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stynoski @

jennifer.stynoski @

Affiliations @ University of Costa Rica

• Research Professor  |  Instituto Clodomiro Picado

• Instructor and Departmental Adviser: Biostatistics  |  Escuelas de Zootecnia & Microbiología

• Instructor: Biología General (Lecture + Lab) & Ecología Molecular  |  Escuela de Biología

Other Affiliations

• Co-curator, Ambassadors of Rain exhibit  | Museos del Banco Central (Gold Museum of Costa Rica)

• Course Coordinator, Ecología Tropical y Conservación  |  Organization for Tropical Studies

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Along with Mahmood Sasa and Fabian Bonilla, I am one of three primary investigators in the Laboratory for the Investigation of Dangerous Animals (LIAP, the acronym based on lab’s name in Spanish) at the Instituto Clodomiro Picado, a research center at the University of Costa Rica. The ICP is internationally renowned for the study and production of snake antivenins, although researchers at the ICP are more generally dedicated to the study of poisons and venoms produced by everything from bacteria to lionfish. In the LIAP, we are focused on understanding the chemical ecology of many different types of venomous and poisonous animals, including snakes, scorpions, spiders, frogs, and toads.

Currently, I am primarily focused on the study of how the development of skin glands in anurans – from eggs to tadpoles to juveniles – influences the toxicity and synthesis of defensive chemicals. We are comparing developmental processes using histological, ecological, chemical, and genomic approaches in different Costa Rican toad species that vary in their degree of toxicity. PDF1 Devo series for histology

The toad gland devo project was brewed with skills and questions from both PhD work with dendrobatid poison frogs and postdoctoral work with development of ears in toads…

During my PhD, I studied the chemical ecology and behavior of the strawberry poison frog, Oophaga pumilio. It turns out that mother frogs use a combination of excellent spatial memory along with honest signals from vibrating tadpoles to decide when to feed which offspring. We also learned that mother frogs provision with defensive chemicals in the nutritive eggs that they feed to their tadpoles. In follow up studies, we learned that tadpoles start storing those maternal poisons when their glands develop right around metamorphosis and that they depend the tadpoles from some predators but not others. PDF2 PDF3 PDF4  PDF5 PDF6 PDF7

Then, during postdoctoral work in the Hoke lab at Colorado State University, I studied the evolutionary development of toad ears. For some mysterious reason, between 12 and 17 species of toads have independently lost their ears over evolutionary time, even though many of those species still use calls to communicate while attempting to reproduce. We suspect that developmental changes are behind those ear losses, so we compared development in sister species with and without ears using 3D histological models and gene expression studies. PDF8 PDF9 PDF10

To get samples we needed at different stages of development, we traveled to the field to work with Centro Jambatu in Ecuador and CDS in Oxapampa, Perú to breed species of toads with and without ears (mostly Rhinella and Atelopus).


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Ambassadors of Rain

Emisarias de la Lluvia

Along with collaborator Priscila Molina, curator of archeology at the Gold Museum in Costa Rica (Fundación Museos del Banco Central de Costa Rica), we are writing a book and developing a museum exhibit that examines representations of frogs in pre-Columbian pieces, set to debut in July 2019. We have identified lots of species and families among 400 pieces with representations of frogs. We found some great examples of different life stages, reproductive behaviors, and other characteristics that artisans from 500 BC to 1500 AD portrayed in ceramic, metals, jade, and even bone!

The book (bilingual, English and Spanish), which will be similar to the bird and feline books that have been printed by the Gold Museum in the past. It will feature sections on the biology, iconographic representations, and ethnographic stories of these globally threatened animals, and will have tons of pictures of both archeological pieces and actual animals for the reader to try and identify the traits of certain species and families of frogs and toads.  Priscila and I are looking forward to sharing what we found in the pieces stored in vaults at the Gold, Jade, and National museums in this truly interdisciplinary project.

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Women in Herpetology

In a collaboration with friends Patricia Salerno-Dominguez, Monica Paez-Vacas and Juan Manuel Guayasamín, we are looking at the representation of women as co-authors of papers published in the last couple of decades in a bunch of herpetology and ecology focused journals, both inside and outside of Latin America. The project developed as a product of a symposium that Patricia, Monica and I organized for the 11th Latin American Congress of Herpetology in Quito, Ecuador, which highlighted the career successes and challenges of about a dozen well-known female herpetologists that are from or work a lot in Latin America.


The data we have collected show some important and in some ways shocking trends regarding the representation of women in our field of study. Generally, students in biology are made up of about half female students, or even a bit more. But, as the career path continues, each phase of education from grad school, to postdoc, and finally to academic professor, the percentage of women represented drops off suddenly. As noted in the opening remarks of our symposium, we hope that our findings will offer some food for thought about the ways that we can support and promote young female researchers so that they too can make it up to senior-level positions in our field.