Friday, April 24, 2009

It's All About The Parasitoids

The first photo here was taken by scientist Mark Fox who has been helping our team identify caterpillars and other insects. He has a great camera and was able to photograph this tulip tree beauty caterpillar which is only a few millimeters long. 
Some of the caterpillars are so tiny we need a microscope to see their features clearly.

One crew did "zoo" duty today which meant going through all the bags of caterpillars, cleaning out the frass, looking for pupating caterpillars, or dead ones, and logging any new information on the database. 
We were amazed to find one of the tulip tree beauty caterpillars had parasitoids! Another insect had laid its eggs in or on the caterpillar, and the photo below shows the larvae of that insect emerging from the caterpillar. Most likely they are wasp or fly larvae and they are using the caterpillar's body for nourishment. This won't end well for the caterpillar!  This kind of activity is exactly what the scientists are looking for, so it is important to log that information into the computer.

Here is an amazing picture of frass. The caterpillar that produces this frass has a star shaped anus which makes the frass look the way it does. I never imagined I would learn such detailed caterpillar information. 

I have one more day in the field tomorrow and we all hope to see an alligator - From a safe distance. I have had my fill of the dangerous creatures here in Louisiana, especially the fire ants. I accidentally stepped into a nest of them on Tuesday, then today I sat on a tree stump full of them. Ouch! They are called fire ants for a reason. 
I can't wait to get back to school so that we can set up our own survey teams and find out about the flora and fauna on the grounds of Maple Hill! 


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