One of the popular features of the Science Learning Center is the Critter Collection—an assortment of common invertebrates (animals without backbones) that visitors can touch and examine up close. But you can now experience these invertebrates, live, from the comfort of your own home or classroom.
Every 4-6 weeks, we will feature a different invertebrate resident through our real-time Critter Cam. Animals featured on the Cam include mealworms, darkling beetles, garden snails, Painted Lady caterpillars (and sometimes butterflies), Madagascar hissing cockroaches, pillbugs (or roly polies) and even common earthworms.
For more information on each of these different invertebrates, check out their profiles below. And be sure to come back next month to see which critter is being featured on the Critter Cam!
Featured Invertebrate: Painted Lady Butterfly
Take a closer look at the caterpillars in the Critter Cam. How would you describe them? What interesting characteristics or features do you notice? What evidence do you see that might suggest what they've been doing?
Please note that the current subjects are not under a lamp, so the video feed is best viewed during daylight hours (Pacific Time Zone).
The Painted Lady is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia.
The Painted Lady caterpillar is sometimes known as the thistle caterpillar, as it can often be found feeding on this spiny plant. But these caterpillars are generally picky eaters, preferring specific 'host species' such as mallow and thistle to most other types of vegetation. They are also known to eat soybean leaves, potentially making them a pest. (In Southern California, they can feed on Cheeseweed mallow, a common weed found just about anywhere!)
The caterpillars emerge from tiny light blue eggs only a few millimeters long. Over the course of a few weeks, they'll grow to 1-2 inches before they reach their next phase of development--the pupa.
Painted Lady butterflies are known for their great migrations. Here on the West Coast, a full migration can cross several generations, even up to 6 generations occurring on the trip from Mexico, up to Canada and back down South. In spring 2019, following a particularly rainy winter, millions of Painted Ladies were seen migrating across Southern California.
These invertebrates are taking a break from the camera, but may be featured in the future!
These large insects (can grow up to 3 inches long) are not found in Southern California but originate from Madagascar – an island off the coast of eastern Africa. They can live up to 5 years in captivity and typically feed on vegetable material and high-protein pellets (like dog food)!
As their name suggests, Madagascar hissing cockroaches hiss when they feel threatened. Their hiss is produced forcing air through small openings on its back (known as spiracles). Unlike most other cockroaches, these animals do not have wings.
This critter is one of the most common species of snail; it is found worldwide in gardens and moist environments. They are mollusks, a group of animals that include many ocean-dwelling animals such as oysters, mussels, and squid. They typically live 2 to 5 years and grow to be a little larger than an inch.
Garden snails are naturally hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female reproduction parts. Despite this, these animals typically mate with a partner.
These common invertebrates are actually the larval form of a species of darkling beetle. Although they eat vegetation and fruits, they are known to feed on stored grains—hence their name. Recently, scientists have discovered that mealworms can also eat and degrade polystyrene (Styrofoam) with no negative effects to the animal.
Mealworms grow up to about an inch, and after about 10 weeks, they transform into a pupa. A few weeks later, a mature darkling beetle emerges.
This species of darkling beetle is sometimes referred to as a mealworm beetle, since it is the adult form of the mealworm. The beetle emerges from a pupa after 3-30 days (depending on environmental conditions like temperature) with a light brown exoskeleton that gradually turns black. Grown mealworm beetles are typically 1-2 cm in length. They generally eat fresh vegetation as well as decaying plant matter.
The mealworm beetle (and other darkling beetles) are generally considered pests in agriculture. The larva (mealworms) feed on stored grains and the adults while the adults are very effective breeders, with females laying many eggs over their 2+ month lifespan.
If you are having difficulty seeing the CritterCam livestream, the tips below may help.
- Click the red PLAY button on the YouTube screen (if your browser isn't set to auto-play)
- Try refreshing your browser.
- Empty or clear your cache/cookies/history for your browser.
- Try accessing the video directly at: https://youtu.be/PbKAC7ONN9E
- Check YouTube help: Troubleshoot problems playing videos.
Illustrations provided by Jonathan Broberg, CSULB Biology student, Instagram: @jonbro_art