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Bee-lieve You Can and You’re Halfway There: The Prototyping Process

In my last post I claimed my tunnel was done and ready for testing, but boy was I wrong! I’ve spent the last week or so adding supports, finding a way to cover it to prevent the bees from escaping, covering the surroundings to eliminate landmarks (anything in the environment that lets bees keep track of where they are), and setting up my camera for recording and subsequent tracking.

My original tunnel setup

My mesh tunnel covering

My original cardboard landmark removal setup

           At first I tried mesh to keep the bees in the tunnel, but still allow recording without glare. Unfortunately, I found that bees liked to crawl on the mesh rather than fly, and it was tricky to keep them from escaping. I then tried acrylic covers sprayed with hairspray to reduce glare, and once I moved the light source that worked well. It was a bit unstable, so I had to glue most of the tunnel together. To eliminate landmarks, I first tried using cardboard with white paper glued to it, but that proved too unstable. I then suspended black cloth above the tunnel, and that seems to be working well. Finally, I built a camera stand to suspend a GoPro above the tunnel.


My final tunnel setup with acrylic covers and camera stand

           The logical next step was to test bees in my new and improved tunnel, so I had to learn how to catch them. Luckily, my yard has a plentiful supply of flowering bushes and my roommate had a delightfully eccentric childhood hobby of catching bees (shout out to the younger version of fellow Fellow Maria!) After some coaching and moral support, I got pretty good at catching our pollinating friends without harming them, and releasing them after a few hours of testing.

Catching bees in my yard

When bees don’t want me to catch them

           A couple days ago, I finally got a bee to fly in the tunnel and forage at the feeder, the behavior I’d been looking for. The bee showed up well on the camera and we were able to track its movement. However, catching bees outside won’t get me enough numbers for my experiment, so I’ve been lucky enough to meet a local beekeeper who will let me set up outside his hives and look for some foraging in action. Hoping I get to do that soon!

                                                  Local beehives!


Learning the basics of bee-ing a beekeeper!


Becoming a #MothMom

Hello, everyone! Jess here. Lots of exciting things have happened in the last two weeks. First, I have begun to raise a group of silkworms into moths (#mothmom). This involves feeding them Mulberry leaves from my backyard each day, keeping everything extremely clean and crossing my fingers in hopes that I know what I’m doing. If first grade classrooms can keep them alive, so can I, right? In addition to raising silkworms myself, I have been getting shipments of cocoons to ensure I have plenty of moths to work with this summer.


Left: silkworms feeding on mulberry leaves. Middle: silkworm cocoon developing. Right: female silkmoth.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been working with cockroaches to refine methods until the moths are ready. Rather than looking at pheromones, I have been investigating olfaction with natural attractants and repellents. Unlike silkmoths, cockroaches have multiple pheromones and they cannot be easily ordered. So, I chose something we all know cockroaches love and are able to locate through olfaction: food. Additionally, it is well known that getting rid of cockroaches without the help of a exterminator can be extremely difficult, so why not investigate a variety of repellents I found on a garden blog and see what happens?

The first (and most important) step was to design an experiment to observe the natural cockroach response to these odorants. After going through multiple iterations of a behavioral chamber that involved a lot of laser cutting (and a lot of recutting because measuring a box without parallel sides is hard), I’ve found a design that works well. It’s extremely simple: a large tupperware with a clear top, dixie cups, tape, filter paper and the odorants of your choice.

Experimental set up with shelters for the cockroaches

Initially, I had the idea of setting up a classic choice paradigm. Cockroaches would enter the arena and choose whichever chamber contained the odorant of their preference. I quickly ran into issues because they hate being out in the light, and had no interest in my contrived scent experiment. So, I used their hate for the light to my advantage. I placed shelters (dixie cups) around the arena with different odor filter papers taped inside. This way, they were making a choice of which shelter they preferred. So far this design has been working well, and I will continue to optimize it and run trails throughout the summer.

The second portion of my cockroach experiment has been focused on electrophysiology. I wanted to design a simple, DIY method for recording from cockroach antennas, also known as an electroantennogram (EAG). The type of electrical activity I am looking for is a low frequency summed potential sent from the end of the antenna towards the base. This electrical potential is then transmitted to higher order areas of the cockroach brain where the scent is perceived and a response is initiated.

