Waikerie Primary School 5

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!

Hoverfly from your trap

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.

The specimen of the genus Miropotes in your trap

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!

Waikerie Primary School 4

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!

Image (C) Jean Hort, Atlas of Living Australia
Image (C) Jenny Thyne, Atlas of Living Australia

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:

Photo of a short-legged springtail by Tony D on iNaturalist – CCBYNC

LOTS of white ones with long antennae:

Image from iNaturalist, by vuk, CCBYNC

…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?

Waikerie Primary School 3

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).

The Microgastrinae (Cotesia) that you caught in this trap!

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!

(Almost) all the insects in the trap

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

Image of an Evaniidae wasp laying her eggs into a hole in a tree where there are probably cockroach eggs! Image from Inaturalist by reiner, used under a CCBYNCSA license

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!

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!

Beetles!

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!

Cowell Area School 2

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.

A live tachinid similar to the one you caught –
image from iNaturalist tjeales CC-BY-NC

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.


A live brown lacewing – image by mattcampbellaus CCBYNC

Hope that everyone is enjoying being back at school after the holidays – and thanks for keeping the trap running!

Cowell Area School 1

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!

One of your trap samples ready for sorting

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.

Sorting your samples – part 1

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:

  • Kingdom
  • Phylum
  • Class
  • Order
  • Family
  • Genus
  • Species

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
The vials filled up as I sorted!

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.

Here is my set up for sorting your samples!
Once all the larger insects are removed, there’s still hundreds of small insects in the sample to sort using the microscope!

There were lots of really cool insects in this first sample – I’ll show you some pictures of them!

This cute little beetle was in your trap – A LOT! I mean, there were nearly a hundred of these little beeetles!

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:

Eboo sp. posted by ellurasanctuary from Swan Reach, SA (CCBYNC)
Ichneumonoidea

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 eggโ€ฆ the baby wasp hatches out the egg and eats the fresh spider meat provided by it’s mum!

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

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.

Here’s a similar hoverfly alive, as it feeds from flowers – image by adel_plainsgirl

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!

Gasteruptiidae are super weird looking wasps – here is a photo of one by elusiveorchids
The metasoma (part of the abdomen) of the wasp has broken off and is next to it, on the left

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).

Here is what the female of Gasteruption longipes looks like- can you see the long ovipositor and ovipositor covers attached to the abdomen? – picture (c) Ben Parslow

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!

Waikerie Primary School 2

Trap 2!

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!

All the wasps in this trap – there was a very large size range!

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!

Male flower wasp
Female flower wasp

Thanks again for being part of the project – I look forward to seeing what the next traps have caught!

Waikerie Primary School

Hello Waikerie YETies! I just finished sorting the first of your trap samples (I’ve still got one here to do, hopefully today!). Thought I would give you a bit of an explanation of what has happened to the samples so far.

I tipped out the sample (this one is the one that was up from the 3-18 March) into a sorting dish, and it looked something like this:

Then it was time to sort the sample to Order level – this means putting the different sorts of insects into different vials so that future researchers can find the specimens they need easily.

Sorting takes a really long time – I pick out the obvious things by eye first, then head over to the microscope to pick out all the very small insects. Because your sample had SO MANY FLIES, I ended up just picking out everything that was not a fly… which eventually left something like this:

The vials filled up quickly!

The Orders of insects that were in your trap were:

  • Diptera (flies)
  • Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies – there were lots of little moths)
  • Blattodea (cockroaches – there was one!)
  • Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps)
  • Hemiptera (true bugs, with sucking mouthparts)
  • Coleoptera (beetles)
  • There were also some spiders – which are not insects (8 legs, instead of 6).

Why were there so many flies? Well, it makes sense that there would be lots of flies in your sample, because we set it up in near a wetland. There is a group of flies which includes the midges and mosquitoes, that have larvae (the babies) that are aquatic – they need to live in water. Our trap would have caught lots of the adults of these groups because of where we put it. Different traps in different locations catch different sorts of insects. Check out the pictures of Ramco Primary School’s trap in another post, and you’ll see they have different sorts of insects, and many less midges and mosquitoes, because their trap was further from the water – even though Ramco is only a few minutes drive from Hart Lagoon.

What do you think this means for researchers who are trying to survey all of Australia for new species? Do we put all the traps in similar habitats? Or lots of different ones?

Cuckoo wasp caught in the Waikerie Primary School trap at Hart Lagoon

The picture above is one of the super cool wasps that you caught in this trap! Cuckoo wasps are named after their sneaky habits, similar to that of the cuckoo bird! Cuckoo wasps lay their eggs inside the nests of another species of wasp. When the cuckoo wasp larva hatches, they attack and eat the host provisions or larvae of the other species! The adult cuckoo wasps are able to roll into a ball and use their thick exoskeleton as armour to protect them if they are caught invading another wasp’s nest. You can find them throughout Australia, often in urban areas like gardens.

Unfortunately there were none of the specific wasps I was looking for for my research, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that there will be on in the next sample!

Thanks again for all your hard work running this trap and being part of the project. I hope everyone is keeping safe and well – I’ll get the second sample sorted today and get back to you with updates!

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!