8:45pm. I’m worried about my black & yellow checkered checkered caterpillar. He’s stopped eating and keeps roaming restlessly around the box rejecting his host plant bottle or on any other twig, leaf or perch I try to offer him (I think he’s looking for a place to pupate, but I really don’t know). I put in more sticks at various angles. I add mesh, plant some host pants in dirt, pick him up with a paint brush and place him on it…he squirms away and wanders back onto the bottom of the box…
In the midst of my motherly obsessing, one of our work stays walks in and asks if she can look around at what’s been going on in the lab. Happily I begin to show off my brood of mystery caterpillars. I go to show her the splendidly colored stinging caterpillar. (Yes, stinging)
Because it stings, I’ve made sure to give it an extra large amount of its host plant (hibiscus leaves) so that I wont have to add or change out branches and jostle it in the process. As I turn to show the caterpillar off to McKenzie, I am astonished to see that ALL of the leaves on all of branches have been stripped down to nothing! One step closer, and… the bottle is swarming with leaf cutter ants. Looking down we see a line of them across the floor, trooping up the leg of the table onto the bottle and all over the hibiscus branches surrounding the poor caterpillar (who apparently doesn’t sting leaf cutter ants, even when they are devouring its only food source).
I call for Josh. He helps me brush and shake the ants off the table and then fill plastic containers with cooking oil to put under each table leg. Cleaning up, I pick up one half leaf the ants left on the ground in their hasty retreat, only to discover a green caterpillar clinging to it for dear life. I didn’t even know I had this guy in the lab!
9:05 I grab a headlamp and go cut some more hibiscus branches for my, not one, but two hibiscus eating mystery caterpillars.
9:15 I close up the lab .
11pm…. I should probably go back and check on the caterpillars….