Hi everyone at Prospect Creek State School! I hope Term 4 is going really well.
I have been busy sorting the trap samples I picked up when Alana and I visited you in October – thanks again for letting us visit your beautiful school!
This is what the first sample looked like when I poured it into a sorting tray:
My first step was to sort out ALL the ladybugs… of which there were A LOT!
This species, which was in your trap in the hundreds, is called Micraspis frenata, the striped ladybird beetle.
As well as all the ladybird beetles, there were some other cool beetles in the sample also.
The one with the long snout is called a weevil!
There were also LOTS of different wasps – as well as several species of the wasps that I study (hopefully we find a new species!), there were tiny little parasitic wasps, some big spider-hunting wasps called pompilid wasps, and everything in between!
The wasp in the red circle above is called a bethylid wasp, from the family Bethylidae. It is flattened (can you see it’s a bit flat looking, especially the head and thorax?) and has really strong chunky front legs? Can you think of any reasons why it might be flat and have big strong front legs?
These wasps are parasitoids of beetle and moth larvae, which are often hidden under bark or between leaf litter, so being flat might help the bethlyid wasps squeeze into tight spaces to find their hosts (the larvae they want to lay their eggs on, for their babies to eat when they hatch). The strong front legs might be for grabbing hold of the beetle or moth larvae and holding them still whilst they lay their eggs on them, for moving the hosts around, and and for being able to push leaves and bark out the way whilst they’re searching for the larvae.
There were five specimens of Microgastrinae, the group of wasps I work on, in the trap! These are wasps that attack caterpillars, and lay their eggs in them. The baby wasps hatch out inside the caterpillars (baby wasps look like little wriggling whit maggots) and then eat the caterpillar from the inside out!
I will look more closely at these wasp specimens and see if we can identify what species they are!
Looking forward to sorting your next trap – comment below with any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them!
Hello everyone at Waikerie! I have sorted your last three trap samples that you sent me, and now Karen from Riverland West Landcare is going to take the trap down for winter – we are not catching too much anymore as it is getting cold, and the trap is getting blown down a lot in the high winds and storms.
Inside these traps were lots of the same insects as we’ve caught before, but I wanted to show you one I haven’t talked about before: the hoverfly!
Hoverflies are from the fly (Diptera) family Syrphidae. They are often seen hovering at flowers, as many species drink nectar and eat pollen as adults. Some of them can be important pollinators of plants! They are also often yellow and black striped, and look a little bit like wasps. To tell the difference between a hoverfly and wasp, the easiest thing to do is count the wings – flies have one pair of wings, whilst wasps have two pairs of wings!
There were some more microgastrines (the parasitoid wasps I study) in these traps too, which was very exciting. There was a specimen that I think is the same species of Glyptapanteles that was caught in the trap at Ramco Primary School, and also this very cool species in the image below, which is a species in the genus Miropotes. I have been comparing it to the already described species of Miropotes and there is only one species that it looks similar to – if it isn’t that one, then it’s new!
I will keep you updated as I keep working on it. I need to pin the wasp out and dry it out from the ethanol to allow me to see more closely the tiny structures on it (for example, I will look at how bumpy different parts of the body is – we call this the ‘sculpturing’, and I will measure and look at the different shapes of parts of the body) to see if it is the same as the already described species, or whether it is different enough to be a new species! I will also pull a couple of legs off to sequence part of the DNA.
She is a female wasp, I’ve pointed to the ovipositor covers in the picture below. Her ovipositor is the needle-like thing she uses to inject her eggs into caterpillars so that her babies can hatch out inside the caterpillar and eat it from the inside. The ovipositor covers (she has two, one either side of the ovipositor) are what we can see in the picture – they are like a case that protects her delicate ovipositor when she is not using it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these little updates on what has been in your traps. When I come visit next time I will bring lots of the samples and some microscopes, so that you can see them all up close!
