You might remember a couple of weeks ago we set up some malaise traps for catching wasps. Two weeks later we went to see what we'd found! Mustard and I spent hours and hours at the microscope sorting through a lot of insects. We weren't very successful at catching many of the microgastrine wasps that we're studying, but we did find one specimen right at the end of the third bottle!
Although we didn't find many of our wasps, we did find some pretty awesome wasps that we wanted to share with you! These guys below are in the family Chrysididae and are parasitoids or cleptoparasitoids of other wasps or bees. Head to our citizen science website to learn about parasitoids. Cleptoparasitic wasps such the Chrysididae lay their eggs inside the nests of unrelated wasps or bees, where the baby Chrysidids eat the host young and the food the host provided for them. They are iridescent due to the structural surface of their exoskeleton... and super pretty!
The wasp below is super weird and super awesome. We're not entirely sure what family it is from - do you know? Let us know in the comments!
I've been a bit quiet this week, sorry! I've been learning to identify different subfamilies of braconid wasps. When I started, they all looked the same and I thought I'd never ever be able to recognise the different types! But I'm getting there... and I thought I'd share a couple of the characters taxonomists use to tell what kind of wasp they've found.
The pictures above is the face of a wasp that is in the group called the 'cyclostome wasps'. They all have this weird dent or hole in their faces, where the red arrow in the picture is pointing. 'Cyclostome' comes from the Greek 'round mouth' so the name makes sense! Below this concave section of their mouthparts is the mandibles. The microgastrine wasps, that I'm studying for my PhD, don't have this concave section - their face is much flatter.
Another character I've learnt about is the wing venation. Insect wings have veins inside them, which are either tubular (tiny hollow tubes) that often have pigment in them (are coloured) or otherwise the veins are almost invisible seams in the wings. Some braconid wasps, like the picture on the left, have coloured, tubular veins that run all the way to the edge of the wing. The microgastrine wasps only have coloured tubular veins close to their body - on the outer edges the veins are almost invisible.
The pictures above were taken on the microscope automontage camera in our lab. It takes pictures at different depths of focus and then the computer program stitches all the different photos together. Mustard and I will show you how the process works next week!
One of the reasons being a scientist is so exciting is that you get to do a whole bunch of different things throughout the timespan of a research project. With that being said, however, sometimes you do the same things for days. Or weeks. Or months.
You haven't heard from Mustard and me that often during the last couple of weeks because we've haven't really been doing anything new! We're still finishing off our project proposal and literature review, spending time at the microscope identifying wasps and planing the rest of our PhD.
One new thing we have started doing is planning the evaluation of our citizen science project. You'll hear much more about this project later down the track, including how to be involved! We're going to be asking people to help us rear caterpillars to find out what sorts of parasitoid wasps infect them. We're also going to try and find out if being involved in a project like this helps people learn about science, enjoy science more, or changes their attitude towards science. To do this we'll be conducting surveys, and because that involves research about humans, we have to apply for ethics clearance.
Whenever scientists do work on animals (other than invertebrates) or on people, they have to submit an application to their institution to explain why the work is important and how they will keep people safe. In the case of animals, the scientists need to argue why it is necessary to work on the animal and how they will keep the research as humane and cruelty free as possible. The need to have ethics clearance means that scientists can't just do whatever they want - they need to adhere to the morals and ethics of society (which is normally a good thing!).
We are submitting an ethics clearance to allow us to research the people involved in our citizen science project, to find out whether they enjoyed it or learnt anything from the experience.
Anyway, better get back to the microscope!
Today we took a break from writing our literature review to check out some of the wasps we are studying. They are pretty small, so we had to use a microscope that magnified the wasp so we could see it better. All the wasps have labels on them that tell us where, when and by whom the wasp was collected. Sometimes there are more labels recording how the wasp was collected (found on a type of plant, or caught in a trap), whether it is a male or a female, and what species it is.
To work out what the wasps are, we are using a key. There are different sorts of keys, but we are using a dichotomous key, where each step asks you a question for which there are two possible answers.
For example, if you wanted to build a key to tell you what each of the four objects below were called (if you had never seem them before) it might look something like this:
1. The object has eyes (go to 2.)
The object doesn't have eyes (go to 3.)
2. The object is yellow (Mustard the dinosaur)
The object is orange and purple (A spider)
3. The object is soft (a beanie)
The object is hard (bamboo plant in red holder)
Each of these steps is called a 'character' and in a dichotomous key, each character can have two states. In step one, the character is eyes. The first state is having eyes, whilst the second state is not having eyes.
We are following dichotomous keys like this for the wasps - trying to work out what they are (even though these ones have labels on them) so that when we start finding new wasps we are used to using the key and can identify them easily.
PhD student and her trusty dinosaur explore the world of science. Check out our Citizen Science Project, The Caterpillar Conundrum!