As we’ve previously discussed on the blog, scientists sometimes need to improvise research tools using house hold objects . I recently got a shipment of butterflies from Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. I’m hoping to test whether these northern butterflies are adapted to a different range of temperatures than their southern counterparts. The scientist collecting them for me shipped them to me as pupa, and soon they’ll be emerging from their chrysalies and I will try to breed them and use the offspring in experiments. I’ve been asking my Japanese labmates for advice on how to set up experiments here, and one big thing they’ve taught me that the Hyaku yen shop is the number one place to purchase butterfly rearing supplies.
What is a Hyaku Yen Shop?
Hyaku yen shops are like the dollar store in the U.S. but even better.. Hyaku means 100, the yen is the currency of Japan, and Hyaku yen is about $1 depending on the exchange rate (lately it’s more like 75 cents). Some Hyaku Yen shops are little mom and pop places, but mine is three floors of ridiculously cheap goods manufactured in China all for under Y100. You can get anything from laundry detergent to pickles to purses at the Hyaku yen shop, including butterfly rearing supplies.
Butterflies are pretty uncomplicated animals to raise, at least in theory. They basically need a container with air holes and some type of sugar water to feed on. Therefore, an aspiring bioligist can buy a functional lab set up for under $100. I’m lucky because my Japanese lab already has some equipment I can use. My labmates in Kyoto rear their butterflies in these plastic containers. In their former life they used for take out at restaraunts, but they now have holes cut in the top to let air in (although they aren’t technically from the Hyaku yen shop, they are still clearly in the MacGyver spirit).
To close the butterfly cages we use little squares of plastic mesh. Japanese families usually cover their drains with mesh to keep food out of the plumbing (houses here usually don’t have garbage disposals). Mesh squares also make a great cover for a butterfly cage. Butterflies also need a stick to cling to when they emerge from their chrysalis. Back home we used sticks from the ground outside which are free and therefore cheaper than the Hyaku yen shop. However, they often had crazy bacteria, mold and fungi which can reduce unsuspecting butterflies to a pulp. Chopsticks, on the other hand, cost about one yen per chopstick, and are totally sterile.
Finally, butterflies need to eat. Back in the U.S., we mix up a solution of honey and water to feed our butterflies. However, my Japanese labmates use sports drinks, which are a lot more convenient and can be bought in bulk. The butterfly drink of choice is apparently “Pocari Sweat”, an insanely popular sports drink in Japan.
The Hyaku yen shop also has baskets for organizing petri dishes and , lab note books, labels and an assortment of fine pens for collecting data . In the past two months, I’ve come to depend on the Hyaku yen shop for my research supplies. Having a one-stop shop for all my research needs is one of the many things I’m really going to miss when I get back to the U.S.