Hello students at Macclesfield! I am sorry it has been so long since I was in contact. I wanted to show you some of the cool things you caught in the Malaise trap that you ran for me last last year up in the bush block, and I’ll keep you updated as I keep working on the specimens. I know some of the other schools have been getting a bit of media attention lately, they just got lucky with the sort of wasp they caught, that it could be easily identified as a new species! The ones you caught are super important too, and I am working on all of them at the same time.
You caught quite a few specimens of the wasps I study, the microgastrines, at least two or three different species. This is a species in the genus Cotesia – I have just finished some research on this group, so once we get the DNA results back it should be pretty quick to know what species you caught – or maybe it will be a new species! I’m working in the lab at the moment, so hopefully it won’t be too long before I have news about this – but it will probably be in term 3 sometime.
Microgastrine wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars – the baby wasps hatch out and slowly eat the caterpillar alive!
You caught lots of other cool looking wasps too! The one in the photo above is from the family Ichneumonidae. These wasps are parasitoids like the microgastrines, you can see her ovipositor or egg-laying tube (the pointy thing coming out the abdomen that looks like a stinger) and the protective covers for the ovipositor (just above it, the darker less-pointy thing). Ichneumonid wasps also often attack caterpillars, but some species also attack many other sorts of insects. We’re not sure what this ichneumonid parasitises!
This little wasp is from the superfamily Chalcidoidea, I think from the family Pteromellidae. Different species of these little wasps are often parasitoids of a wide range of insects!
The wasp above is from the family Mutillidae – female wasps in this family don’t have wings, and instead wander around the ground looking for bee or wasp nests to lay their eggs in. The baby wasps then eat the bee or wasp larvae that were in the nest. Mutillids are often known as ‘velvet ants’ as they look a bit like fluffy ants! They have very painful stings – you can see her ovipositor sticking out her abdomen in the photo above, which she can use to defend herself by stinging other animals that might want to eat her.
You also found some really cool insects which were not wasps! The photo above is of an insect called a lacewing, or a neuropteran. These insects are predators, feeding off other small insects like aphids – so they can be very handy to have in the backyard if you have aphids eating your roses!
Thanks again for running the trap for me last year, the samples are now all sorted and I’m working on identifying the microgastrine wasps that you caught!
Hello Waikerie! Winter is coming, which means less bugs in the traps – less insects fly in winter as they normally need warmth from the sun for energy. Whilst the trap I just finished sorting (up from 31 March to 7 April) had less insects in it than the last ones, there was still lots of very cool finds.
There was a female wasp in the family Pompilidae (spider hunting wasps) – you can see her ovipositor (it looks like a stinger) in the photo above, which is how I know she is female. This is what she would use to lay her egg on a paralysed spider that she has hidden in a burrow, providing fresh food for her baby when it hatches out. You caught a few different species of these in your last trap – but this one has some very typical spider-wasp orange colouring!
The funny looking yellow insect above is a true bug (order Hemiptera), in the superfamily Fulgoroidea (the plant hoppers), I think (but I could be wrong) in the family Dictyopharidae or Fulgoridae. This group of planthoppers have their head super stretched out, looking like like have a super long nose! Insects don’t have noses though, they breath through spiracles (little holes along the sides of their body) and sense smells like pheromones through lots of different setae (little hairs) and structures on their body.
Fulgoroid planthoppers are really cool bugs, and come in some super strange shapes and colours – there’s a few photos below of species that would be in the same group as the one you caught, but I don’t think any of them are the same species. They are sometimes called ‘lantern flies’ as there was a myth that the long ‘nose’ part would light up a night – but this is just a myth – it definitely doesn’t glow in the dark!
This trap was also CHOCK-A-BLOCK FULL of sprintails – arthropods in the group Collembola. They have six legs and are closely related to insects, but aren’t actually insects – they are one of their closest relatives.
Collembola are called springtails because they have a long appendage at the end of the abdomen that they keep held under tension – when they release it they can spring really high in the air – like travelling on a pogo stick!
There were a few different species of Collembola in the trap – can you spot them in the photos above? There were some little grey ones like this:
LOTS of white ones with long antennae:
…and even a couple of yellow ones!