To do this, I’ve made pad electrodes with sewing pins and solder to lay the antenna across. I then cut off the antenna, put it on the electrodes and apply plenty of electrode gel to prevent it from drying out. Using syringes and aquarium tubing, I blow odorants tested in the behavioral experiment on the antenna and examine the electrical response.


Antenna set up ready for odorant stimulation


Here is a snippet of my data below compared with results previously seen in literature:

EAG recording from cockroach antenna. Red line = control air, Yellow line = ethanol

EAG recordings seen in cockroach literature (Saifullah & Page, 2009)


The signal is similar to what has been published in literature, suggesting this DIY method works (yay!). Further, there are differential signals when ethanol is introduced and when the control is introduced. This suggests the cockroach is capable of sensing ethanol, and the response is not due to the puff of air itself. How this sensation may affect behavior will then be determined in the preference experiment I described earlier.

Now that I have some moths to work with, the cockroach portion of my project will be put on the backburner for a little bit. The silk moths only live for 5-10 days, so I’ve got to work with them while I can. Looking forward to sharing my moth data with you all next post!


For any questions or comments- feel free to contact me at In the mean time, here’s a timelapse video I took of my silkworms spinning a cocoon:

Secret Life of Jellyfish

Hello all! My name is Anastasiya and I’m a computer engineering and neuroscience double major at the University of Cincinnati. I’m curious about the world around me and my favorite thing to do is learn. My hobbies include making strange noises, fangirling over the fuel efficiency of my car, and volunteering while spreading knowledge to the general public. I mainly volunteer at the Cincinnati Observatory, home of the oldest professional telescope open to the public, and at Cincinnati Public Schools, where I help out with a Lego League robotics club and mentor a group of high school scholars.

This summer I’m investigating ‘The Secret Life of Jellyfish’, specifically, of the clytia hemisphaerica. They’re super tiny (they max out at about 20mm in diameter) and seem to be capable of doing things they shouldn’t be able to do. By that I mean that these jellyfish seem to exhibit relatively complex behaviors without making use of a brain (since they don’t have one). They’re also kind of ridiculous and paradoxical to me, because trying to lift one out of the water could easily kill the clytia since the surface tension of the water is too much for it to handle, but you can chop it in half and it’ll be just fine as two separate jellies. Weird (but cool)!

The current plan is to record videos of the jellyfish in various situations and then use some form of machine learning to figure out the jellies’ behavior. I’ve looked at some potential tracking software, libraries, and random snippets of code, and it seems that OpenCV is my best bet for analyzing the videos, so I’ve spent the last couple weeks learning about it and how to use it in Visual Studio 2017 with C++. But learning about code is not all I’ve done; I’ve also been preparing for the impending arrival of clytia hemisphaerica to our laboratory.

I first made sure to get a (hopefully) decent environment set up for them. Clytia hemisphaerica need salt water at a salinity of 1.0268, or 37 parts per thousand, and a small current to keep them swimming as this is critical to their health. The housing units I set up are based on the traditional beaker method and include 3.7L beakers (actually 6”x8” glass vases from Amazon) filled with artificial sea water as well as a constant current stimulator made of acrylic rectangles, hot glue, plastic pipettes, 12V 5RPM motors, some wires, and an AC to DC adapter. All of these things together should provide a nice home for the jellies when they arrive, but that is not all I need to prepare.

Jellyfish, like many living things, need a food source, and the one I’m preparing is artemia, otherwise known as brine shrimp. Brine shrimp are pretty easy to hatch, and just one cap-full of brine shrimp eggs makes a very large amount of baby brine shrimp, enough to turn an entire bottle and beaker a shade of orange. That must mean that, after a one-time investment of a large batch of artemia, I am all set on jellyfish food for the summer, right? Well, there’s a catch. The catch here is that clytia hemisphaerica should only eat 1.5 to 4 day old brine shrimp, and eating ones that are are outside this age range for prolonged periods of time could have deadly consequences for the poor jellies (and for my easily over-attached heart). This means I’ll have to constantly hatch and culture new batches of brine shrimp and keep track of hatch dates so I have the proper feed for these picky eaters.


At this point, I’m pretty sure everything is ready for the jellies to come in, and they should be gracing us with their presence any day now. I’m very excited to be working on this project as a fellow at Backyard Brains, and I can’t wait to see these jellyfish in person! The more I learn about them, the more mysterious and intriguing clytia hemisphaerica become, and I look forward to finding at least some pieces to the puzzle that is their behavior.