Heart rates of insects reflect the current level of activity and stress individuals are experiencing, and therefore this information can be useful from a research perspective. In Lepidoptera, as with most insects, the ‘heart’ consists of a transverse longitudinal tube that runs along the abdomen, just under the abdominal tergites, which pumps or contracts rhythmically to distribute hemolymph. Here, we describe a simple method we developed to observe heart contractions in adult monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus. The procedure involves stabilizing the live specimen in a pre-prepared plastic bag, while positioning the abdomen in such a way so that the beating heart can be seen (with magnification) through the intersegmental membranes. With this procedure, no harm comes to the specimen, making the technique useful in both lab and field studies. The technique also requires little equipment, except for a dissecting microscope (or other magnifier). Moreover, the procedure should be useful for monitoring other similarly-sized Lepidoptera, and we confirmed this with a Papilio glaucus specimen. Using this method on 10 male and 10 female monarch specimens from captive-reared stock, we found the resting heart rate was 63 beats/min on average (range: 35–86). This information will be useful for comparative purposes, or as a reference point for future studies of monarch physiology.
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