Springtails are super cute! They live in damp environments, so are probably living in the soil by the lagoon – perhaps it rained this week and they all decided to venture out?
Hi Ramco! I just finished sorting the second trap from the last set you sent – and we found a microgastrine! This is one of the wasps I study – and it’s a different species to the first one you caught in your trap – and this one is a female! You might be able to see the ovipositor (the egg laying tube where the stinger would be) in the photo below.
This is a species in the genus Glyptapanteles, and I am pretty sure it is a new species! SUPER EXCITING! It will be a few months until I can make sure (I’m going to sequence the DNA and compare it to the other Glyptapanteles species in Australia) but if it is a new species, I will need your help to name it! This is the science of taxonomy – working out if species are new to science, giving them a scientific name and then describing them with lots of words, measurements and images so that other people can identify it in the future.
I thought I would also introduce you to a couple of the other insects that were in this trap, from orders of insects that not many people know about.
This super cute little invertebrate (animal without a backbone) is a Springtail, from the order Collembola. They are called springtails because of the appendage at the end of their abdomen (the long pointy white thing in the photo) that they use like spring – it is held under tension, and when they release it, it can spring them up into the air incredibly fast. They are closely related to insects, and also have 6 legs, but are not actually insects!
This is a thrip, from the order Thysanoptera. If you ever pull a rose apart, you will probably find these tiny insects inside. Some thrips feed on buds of flowers, whilst others feed on other insects.
Thanks for keeping the trap running – I hope the new pole holds up better than the last one and the trap stays up for longer this time!
Hi YETies and students at Waikerie Primary! I just finished sorting another one of your traps, this one was up between the 18 – 31 March.
Most exciting news first – you caught a Microgastrinae! These are the wasps I am studying and am working on discovering and describing new species of. The wasp you caught is a female, which is great as what the ovipositor looks like is important for working out what genus of wasp it is (the ovipositor is the appendage at the end of the abdomen, like a modified stinger which the wasp uses to lay her eggs inside caterpillars).
All microgastrine wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars, and the baby wasps eat the caterpillars from the inside out!
The microgastrine you caught is in the genus Cotesia, but I won’t know if it’s a new species until after we do some DNA analysis and I have a closer look at the specimen. Keep up the good work team!
There were lots of other really cool insects in the trap this fortnight – I took a photo above just before I started picking out all the really tiny things so that you can see how many different species of insect you caught. You can see that there are lots of midges (the browny-yellow and the black flies in the middle) but also lots of other sorts of flies, several species of ants, and at least 20 different species of parasitic wasp – see below!
The black wasp in the bottom left hand corner of the picture above, with the really skinny bit between the thorax and abdomen, is in the family Evaniidae
Evaniidae wasps lay their eggs inside cockroach egg cases, and the baby wasp larvae eat the cockroach eggs.
I will try to get your other sample (that you posted with this one) sorted soon! Thanks again for all your hard work!
Hi students and community at Ramco! I have just sorted another of your trap samples, this one was up from the 17-31 March. There were less insects in there than the first two samples – perhaps because the weather was a little cooler? We will find as the temperatures start to drop through Autumn that there are less insects in the trap – this is normal! Most insects need warmth from the sun to fly, so as the warm sunny parts of the days get shorter, there will be less insects flying around and therefore less insects in the trap.
The picture above is just before I started picking out all the really tiny things from the trap – I wanted to try and capture just how many different sorts of insects you are catching! How many different species do you think there are in this photo? My guess would be at least 50! By the time I put all the teeny tiny wasps and flies in, you would have caught at least a couple hundred different species of insect. So even if the traps are not looking very full, there are so many different things in there – and all of these different insects are living in the environment at your school!
I wanted to start by showing you these very cool wasps – these are called Velvet Ants (even though they’re not ants), or mutillids (as they are in the family Mutillidae). The females are wingless (they are born with no wings) and the male wasps have wings and fly around, whilst the females live on the ground. These wasps parasitise bees, laying their eggs inside bee nests so that their babies can eat the bee larvae. They also have a very painful sting! A colleague of mine at the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra is studying these wasps, and how different species mimic (copy) each other in their colours and appearance.
