Data Processing… And Still Processing…

We thought the worst was behind us- that all the heads had been cleaned. Today, we found out we were wrong. After digging up (literally) the remaining heads to be cleaned, cleaning, scanning, counting, and randomizing them, it seems like all that’s left is some x-raying and our data set will be complete.

That is, we would be done, if at the end of the day we hadn’t finally found the very last uncleaned head. It had been filed away a little precariously, but no matter. We look forward to tomorrow, when we will have hopefully finished most of the data collection, and can start into our analysis.

See Below- the impressive (to me, anyway) quantity of coin envelopes we’ve filled with seeds from different sections (top, middle, bottom) of each head, and (officially) the very last head to be cleaned.


December 9th from the 84 eyes of the new larvae


It’s been almost a week since I was extracted from my nice, cozy seed head: the only home I had ever known. Sometimes I still miss it- I had chewed through at least a third of the achenes there, and made nice holes in the base. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more comfortable than when I was firmly lodged within an achene. I also don’t know if I’ve ever been more uncomfortable than when I found myself squished in the grasp of a pair of tweezers. Suddenly, my home and everything I’ve known fell away, and I landed in a pit with lots of others like me. The floor was cluttered with achenes, but the structure was nothing like my old seed head. Moreover, the walls were clear. It looked as if escape would be quick- it is not, believe me, I tried. Something about plastic just doesn’t connect well with my prolegs. Speaking of prolegs, I, and all my kin, have four.  It’s a trait characteristic of us caterpillars. Those silly humans probably thought we could have been flies or beetles before looking at our prolegs.

Today is significant, because our numbers have grown to the point where our measly petri dish jail was no longer doing us justice. After a rough and tumble fall into a new container, we’re all feeling a little better. Here we’ve been given a seed head and soil, just in case we decide either of those places are where we’d like to pupate. Things are starting to look up.

(Q: Wait, where did 84 come from? A: We have found about 14 caterpillars, each of whom has 6 pairs of eyes.)

(Q: So, what species are the larvae? A: We still don’t know. It’s possible they are codling moths, but those tend to prefer fruits like apples- more juicy than achenes. It’s also possible they’re banded sunflower moths, which appear just as pink in later larval stages as these larvae do),


The Larval Mystery Thickens



Things are truckin’ along in the lab. Belle has kept on organizing and categorizing the bees, making slow but steady progress. Audrey and Jackie have kept on cleaning seed heads, and finding a significant amount of those hungry, yet unidentified little larvae. In fact, the two have found more larvae than has been found on any seed heads for the past ten years. Needless to say, something interesting definitely happened with this insects’ population this past growing season. Everyone is pretty excited to see the final distribution of seed heads damaged with characteristic chewed up achenes. Audrey and Jackie, while they are certainly excited to try to solve the larval mystery, are doing their best to mitigate and keep careful track of the effect this predation might have on their seed set data.

Hopefully, by trying to raise multiple larvae under varied environmental conditions, the team can get a couple to live and develop into adult stages, where they’d be much more easily identified.


Making New Friends In The Lab

Halfway through our first week of the externship, things have started getting exciting! While Belle has been busy cataloguing, Jackie and Audrey have made some new friends: larvae we’ve found living in the seed heads. The mystery larvae are unfortunately eating the achenes we’re trying to collect, but to make the most out of a bad situation, we’ve been collecting larvae, too! The count in our petri dish is about 8, and growing! Most of these have been found by Audrey, who in a twist of cruel irony is the most startled to find them. The larvae are pretty big relative to the head and easy to spot (they’re pale pink and the heads are dark brown), but we still haven’t figured out how to predict which achene we pull out will have a larva behind it. We still have a lot more heads to clean and find larvae in, so we hope to find out where they’re coming from and maybe even see what they turn into.

Pictured below: Jackie and Audrey’s first larval finds.

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Winter 2015 Carleton Externship Kicks Off

Monday the 30th of November marked the start of two exciting new externship projects in the lab. All three undergraduate students are from Carleton College. Belle Kinder is taking inventory and creating a database for bee specimens. Audrey Lothspeich and Jackie Culotta are working on quantifying and analyzing the seed sets from various remnant populations.

On the first day, the externs were oriented to the lab and the Plant Science Building’s facilities. They learned the basics of Echinacea reproduction from an orientation lesson with Stuart. After listening to a presentation by a community biologist about the relative importance of intraspecies variation and species turnover in accounting for total population change (and eating lunch) they got right to work.

All externs discussed with their associated long-term interns (Belle with Amy, and Danny with Audrey and Jackie) about the the specifics of their projects, and their desired outcomes. After that, Belle set about deciding what needed adjustment with the current collection of specimens. Having an action plan is always important! Audrey and Jackie got right into dissecting and cleaning their first seed heads.

Stay tuned for 3 more exciting weeks of externship!