A Mitey Start

Hello everyone, my name is Nathaniel Jones. This is my first blog of the summer. I am currently getting started on my new position here at BIO. I was fortunate enough to land the summer Undergraduate Research Assistantship position to sample the soil for arthropod diversity. So far this week I have just been getting started, learning a lot about the techniques of sampling small soil arthropods. Some of the mites are so tiny I am unable to use forceps, as they are almost microscopic and hard to distinguish from grains of sand.

For better understanding I should also explain the Berlese trap that we use to obtain our soil arthropods. The variation of Berlese traps that we are using involves a funnel, mesh, a vial to hold ethanol, and a juice pitcher to support the funnel upright. When in the field we take a hand full or two of various types of soil and store them in separate sealed bags for safe transport. We take multiple samples from every site to try to capture the diversity of the habitat that was present as local fauna can greatly vary even between different soil and vegetation types. For example, we may take some soil that has long grass, another sample from hard packed soil with no vegetation, soil mixed with rotting wood, sandy soil, and soil mixed with leaf litter. I would be sure that each of these samples would be host to a vastly different array of animals and that’s what we hope to capture.

These are 2 of our berlese insect traps. The soil and grass samples are put in the top of the funnel where arthropods are captured in a plastic container at bottom of funnel
These are two of our berlese insect traps. The soil and grass samples are put in the top of the funnel where arthropods are captured in a plastic container at bottom of funnel

Our goal is to sample as much diversity as we can so we try to be thorough when taking material from the field, building an accurate representation of the existing arthropod life. We bring the soil out of the field where we place it on top of fine mesh inside a large funnel. So the soil sample is now sitting exposed to the air and the mesh is preventing soil or other organic debris from falling into our container that animals are intended to be captured in. The idea is that as the soil dries arthropods retreat downwards in search of moisture where they will pass through the mesh and fall through the funnel into our specimen container. We let this trap sit out for about a week ensuring that all the animals had sufficient time to make it through the soil and funnel into our container.

Our lab was lucky enough this week to have a couple of birds donated. The birds themselves were nice specimens and could have easily been used as vouchers, but my supervisor had another idea in store. The plan was to actually wash the birds in hopes to find parasitic mites that are living on the bird. The bird in this case acts as a host for the mites, possibly unwittingly, providing the mites all the resources that they need to thrive. I have included some pictures of the mites that we were able to collect off the birds. There is also an interesting family of flies (Hippoboscidae), which are also bird parasites. Some are wingless and they appear to almost look like fleas or mites at first glance.

This is a mite that was imaged in our photography lab. This is one of the mites collected from the birds that were donated. This mite specifically was washed off its host, a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
This is a mite that was imaged in our photography lab. This is one of the mites collected from the birds that were donated. This mite specifically was washed off its host, a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

 

This was another one of the mites washed off the birds. This mite was found on an Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla)
This was another one of the mites washed off the birds. This mite was found on an Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla)

 

-Nate

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