Her name is Juanita, and she is wanting to know how well we as humans can tell the difference between species of velvet ant that are mimics of each other. She has made an experiment to see how similar people think different pictures of velvet ants are – and you can play! You can go straight to the experiment and take part online here: http://www.comparevelvetants.com/
There were two native bees in your trap – my friend James Dorey (who takes beautiful pictures of bees that you can check out on his website) had a quick look at the photo for me and said that the little one is in the subfamily Halictinae, maybe the genus Lasioglossum or Homalictus, whilst the biffer one is in the family Colletidae.
There was another two species of pompilid wasp (the spider hunting ones I wrote about last time), some Ichnuemonidae (the big yellow wasp in the photos) as well as lots of little wasps in the family Braconidae. All of these wasps are parasites of other insects!
There were several different species of beetle – including quite a few of these ones – I think (I’m not a beetle person!) they are in the family Cantharidae – the soldier beetles.
There were also lots of different flies! All the flies I’ll send off to some fly experts in Canberra – they can hopefully tell us some cool facts about them!
Anyway, I spoke to Ms McPherson today and she told me about the trouble you’ve been having with the trap pole – I’m so sorry it broke so easily! They are a new brand of trap that I wanted to try, but I don’t think they are as sturdy. I will get a new pole in the post to you ASAP!
Thanks again everyone, especially the REG students who are looking after the trap so well. I will try and get the next one sorted quickly!
Hello again awesome Cowell students! I have just finished sorting the second trap you sent me, and have some exciting news…
You found a microgastrine!!!
It may look like just a boring small wasp, but this is the treasure in the traps I have been looking for – whilst all the specimens you collect will go into the South Australian Museum to be used by future researchers, these little wasps are what I am studying right now.
These wasps are parasitoids of caterpillars, the females (like this one) use the ovipositor to lay their eggs inside caterpillars, and the baby wasps then eat the caterpillar from the inside whilst it’s still alive! The ovipositor is the long thing orange appendage coming out the abdomen of the wasp – the darker thing is the two ovipositor covers, which protect the ovipositor when the wasp isn’t using it.
My work is to find new species of these wasps and give them names, and describe them so that other people can identify and recognise them. I won’t know if this one is a new species until we do some more analyses – I will include this specimen (and any more that you find in future traps) in the study and let you know whether it is a new species or not!
This wasp is in the genus Apanteles or Dolichogenidea
Other cool things in this trap
There were lots of other interesting things in this trap – including a very pretty little wasp in the family Evaniidae (picture above)
There were a few of these little tiny wasps called chalcid wasps – they are in the Superfamily Chalcidoidea, I think the family Chalcididae.
This was a really large fly in the family Tachinidae – perhaps the genus Rutilia – these flies are parasitic (lay their eggs on or in other insects), and have super cool iridescent structural colours.
There was also a new Order of insects in this trap, that wasn’t present in the last sample – a Neuroptera – a lacewing! This one is in the family Hemerobiidae – the brown lacewings. These little insects are predatory, and like to eat other insects like aphids.
Hope that everyone is enjoying being back at school after the holidays – and thanks for keeping the trap running!
Hello wonderful students at Cowell! I hope you are all well and had a good break over the school holidays. I received your trap samples in the post, and have started sorting through them – here is what happened to your samples!
The first step is to get the sample out of the zip lock bag, and into a white dish, which makes it easier to see the specimens.
The next step is to sort the samples to Order level. Order is the level of classification that puts all the beetles together, all the moths/butterflies together etc. Classification is how we organise and understand the living world – we sort it into different levels:
For example, you and I are in the Kingdom Animalia, (which means we’re an animal) the Phylum Chordata, the Class Mammalia, (which means we’re a mammal) the Family Hominidae, and our Genus + species name is Homo sapiens.
Insects are also in the Kingdom Animalia, but the Phylum Arthropoda (meaning they have an exoskeleton), the Class Insecta (the insects!).
