The International Space Station is getting some unusual new temporary residents — monarch butterflies from Kansas University’s Monarch Watch program.
Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, said that three butterfly larvae will be sent into space, and would be observed throughout their development.
Students in more than 425 schools across the eastern part of the country will follow along with the experiment, using kits from Monarch Watch to observe their own monarchs, comparing their results with the space experiment.
Cameras will be set up, and results will be shown on a Web site, www.monarchwatch.org/space.
“It’s going to be fun,” Taylor said. “The kids are going to be able to see the full process in their classrooms.”
Taylor said he doesn’t know how the monarchs will fare in the near-weightless environment, but whatever happens, scientists will learn more about the capabilities of the species.
KU’s Monarch Watch program, which tracks the migration patterns of the butterflies on an annual basis, got involved with the space program after developing an artificial diet that can sustain the animals in space.
Response from schools has been much higher than anticipated, Taylor said. He sent out an e-mail asking for 20 interested participants and received more than 1,000 replies.
The artificial diet — something it took Taylor more than 20 months and more than 90 failed attempts to create — may also have other applications for the program. Already, he said, he’s received offers to participate in projects such as mapping the monarch’s genome.
Why is butterfly farming a type of agriculture that promotes conservation as a whole?
Unlike most other types of agriculture in tropical countries which are dependent upon cleared forest for planting crops or grazing cattle, butterfly farming is very different because it requires intact forest. Because host plants are collected by the farmer for his/her use in rearing the larvae, the butterfly farm is dependent upon a parcel of land which is forested. In addition, butterfly farmers rear butterflies in captivity within the confines of an enclosure, thus putting no strain on the wild populations of butterflies.
Fact: The farming of butterflies actually increases native habitats and populations. It is even being used today to save some species from extinction.
Butterfly farming and ranching have demonstrated that butterflies can provide economic incentives to villagers and farmers who may have to decide where to harvest firewood or clear forest for agriculture. By offering supplemental income in exchange for preserving and enhancing butterfly habitats, many plant and animal species native to tropical rain forests will indirectly benefit. Today, successful commercial butterfly farming and ranching projects are operating in North, Central and South America, Uganda, Madagascar, China, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, and Australia.
Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund have included such projects in their conservation programs for countries with rich rainforest biodiversity, such as Indonesia. If carefully managed farming and ranching programs are introduced to areas with dwindling rain forests, economic incentives for conservation can play an important role in a transition to sustainable use of the earth's most diverse ecosystems.
Birdwing Butterflies in PNG: A Positive Example
Birdwings inhabit the sunny rainforest canopy, feeding on nectar-filled flowers growing many metres above ground level. The butterfly only comes to earth when the canopy dips into river channels or natural openings. The typical butterfly farm in PNG (Papua New Guinea) is a half-acre of land that was once a productive vegetable garden site previously cleared from the prime forest. The soil may be too depleted to grow corn or sweet potato but is fertile enough to sustain the vines needed for a butterfly garden.
The process is simple. First, plant a border of Poinsettia and Hibiscus. Within the flowering border transplant rows of aristolochia and other vines. The border acts to attract and feed the adult specimens who breed and lay eggs on the vines which provide ample food for the offspring. The larvae feed on the vines for four weeks, spin their chrysalis and spend four more weeks in metamorphosis. The farmer observes the food supply, notes the location of his/her caterpillars, and determines the maturation of the chrysalises. About 70 percent of the butterfly chrysalis crop can be harvested and brought into a protected hatching cage. The remaining 30 percent is left on the vine to regenerate and complete their natural life cycle (in the wild).
With the cultivated garden providing an over-abundance of food, and because human presence discourages natural predation, the population of free flight butterflies is greatly enhanced. The newly emerged caged butterflies are carefully killed, placed in paper envelopes and dried in the sun. When sufficient butterflies have been collected they are packaged and mailed to the Insect Farming and Trading Agency (IFTA) in Bulolo, Morobe Province. The IFTA inspects, sorts, labels and markets the specimens to buyers around the world. These orders generate US$400,000 for PNG annually. Dr. Peter Clark, Director of IFTA, believes the project re-inforces in villagers that "the environment can be used but not abused, and the forest can serve a good purpose for a longer period than it takes to chop it down. With the right tools [villagers] can make some money yet pass onto their children the same natural treasures they received from their parents."
Wild specimens of common butterflies are sometimes included in the scheme, but most are rejected due to damage sustained in the wild or during capture. Participants are encouraged to farm rather than hunt the butterflies. All Birdwing species are protected from capture in the wild; only individuals with inspected gardens are licensed to sell the rare Ornithoptera Paradisea,
Alexandrae, Goliath, Priamus Poseidon or Priamus Urvillanus butterflies.
Where Do Insects Go in the Winter?
Insects have a variety of methods for surviving the coldness of winter.
Migration is one strategy for escaping the killing temperatures. The Monarch Butterfly is the foremost example of this maneuver, but other insects migrate into northern areas from the southern states in the Spring. Crop pests are the most obvious of these migrants.
