Friday: Kindergarten continued to observe the caterpillars today and worked through a project-related math game in which each child marked a path for the space shuttle to fly to the ISS. The game was played on a graph and pathways were created by marking boxes corresponding to consecutive rolls of a die. New information was posted on the project information board about the STS-129 mission. Temperatures remain steady throughout the day at 70 degrees F and 20 degrees C in the classroom.
Saturday afternoon: In two rearing boxes, I observed two caterpillars unusually dark and splotchy; others in the same boxes are still brightly colored and stripes are visible. In the same two boxes, caterpillars are slightly smaller and thinner and there is little frass on the bottom. In two other rearing boxes, caterpillars are brightly colored and their stripes are visible. They are slightly larger and a bit more active than the others. There is more frass in the bottom of these two containers but truthfully, not what I've been expecting.
I am concerned by the observations made today. Something doesn't seem right. I have seen caterpillars become discolored like this a few times during the summer when I've hand-raised caterpillars collected from the wild. I've seen the same thing happen a few times with caterpillars I've ordered from Monarch Watch. Caterpillars that I've seen with this same kind of splotchy discoloration have died prior to the chrysalis stage.
Indeed, I am concerned by the discoloration of two of the caterpillars. I am even more concerned about the slow growth of the caterpillars as evidenced by skinny caterpillar bodies and frass that doesn't seem much bigger than it was on Day 2.
I am wondering if there is a problem with food, light, temperature, or humidity and wonder if in some way we've gone astray in meeting the needs of these gentle, fragile creatures even though we are doing our best to follow the Monarchs In Space Plan B guide.
I wonder what information I can find on the Monarchs In Space forum that would help me sort out my concerns at this time and help me figure out what to do next. I feel a bit helpless.
If the problem is somehow food related, one ray of hope remains: we've had an unusually warm fall here in southeastern Pennsylvania and several stalks of milkweed still sport fairly fresh green leaves. If needed we could introduce fresh milkweed to the caterpillars.
I'll think it over tonight.