. J. Call (ed.). American Psychological Association:Washington DC. [email for a pdf copy of this chapter: email@example.com]
Flores-Villela, O., C. A. Ríos-Muñoz, K. Schwenk, G. Zamudio-Varela and G. Magaña-Cota (2010) An unpublished manuscript of Alfredo Dugès related to the classification of lizards according to tongue morphology, c. 1898-1899. Archives of Natural History 37:246-254.
Smith C. F., G. W. Schuett and K. Schwenk (2010) Plasma sex sterioids and mating season in wild-living copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) at the northeastern extreme of their range. Journal of Zoology 280:362-370.
Smith C. F., G. W. Schuett, R. L. Earley, and K. Schwenk. (2009) The spatial and reproductive ecology of copperheads, Agkistrodon contortrix (Serpentes: Viperidae), at the northeastern extreme of their range. Herpetological Monographs 23:43-73.
Schwenk, K. (2008) Aristotle’s ghost. Wild River Review. October 2008. [Online reprint of Schwenk (2002)], Wild River Review home page
- SOME PRESS ON SHERBROOKE & SCHWENK (2008):
- Journal of Experimental Biology, 'Lizards incapacitate ants with mucus', by Stefan Pulver (see last page of pdf)
- ScienceNOW, 'How to eat a nasty ant', by Greg Miller LINK or pdf
- Natural History (12/08-1/09), 'How to Harvest a Harvester', by Graciela Flores
- The Daily Planet television segment, Discovery Channel (Canada). First broadcast 25 March 2009, approx. 6 min. (working on getting a clip posted)
Schwenk, K. (2008) Comparative anatomy and physiology of chemical senses in non-avian aquatic reptiles. In: Sensory Evolution on the Threshold. Adaptations in Secondarily Aquatic Vertebrates. J. G. M. Thewissen and S. Nummela (eds.). Univ. of California Press, Berkeley. Pp. 65-81.
Schwenk, K., and J. G. M. Thewissen (2008) Aquatic and semi-aquatic reptiles. In: Sensory Evolution on the Threshold. Adaptations in Secondarily Aquatic Vertebrates. J. G. M. Thewissen and S. Nummela (eds.). Univ. of California Press, Berkeley. Pp. 7-23.
Eisthen, H., and Schwenk, K. (2008) The chemical stimulus and its detection. In: Sensory Evolution on the Threshold. Adaptations in Secondarily Aquatic Vertebrates. J. G. M. Thewissen and S. Nummela (eds.). Univ. of California Press, Berkeley. Pp. 35-41.
Schwenk, K.,and M. Rubega (2005) Diversity of vertebrate feeding systems. Pp. 1-41. In: Physiological and Ecological Adaptations to Feeding in Vertebrates. J. M. Starck and T. Wang (eds.). Science Publishers, Enfield, NH.
- SOME PRESS ON SCHULP ET AL. (2005):
Schwenk, K., and G. P. Wagner (2004) The relativism of constraints on phenotypic evolution. Pp. 390-408. In: Phenotypic Integration: Studying the Ecology and Evolution of Complex Phenotypes. M. Pigliucci & K. Preston (eds.). Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.
- SOME PRESS ON SCHWENK (2002):
Nishikawa, K. C., and K. Schwenk (2001) Ingestion in amphibians and reptiles. In: Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester [doi:10.1038/npg.els.0001835] (pdf = 7 pp) LINK TO ELS SITE
Schwenk, K. (2000) The apian way: from beehives to burrows, animal building sheds new light on biology. REVIEW OF: The Extended Organism. The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures, by J. Scott Turner. The New York Times Book Review, 10 Dec., p. 37. OR SEE IT ONLINE HERE
Wagner, G. P.,* and K. Schwenk* (2000) Evolutionarily Stable Configurations: functional integration and the evolution of phenotypic stability. Pp. 155-217. In: Evolutionary Biology, vol. 31. M. K. Hecht, R. J. MacIntyre & M. T. Clegg (eds.). Kluwer Academic/Plenum Press, New York. (*authorship equally shared). YOU CAN DOWNLOAD A PDF OF THIS PAPER HERE
Schwenk, K. (1998) REVIEW OF: Comparative Osteological Examinations of Geckonids, Eublepharids and Uroplatids, by V. Wellborn (translated by A. P. Russell, A. M. Bauer & A. Deufel). Herpetological Translations No. 1. Breck Bartholomew, Bibliomania, Logan, Utah. Copeia 1998:259-260.
Dial, B. E., and K. Schwenk (1996) Olfaction and predator detection in Coleonyx brevis (Squamata: Eublepharidae) with comments on the functional significance of buccal pulsing in geckos. J. Exp. Zool. 276:415-424.
Schwenk, K. (1996) REVIEW OF: Vertebrate Life, 4th ed., by F. H. Pough et al., Quart. Rev. Biol. 71:581-582.
- SOME PRESS ON SCHWENK (1994):
- RADIO INTERVIEWS
- National Public Radio (All Things Considered) (see The NPR Interviews, 1995. R. Siegel, ed.)
- BBC World News Service
- Voice of America
- CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.)
- AAAS Science Update (Mutual Radio Network)
- WFIU Radio (Indiana Univ., ‘'A Moment of Science'’)
- ABC news, New Haven, with Geoff Fox (television)
- TV Ontario (segment for children's show)
- Associated Press (newspapers throughout North America and Europe) Example:
- New Scientist
- Chronical of Higher Education
- Discover Magazine
- National Geographic Magazine
- Australia Nature
- Readers' Digest
- Omni Magazine
- Weekly Reader Magazine
- Scholastic Super Science"
- International Wildlife
- Wilson Quarterly
- Washington Post
- USA Today (front page: )
- International Herald Tribune
- Boston Globe
- Daily Telegraph (London)
- La Guardia (Spain)
- Hartford Courant
- New Haven Register''
- Manchester Journal Inquirer
- San Jose Mercury News
- Willimantic Chronicle
- College and University Dialogue (Adventist journal)
- Encyclopaedia Britanica Yearbook of Science and the Future (1995)
- Blue Genes and Polyester Plants, by S. McGrayne (1997)
- The NPR Interviews, 1995, edited by Robert Siegel (1995)
Schwenk, K. and G. C. Mayer (1991) Tongue display in anoles and its evolutionary basis. 4th Anolis Newsletter. J. Losos & G. Mayer (eds.). National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian), Division of Amphibians and Reptiles, Washington, DC.
Schwenk, K. (1989) REVIEW OF: The Evolution of Vertebrate Design, by L. B. Radinsky. American Scientist 77:84.
Schwenk, K. (1988) Comparative morphology of the lepidosaur tongue and its relevance to squamate phylogeny. In: R. Estes & G. Pregill (eds.). Phylogenetic Relationships of the Lizard Families. Stanford Univ. Press, Stanford, 569-598.
Schwenk, K. (1984) Evolutionary Morphology of the Lepidosaur Tongue. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
Schwenk, K., S. K. Sessions and D. M. Peccinini-Seale (1982) Karyotypes of the basiliscine lizards Corytophanes cristatus and Corytophanes hernandesii, with comments on the relationship between chromosomal and morphological evolution in lizards. Herpetologica 38:493-501.