A “Bug Photographer”

Hello everybody!

My name is Danielle, and if you’ve been following the BIObus blog you may remember me from last summer. I went on a bug collecting adventure to 4 different National and Provincial Parks (Grasslands, E.C. Manning, Gulf Islands and Pacific Rim). Over the autumn and winter months I am a work-study student here at the Biodiversity Institute, and now am once again employed as a full-time summer student. My job normally is officially titled “Imaging Technician”, but I like to think of it as “Bug Photographer”. I work to take pictures of our collected specimens, and the highest biomass and diversity we get delivered to our imaging department are insects. They are some of the least observed and known when it comes to taxonomy and species discovery. The Biodiversity Institute has been instrumental in discovering new species (especially cryptic species) and a good portion of our collections team are bug experts!

My imaging set up includes a microscope equipped with a camera and a computer to see and edit the image I'm working on
My imaging set up includes a microscope equipped with a camera and a computer to see and edit the image I’m working on
We use cover slips to hold the specimen in position for imaging.
We use cover slips to hold the specimen in position for imaging.

I personally have only a basic working knowledge of insects, but am quite good at imaging specimens, and very enthusiastic about collecting them too. Any insects which are smaller than 1 cm in length are not imaged by regular cameras. Instead we employ microscope cameras which enable us to not only see and take pictures of smaller insects, but to add scale bars to give a size perspective. Unfortunately when you start to get smaller, depth of focus in a picture decreases so we have to take multiple images, in multiple focal points, and then let the computers combine them to create pictures that are completely in focus, high detail and subsequently very informative.

Imaging a Hymenoptera (wasp)
Imaging a Hymenoptera (wasp)

It can be very enriching and interesting seeing these specimens in such high detail and magnification. They have a variety of markings, colourations and even hairs that you cannot observe with the naked eye. Hymenoptera especially tend to be the most beautiful (in my opinion). Some will have blue-green or metallic colourations, while others sport blacks and oranges. Often they have fringe wings, and beautiful long curly antennae. They can be more perilous to handle though, as they have very narrow supporting structures between their major body segments which can make them easier to break.

Refilling with ethanol archived specimen containers for long term storage
Refilling with ethanol archived specimen containers for long term storage

My job can also include basic maintenance of our specimen plates, and recently I was involved in helping to ‘top-up’ our older plates with ethanol. Ethanol is the liquid medium we use to help keep our specimens perfectly preserved.  The only problem is that ethanol has a high evaporation rate, and even when kept in sealed containers will eventually disappear. We use preventative measures like sealing the rims of containers with parafilm to try to slow the evaporation process, but eventually we need to crack open the older plates and refill them.

This summer I will be deployed once again into the field, but until that point, you now have a glimpse into the sorts of things I do!

-Danielle

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