Professor tells of plant, animal tales

The fox, hidden in darkness, leaped several feet into the air to grab a ripe pear from the tree in the backyard of biology professor Dr. Kathleen Wood. It moved swiftly and confidently, unaware that every move was being captured on film.

The camera was one of six purchased with funds given to biology professor Dr. Cathleen Early for research. Early received approximately $13,600 last year from the Faculty Development Fund to research flora and fauna in Bell County. One of her goals is to compare and update the 1978 list of plants and animals found in Bell Country, with emphasis on terrestrial plants, birds and mammals.

Grants are given yearly to professors seeking to contribute to their field. The research in the biology department involves identifying and collecting a range of local plant and wildlife to improve the collection at the college and

This turtle, one of the many wildlife discoveries in Bell County, is displayed after it was caught.

This turtle, one of the many wildlife discoveries in Bell County, is displayed after it was caught.

benefit the community and scholars.

She is grateful to expose her students and community to one of her passions.

“It is a chance to share the skills I have,” she said. “(I) collect and quantify plants and animals, and then I get to share it with students.”

The impact of the research is spreading beyond the classrooms.

A German researcher and member of the German Cactus Society called Early asking for a photo of the Echinocereus for a book he is writing. Early pulled the plant from the specimen case – a herbarium – and got the photo and UMHB citation to the researcher.

Another of Early’s objectives is to improve and expand UMHB’s specimen collection. She used some of the grant money to purchase a new herbarium cabinet. Dr. York, namesake of the science building, began the collection in
the early 20th century.

Thanks to Early, his specimens and hundreds like it are now cataloged in online databases. Now researchers everywhere have access to UMHB resources.

All students in Early’s plant taxonomy class must submit 50 specimens of their own. She takes interesting submissions and adds them to the herbarium. Each one is documented with their names. The specimens, similar to the Echinocereus, may end up in a book one day.

Five students, including senior organismal biology major Brandon
Ray and senior chemistry major Scottie Henriquez, signed up for independent study alongside Early.

In the field, students learned how to use some of the 360 Sherman traps purchased with the grant funds. The trap is a silver metal box with a spring-loaded door. It is large enough for small mammals to enter. Once the animal is inside the trap to get the bait, the door shuts and the animal spends the night with its new-found food until it is retrieved in the morning.

Most of the animals trapped are released, but some are saved to be
added to the university’s growing skin collection.

The research Early is completing is adding UMHB to the scientific map while pleasing those involved.

Wood enjoyed having the camera on her property so much, she asked her husband to buy her one for her birthday.

“It hasn’t come in yet,” she said, with a look of excitement on her face.

Early shows no signs of slowing down as she continues to scour Bell County. The upcoming release of an updated bird list will be one of her many contributions.

Dean of the College of Sciences Dr. Darrell Watson, is impressed with the progress of the research.

“It brings recognition to the department,” he said. “There is still a lot to do.”

Author: Evan Duncan

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