Hi! My name is Ms. Moore. Please join me while I travel to New Orleans to study Climate Change and Caterpillars!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Goodbye Swamp!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our Last Day Out in the Field

Today was our last day hunting for caterpillars, and it was a particularly challenging task. To reach our last plot area we waded through mucky murky ankle deep water into a thicket of mosquitoes and bamboo. I couldn't help but wonder what the alligators and snakes were up to somewhere in that swamp, and it was getting dark. Working as a team made all the difference. We worked together not only to count caterpillars and estimate vegetation and caterpillar damage to plants, but we also kept each other's spirits up. It felt very good to finish our last caterpillar hunt together.

What have we accomplished while we were here? According to the lead scientist, we helped gather and report data that will contribute to research about the effects of climate change and catastrophic weather events (such as hurricanes) on this ecosystem and others around the world. It takes a long time for one person to gather this data, so Rebecca Hazen (the project leader) was very appreciative of the plots that we counted in our time here. We contributed over 150 caterpillars for her to raise in the lab and see if the caterpillars' natural predators are fufilling their niche. (See the picture of the caterpillar on the blue background. That is a caterpillar that has parisitoids using it as a food source. This seems a bit gross as the predator grows inside the caterpillar and eats it from the inside out, but without this parisitoid doing its job, the caterpillars will overpopulate.)
How can research like this be used? One idea is that in areas where caterpillars are overpopulating and causing too much damage to the plants or to farmer's crops, for example, there may be a way to introduce the parisitoids to help stop the caterpillar problem. In order to do this, we have to understand the food web relationship between the caterpillars, plants, and paristitoids. In the years since this research began at this site in Louisiana, more than 12,000 caterpillars have been captured, recorded, and raised to see if they have parisitoids. Rebecca told me that Dr. Dyer, the lead scientist, plans to continue for many years to come to see the caterpillar-plant- parisitoid relationship over the long term.
Today, we are heading back to the biology lab at Tulane University. We will transport our interesting and unique caterpillar zoo to the lab there. We will empty the frass out of the caterpillar bags one last time, enter data into the computer, photograph the caterpillars we caught yesterday, make sure the critters have enough to eat, look at very cool stuff under the microscopes and hand lenses, and then pack up and get ready to head home. We are planning to have a little fun in New Orleans tomorrow before getting on the plane on Sunday. It is Halloween here too, you know!
It has been fun sharing this adventure you. Thank you for all of those great comments and questions. I'll see you soon! I'm looking forward to being back in the classroom. I have missed all of you, and can't wait to share more pictures and videos with you and answer your questions in person. Oh, and guess what? That elusive alligator, well.....................
Oh, and one last question. What do you think frass is? Why do we empty it out of the bags?

This was a particularly challenging day in the field. To set up our final plot area to catch our last batch of caterpillars, we had to make our way through a mucky watery swamp. It was nearly dark when we started, and I couldn't help but wonder if there were snakes and alligators nearby as we walked in muddy green water up to our ankles and higher.

3. In orde

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Some Answers to Your Intelligent Questions

It was great to see you all during our video conference today. You asked some very interesting and thought-provoking questions.

Here are a few answers. I will also have more to show you when I am back at school next week.

  • What have we seen other than caterpillars?
  • a cypress swamp - the one in the picture
  • great white egrets
  • ibises
  • pelicans
  • red-Eared Sliders - the biggest I have ever seen in the wild!
  • the armor plate of a dead armadillo - see the picture above
  • stick bugs - various sizes
  • spiders - lots and lots!
  • wild hog scat
  • deer scat
  • bumble bees - again very large ones - I think things just grow bigger in the swamplands.
  • mosquitoes - lots and lots!
  • chiggers - Well these are too little to really see, but we sure do feel them!
  • parisitoids that erupted from the stomach of a caterpillar (very gross but also quite cool)
  • a skink - a much smaller variety than our friend Tile
  • frogs - very tiny ones
  • southeastern lubber - the biggest grasshopper I have ever seen!
  • many songbirds
  • fire ants
  • lots of moths and butterflies (different sizes and colors)


There are many fascinating creatures here. Mrs. Nelson told me that some of the groups will be finished with your biome travel commercial scripts soon. When you are finished please choose some of the wetland or swampland creatures to research. Perhaps you could make a Power Point presentation of what you find out about these creatures to share with me when I get back. For example, you could find out about the songbirds of Louisiana or the invertebrates (insects) or snakes of the south. Maybe you can even find some fun music or bird songs etc. to add to your slide show.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scientists at Work in the Field

Often we think of science research and experiments as something that is done in a lab with certain equipment, computers, and microscopes. For field researchers, that is not the case as you will see throughout this post.
The type of research that we are doing does involve working in a lab, entering data into a computer, writing lab reports, and looking into microscopes at times, but the majority of this research is being done out in the ecosystem.

