At the beginning of the semester we started learning about Monarchs and there were a lot of interesting things that did not know about monarchs before this unit. For instance, I learned a lot about the stages of growth and metamorphosis that occur with caterpillars. These stages include; Egg, Larva, Pupa, and Adult. When the egg is laid on a leaf, assuming that the egg survives, that leaf will become the food for the caterpillar as it is growing. Female Butterflies typically lay several eggs at a time, this is so that at least a few will survive through the first stage of growth.
After the egg stage, comes the Larva.
The Larva is also called the feeding stage. During the feeding stage, monarch caterpillars size can multiply by up to 100 times. Monarch eggs upon first laying, are no larger than the size of a pinhead, but when full grown, they can be up to 2 inches long. They also shed their skin between 4 and 5 times during this stage.
The stage following the Larva, is the Pupa. During the Pupal stage, the caterpillar forms a cocoon around itself and begins the process of metamorphosis. This stage is also called the Transformational stage, referring to the process in which the caterpillar becomes a monarch butterfly.
The pupal stage only lasts about 2-3 weeks for monarch butterflies, but for some species, it can last up to 2 years. Finally comes the Adult Stage. When a Monarch Butterfly emerges from the cocoon, its only goal is to reproduce as much as possible.
Typically most butterflies don’t move far away from where they hatched because the caterpillars that hatch from their eggs, can’t travel very far. Although most Monarchs don’t travel very far. Some participate in the famed Monarch Migration to the South-West. Monarchs struggle to survive in the tough cold of American winters, so they must migrate South-West towards Southern Mexico and Central America. Overall, I learned a lot during the Monarch Unit, but I think the most useful and lasting thing I learned was how to take field notes.
Another major topic we discussed in class that I enjoyed was Natural Selection and Evolution. We began this unit by talking about finches on the Galapagos Islands and how their beaks adapted to their environments. We did a lab were we attempted to simulate beaks crushing different types of seeds by flooding the “environment” with one type of seed (beans or rice). Beans, which represented larger seeds, were significantly easier to pick up and crush with the larger “beak”. The rice, which represented the smaller seed, was easier to pick up with the smaller “beak”. This helped me understand how different sized beaks can be more effective in different environments and how finches with beaks better adapted to the current environment would live longer and reproduce more, therefore having more children and passing on the optimal beak on to more of the following generation of finches. Before this unit I had a really minimal amount of knowledge of Natural Selection. It was limited to the concept of Survival of the Fittest,. but now I have real world examples to compare my previous knowledge to.
Along with our unit on Natural Selection, we also had a spinoff unit were we discussed Evolution. This unit took place throughout the semester. It began when we were reading and watching Your Inner Fish. I didn’t take nearly as much away from the book, as I did from the documentary. I think that being able to see and interact with the documentary helped me understand the complex topic that was being discussed in the book. It took me a while to completely grasp the concept that we came from fish because I was so used to hearing about how our ancestors were apes, but when it clicked that we were all descended from a single parent animal I was finally able to understand the full value of the content.
We also did the M&M Lab. This was another major proponent of my understanding the concept of Natural Selection. It just helped me understand all the different attributes that went into Natural Selection. This introduced the color aspect of survival of the fittest to me. The M&M Lab itself was an experiment were we threw several M&Ms onto a grass lawn and then we had a short time to try to find as many as possible. The Brown M&Ms were the hardest to find because they blend in really well with the dirt and roots of the grass. This was a physical example of how visible attributes affect the survival of organisms, in this case M&Ms.
I think that my favorite unit that we did during this semester of Biology, is most likely the unit on cells. This was our most recent unit so that might contribute to why I like it so much, but overall it was just an enjoyable unit. We did several labs, my personal favorite being using the microscopes to take a closer look at some different types of cells.
I found that lab particularly enjoyable because looking at a little picture through a whole and realizing that it was a small little world of its own was really “eye opening” for me. That lab also helped me realize how different every little cell is. I analyzed two of the same type of cell and they looked completely different. I was really surprised by this because I assumed that they would all be the same because there are so many and they couldn’t all be different. I guess they are similar to fingerprints in that aspect, they all have their own specific imprint/look. This was a bold assumption because clearly, I was wrong. It didn’t really surprise me that different types of cells were completely different, because I had read enough about cells to understand the basic structure.
We also watched a video today about how a Virus corrupts a cell in the human body and about how the body fights back. The human body fights back against different types of viruses by creating the optimal antibody to fight each and every virus that is invading the cell. These antibodies mark the way for the white blood cells to sweep through the cell and wipe out the entire “invading army” of viruses. But even if the antibodies and white blood cells do their job, it only takes one virus that makes it to the nucleus to corrupt the entire cell. Once the cell is corrupted, it becomes a breeding ground for the virus where it multiplies thousands, if not millions of times, and restarts the process. Once the cell is controlled by the virus, it begins to recreate its forces and build up for its next onslaught This new army will then move onto the next cell, and then the next.
This endless war between your protective body cells, and viruses is constantly being waged within your body. I found this video to be fascinating, (for reasons other than the great animation and interesting source of music, which happened to sound suspiciously like Star Wars) it really clarified my view of what happened when a virus enters the body, and it gave it a visual that I could never have come up with in my imagination.