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!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

First Field Day

Great white egret

Three turtles on a log

Hi kids,

You have asked some great questions that I would like to answer. So far I have not seen any alligators, but today (Saturday) was really the first day out in the field. Before this I met the other teachers, learned about caterpillars and how to spot them, got settled in the field station, and went grocery shopping. I did get a chance to walk around a beautiful park in New Orleans (Friday) before we headed for the Field Station in Slidell, Louisiana to begin the science research. How far is Slidell, Louisiana from New Orleans?

The bird in the picture on the left is a great white egret. It is from the same family of birds as one that we commonly see in Oregon, but ours is a different color. Does this remind you of a bird you have seen before? Try looking up egret on the internet, and I think you will find the answer. The bird on the right is an ibis. It has a long funny looking beak for a reason. This is an adaptation to help it find and catch its food. What do you think it eats?

We are all staying in the bunkhouse at the Pearl River Wildlife District. Scientists doing this kind of research often stay in a 'field station' close to the research site to save time from having to travel from the forest to the university lab. It's a bit like staying at Outdoor School.

I have observed several things about this ecosystem that may interest you. The fauna is mostly different from Portland and Lake Oswego, It is much more tropical. There are many flowers still in bloom even though it is nearly the end of October, and palm trees grow here naturally. I got to see some of the native fauna(great white egret and ibises, fire ants, and some very large turtles) in the park where I took a walk. The pictures above are from my walk in the park. Can you see the fire ants in the middle picture?
You might be especially interested in the fire ants. I know that I am because I have to watch out for them while I am working with the scientists and teachers in the field! I almost stepped in a fire ant hill. We don't have them in Portland, so I didn't even know I was near one. Fortunately, another teacher from Florida knows what they are, and he warned me not to go near them.

They are a bit scary and certainly very interesting. Please look them up and tell me what you find out. I'll be interested in any advice you have from your research, but please don't worry. I have strong boots that go up to my knees, and I am now watching out for the fire ant hills. It's a good thing because the spiders here are quite large too! We saw one today that had brown furry legs.

The other teachers are fun to work with. They have come from Illinois, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Florida, and New York, Please ask Mrs. Nelson to pull down the US map sometime this week to get a look at where these states are located if you have forgotten.
Now, I must head to bed. We have a busy day of caterpillar hunting, setting up a field laboratory, and counting vegetation ahead of us tomorrow. I have an awesome picture of the biggest and coolest grasshopper I have ever seen to show you on tomorrow's post. I will also post some caterpillar pictures. I found four different types today. I am learning to look more closely at the natural world around me, and it is a lot of fun!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We Can Make a Difference

This time next week I will be on my way to join the Earthwatch team in New Orleans to study the impact of Climate Change on caterpillars. I will certainly miss all of you and our cozy downstairs classroom, but I am also excited about doing something to contribute to understanding and protecting the world we live in.

Since one of the goals of Earthwatch is to educate people about climate issues and sustainability (living in ways that protect the earth), it is a good time to join the conversations around the world on this topic. Did you know that today (October 15, 2009) bloggers around the world have posted information and conversations about climate change to get people thinking and talking?

I found one blog that I especially like because it is very positive and inspiring. There is a video on the site that I hope you will watch. (You may have to watch it at home since many video sites are blocked at school. Maybe your parents would be interested in watching the video with you.) Just click on the "Check this out!" link below to watch the video. Once you have watched the video, post a comment to tell me what YOU think. Do you think kids have the power to get involved and make the world a better place?

Check this out!

If you are in the lab with Mr. Stone, you might also want to use some of your lab time to look at some of the caterpillars that I will be looking for. The link is on the bottom of the post below this one (the one we looked at in class a few weeks ago.)

I have a little task for you regarding the caterpillars. Please look at few of them and tell me which one or ones you hope I will find. If I find that one or see it in the lab at Tulane University, I will get a picture of it for you if I can.