There are around 30 different orders of insects. The ones that were in this trap sample were:
Coleoptera: The beetles
Hemiptera: The true bugs (sucking mouthpart)
Lepidoptera: The moths and butterflies
Hymenoptera: The wasps, bees and ants (I sorted these three groups separately)
Diptera: The flies
Once I pick out the larger specimens by eye, I then work under the microscope to sort all the really tiny things – which takes a very long time! Because of the coronovirus, I’m working from home at the moment – but thankfully could borrow a microscope from the University.
There were lots of really cool insects in this first sample – I’ll show you some pictures of them!
There was a tiny, shiny metallic beetle that was very common in your trap – which means it is very common in the environment around your school. It will be interesting to see if they are in future traps, or whether they just happened to all be emerging/flying around during this fortnight?
I asked Ainsley (who is a Coleopterist, someone who studies beetles) who works at the Entomology department in Orange, NSW, to help us identify the beetle – it is a Chrysomelidae, perhaps something related to this one:
These wasps are from the superfamily Ichenumonoidea – the large one is from the family Ichneumonidae, called the ‘Darwin Wasps’, because Charles Darwin (who first published about the theory of natural selection) wrote about them: “I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.” They are caterpillar parsitoids, and lay their eggs inside or on the outside of caterpillars, so that the baby wasp larvae can eat them whilst still alive!
The wasps above are spider wasps in the family Pompilidae – The female wasps dig burrows in the ground. They then find a spider, paralyse it by stinging it, then drag it into the burrow where they lay an egg… the baby wasp hatches out the egg and eats the fresh spider meat provided by it’s mum!
This insect is a hoverfly – whilst it might look like a wasp because of the stripy yellow and black abdomen, it only has one pair of wings (all flies have one pair of wings, whilst wasps have two), and the large eyes and short antennae give it away as a fly! Hoverflies are important pollinators of lots of plants.
There were unfortunately none of the group of wasps I work on in this trap (hopefully in the second sample you sent me in the parcel, which I will sort soon!) but there was a wasp that my friend Ben Parslow, who is the Collection Manager of Insects at The South Australian Museum, works on – a gasteruptid wasp! These wasps lay their eggs inside native bees nests, and the baby wasp eats the food provided for the bee larva, and sometimes even the baby bee! I will pass the specimen on to Ben and see if he can tell us more about it!
UPDATE: Ben has identified your specimen as a species called Gasteruption longipes, and it is a male (we can tell as it doesn’t have an ovipositor, the egg-laying tube that females have that looks a bit like a stinger).
Thanks so much for running the trap for me at your school – I will sort the next sample soon, and look forward to seeing some more samples this term!
Hello again YETies and Waikerie students! I’ve just sorted the second trap – just to confuse things, I’ve done them in the reverse order, so this is the first trap that you collected, that started the day we set up the trap together.
The second trap sample I sorted (which was actually the first that you collected, from the 18 February until the 4 March), had lots more wasps than the other trap. Still lots of flies though! But also some beetles, spiders, ants, moths and true bugs (Order Hemiptera).
Here’s a photo of all the wasps – unfortunately still none of the particular group I work on (Microgastrinae), but lots of pretty cool groups of wasps!
This is a wasp in the family Braconidae, subfamily Cheloninae – they are closely related to the group I work on, and are parasitoids of the eggs of moths – the wasps normally lay their eggs inside the eggs of moths, and the wasp larvae then eat the developing moth caterpillar.
This wasp bellow is in the family Ichneumonidae, genus Syzeuctus (thanks to my colleague Maddi Giannotta for the identification!).
This one is a spider wasp – family Pompilidae! The female wasps dig burrows in the ground. They then find a spider, paralyse it by stinging it, then drag it into the burrow where they lay an egg… the baby wasp hatches out the egg and eats the fresh spider meat provided by it’s mum!
These final two are wasps in the family Thynnidae, which are often called flower wasps (as they are often seen visiting flowers to drink nectar). The females are wingless, and the males sometimes carry them around whilst they are flying, and even hold them near flowers so they can have a drink!
Thanks again for being part of the project – I look forward to seeing what the next traps have caught!