Monarchs in Space


The following is a description of the Plan B Monarchs In Space Rearing Kit along with instructions on how to install the monarch larvae in the rearing chamber you’ve created (see Creating a Monarchs in Space Rearing Chamber).

Your monarch rearing kit contains:

  • Two 3/4 ounce plastic cups with diet and three third instar monarch larvae.

  • One 3 1/4 ounce plastic cup with diet to be placed in the rearing chamber.

  • One circular plastic paint pot that will serve as the nectar feeder.

Upon arrival you will notice that the cups with the larvae are upside down. This is intentional. The larvae go up and the frass goes down. Please maintain the cups in this position until you are ready to transfer the larvae.

Setting up the chamber and transferring the larvae:

  1. Clean out the container/chamber and the diet holders with soap and water or dilute bleach.

  2. Use a clean utensil to transfer the diet to the diet trays (see Creating a Monarchs in Space Rearing Chamber).

  3. Use hot glue or double stick tape to affix the diet trays and nectar feeder to the back wall of the chamber.

  4. Use a small paintbrush, forceps, or similar tool to carefully transfer three larvae to the chamber. Make sure the tools are clean. The other three larvae can be placed in a second chamber. The extra three larvae can also be used to show orientation, swimming and walking as per the guidelines we’ve provided in the Monarchs in Space Companion Guide (which may be downloaded from the Monarchs in Space Main Page.

  5. Close the chamber and note the larval stage, day and time at introduction.

  6. Refrigerate the extra food in case the food in the diet holders begins to mold or is colonized by bacteria. This happens but not often and it is likely you won’t use all the diet.

  7. When the monarchs are about ready to emerge from their chrysalis (day 8-10 after the formation of the chrysalis), soak a cotton ball with Gatorade and place it in the nectar feeder. Gatorade seldom ferments and should last a week but after two days it would be better to move the adult monarchs to a cage where they can fly and feed more freely. We will provide more instructions on the care and feeding of adult monarchs.

How will you know if the larvae are of the right stage?

All the larvae we send will be 3rd instars. Examine the cups containing the larvae upon arrival for small hard black dots, these are the head capsules of the third instar larvae and can be easily distinguished from frass. If there are no head capsules, all your larvae are still in the third instar. Fourth instar larvae have noticeably larger heads and the filaments are much longer than those of the third instar.

The larvae are all very close in age so, if you see a fourth instar larva in the cup, they are all ready to be transferred to your habitat.  The protocol for the shuttle calls for the introduction of early 4th instar larvae into the capsule on the 15th of November. If you introduce your larvae into your habitat at about the same time and use temperatures that are similar to those on the International Space Station, your larvae will develop at a similar rate.

Chamber Lighting

Protocols for the shuttle and installation aboard the International Space Station necessitate that the larvae remain in the dark for 80-90 hours from the time they are prepared for the shuttle until they are loaded into the incubator aboard the ISS. If you wish to follow this protocol, and the students will want you to, store the chamber in a dark box, drawer or closet for this period.  After this period set the chamber on a desktop or counter near a light source that is on a 12 hour light/12 hour dark cycle. The light source should be far enough away from the chamber so that heat form the light doesn’t cause condensation to form inside the box. If you do see condensation, remove the cover or front of the box and wipe up the condensation with a clean piece of paper towel or cotton.

Chamber Temperature

The larvae in the incubator on the ISS are maintained at 25 degrees Celsius. If you can, try to maintain this temperature in the area of the chamber. Lower mean temperatures will slow development and higher temperature will accelerate growth. Students can use a cheap max/min temperature recorder to calculate mean temperatures for the rearing chamber.

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