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Dissecting a tobacco hornworm

February 14, 2011   Today I realized that I am much more squeamish than I thought.

At lunch I was talking to my friend Lucas Harris ’12 about pinning bugs. I was trying to mentally prepare myself for an insect dissection that I would be doing in lab later in the afternoon. Lucas told me all about an insect collecting project that he did while he was abroad in South Africa last semester. He was kind enough to mention that sometimes when he pinned bugs, they would continue to squirm. The description alone was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. So as I walked from McEwen to the science center, I began to mentally prepare myself to cut open an insect and deal with the squirminess.

The 7-minute walk to the other side of campus was not long enough to mentally prepare myself for lab today. Partly because the insects that we were dissecting were still alive when I arrived. And they were much bigger then I thought they would be.

The smaller bright green tobacco hornworms were probably about the size of my index finger. Anyway, we put them in water until “the animal becomes flaccid” (a quote from my lab text). We were then to cut the tobacco hornworm length-wise, remove the digestive tract and test the pH of the interior of the digestive tract. This was all easier said then done because the tobacco hornworm KEPT MOVING. It kept squirming and wriggling all over the place when my lab partner Kayla Brendan ’12 was trying to cut the body open. I couldn’t watch. Every time the hornworm moved, I jumped.

Kayla finally pinned down four corners and then I had to remove the digestive tract. So I picked up my tweezers and scissors and got to work. One time when the muscles contracted, I was so surprised that I dropped the tweezers. I didn’t really think that the inner anatomy was gross or anything like that, but I didn’t expect the hornworm to keep moving after it was cut open and pinned down on the plate in front of me.

Today’s lab was an experience. It was pretty cool to be able to see the hornmworm’s insides under a microscope. But I have to say that cutting bugs open is not my cup of tea. Especially when they keep moving. We shall see if I’m as squeamish as I was today during the fetal pig dissection that we’re doing later this semester.