“Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way”
(Steppenwolf – Born To Be Wild)
Collecting our samples from three countries at 5 locations requires a bit of travelling endurance. Altogether we cover about 1960 km in northern Fennoscandia in our rental car and cross the national borders 7 times. Sometimes we drive through the customs three times in one day. Luckily the borders between the three northern countries are fairly open, and a small car like ours rarely has to stop at the border. This makes our travelling quite smooth and we usually cover the whole trip in about 10 days. Figure below shows our route for VINCERO. Start point at Kiruna airport (A), where the trip continues through Abisko (B), Gratangen (C), Kilpisjärvi (D), Kevo (E) and Nuorgam (F) to Svanhovd (G) and back.
As in the lyrics by Steppenwolf, our travelling is sometimes a bit of an adventure and we see a variety of landscapes and drive in changing conditions. This has been especially true this year, when for the first time, we were caught by surprise by snowfall. The snow took turns with hail showers and sunshine on our drive from Kilpisjärvi (Figure 1, D) to Kevo (Figure 1, E) and made our lunch stop for the day more interesting than usual (Figures below, with Helena). Later we heard that the temperature at Kilpisjärvi had dropped to -5°C the night after our departure.
We have now returned from our trip for the summer and the last leg of our travels is in a plane back to the south. For this we checked in an extra box in the animal compartment as pets (neither cat nor dog) containing approximately 400 caterpillars of autumnal and winter moths. Thanks to the staff at Kiruna airport, we have never had troubles packing our larvae with us!
Travelling with 400 pets in general is not a straightforward thing to do. Although our larvae need only birch leaves and little tender love and care to survive, we need to keep track of a few basic conditions and carry some extra equipment with us:
…Stands for Air Conditioning and Daily Cleaning that are the most important issues we think about every day.
Firstly, air conditioning is a feature we require of our rental car, although the summers in northern Fennoscandia are not in general known for high temperatures. This is because the sun shining on our larvae directly in the back of the car can raise the temperatures in the vials to sweaty temperatures for our pets. As mentioned before, this year heat was not the problem, but we did loose some individuals one year due to an unexpected heat wave in the north.
A few rather ordinary pieces of equipment are required for our daily caretaking. A good knife is of course always a good tool, but usually we carry with us something sturdier, namely branch scissors! At their later instars, the larvae may eat up to three whole birch leaves a day, so we need to make sure to be prepared for cutting lots of short shoots from mountain birch branches and feeding them. Sometimes the feeding is done at our friendly relatives’ back porch, but this is where the research stations are a valuable asset on our travels providing laboratory and other facilities to take care of our collected specimens.
Particularly this year with our virus infected studies the roles of tweezers and hand disinfectant have been elevated. It is not certain how the virus spreads from one larva to another, but suspicions about it being present on the leaves or in the soil with the pupae have risen. We hope that individual rearing and diligent cleaning of our hands and equipment will reduce the risk of unwanted infections to minimum.
Next some more info on our pets and their enemies!
Helena and Tea
P.s. The musical theme for this blog was inspired by a sudden Christmas carol fever Tea got at Kilpisjärvi with the snow fall, that also compelled her to buy Helena a CD full of Finnish Christmas carols for present! The CD was also playing on our way to Kevo.