grasscutter
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Pillbug Sociology

Postby grasscutter » Thu Jul 26, 2007 9:57 pm

Does anyone have any advice on how to set up on experiment investigating possible societies in pillbugs? Thanks for any help you do give.

MelissaB
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Postby MelissaB » Fri Jul 27, 2007 5:49 am

Can you tell us what you mean by 'society', and what hypotheses you're interested in testing? I'm going to have different recommendations depending on what your question(s) is/are.

That said--you'll probably want to mark individual pillbugs so you can recognize them later. I suggest some sort of non-toxic, waterproof paint. If I recall correctly, a friend who was studying ants used paint designed for model airplanes to mark his ants.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to present this work in many science fairs (because it involves living animals), or you may have to fill out a lot of extra paperwork. The judges are going to want to make sure you haven't hurt the animals--but if you're just observing them and perhaps marking them with nontoxic paint, you -should- be okay. Still, best check with your teachers to make sure.

grasscutter
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Postby grasscutter » Sat Jul 28, 2007 12:14 pm

Well some possible hypotheses are 1) Pilllbugs have certain behaviors that would normally be attributed to supposedly "higher intelligence" animals or 2) Pillbugs have emotions. To tell the truth I have done some research online and haven't found much about their actual behavior. That's mainly what I'm interested in, how they interact with each other and if any of their behavior can be attributed to something besides pure instinct. I don't know if it can, but it seems very close-minded to assume it can't.

And I had already thought that I should mark them, but I wasn't quite sure with what. Model paint would be a pretty good idea.

Also my county's science fair does accept living animals as long as there's no harm done to them, but you're right, I do need to fill out paperwork for it.

Louise
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Postby Louise » Sat Jul 28, 2007 1:35 pm

grasscutter wrote:Well some possible hypotheses are 1) Pilllbugs have certain behaviors that would normally be attributed to supposedly "higher intelligence" animals or 2) Pillbugs have emotions. To tell the truth I have done some research online and haven't found much about their actual behavior. That's mainly what I'm interested in, how they interact with each other and if any of their behavior can be attributed to something besides pure instinct. I don't know if it can, but it seems very close-minded to assume it can't.

And I had already thought that I should mark them, but I wasn't quite sure with what. Model paint would be a pretty good idea.

Also my county's science fair does accept living animals as long as there's no harm done to them, but you're right, I do need to fill out paperwork for it.


Let me jump in here and suggest that you research your paint pretty carefully for two reasons: 1) what is non-toxic for people may be toxic for pill bugs and 2) many model paints _are not_ non-toxic for people. Many of them have lots of nasty solvents that require well ventelated rooms.

Anyway, here is a paper that lists references for tagging insects. I would try to get the papers cited in there about using paint or ink. I'm thinking the method in this paper (paper labels) won't wok for something in a wet environement. Some of the other methods are beyond your means (isotope labelling!). Your local librarian can help you get these papers if you can't find them online, and if the library can't help post back here..

http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/pd ... 03.00015.x

Louise

MelissaB
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Postby MelissaB » Sat Jul 28, 2007 2:53 pm

Thanks for getting back to us on this. First, I agree with Louise--you do want to be careful about what paint you use, and take a look at those papers if you can. You'll also want to be certain that you don't affect their ability to roll into balls or get any on their undersides, where their respiratory apparatuses are. By the way, if you haven't see this article in Wikipedia yet, I suggest you look it over: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodlouse

Next, I suggest you focus on the first of your hypotheses. Emotions are an incredibly hard thing to scientifically prove that a non-human animal has, because most of them (including pillbugs) can't communicate with us.

So, what behaviors are you interested in looking for? There's a number of fairly simple non-harmful experiments you can do with insects to study things such as memory, orientation and navigation, and so forth.

I suggest that first, you go out and watch pillbugs as much as you can. Since they're nocturnal, I highly suggest going out at night as well as in the daytime if your parents say it's okay. You're probably going to get better ideas for things to experiment with if you spend some time watching the animals.

grasscutter
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Postby grasscutter » Sun Jul 29, 2007 9:54 pm

Ok before I respond let me first explain what exactly I have to do. I'm currently at a program held by the UC system for high school students for math and science. There is a miniture science fair being held on Wednesday for volunteering participants. However you do not actually have to do the experiment by Wednesday, you just need to have a proposal ready on a posterboard. One person from each "Cluster" (groups of about 17 students, in which varying amounts will participate) will receive $500 to actually do the experiment and participate in a science fair.

Thus I don't actually have too much time to come up with an idea for a project. I would really like to do a lot more research on the project and observe them before deciding what to test, but I don't have that time. So I can't really observe them like I would want to. That's why I'm asking for some help, because I don't know 1) Exactly what to test and 2) How to test it in the first place.

I dolike the memory idea though. But since I don't know too much about pillbugs, I can't figure out a way to test their memories, I don't know how they sense things. But yeah. Would you mind giving me some sample experiments for memory possibly and I can see if I can tweak them in some way? Thanks, I really appreciate it. I haven't entered a science fair since 6th grade, so it's kind of stressful coming up with ideas and whatnot, but this does make it a lot easier.

