Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cautiously Optimistic

Last October, my lab experienced severe technical difficulties with our butterfly breeding for conservation. This year, we have revamped our efforts considerably. One of the main changes has been to become totally paranoid about lab hygiene. In July, we brought a half dozen silver-bordered fritillary females into the lab and got hundreds of eggs. As of this writing, we have over 400 caterpillars. Pupation has begun- I just counted 43 chrysalides. We are far ahead of where we were last year when disaster struck.

Our new breeding lab. This is about 1/3 of our stock.
Each cup contains 2 silver-bordered fritillary caterpillars

Over the next several weeks, adults will begin emerging from the chrysalides. I will be taking the adults to a site in McHenry County for release. If all goes well, I will also hold back about 50 chrysalides and start an additional generation. We will attempt a release on at least one more site if we have enough offspring (which shouldn’t be a problem). The sites where we will be releasing butterflies are sites where management and ecological restoration have been happening, but where the butterfly is not currently found. The goal here is to establish new populations on each of these sites.

Silver-bordered fritillary larva on host plant (violet).
This is a mature caterpillar that should pupate in the next day or two.

If that weren’t enough, we now also have about 100 swamp metalmark caterpillars in the lab. This species is more delicate, and more difficult to work with. Unlike the silver-bordered fritillary, there is but a single generation per year. The caterpillars that are hatching right now will not become butterflies until next summer. Carrying them over the winter will be a challenge, but will be worth the effort. That species is critically endangered.

Vincent moving newly hatched swamp metalmark caterpillars onto host plant (swamp thistle). He's wearing magnifying glasses because the larvae are so tiny.

Over the rest of the summer, we hope to bring two additional species of butterflies into the lab, with the goal of starting new populations of them, as well.

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At 19:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last year I sat and watched a horned tomato worm eat tomato leaves and I was so entertained with him.
This process is amazing and I am so jealous of you. I would love to watch them eat and transform. It's such a magical thing!! I wish you lots of luck!!

At 21:20, Blogger robin andrea said...

So what are you doing to make the lab particularly agreeable for the metalmark and fritillary? Whatever it is, I hope it works well, and there is an abundance of butterfly life there.

At 07:29, Anonymous rcwbiologist said...

Congratulations on the success so far. I hope you carry all the metalmarks over to next summer.

At 08:05, Blogger DAVE said...

It seems like there are many good things happening in McHenry County. I hope your new transplants flourish! Is there a particular plant they prefer? Maybe you could deliver any "extras" to Cook County!

At 18:49, Anonymous Mark H said...

Thanks for an inside peek at your world, Dr. T! It always astounds me how much WE have thrown the natural world into chaos with our overpopulation and destruction. I am grateful there ARE scientists drawn to the work you do. And here I am grateful I've restored ladybugs to my garden. How shallow am I? **PS: HOW DID THE PICKLING GO?

At 15:24, Blogger Rodger said...

I'm looking forward to the post that says the metalmarks are emerging and will soon be released. You're doing admirable work Doug.

At 15:06, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me know when you're hiring.

At 11:32, Blogger BentonQuest said...

At the risk of jinxing the whole thing, I will be expecting a couple hundred cigars in the near future! ;-)


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