Hello, my name is Ms. Hegarty. Join me as I travel to New Orleans to study Climate Change and Caterpillars!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Goodbye to The Swamp

Today was the last day at the bunkhouse. Also, the last day for caterpillar plots and kayaking on the bayou. It was a great day and I tried to enjoy every moment. Tomorrow we will pack up everything we have collected and head back to New Orleans. We will take every thing back to the lab at Tulane University.


The swamp.

Swamp alligator.

A Moth Pupa. ( internet picture)

A butterfly chrysalis. (internet picture)

Answers to Questions:

* There are many differences between butterflies and moths but there are also many similarities. Draw a Venn Diagram!

* Both butterflies and moths form pupae. A butterfly pupa is called a chrysalis. A moth pupa is just a pupa! A chrysalis is more likely to be found out in the open and is camouflaged. A moth pupa is usually dark colored and the moth is more visible on the inside.

*Butterflies and moths have similar life cycles. They both hatch from eggs which become caterpillars. They both form a pupa but some moths pupate inside a cocoon which they make first. Butterflies never form a cocoon, only a pupa.

* Moths typically have hairier bodies and their antennae look like feathers.

* Butterflies appear less hairy and their antennae are clubbed or hooked at the end.

*Generally, moths are more active at night.

* Generally, butterflies are more colorful than moths.

The question about moths eating clothes was interesting.

* It is the caterpillars that eat the clothes. There are specific species of moths that are usually responsible. The research scientists say it is possible that some butterfly caterpillars could eat clothes too.

* There are a total of 9 of us working here. Six are volunteers like myself. The others are Doctorate students at Tulane University.

* I have not seen more butterflies or moths than on Grand Island but I have seen a greater variety (diversity).

Today's word: Eclose ( A butterfly will eclose from a chrysalis.)

Have a great weekend! Be good!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lots and Lots and Lots of Caterpillars

Another long day. This work is exhausting! We were up early
and began entering information into the database. Since the begining of this project, over 14,000 catrpillars have been collected. I logged in 34 today. If we do not know the species, we need to figure it out. The microscope is really helpful and we use photos and notes from the research scientists.

This caterpillar was collected on Tuesday. I think it belongs to the family Tortricidae. He is cute, don't you think?

The photo was taken using the microscope above.

These photos were also taken using the microscope. This is Agraulis vanillae, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly.

After lunch, we went to the swamp and worked on a plot. There were not many caterpillars but I did see this tree frog.

Yesterdays word tritrophic refers to three levels of eating in a food web. Producers, caterpillars and in this case, the parisatoids. A parisatoid enters the body of its host and uses its body as food. It is a bit like the movie Aliens.
Today's word: chrysalis
Warm up: What do you think is the difference between a butterfly and a moth?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can you see me now?

Today was a beautiful, warm and sunny day. It was a perfect day to do some field plots. We set out early this morning and drove to Honey Island Swamp
(N30.39269,W 89.7049). You can find the location using Google Earth. Finding the GPS location is one of the first things done when setting up the site. The field note book has the date, GPS location, elevation, plot number, and the center tree species. We completed two plots today. This took about 5 hours and there were six people working.

The location we were at has quite a lot of visible damage from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Many branches covered the forest floor. After there has been damage to the trees, it open up the canopy, allowing light to reach the ground. This allows more ground level plants to grow like brambles, vines and shrubs. It was difficult to walk through at times so we used a machete to clear a path.

This chameleon was found walking out to the plot location. Initially, he was a light , brownish green. His colored changed after he was picked up. If he was in a tree, changing color would help him hide from predators. This is a defense mechanism called camouflage. Caterpillars use a variety of ways to protect themselves from predators. Some caterpillars use mimicry, where they pretend to be something else. Some look like bird poop on a leaf, others pretend to be twigs, some copy the look of other poisonous caterpillars, even though they are not. Some caterpillars are aposematic. This means that they have bright colors or distinctive features that warn predators that they really are poisonous.

Most of the caterpillars here are not dangerous. The ones that look hairy do sting. They do not actually have a stinger like a bee or a wasp though. Their hairs are like little needles that will prick the skin and leave behind an irritating toxin. I have been told that for most people this feels like stinging nettles. Fortunately, I have not been stung yet!

Answers to Questions:

* There are not too many dangers while working down here. I worry most about fire ants and poison ivy.

* It is definitely Cajun Country. There are alligator traps and crayfish traps set by locals on the river.

* There are many insects in the swamp and on the river. I have never seen so many dragonflies. They are swarming! The mosquitoes are no worse than on GI. They seem smaller than the ones we see. There are lots of spiders, beetles and grasshopper type things. Sadly, I have not seen any ladybugs. :(

* I really do enjoy the work I am doing here. I am learning so much everyday. I am very grateful to have been chosen for this project and excited to be able to contribute to the research that is being done.

Today's word: tritrophic

Warm Up: Draw a food web that includes caterpillars.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Frass Sanitation Specialist...


This is the first alligator I saw. He was about 6ft long. The photo was taken from a bridge.

The Alabama Swamp
Photo taken while kayaking on the Pearl River.