ChrisG
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Postby ChrisG » Mon Jul 30, 2007 8:16 am

It seems that you are not alone in your interest in woodlouse behavior:
http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/ ... e/faqs.htm
See the question starting with "I am studying the behavior...". According to this web page, high school (?) students who have done memory experiments using mazes did not observe evidence of what we tend to think of as 'learned' behavior. However, interesting to note, new sow bugs seemed to be able to navigate the mazes as well as the ones that had already navigated the maze, suggesting a scent trail left by earlier bugs. You could do some interesting experiments based on behavior related to scent trails.

That web page seems to be a good resource for your work:
http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/ ... /wlice.htm

Here is an abstract of a peer-reviewed article that is relevant to your work and might help to convince judges that you would be conducting serious, scientifically relevant research:

Title: Questions and possible new directions for research into the biology of terrestrial isopods
Author(s): Hassall M, Zimmer M, Loureiro S
Source: EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF SOIL BIOLOGY 41 (3-4): 57-61 JUL-DEC 2005
Abstract: New directions for research identified during the final plenary discussion of the Sixth Symposium on the Biology of Terrestrial Isopods included: locating enzymes buffering pleon fluids during excretion of ammonia and the use of isopods in ecotoxicology including how they adapt to or tolerate high contaminant levels; how they interact with free living and endosymbiotic microbiota and how Wolbacchia avoids the immune response of isopods. New analyses of mating behaviour raised questions concerning mate choice while new microsatellite techniques may help resolve issues of multiple paternity and sperm competition. In relation to their ecology and biogeography new questions included how does the ability to learn the location of high quality food patches in spatially heterogeneous environments and the existence of an Allee effect, influence the population biology of isopods in the field and how do patterns of invasion and colonisation vary between species with different motility and life history strategies?

Here is text from that article listing some relevant research questions related to behavior:
"Do isopods learn to relocate high quality food patches in
the field as they do in the laboratory [36]?What is the range
of daily foraging movements and how are these affected by
weather conditions [9]? Does the increased activity of isopods
in late spring [2] relate to courtship and mate finding
behaviour [18]? Does increased activity in autumn [2] represent
lateral seasonal migration to more favourable wintering
areas? Could directional pitfall trapping [22] be used to determine
differences in directional movements at different times
of year? How common are mass migrations in isopods [39]?
Are they related to changes in meteorological conditions or
resource distribution? Are they directional or are they random
dispersal movements?"

Here is the reference #36, listed above, that seems to relate to your interest in woodlouse learning/ memory:

Title: Locating food in a spatially heterogeneous environment: Implications for fitness of the macrodecomposer Armadillidium vulgare (Isopoda : Oniscidea)
Author(s): Tuck JM, Hassall M
Source: BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY AND SOCIOBIOLOGY 58 (6): 545-551 OCT 2005
Abstract: To assess the fitness consequences of foraging on patchy resources, consumption rates, growth rates and survivorship of Armadillidium vulgare were monitored while feeding in arenas in which the spatial distribution of patches of high quality food (powdered dicotyledonous leaf litter) was varied within a matrix of low quality food (powdered grass leaf litter). Predictions from behavioural experiments that these fitness correlates would be lower when high quality food is more heterogeneously distributed in space were tested but not supported either by laboratory or field experiments. To investigate whether A. vulgare can develop the ability to relocate high quality food patches, changes in foraging behaviour, over a comparable time period to that used in the fitness experiments, were monitored in arenas in which there was a high quality food patch in a low quality matrix. A. vulgare increased its ability to relocate the position of high quality food over time. It reduced time spent in low quality food matrices and increased time spent in high quality food patches with time after the start of the experiment. When the position of a high quality food patch was moved, the time spent in the low quality food matrix increased and less time was spent in high quality food patches, compared to arenas in which the food was not moved. The fitness benefits for saprophages of developing the ability to relocate high quality patches while foraging in spatially heterogeneous environments are discussed.

MelissaB
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Postby MelissaB » Mon Jul 30, 2007 8:30 am

Just to add to what ChrisG said, my guess is that they are able to sense the substrate on which they walk. So you could lay down sandpaper in half a box (or in a maze) and carpet in the other half, and give them food only in one half (let's say carpet). Make several boxes with different arrangements of sandpaper and carpet, and only feed them on the carpet. Then get a box with an arrangement of sandpaper and carpet that they've never been tested in before and put them in it. If they go straight to the carpet, they've 'learned' that food can be found on carpet.

To test for memory, you then put the same individuals back in the box several days later to see if they 'remember' that carpet=food.

Obviously, you'd want to do this with multiple individuals so you can show that your results are not just due to chance.

This setup is somewhat simplistic, and you'll need to either control for or be aware of other cues that they could be using (this is why I suggest you make several different boxes so they aren't just basing their decision on the physical location of the food relative to the sides of the box). But that just gives you an idea of one experiment you could use to test for learning and memory--it can easily be modified.

My friend actually did an experiment where she taught sparrows to hop in a maze and then tested them several days later, either after they had had a good night's sleep or after they'd been sleep deprived, and the sleep-deprived sparrows took longer to learn what they were supposed to do, but surprisingly once they'd learned the task their recall was about as good as non-sleep-deprived birds.


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