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!

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!