Overwintering as Larvae. Many insects successfully pass the winter as immature larvae. The protection of heavy covers of leaf litter or similar shelters protect the woolly bear caterpillar, while other insects replace the water in their bodies with glycerol, a type of antifreeze! Some grubs simply burrow deeper into the soil to escape the cold.
Overwintering as Nymphs. Not many insects are active in the winter, but the nymphs of dragonflies, mayflies and stoneflies live in waters of ponds and streams, often beneath ice. They feed actively and grow all winter to emerge as adults in early spring.
Overwintering as Eggs. Lesser numbers of insects lay eggs which survive the winter. The most prominent insects in this category are Praying Mantids, and the destructive Corn Rootworms also engage in this strategy.
Overwintering as Pupae. Some insects overwinter in the pupal stage, then emerge as adults in the spring. Moths in the Silkworm Family, Saturniidae, may be found attached to food plant branches as pupae in the winter.
Hibernation as Adults. Many insects hibernate as adults. Lady bird beetles are a well-known example, and are sometimes seen in great numbers in the fall as they congregate at high elevations. Many large wasps seek shelter in the eaves and attics of houses or barns. Tree holes, leaf litter, and under logs and rocks are common shelters for overwintering adult insects. The Mourning Cloak Butterfly is usually the first butterfly that is noticed in the Spring, and this is because it hibernates in tree holes or other shelters during the winter. As in some insect larvae, it reduces the water content of its body, and builds up glycerol which acts as an antifreeze. Honey bees stay in hives during the winter, and form clusters when temperatures fall. They also are able to raise the temperature by vibrating wing muscles.
In general, insects are able to survive cold temperatures easiest when the temperatures are stable, not fluctuating through alternate thaws and freezes. Many insects can gain shelter and nourishment through the winter in a variety of micro-habitats. Among these niches are under the soil, inside the wood of logs and trees, and even in plant galls. One kind of fly is known by fishermen to be present in certain galls in winter, and the fly larvae are consequently used as fish-bait. Blankets of snow benefit insects by insulating the ground and keeping the temperature surprisingly constant. Honeybees have been studied during the winter and are found to remain semi-active in hollow trees through the generation of body heat. The consumption of up to 30 pounds of stored honey during the winter months makes this possible. Heat energy is produced by the oxidation of the honey, and circulated throughout the hive by the wing-fanning of worker bees. Insects that are inactive during the winter months undergo a state in which their growth, development, and activities are suspended temporarily, with a metabolic rate that is high enough to keep them alive. This dormant condition is termed diapause. In comparison, vertebrates undergo hibernation, during which they have minor activity and add tissues to their bodies.
I love what he has to say about the durability of beetle wings:
''The wing cases of the jewel beetles are made of chitin, one of the hardest, most imperishable materials we know. They consist of wafer-thin platelets that capture, reflect and transform light. Oil paint fades; the carapace will keep its original colors.''
This gives me a lot of hope that my own personal creations made with beetles will last for many years to come!
Apparently these beetle elytra come as a by-product of the Thai food industry. The rather large beetles are used as food, and the wings are thrown away!
I just love the originality and the beauty of this work! Enchanting!
To read more, here's an article from a few years back in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/04/arts/bits-of-bugs-glow-to-delight-a-queen.html?pagewanted=1
Gossamer Silk, From Spiders Spun
By RANDY KENNEDY
For anyone considering going into the business of manufacturing traditional textiles using the filaments extracted from the spinnerets of the golden orb spider of Madagascar, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
The largest spiders, the females, can grow to about the size of a small adult human hand, with hairy stiletto legs and the ability to eat large, flying insects.
Only the females produce the silk, which is renowned for both its striking saffron color and its tensile strength (five to six times stronger than steel by weight). But these females are notoriously cannibalistic and if left to their own devices will quickly reduce the entire silk assembly line to arachnid carnage.
They don’t seem to want to work in the winter, and when it rains too much, their silk becomes viscous and cannot be used.
And if the spiders in the factory begin to disappear mysteriously, it might be because, in Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, it is believed by some that eating these spiders, fried, is good for the throat or just good eating.
“There was, shall we say, a fairly steep learning curve,” said Simon Peers, a British art historian and textile expert who has lived in Madagascar for two decades. Five years ago Mr. Peers and Nicholas Godley, an American fashion designer also living on the island, began a partnership to do what no one there, or anywhere, had tried for more than 100 years: to harness spiders to make silk in the same way that silkworm cocoons have been used for thousands of years.
The other day in a fourth-floor storage area deep within the American Museum of Natural History, two women wearing blue rubber gloves carefully pulled back a plastic covering to show what Mr. Peers and Mr. Godley — along with more than a million spiders and a dexterous team of intrepid Malagasy spider handlers — had accomplished. It is an 11-foot-long, brilliantly golden-hued cloth, the first recorded example of a hand-woven brocaded textile made entirely from the silk of spiders, according to experts at the Museum of Natural History, where beginning on Thursday it will go on display for six months in the Grand Gallery.
