Friday, April 30, 2010

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Final Days then Home Sweet Home!

On Friday, one team went out to accomplish three plots accessed by kayaks. I remained at the bunkhouse to complete zoo and then was lucky to head out to Honey Island Swamp to gather caterpillars on a plot. The water had subsided finally but the plot we landed on had limited life. My guess, most life diminished in the flooding waters.  I believe we found approximately 15 caterpillars from our plot. In our plot, we also accessed the plant life by calculating the number of leaves on every piece of vegetation.  As you can imagine, this can take quite a bit of time.  (by the way, this is done on EVERY plot) On this plot, we found a large population of Chinese Tallow.  Scientist Mark had us assess the number of leaves on each plant, then pull it out to remove it.  His rationale was because it causes the soil to be toxic and kill other plants around it.  Additionally, only one type of leaf rolling/curling caterpillar has been identified as eating this vegetation. Rebecca is doing an additional project on this topic, so our find was exciting!

On Saturday, the team came together to clean our bunkhouse at Pearl River Wildlife Management Area and pack up our gear.  We headed back to the Park View Guest House, unloaded and were back to work in the science lab at Tulane University.  We set up the "zoo" and hung all the bags as well as entering all the collections from Friday.

On Sunday, we met again at the lab for a final zoo analysis. We also entered all the plant analysis for the plots into the database.  We said our farewells to the captured larva and headed out for some sight seeing.  A few of us went to Jazz Fest, while others headed to the French Market for shopping.  We ended the day with a late-night dinner at Ninja, a sushi bar.

On Monday, I headed home and arrived safely, after an uneventful flight. It is exciting to share my newly gained knowledge and my mind is filled with so much information, it is really boggling.  My class will be sharing the blog during our school's Science Night.  

Below was received from Lead Investigator, Rebecca Hazen:
During our 7 days in the field last week, we:

-collected 513 caterpillars from 13 families in plots and general collections.

-reared 19 parasitoids (and many more are likely to be on the way!...)

-completed assessments for 10 plots, which translates to estimating 2,033,790 leaves from 785 square meters of bottomland hardwood forest and Cypress-Tupelo Swamp.

Are you interested in learning more?  A fellow team member, Ms. Liz Coleman, shared the following site, which offers great information.  Butterfly School

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More From The Zoo

Today I was scheduled for the zoo in the morning and kayaking in the afternoon, however the morning crew ended up staying longer and did not return until too late for us to go.  It was good though, because I worked in the "zoo" all day.  It is a time consuming endeavor.  You have to often take a lot of time to find caterpillars because they are so small.  Some are the size of a grain of rice or maybe smaller. Some are leaf rollers and hide in a rolled up leaf.  Some are leaf folders and they fold a leaf and seal it with their silk.  Many are masters of disguise.  Lots mimic parts of the plants they eat, so it is quite the challenge. We had several pupate and a few not survive.  Today was the first day that a "baby" went into adulthood as a moth.  The unusual part was we put him in the freezer to preserve him for studying.  It seems ironic to raise them then once they emerge, to end their lives.  

In the zoo today, we also found a geometridae who had pupae from a wasp.  They were emerging from his flesh in preparation to pupate.  Below you'll see a video where you can witness the caterpillar with what looks like 10 small eggs.  These are the larvae of the wasp (a parasitoid).

My class ask the following: "The students want to know if you know the names of all of them. We don't know all the names.  Some we only know the species. 

Do caterpillars eat other insects or only plants? They are herbivores.  Do you know what that means?

Can certain poisonious caterpillars hurt predators with their poison?  Only if the predator eats it. For example, the monarch caterpillar eats milkweed which is toxic to humans, birds and other animals. So if a bird eats it, they get very ill and learn never to eat it again.  Funny, but the viceroy mimics the looks of a monarch, but doesn't eat the milkweed, so he isn't poisonous, but because he looks like the monarch, predators stay clear!  Pretty sneaky, huh?

Have you found any caterpillars with spines yet? We have found lots of the buck moth which have spines that sting.

Head horns? No, we haven't.

Knobs? We found some filament bearers that have hydrostatic projections that use hydrostatic pressure for movement.

Split tail? We have not found any split tails either. 

Have you found any caterpillars in their pupa stage? Yes, we found several and today, like I said above, a month emerged from one of them!

Is your first caterpillar a pupa yet? YES!!! He was successful! I am interested in seeing if he makes it to adulthood as a definite tussock moth.

What is your job today? Are you still a zoo keeper or something else. I was a zoo keep again. I really like this job and was told by the lead scientist that it is a job that has to be done and as important as heading out to the field, though not as glamourous. Not everyone likes the zoo. I enjoying investigating progression.

Me swinging through the swamp (Ok, not really!) 

I'm am officially in love with this little guy!  He was the most curious, active little stinker around. Can you see his gorgeous hair? I really wanted to take him home, but like puppies, they grow up, well actually they go through metamorphosis. 


Below is a short video of the zoo process.  It is funny, at least to me, because I'm explaining how the process works and as I'm doing it, I realize there is a mistake. Ms. Coleman, who has been pretending to be the "Caterpillar Hunter" calls it the "caterpillar ooops."  



