Busy Barcoding Bees Building Blitzes

Hello again faithful readers,

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, and a lot has happened! I’m sure you know all about the 6th Barcode of Life Conference that happened a few weeks ago from the other blogs, but I’ll give you a bit of a refresher. It was busy, crowded with fervent biologists, and a great melting pot of ideas and experiences to advance the state of DNA barcoding all over the world. As far as I know, a conference cannot go more smoothly; the organizing committee had every moment planned and I was really impressed. I also got a break from processing malaise samples from Bangladesh for the week by getting conscripted as photographer/paparazzi for the event! It was cool to see behind the scenes and I got to practice a new skill set.

Me taking some stealthy pictures of the plenary speaker John Kress from the Smithsonian Institution
Me taking some stealthy pictures of the plenary speaker John Kress from the Smithsonian Institution

Looking back over the summer, the conference was only the culmination of a gargantuan sampling and organization effort by BIO. Over just four months we sent teams out to 19 Provincial and private parks, did standardized, malaise, a lot of Berlese funnel collection and a small but intense bioblitz at the rare Charitable Research Reserve and participated in a number of events around the province. BIO also hosted several foreign students and collaborators and processed hundreds of malaise trap samples from around the world. It’s a busy little beehive here.

I don’t usually talk about the barcoding side of things, but it’s definitely worth noting that the reference library for DNA barcodes here at BIO is growing daily. I’ll give you a couple of examples of recent additions to our database that have stood out over the summer:

Trichopthalama leucophaea (Nemestrinidae): the tangle veined fly. Not all of our specimens are barcoded before they’re given a species name, like this beauty that Valérie Lévesque-Beaudin identified from a malaise trap collected in Perth, Australia. While relatively frequent all over the world, they tend to spend a majority of their time around flowers or hunting the next host for their larvae and don’t tend to get caught up in malaise traps very often. Their common name derives from the complex venation pattern on their wings and that wicked looking proboscis is used like a humming bird’s beak to get deep into flowers. Like other animals with long plant straws on their face, many species in this family have developed co-evolutionary paths with their plants of choice, resulting in some interesting morphologies. Check out the story of Darwin’s moth, you won’t be disappointed.

The tangled wing fly, Trichopthalama leucophaea. Collected in Perth, Australia
The tangled wing fly, Trichopthalama leucophaea. Collected in Perth, Australia

This huge Buprestidae: the jewel beetle. I’m not a beetle specialist so I can’t inform you of the species and I have no idea if there are other specimens in the database, which is one reason why barcoding is so cool. I can check back in a few weeks and if we have a record already, I can know the exact species that it is. If not, it can be flagged as unknown and named by an expert so the next one can be identified quickly. Just like the famous emerald ash borer which is placed within this family, most or all buprestids have their larval stage in dead or dying trees. I collected this lovely specimen from one of the Bangladesh traps I was sorting. Its elytra were so hard I needed to tape on my thumb before I could manage to get a pin through it.

Unknown Buprestidae collected in Bangladesh, Chittagong province. It measured about an inch and a half long
Unknown Buprestidae collected in Bangladesh, Chittagong province. It measured about an inch and a half long

Acanthoplus sp.: the armoured African cricket. This one is mostly an addendum so everyone can see how wacky it is. It belongs in the family Tettigonidae along with the common katydid, but comes from Africa. I pulled it out of a malaise bottle from Gabon and got immediately excited because it’s huge! Members of this genus can be pretty nasty crop pests and have abandoned strong jumping legs in favour of defensive spikes on almost every part of their body, along with vomiting and loud defensive stridulation. I wouldn’t mess with it.

Acanthoplus sp. collected in a malaise trap in Gabon. How it got all the way up the trap and into the collection funnel is still a mystery
Acanthoplus sp. collected in a malaise trap in Gabon. How it got all the way up the trap and into the collection funnel is still a mystery

This about wraps up my final ever blog post! It’s been a great ride working for BIO as a student for the last three summers and I think you’ll all be happy to know that just a few days ago I got a six month contract to continue working here as a full-time employee! So while the blogs might stop, the bugs and discovery will go on. Maybe all of you out there can start doing some insect discovery of your own.

Stay buggy,

Graham

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