In this post I will show you how to determine whether large milkweed bugs prefer certain colors when it comes to laying their eggs. This is a modified experiment of my award-winning project that jettisoned me to the Intel Internal Science and Engineering Fair in 2007.
As mentioned in my previous post, visual animals like the large milkweed bug typically are attracted to certain colors and color patterns when it comes to decision making. This behavioral trait not only extends for finding food, but also when finding the appropriate home for producing offspring. Insects will only lay eggs on certain plants that will insure the highest survival rate. While numerous factors come into play when choosing the appropriate host plant, color is one of the most important.
This experiment will determine if large milkweed bugs show color preference when it comes to laying eggs.
- Large milkweed bugs
- Distilled water
- Round Cotton wicks
- Plastic bottles
- Food colorings dyes (4)
- Clear plastic containers w/lid
- Plastic bags
- Paper towels
- Plastic arena/aquarium
- Sunflower seeds
For the large milkweed bugs, you can purchase them here.
I recommend shopping on amazon.com for the plastic arena/aquarium and ebay.com for the round cotton wicks.
Everything else can be purchased at your local store.
After the milkweed bugs have become adults (4-6 weeks), begin the experiment:
1) Create (4) food color solutions. Fill four plastic bottles half way distilled water and 12 mL of one of your food color dyes.
2) Cut a cotton wick into 5 pieces (approximately 1cm in length each). Repeat this process for 3 other cotton wicks. You should have a total of 20 cotton wick pieces.
3) Divide the 20 cotton wick pieces into 4 groups of 5. Each group will be placed in one of the food color solution bottles.
4) Shake each bottle for 3-5 minutes. Let the wicks absorb the solution for 24 hours.
5) After 24 hours, dispose of the food color solutions and place the dyed cotton wick pieces on separate pieces of paper to dry for 30-40 minutes. Ideally, place the pieces under a light source to expedite the process.
6) The wicks will be grouped by color and placed into four separate bags.
7) In the plastic arena, place 1 dyed cotton wick at one of the four corners. In addition, place sunflower seeds and a humidifier in the arena. (To make a humidifier, take a plastic container w/ lid and fill with water. Make a hole in the plastic lid and stick an normal cotton wick through it. Close lid on the container).
8) Add adult large milkweed bugs in the arena and observe for 20-30 minutes. Near the end of the day, remove each cotton wick piece and record the number of eggs you see. Place these cotton wicks into one of four plastic containers.
9) Add new cotton wick pieces into the plastic arena and repeat the process 4 more times.
10) To rule out that the bugs are just going to a position & not a color, each new set of cotton wicks will be placed a position clockwise to the former set.
11) One the last day, transport the milkweed bugs and their eggs on the cotton wicks back to their original habitat.
Observation and Results
Do you notice higher numbers of milkweed bugs for a certain color(s)? Did you notice higher numbers of milkweed bugs at certain sides of the arena? Did the number of eggs increase each day or stay the same for each of the cotton wick pieces?
When you’re finished with this experiment, you can always use different color combinations for your wicks.