On Saturday, Mustard and I headed to Port Augusta to visit the Friends of the Arid Lands Botanic Garden to talk about wasps, parasitoids and our citizen science project! We had a lovely time chatting to everyone and sharing our love of wasps. The botanic garden is an beautiful site, with over 250 hectares of plants from the arid environments of Australia. These plants have evolutionary adaptations to survive the extreme drought and high temperatures. It's a wonderful place for a walk, bird watching and the cafe does great coffee and food! The garden has also recently opened an Arid Explorers garden for children and families to explore nature together.
There's a beautiful view of the Flinders Rangers from the garden!
I appreciated the insect artwork!
The Friends of the Garden gave us a lovely arid land plant to take home and add to our garden - it smells divine!
Mustard and I hope that you had a great Christmas and New Year - we certainly did!
We're back in the lab, sorting some more wasp specimens. Today we also sent a bunch of PCR samples to the Australian Genome Research Facility for sequencing.
Some of these samples include DNA we extracted from wasps that were sent to us by a citizen scientist! Head here to learn about our citizen science project, The Caterpillar Conundrum!
You can also check out how we extract the DNA, and how we run a PCR!
Eventually, Mustard and I want to be able to run a citizen science project as part of our PhD. We will ask volunteers to find caterpillars and rear them into butterflies, or hopefully, find some parasitoid wasps living inside the caterpillar instead! We are a long way off that yet, but we are researching citizen science projects for our literature review.
A citizen science project is real scientific research that involves people who are not trained scientists. There are HEAPS of citizen science projects you can be a part of, with different requirements and time commitments. Here's a few of our favourites:
The Pieris Project asks volunteers from all over the world to look for cabbage white butterflies (Pieris rapae) around their home, collect a butterfly and send it to the researchers. They are studying the adaptation of the cabbage white butterfly in habitats across the world - how have the genes, colours, shapes and sizes of the butterfly changed as it spread to new places? To do this, they need specimens from all over the world.
School of Ants operates in both Australia and America. The Australian team of researchers are attempting to build a distribution map of ant species covering all of Australia. They are also interested in what sort of food ants prefer in different habitats. To be a volunteer, you can register on the website, run your own experiment using biscuits, sugar and cocktail sausages (counting how many ants are attracted to each food type), collect the ants and send them to School of Ants HQ!
The Discovery Circle, based in South Australia, organises lots of different citizen science projects that focus on our relationship with the natural world in the urban environment. Their latest project is called Cat Tracker, and although it isn't about insects, it sounds like lots of fun! The researchers will loan you a GPS tracker to attach to your cat's collar. The map of where your cat travels in his or her adventures is then uploaded to the website to build a better picture of what our domestic cats get up to when they are out of the house.
Don't feel like leaving the house, but still want to contribute to a citizen science project? Notes from Nature is a project where you can help researchers by transcribing museum specimen labels. You will be given picture of the museum specimen and the label on your computer screen, and you type out what is written on it! Easy! It might sound trivial, but having a digital database of these specimens will make a huge difference to the organisation of museum collections, and the usefulness of the specimens for scientists. Notes from Nature is part of Zooniverse, a huge online portal for citizen science projects. If none of the ones we've talked about take your fancy, check out Zooniverse, or if you are in Australia, have a look on the Atlas of Living Australia's citizen science portal.
Being part of a real scientific research project helps our scientists make discoveries faster, and often learn things they couldn't if they were doing it all by themselves. It can also be a lot of fun to be a citizen scientist! Let us know in the comments if you have a favourite citizen science project, or share your stories of contributing to one!
PhD student and her trusty dinosaur explore the world of science. Check out our Citizen Science Project, The Caterpillar Conundrum!