Butterflies are something that society has deemed beautiful, and we see countless different species all around the world, all with their own shapes, sizes, and colors. However, not everyone stops to think about how butterflies have come to have such diversity. Many researchers have taken on the task of looking into this question. I am very lucky to be working alongside some of these people.
This summer I am working in Dr. Nijhout’s lab, of which is researching growth in different insect species, meticulously dissecting a lot of caterpillars, albeit with many errors as of now. My objective is to remove the wing that is developing inside of the specimen, to dye it, and to prepare it on a microscope slide so that we can observe the pattern of mitosis occurring throughout the wing disc. It is interesting to see the wing discs at different developmental stages coming from a batch that is the same age. I can remove a disc from one caterpillar that has a beautiful set of veins that have grown in a couple of days. Then I can dissect a different caterpillar from the same container and see that the veins haven’t grown much at all within the same period of time.
When we look at these discs under the microscope, a large mass of nuclei come into focus (with the help of the Hoechst dye). Our job is to take note of the abundance and location of the cells currently going through mitosis. Being that I’m a beginner, it is still quite difficult for me to differentiate between two lumps of nuclei and anaphase, but I am determined to improve with all of Dr. Nijhout’s tips and advice.