Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sometimes being a biologist is just cool

Every semester I rear my lab tech rears dozens of Manduca sexta caterpillars to use in an experiment for one of my classes. The caterpillars aren't harmed during the experiment, and thus they're also a great demonstration of insect life cycles: I buy them as eggs, and then show the students what they look like throughout their life cycle (much like this series of posts I made a while back).

Well, today was pupa display day, and as I was transferring the pupae to a larger cage I noticed that one of them felt different. A few seconds later I noticed that it had a little crack in it. Less than five minutes later I had an adult moth running around on my hands1.

Even though I've reared these guys for years, this is the first time I've actually watched a moth emerge from its pupal case. The cute little fella did end up excreting all over my hands2, but the whole thing was just far too cool to let a little uric acid get in the way of the fun.

I didn't have a camera handy, sadly, so there won't be any pictures.

1 Note that I'm using the verb "run"; as soon as the moth was out of the pupal case it was able to walk extremely quickly. In fact, the moth wasn't just walking randomly, it was trying to walk as high up as it could; it was probably trying to find a nice high branch to cling to while its wings expanded.
2 And shirt. The moths save up all the nitrogenous waste they produce while they're pupae, and then excrete it all shortly after eclosing.

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