Ramco Primary School 4

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.

Springtail from your trap

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.

Image of a live thrip from iNaturalist, by TonyD, CCBYNC

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!

Ramco Primary School 3

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.

Lots of different 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!

The two larger orange wasps in the middle of this photo are ‘velvet ants’ in the family Mutillidae

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/

Or read more about her work and the study here: https://www.ala.org.au/blogs-news/play-the-mimicry-game-with-australias-velvet-ants/

Two different families of native bee

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!

Ramco Primary School 2

Trap 2!

Hi Ramco! I just finished your second trap, and there’s a few exciting things!

Here’s the second trap – can you see some different things to the last one?

There were a few new Orders of insect in this second trap!

  • Collembola: Springtrails
  • Neuroptera: Lacewings
  • Dermaptera: Earwings
A collembolan, image from iNaturalist user vuk used under a Creative Commons CCBYNC
A lacewing, image by iNaturalist user ozlady, used under a Creative Commons CCBYNC license
Earwig – image by iNaturalist user ellurasanctuary, used under Creative Commons license CCBYNC

BUT, most exciting – a microgastrine wasp! These are the ones that I am studying – thanks so much for catching one in the trap! This is a male, which makes it tricky to identify as to help identify them we often use what the ovipositor (the egg-laying tube, which is where the stinger is on some other wasps) looks like, but we’ll be sequencing the DNA of the specimens to work out what it is – maybe it will even be a new species!

Thanks again for being part of this project – I’ll leave you with a photo of my ‘working from home’ set up, and my dog Lunar helping to sort your Malaise trap sample.

Lunar the home-lab assistant

Ramco Primary School 1

Trap one!

Hi wonderful students at Ramco! Thank you so much for sending in your first Malaise trap samples – here’s what happened to them when they got to the lab – I was very excited to receive your parcel!

The samples arrived on a day when I was super busy, so couldn’t sort them straight away. I opened up the package and put fresh ethanol into the zip lock bags, which preserved the samples until I could sort them.

Then it was time to sort the samples! The first step was getting them out of the bag and from the netting used to drain them

Then we had something that looked like this! How many different sorts of insects can you see?

And then the sorting began….

I am sorting the samples to Order level – that means putting all the beetles together, all the flies together, etc. The insect orders that were in your trap were:

  • Lepidoptera: Moths and butterflies
  • Coleoptera: Beetles
  • Hemiptera: True bugs
  • Hymenoptera: Ants, bees and wasps (I did also separate the ants, Family Formicidae, from the wasps and bees)
  • Thysanoptera: Thrips
  • Blattodea: Cockroaches

And there were also arachnids – spiders!

Sorting took a really long time! Here’s a few photos of the vials I took along the way, made into a video so you can see how it changes whilst I sort – I pick the big things out first, and then it takes hours to pick out all the little tiny things using the microscope – so even thought it doesn’t look like much changes at the end, there would be hundreds more specimens in there!

Now the samples are sorted to Order, the vials go into the fridge to keep them cool – this preserves the DNA of the specimens. I will send the flies off to researchers in Canberra, and the wasps will stay in our lab – the other samples will go to the South Australian Museum for future researchers to use.

One of the coolest wasps you caught in this first sample was a spider hunting wasp, from the family Pompillidae.

These wasps paralyse spiders, and drag them into their burrows for their babies to eat. Pretty cool! There is a researcher in Canberra working on these spider wasps, so I will send this sample off to her!

Here is a pompilid wasp like the one you caught (probably a different species though) dragging a spider to her burrow. It’s a photo by iNaturalist user cobaltducks, used under a creative commons CC-BY-NC license

Above is a tweet from one of my lab colleagues who found one of these spiders dragging a spider into her burrow!

Unfortunately there were none of the caterpillar parasitoids that I study in this first trap – but I haven’t sorted the second fortnight yet, so fingers crossed!

Thanks so much for continuing to collect insect samples at your school – I’m so excited to sort the second trap, and can’t wait to see what you’re catching now!