Caterpillars: Inventory

music
ambience: Rainforest, Costa Rica

Scientists know very little about the caterpillars of the world – including the identity of many species. Well slowly but surely that’s beginning to change. And today we’ll find out how. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

“Well the process of doing a total caterpillar inventory is basically pretending you’re a bird or a monkey in the forest.”

Dan Janzen is a professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the ecology the Costa Rican rainforest – an area rich in caterpillars.

“So you walk and you look. You look for holes nibbled in a leaf which causes you to look for who nibbled the holes in the leaf. You notice feces on the ground so you look above to see who dropped the feces on the ground. Now you find a caterpillar, he’s on a plant. So you take a branch of that plant, with the leaves on it, put that in a plastic bag, and you put the caterpillar in a plastic bag and you close it up. You take that bag home, you hang it on a clothesline with a clothespin. The data as to where the caterpillar was found, what it was eating, the date, all that goes straight into a database at that time. So, then every 2 to 3 days, the people who are doing this put fresh food in the plastic bag for the caterpillar to continue eating and eating. Cause each one of these caterpillars is eating different species of plant. So after a week, or 2 weeks, or 3 weeks of this behavior, the caterpillar then pupates, makes a pupa, which is then later on going to turn into a moth or a butterfly – or out of it comes a parasite – or sometimes it dies of disease. That information also goes into the database. Now, in the meantime, I or one of the taxonomists have come along and taken a photograph of it. So now we have a photograph to go along with the information in the database.”

If you’d like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

music

Caterpillars: Inventory

Compiling a database on caterpillars resembles an elementary school science project.
Air Date:11/01/2002
Scientist:
Transcript:


music
ambience: Rainforest, Costa Rica

Scientists know very little about the caterpillars of the world - including the identity of many species. Well slowly but surely that's beginning to change. And today we'll find out how. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

"Well the process of doing a total caterpillar inventory is basically pretending you’re a bird or a monkey in the forest."

Dan Janzen is a professor of Biology at the University of Pennsylvania who studies the ecology the Costa Rican rainforest - an area rich in caterpillars.

"So you walk and you look. You look for holes nibbled in a leaf which causes you to look for who nibbled the holes in the leaf. You notice feces on the ground so you look above to see who dropped the feces on the ground. Now you find a caterpillar, he’s on a plant. So you take a branch of that plant, with the leaves on it, put that in a plastic bag, and you put the caterpillar in a plastic bag and you close it up. You take that bag home, you hang it on a clothesline with a clothespin. The data as to where the caterpillar was found, what it was eating, the date, all that goes straight into a database at that time. So, then every 2 to 3 days, the people who are doing this put fresh food in the plastic bag for the caterpillar to continue eating and eating. Cause each one of these caterpillars is eating different species of plant. So after a week, or 2 weeks, or 3 weeks of this behavior, the caterpillar then pupates, makes a pupa, which is then later on going to turn into a moth or a butterfly - or out of it comes a parasite - or sometimes it dies of disease. That information also goes into the database. Now, in the meantime, I or one of the taxonomists have come along and taken a photograph of it. So now we have a photograph to go along with the information in the database."

If you'd like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

music