One Butterfly Coming Up: For the first time, a butterfly has formed a chrysalis on the International Space Station. The single chrysalis can be seen attached to the habitat in the lower left of the image (National Space Biomedical Research Institute/BioServe Space Technologies).
Great news from our orbiting insect adventurers! One of the caterpillars carried to the International Space Station (ISS) by Space Shuttle Atlantis last week has done something a caterpillar has never done before; it’s turned into a chrysalis in space.
Normally on Earth, caterpillars go through the chrysalis phase just before they become a butterfly. Up until now, microgravity tests on butterflies have been unsuccessful; the larvae (caterpillars) never entered the chrysalis stage of their life cycle.
“The problem was that the food they flew was from a new vendor, and it turned out it was poor quality, and that’s why the butterflies didn’t develop,” Uri told Discovery News on Nov. 17. “They’re hoping that with brand new food that’s been totally tested that this group will do OK.”
And it would appear that one of the proto-butterflies is dealing with microgravity conditions just fine by attaching itself to the side of its special space station habitat and wrapping itself in a cocoon.
The butterflies (painted lady and monarch) are part of an outreach experiment organized by BioServe Space Technologies and the University of Colorado. Students can follow the progress of the orbital butterflies and compare the results with ones living on the ground.
Small educational projects like this are superb for communicating ISS science and for getting youngsters engaged with space science. I just hope the sleeping butterfly isn’t woken up by any more fire alarms…
Special thanks to Brad Thomas for pointing us to this exciting news.