Today was a lab work day. My first task? Cleaning out the caterpillar frass!!! Eeeuuuuwww!! Actually it was not too bad. At least the caterpillars do not run away! My next job was to identify unknown plant species that the caterpillars were found on. I enjoy doing this because I like the challenge and learning the new plant species. Some of the plants are the wild version of things we have in our backyards. For example, Ludwigia glandulosa is the wild type of Evening Primrose. That is the plant that we found the giant caterpillars (Eumorpha fasciata) on. Check out your gardens at home! To find out what the unknown plants are we used reference books and pictures from the internet. Technology is great but the books worked best. We followed the dichotomous key! It really works! My last job was to help identify caterpillar species. This can be very difficult. They all look the same to me. Using a high powered microscope helps.
Caterpillar Sorting
Thanks for all you interesting comments and questions. Here are some answers:
* I love spiders and would never kill them. I have a spider who lives in my bathroom called Boris.
* We have collected over 15o caterpillars so far.
* The weather has been sunny and warm (85 F) since the first couple days of storms.
* We keep the caterpillars until, a) they pupate, b) they get parisitized, c) they emerge as adults or d) they die. They get checked every day.
Yesterday's word: gravid It means pregnant.
Today's word: aposematic Look it up!!
Warm up question: What techniques (ways) do caterpillars use to protect themselves from
Cute 'Coon
I spotted this racoon in a tree while kayaking through the swamp.

Be good! I am looking forward to finding out about your projects!

Monday, September 27, 2010


OMG! Really, that is what I have being saying all day. I saw a caterpillar the size of a hot dog, a spider as large as my face and kayaked with a 15 foot alligator! OMG!!!!

The day started with field work. The scientists and volunteers ( there are 5 of us) drove to Honey Eye Island Swamp, about 15 min away from the bunkhouse. We put on our goofy rain boots ( mine are pink from Target!) and walked into the swamp! We learned how to collect caterpillars from a field plot. A field plot is the area being studied. For this study, the field plot is a ten meter circle. We attached a 10m. plot tape (a measured out orange string) to a tree and used that as the center a circle. The plot tape is marked at the center (5m). The plot is the circle around the tree (diameter 5 meters). In this space we searched for caterpillars. After one is found, it is put in a large ziplock. The bag is labled with 5 things: 1. Date

2. Plant species it is found on

3. The species of caterpillar

4. The estimated maturity of the caterpillar.

5. The collectors initials (JH)

Finding the caterpillars is difficult but easier than the other job- identifying and counting all the vegetation. I have to identify the plant and then count how many leaves it has then estimate how much has been eaten by insects. So there was a Red Maple in Plot 1. We estimated 30,ooo leaves! I have been told that this job will get easier the more I do it. So you see, your skills of inference and observation are very useful outside the classroom!


This spider is called a Golden Orb Weaver. It was very friendly.

This caterpillar is a White-Marked Tussock Moth. I found it today and took this picture!
Warm up question:
What do think of the plot size? (10 meters) What if was 5 meters or 2 meters? How would this affect the results?
oh, I almost forgot!! Frass is caterpillar poop!!!
Today's word is gravid. Look it up!! ( I was looking at a female Praying Mantis when I found out about this word)

Who Knew?

I did not realise how much there was to know about caterpillars! My favorite word for the day is "frass". Look it up if you get a chance. I will tell you what it means tomorrow. Did you know butterfly caterpillars form pupae (1 pupa, 2 pupae) and moth caterpillars form a pupa and then it is covered by a cocoon? About 90% of all caterpillars turn into moths. One of you asked whether it was possible to tell if a caterpillar is male or female. I asked the researchers and they said that caterpillars do not show a gender and that they basically live to eat, not reproduce. It is possible to determine the gender of a butterfly or moth. Good question!

There was an incredible thunderstorm last night. There was a lot of rain, thunder, and lightning. When I checked my rain boots this morning they were half full of water because I left them up right. Duh! After breakfast I was taught some characteristics of common caterpillars. We learned about their anatomy and coloration. I really paid attention when the researchers described and talked about the stinging caterpillars!

After breakfast, we paddled in kayaks on the Pearl River. It is part of the Pearl River Management Area near Slidell, Louisiana. It is about 35,000 acres. We paddled close to shore so we could find caterpillars in the overhanging vegetation. They are really difficult to find because they mimic leaves, twigs and the petiole (stem) of the leaf. I was very surprized when I saw a racoon staring at me from an over hanging branch!

Ok, here is the warm up question.

The research scientists are very concerned that we are trained properly. They want to make sure that we follow the correct procedures and are consistant with the way we collect the caterpillars. Why do you think this is so imprtant for their research?

Do you have any questions for me? Ask!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Post!

With less than a month before my expedition begins, it's time to start posting! I will be leaving on September 24 for New Orleans, to study climate change and caterpillars with Dr. Dyer. The school year starts tomorrow and students begin Wednesday. While this expedition is very exciting, I'm anxious to be blogging and skyping. I have not done this with classes before and am eager to make sure it works. I am currently working on lesson plans to use while I am gone. My students will be leaning about experimental design and considering what makes a good experiment. We will use some examples from Dr. Dyer's lab and field work.

Yesterday, the book I ordered from Amazon.com arrived- Caterpillars of Eastern North America , by David L. Wagner. The variety of colors, sizes, and markings on the caterpillars are amazing. I can"t wait to see them in New Orleans!

Thursday, August 12, 2010