Introducing time-lapse cameras in combination with dataloggers as a new method for the field study of caterpillars and microclimate


We used time-lapse cameras, in combination with dataloggers for microclimate (air humidity and temperature), in an insect field study to analyse behaviour of caterpillars over several larval stages and determine mortality reasons in relation to microclimate. We studied caterpillars of instar 1–3 of the Moorland Clouded Yellow (Colias palaeno, Linnaeus, 1761), that is from hatching from the egg until hibernation. The observation by time-lapse cameras enabled us to gather data on several caterpillars simultaneously over longer time periods. Especially, the combination with dataloggers collecting microclimatic data gives interesting insights in the life, mortality causes and behaviour of the observed caterpillars in relation to microclimatic conditions. To our knowledge, time-lapse or automatic cameras combined with dataloggers collecting microclimatic data have not been used in field studies on phytophagous insects, but only in defined experimental settings or to observe pollinators visiting flowers. Therefore, we summarize our experiences on opportunities and limitations in this communication. If the observed insect is not moving too far and is most of the time visible on the upper surface of the leaf this method can be used for several research questions under very different conditions.

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The study was supported by the Bavarian Academy of Nature Conservation and Landscape management (ANL) and it is part of the ANL research project “Development of management strategies for habitats and species of the annexes of the Habitats Directive: Analysis of the reasons for the large-scale decline of C. palaeno”.

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Correspondence to Matthias Dolek.

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MOESM4: Video example, cut from a longer sequence: The caterpillar (No. 88) on a sunny day moving, resting, and feeding (17.08.2014). After the night, the camera lens is fogged (no observation possible), later, dew-fall is visible on the leaves. The caterpillar is resting a long time and then starts to move and feed. In the evening, it starts to rain. (Note: camera time is 2 hours and 33 minutes ahead of CEST). Supplementary material 1 (MP4 0 kb)

MOESM1: For each of the three behavioural categories we present one detail out of one picture of the original time-lapse pictures. Therefore, picture quality and file size are low. 1a: Feeding: Fresh green leaf parts appear, where the caterpillar removed the upper layer of the leaf. Supplementary material 1 (JPG 32 kb)

MOESM2: 1b: Moving: The caterpillar is turning around and moving back from feeding to resting position. Supplementary material 1 (JPG 22 kb)

MOESM3: 1c: Resting: The cat-erpillar is sitting in its typical resting position at the base of the leaf, head downwards. Supplementary material 1 (JPG 20 kb)

MOESM4: Video example, cut from a longer sequence: The caterpillar (No. 88) on a sunny day moving, resting, and feeding (17.08.2014). After the night, the camera lens is fogged (no observation possible), later, dew-fall is visible on the leaves. The caterpillar is resting a long time and then starts to move and feed. In the evening, it starts to rain. (Note: camera time is 2 hours and 33 minutes ahead of CEST). Supplementary material 1 (MP4 0 kb)

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Dolek, M., Georgi, M. Introducing time-lapse cameras in combination with dataloggers as a new method for the field study of caterpillars and microclimate. J Insect Conserv 21, 573–579 (2017).

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  • Butterfly
  • Microclimate
  • Caterpillar
  • Behaviour
  • Colias palaeno