Mr. Peers has worked for years to revive the weaving traditions for which Madagascar was once famous, and pieces made under his direction have found their way into the collections of the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others. In his research into textiles, he had long been intrigued by the alchemical, almost occult tales of attempts over several centuries to harvest spider silk for weaving, an endeavor that, as he has written, always seemed to be “imbued with metaphor and poetry, with nightmare and phobia.”
The first well-documented effort was made by a wealthy Frenchman, François Xavier Bon de Saint Hilaire, who wrote a treatise on his work in 1710 and made enough silk from spider cocoons to produce stockings, gloves and, by some unreliable accounts, an entire suit of clothes for Louis XIV.
In the late 1890s in Madagascar, where fishermen had long used spider silk for rudimentary nets and line, a French technical-school official mounted another spider project, this time extracting the silk directly from living spiders to be twisted into threads. He was said to have harvested enough to fashion the hangings for a bed that was exhibited in 1900 in Paris, though the hangings no longer exist, and historical accounts differ as to how much fabric was actually created.
“And that,” Mr. Peers said in a recent interview, “was more or less the summit of everyone’s effort to that point — until we took it up again, like mad men.”
Mr. Godley, 40, ran a business in Madagascar making high-end raffia handbags, and while visiting Mr. Peers, 51, several years ago in Antananarivo, the capital, he noticed an odd-looking metal spool in Mr. Peers’s office. The spool was a re-creation of a piece of equipment that had been used in the silk harvesting effort a century earlier. It fired Mr. Godley’s imagination, and he began trying to talk Mr. Peers into reviving the effort.
After many fits and starts, the two men put together an almost Victorian spider-silk harvesting operation that hired local people to comb the countryside with long bamboo poles, carefully collecting live female spiders — about 3,000 a day — in boxes. The spiders were taken to Mr. Godley, who set up a system in which workers, all women, would handle each spider, gently pulling out the thread that dangled from its spinnerets. (The spiders bite if provoked, but their bites are not dangerous.)
The spider would then be placed in a harness, with 23 others, and sit more or less patiently as a spool tugged the rest of its web out in continuous threads that could sometimes stretch as long as 400 yards before the spider had given its all.
These 24 threads were then hand-twisted into one and joined into 96-thread strands that served as the foundation of the textile, which is brocaded with traditional Malagasy motifs.
“Not one thread ever broke on the loom — it’s that strong,” Mr. Godley said. (He asked a reporter looking at the cloth recently at the museum to grab a strand in one of the tassels at the end of the textile and try to break it. The thread had about as much give as a chain used to lock up a New York City messenger’s bike.)
And what became of the spiders, without whose very personal contributions the textile would not have been possible? While some died in its production, Mr. Godley and Mr. Peers said they set up a system in which the spiders being used were released daily, and detailed spreadsheets were kept to chart the number of spiders used, their yield and the casualty rate.
“We have become sort of the defenders of these spiders, something we never thought we’d be,” said Mr. Godley, who calls himself a committed arachnophobe, but added, “They really are very regal-looking creatures.”
The two men say they hope that the textile, which cost more than half a million dollars to make, ends up being acquired by a public institution and displayed. (It is on loan to the American Museum of Natural History.)
“I hate sounding pretentious, but what we wanted to do here was produce something that was a work of art,” said Mr. Godley, mentioning the cloth in the company of costly, dazzling (and highly publicized) contemporary works by artists like Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons. “I feel like what we’ve produced in some ways is more exceptional because of the extraordinary amount of effort that went into it.”
As soon as the warm season in Madagascar begins next month, and the golden orbs begin productively spinning their webs again, the two men will begin making more cloth, which might find a market in the reviving fashion industry. But Mr. Godley said that he and Mr. Peers harbored few illusions, at least so far, about making a business of their strange gossamer obsession.
“If we were doing all of this to make money,” he said, “I could think of much, much easier ways to do it.”
Taken out of the box, you can see how many there are!!
After softening and re-positioning all the parts for use in my jewelry, here is the ready-to-use result! Eye candy, indeed!
Visit www.aquakej.etsy.com to see what I've made with them so far!
I will let everyone know how the tests go, but I fully expect everything to wear very well, with the possible exception of the rings. Rings can get wet, but not excessively. You definitely wouldn't wear one of these while doing the dishes, but I think it would stand up okay to careful hand washing.
Finally, when I'm ready to use the insects, I choose a frame and a background for them and glue them into place with a special glue. I really love the paper selection from a company called Basic Grey; they make the most beautiful backgrounds. I'm always on the lookout for more papers and frames that I can use, though. Sometimes I even make my own backgrounds, but I'm not very good at drawing, so the ones I do make are abstract. I've also used various fabrics and handmade papers. Here's a look at some of my paper and frame selections:
Here's the end result! My "gallery wall" of Insect Art allows me to enjoy some of my work before the pieces are sent to their new homes! I always work by the philosophy "If I wouldn't hang it in my house, it's not worth making". I continue to strive to search for the beauty in all insects, and it's my goal to be able to display them in a way that maximizes their beauty and impresses people who normally wouldn't be impressed by "a bug". I hope you enjoyed this "Making Of..." entry!