A lot has happened in the past few weeks. Besides my secondary injury during my recovery of my bone fracture, everything else seems to progress in a positive direction.
First of all, my paper on caterpillar ground reaction forces was finally printed. It's been really over-due for a year now. Most data were collected by Christmas 2008, and I actually presented the major finding at the SICB 2009 January. I felt pretty bad about this delay but the robotics project last year really took my life from March through October. To summarize the findings in a few sentences: large caterpillars such as Manduca sexta load their bodies in constant tension when they are attached to a substrate. Locomotion was achieved by progressing the body tension/deformation forward. Biomechanically speaking, these critters use the substrate as their external skeletons. We call this strategy: environmental skeleton. For more details on this radical view of soft-bodied animal body control, check out the April 1st issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology. If you would like a PDF copy of my paper, simply e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly send you one.
Besides my old new paper, I've been planning a field trip to Costa Rica for this May and June. Last spring at the SICB conference, I bought a few books about caterpillars. Among them, I was really impressed by a couple of books regarding tropical caterpillar diversity. So I contacted the authors Dr. Daniel Janzen et al and was struck by the idea of visiting the home of caterpillars in the wild. Lab animals are always somewhat unnatural. This idea was incubated in the back of my mind for many months until I finally formulated it into a more concrete field study project. My mentor Dr. Barry Trimmer was very supportive of the idea and quickly decided to make it happen. In any case, we have now arranged a 17 days field work at a conservation in Santa Rosa, collaborating with Dr. Janzen's team from UPenn.
Finally, to continue the imaging theme from last time, let me share a few images from our histology for Manduca caterpillars. Working together with my great undergraduate lab-mate Dan, we've been able to produce very clean cross-sections of caterpillar abdomens.Through some imaging techniques, we can enhance the cuticular folds.Or we can also highlight the muscles! So awesome... the biology I mean (but we're not bad either)