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Butterflies Emerge from Cocoons Aboard Station

Image above: After completing its pupa stage, a Monarch butterfly emerges during the CSI-03(Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus Science Insert - 03) investigation. This investigation is one in a series of educational experiments aboard the station designed to accompany in-class experiments for teachers and students. Image credit: NASA/BioServe, University of Colorado
+ View more images of the experiment

Butterflies are emerging from their cocoons inside the station's Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus. Two types of butterflies, the Painted Lady and Monarch, and their ability to grow and develop while in microgravity are being studied. This experiment is being performed in conjunction with students and teachers on the ground. These are the first ever Monarch butterflies in space, and the first Painted Lady butterflies ever to undergo all phases of development (larva, pupae, adult) in microgravity. Monarchs usually live about two weeks on Earth, but these are expected to live about four days in space because of the cramped quarters. Painted Lady butterflies usually live 10-14 days on Earth, and are expected to live about a week in orbit. An interesting observation was that the Monarch wings usually take three to six minutes to dry after emergence, but in orbit it took about 15 minutes.

About 2,800 teachers (representing more than 173,700 students from all 50 states and the District of Columbia) have registered to participate in the educational experiment.

The butterflies are part of the Commercial Generic Bioprocessing Apparatus Science Insert – 03 (CSI-03), the third in a set of investigations providing students in kindergarten through grade 12 opportunities to use the unique microgravity environment of the International Space Station in the classroom to encourage learning and interest in science. This experiment examines the complete life cycle of the Painted Lady and Monarch butterflies. Delivered by the STS-129 shuttle mission, the experiment includes two butterfly habitats. The first contains four Vanessa cardui (commonly known as the Painted Lady butterfly) larvae which were six days old at the time of launch. The second habitat contains three Danaus plexippus (commonly known as the Monarch butterfly) larvae which were early in the 4th instar development stage. About seven days after launch, both types of larvae began to pupate (pupa stage), and then remained in the chrysalis (cocoon) stage for seven to 10 days. The butterflies started to emerge Nov. 30.

+ Watch video of a butterfly as Jeff Williams congratulates scientists Credit: NASA/BioServe, University of Colorado
+ Follow the experiment at the BioEd Online Butterflies in Space site