Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009 Day 7

Sunday: I've decided to remove the two discolored caterpillars from the rearing boxes and to give them a box of their own with milkweed leaves. At 3:00 pm. I fed them four milkweed leaves that I cleaned with 10% bleach solution. They are in a rearing box set-up that I have used successfully for many years. I placed the leaves gently on top of the caterpillars. Immediately they became active. One began eating within the first minute, the second began eating within the first 5 minutes. At the present time they are resting.

I am now thinking that before we introduce milkweed to the other containers, perhaps we should adjust the temperature. During the day, we've been able to keep the temperature at 70 degrees in the classroom. At night, it has most likely been 68 degrees. If we brought the temperature up to the mid-seventies, perhaps we will observe some change in the caterpillars' level of activity and interest in the food. Changing the temperature is something we can do without altering the Plan B set-up.

November 20-21 2009 Day 5 and Day 6

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.