Gossamer Tapestry

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

Monday, September 29, 2008

Something You've Never Seen Before

Folks who have been reading my blog for a while know of my struggles with trying to rear an endangered species of butterfly called the swamp metalmark. Last year, our lab managed to keep caterpillars alive all winter long. For some reason, they just never wanted to complete their life cycle and died before pupating. To date, I have only succeeded in bringing one male all the way from egg to adult. All but two of my larvae have died prior to pupation.

This year, I decided not to try to fight nature. We collected gravid females in July. We would rear them up until the end of the growing season, then place them outside to overwinter. The day length and cold temperatures would allow their biological clocks to do whatever they needed to, and we'd complete the life cycle next year.

This swamp metalmark caterpillar will pupate in the next day or two.

About a week and a half ago, Vincent informed me that some of the caterpillars were putting on a significant growth spurt. A couple even pupated. As of today, we have a dozen pupae, and the majority of the individuals in the lab will pupate in the next day or two. I have been unable to locate a photo of a pupa of this species. Here is one that I took this morning:

We will do what we can to try to get them to mate in the lab. If they do this, we already know that we can get them to lay eggs in the lab. We will rear them up to their normal stage for diapause (hibernation) and then place them outside. I have no idea what is going to happen here. A lot can still go wrong. The best possible outcome is that we get a significantly expanded number of eggs and larvae to work with. One thing is for sure- I've just about given up trying to anticipate how the species is going to behave.

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At 23:36, Blogger Ur-spo said...

is there such a thing as butterfly compatibility?
I would hate to discover your 'Adam and Eve' dont mate simply because they don't find each other "attractive"?

At 13:09, Blogger robin andrea said...

This is an incredibly exciting development. I look forward to updates.

At 17:49, Blogger Lemuel said...

Best wishes that this time it all succeeds! Keep us posted.

At 19:40, Blogger cedrorum said...

Sweet! I hope this runs its full course. Your photo taking skills are still improving. That close up is great.

At 07:52, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Spo- Mate selection is a significant factor in population dynamics. I'm not too worried about that here (assuming things continue to progress well). We should have a reasonably large number of adults to pair off.

Robin and Lem- Thanks. I don't want to get too confident yet. There are still things that can go wrong. This has been a difficult one so far. I'll feel like I'm holding my breath for the next couple of weeks.

cedrorum- Thanks. In this particular case, I think that the improvements are due more to the new camera (which rocks) than to my photographic skills. I was pretty pleased with the chrysalis photo.

At 08:25, Blogger H Oh said...

Maybe they have to have perfume from cow patties to attract each other?

Or maybe they have fetishes?

I just can't imagine.


Good luck with it! I know you'll be so proud when it works out!

At 13:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope all goes well Doug.

At 22:15, Anonymous jimbo said...

It's a Light Brown Apple Moth!!! Kill it!!!
>; )

At 01:26, Blogger Gallicissa said...

Very interesting. Good to hear another success story. This title reminded me of George Carlin who did a stand up on a similar theme.

At 16:57, Blogger BentonQuest said...

I am guessing that cigars would still be premature.

At 17:32, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Doug, I wish you great success. I hope you can learn what you need to know to make this endevor successful! Amazing photos! BTW, I was seeing all kinds of butterflies in the wash this morning and I thought of you right away. I didn't have my camrea along, however. I was taking a mental break. I just needed some nature!

At 16:50, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Heather- I'm sure it's the fetishes.

Roy- Thanks. I'll be nervous about it until it's over.

Jimbo- No need. We'll just break out the black helicopters and spray pheromones over a major metropolitan area full of environmental activists.

Gallicissa- Actually, I was going for more of a Month Python effect- "And Now for Something Completely Different"

Ben- Yes. I will not relax about his until we succeed in ggetting a large number of individuals for field release.

Kathie - Thanks. This is feeling like out breakthrough year. I'm not quite ready to celebrate, but cautiously optimistic.


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