When we go out into the field to look for caterpillars we must, blaze a trail (sometimes through very thick undergrowth with a machete), set up a 10 meter by 10 meter plot, hunt for caterpillars, put the specimens we find into bags, and do an estimate count of the vegetation in our plot area. Think of the plot area as a 10 meter by 10 meter by 2.5 meter cylinder. The vegetation estimate is the hardest part. We use our math skills to try to estimate how many leaves are on EVERY plant in the plot area and then estimate what percent of the plants have been eaten by the caterpillars. I'll have to demonstrate how we do this when I get back to school. In the meantime, I would like you to pick a plant on our playground, the next time you are outside, and see if you can figure out a way to estimate the number of leaves on the plant.

Field work is hard work at times. Yesterday, our group spent nearly four hours in kayaks just looking for a good place to hunt caterpillars. Because of some recent flooding, we were never able to get out of the kayaks and go caterpillar hunting. We did see plenty of golden orb spiders. They kept getting on my kayak and paddles as we paddled through the swampy areas which was a bit eerie, but also very very interesting and adventurous. We were disappointed not to find any caterpillars, but that is all part of the process. (Later in the afternoon, we tried again on dry land, and found some very interesting specimens.)
Tomorrow during our video conference, I'll explain why 7 teachers from around the country have come to New Orleans to help these scientists collect and study caterpillars. I'm learning so much that I can't wait to share with you. I also have some very unusual caterpillars to show you. One thing that I have learned here is that I did not know how to look at nature very carefully before. There is a whole world of wonder out there that used to just look like trees, plants and leaves to me. Now I realize that they hide an entire little diverse world of living creatures.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Identifying a Caterpillar

I wanted you to see some of the process that we went through to identify the caterpillars. First of all, working together really helps. In this video, two teachers, Mrs. Moore (a different Mrs. Moore who is from New Hampshire) and Ms. Moser (North Carolina) worked together to identify this specimen. What you can't see is that Ms. Moser is using a caterpillar Field Guide to look up possibilities while Mrs. Moore makes observations about the caterpillar.

In case you are interested in looking at some of the caterpillars we have found, I will re-post that cool caterpillar link to Dr. Dyer's caterpillar website.


So far we have found and identified:

Arctiidae - Hyphantria cunea - (Fall Webworm)

Lycaenidae - Adoneta spinuloides - (Purple-Crested Slug - a stinging caterpillar)

Lycaenidae - Euclea delphinii - Euclea delphinii - (Spiny oak slug - a stinging caterpillar)

Hesperiidae - Urbanus proteus - (Long-Tailed Skipper - my favorite so far. It looks like it is wearing a helmet.)

We have found several others, but this will give you a start. So far, no wooly bears. Maybe tomorrow!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pictures from Sunday

Caterpillars that have been identified and are ready to go to the lab at Tulane.

Observations and Data Collection in the Field Station (bunkhouse)

Here is that lubber I told you about yesterday.

Today our job was to identify, photograph, and enter info about the caterpillars we collected yesterday into an Excel spreadsheet (much like our class did with the plants from the biodiversity study we did before I left). Another task was to identify the plants that we found the caterpillars on. This was quite complicated, and I was glad I had practiced with my fifth and sixth graders before I headed to Louisiana. The research team used many of the same skills that you all used when we identified native and non-native species last week and the week before in our classroom. We used Field Guides, the internet, and dichotomous keys. It was very challenging work that takes time and practice to learn. I think I'll be much better at it by the time the week is over. By the way, I recognized a couple of the plants from my experience at school last week. Does anyone remember what the common name for plants from the species Ilex is? We found some caterpillars on Ilex decidua in the Honey Island Swamp site yesterday.

When we collected each caterpillar, we also collected some of the plant that it was found on so that the caterpillar would have food. We also collected the plants because knowing what the caterpillars are eating is an important part of the research being done by the scientists at Tulane University (and in similar studies around the world). I'll tell you a bit more about that later in the week.

Today's pictures and video will show you the scientific process in action. Think about the observation and data collection part of the scientific process as you look at the pictures and think about what was being done. When scientists collect data and make observations, they must be very careful to be specific and as accurate as possible. It took us all day to identify, label, photograph, and enter data about the 62 caterpillars we collected yesterday, and there were 8 of us working on it! It was challenging, interesting, and I learned a lot!

I can't wait to tell you about the parisitoids that are part of the study. They are a bit like aliens that take over and use the caterpillars for food and as a habitat. They are secondary consumers. Unfortunately, for the caterpillars these creatures kill them, but it is all a part of the natural cycle. The parisitoids have a niche that keeps things in balance, but the details on this will have to wait until tomorrow.

I'm looking forward to answering your questions and showing you some caterpillars when we have our video conference on Wednesday. Get your questions ready. I'll see you then!