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life in a Zippered Bag

Me heading into Honey Island Swamp on Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Today I was a zookeeper again assisting other teachers with frass removal and determining if there was life cycle changes.  We have successfully captured at least 23 species or more. 

Here are a few pictures of caterpillars we are rearing that have been caught by the team over the past several days. See if you can identify them.

This pair was a surprise!  Someone found the larger one, but while doing "zoo" we discovered that another smaller one was in there!

Can you research and find out what instar means?  Hint: The above are two different instars.

This is one we haven't identified yet.  We thought he looked like a tiny gummy worm, so Rebecca nicknamed him "Yummy Gummy."  Of course, this is not a scientific term or his scientific name, but we try to have fun in the hot swamp.

This fuzzy guy was a blast. I think I might have "played" with him for at least 3o minutes.  He was very active crawling around.  I was just so fascinated by him.

Well, that's all for now.  Mrs. Duff's are not quite a caterpillar hunter yet.  Your identification skills need to be refined. However, don't feel bad, so do mine! :o)  Wait until you see how big the book is and you'll be amazed to find out that every species is not listed!  Keep trying. I'll let you know if you are correct in identifying them.  

By the way, I know one question was asked today about caterpillars biting.  They have very strong jaws but are not vicious.  They are actually very docile.  They can sting or the hairs can stick into your skin and irritate you.  Some people have had allergic reactions to the stings. 

Don't forget to write questions in the comments daily.  I appreciate Noah, Cali and Camden writing on their own.  It is exciting to hear from you all.  I wish I could have heard you on the call today.  Maybe we can try again on Thursday and Friday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kayaking on Honey Island Swamp

Today was an extraordinary adventure.  As you can see, we headed out in the field on kayaks for another plot search.  We marked off a 10 meter diameter area and searched for EVERY caterpillar we could find. Today 3 of us searched the plot while two made a vegetation assessment.  We searched for approximately 3 + hours.  The good news was I only saw a few small spiders and was only alarmed once while in the kayak (a spider dropped down from its web right in front of my face! I nearly tipped my kayak!) After searching with our eyes, we used "beat sheets" to hit down caterpillars and other life (yes, spiders too!)  I really loved doing this. :o)  We found unusual species that we were unable to identify, so far.  

You might be wondering why we're searching for caterpillars or what's the purpose of this research.  Yesterday, we were visited by Dr. Lee Dyer who is the chief investigator of this project.  As he explained in a lecture, we are studying the effects of weather on the population of caterpillars and the diversity of plant life and their relationship to parasitoids.  

Most people have heard of parasites, but we're actually looking for parasitoids which are different.  The difference between a parasitoid and a parasite is that a parasitoid kills their host in one generation. For example, if a wasp were to lay its eggs in a caterpillar, the eggs would hatch, but the caterpillar would not survive. The wasp is the parasitoid because only one life cycle of the wasp would come from killing the caterpillar.  A parasite lives in its host but does not kill the host.

Watch this video from our lead scientist, Rebecca Hazen for further information about the research:


Challenge 1:

Can you identify this caterpillar?

The picture shows a caterpillar from the psychidae family, commonly known as the bagworm. How or why do you think he got his name? 

Challenge 2
Here is another caterpillar we found in the field in the geometridae family.  They are also called "loopers" or "inchworms" since they make a distinctive loop shape when moving. (So inch worms aren't actually worms) The one in the picture looks normal, but watch this video of another geometridae that probably won't live too much longer.


Challenge 3

Please write these vocabulary words in your journal: frass, pupate, larvae, chrysalis, parasitoid, parasite, oscillation, aggregate.  Draw a picture to illustrate each if possible.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Zoo Keeper in the making

This is our daily schedule. As you see, we have a very busy day and it is often adjusted to accommodate the needs of the day. Each day, our lead scientists post what we will be doing.  

Today, I was a "zoo keeper"  and part of the "Z
oo Crew." As you know, we store the cap
tured caterpillars in plastic bags and hang them on a plastic rack 
as seen here.

Duties of a zoo keeper incl
ude identify any life stage changes. In other words, looking for larvae changing from a caterpillar to pupa. Additionally, we clean out all the frass 
from each bag!
  It is amazing on how much these little guys excrete. 

This morning, I woke up and checked on the first caterpillar I
 had found. I panicked because I noticed it was not moving a
nd had a small amount of white fuzzy stuff. I quickly called one of the other ecologist, Mark Fox, over and asked what he thought was going on.  He said, to my surprise, that it was pupating!  Over the day, he progressed further.  I cannot remove him to take a clear picture, but this is the same caterpillar attached to the side of the bag.  At this time, it is nearly enclosed in a cocoon and barely visible. It was amazi
ng to witness the progress as the day went on. 

Mystery Photo

Challenge: Can you identify the caterpillar above?  Post your answer in the comments after conducting your research.  

                                    Mystery Bag

What do you think is in the bottom of this bag?  Hint: 
Think of a new scientific term you recently learned about! :o)

First Day Jitters-Me preparing for the first day in the field posing in front of the bunkhouse. Stylish, I might add!


Dance of the Caterpillar


Video from our expedition on Sunday. Write in your journal about why you think they are "dancing."