Posted by: csdailyblog | February 8, 2011

Painted Lady Larvae Move into the Science Labs

Last week, Science Teachers Robert Eady and Andrew Milbauer introduced students to their very own brood of newborn Painted Lady larva.

Science Teacher Robert Eady explains the care and feeding of Painted Lady larvae to students Bree, Elaine, Rachel, and Jon.

In class on Friday, each student carefully picked up a tiny larva with a small paintbrush (the bristles are so soft they won’t damage the larva) and placed it into a small plastic vial filled with artificial caterpillar food. As you can see from the photographs, the students took the job seriously and transferred their little charges with the utmost care. What you see in the photographs: first, students listen to the science teachers explain how to handle the larvae, then the students transfer larva food to their individual cups, next they pick up the larvae with paintbrushes and move them into the cups, and finally they each close and label their individual caterpillar habitat.

James, Katie, Koty, and Jon use tongue depressors to scoop out a small amount of caterpillar food to place in their own individual containers.

When I took these photos on Friday, the larvae were at the very most a half-inch long — probably less. Today, I’ve been told, they are already three times that big. One of the fun aspects of working with butterflies is how quickly the larvae mature and how noticeably they increase in size from day to day.

Painted Ladies are hardy, common butterflies that tolerate cooler conditions and therefore are excellent choices for science classrooms here in the Great White North. We of course aren’t planning on taking them outside — with the temperatures hitting -10 in the last few days, they would be caterpillar popsicles nearly instantaneously — but it does get chilly even indoors sometimes. More fragile species wouldn’t fair so well in these cooler indoor temperatures.

That's Rachel and Bree with paintbrushes in hand, each carefully picking up a tiny larva.

Ultimately, we plan to transfer the Painted Ladies into the Green Machine, our unique glass-enclosed wastewater treatment plant, where they can, we hope, happily co-exist with the tropical and temperate plants that grow there. It’s an experiment, so we’ll have to wait and see how it goes!

Rose studies her larva intently after transferring it to an individual container.

Students planted fast-growing zinnias, a favorite food of butterflies, a few weeks earlier, and the zinnias are now sprouting. Eventually, when both zinnias and Painted Ladies are sufficiently mature, they will move over to the Green Machine, which is equipped with sets of tables and chairs for use as a classroom. You can read more about the butterfly science project on Science Teacher’s Andy Milbauer’s Conserve School website.

We’ll continue to follow the development of the Painted Ladies with photos and updates in the blog.

Mary Anna

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  1. […] photos were taken just a few days after the photos in this earlier blog post, and you can see that in that short period of time the caterpillars, or “instars,” have […]

  2. Speaking of the Green Machine, a) how has it been holding up to the lowered waste load; b) how did it fare over winter break?

    • The Green Machine continues to work well. Since it first went online in 2001 it has experienced a wide variety of waste loads from stretches in the summer with very few people on campus to big events that brought 100’s of people to campus. Dale Mattson, our Water Treatment Specialist, has become an expert at tuning the system to meet our needs.

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