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!