Hello faithful readers, I’m back! Last you heard, I was returning from a harrowing six week trip on the BIObus to the west coast of Canada, and just recently I returned from the two week field entomology course offered by the University of Guelph. It marked both the final expedition of the course (as far as I am aware) as well as the end of my undergraduate career. My time at school was a load of fun, and I couldn’t have thought of a more fitting culmination. Now, I’m back at BIO and we’re just finishing up the processing for School Malaise.
This is my third year that has begun with School Malaise, so let me give a small introduction to the program. This year elementary and secondary schools all across Canada set up Malaise traps for a three week period where they collected insect specimens. They then sent those to BIO, and we’re currently in the midst of processing all of the samples so we can return the data (and announce the winners!) before the school season ends. The part that I play is quite small as I’m still registered as a student, but I can say that I had a hand in counting the number of specimens in a bunch of those traps. If I remember correctly, one school in Alberta had roughly 7,000 specimens!
Speaking of diversity, the field course to Missouri was loaded with interesting bugs. Missouri feels like it’s a few months ahead of us, in both temperature and insect fauna; I remember as soon as we got out of the vehicles everybody started looking under rocks and logs to get a first glimpse of the bugs. One of my two favourite catches over the trip was the giant 5 ½ inch ichneumonid wasp, Magarhyssa atratus, which uses its five inch ovipositor to burrow deep into hard trees where its larvae consume wood boring insect larvae.
My second favourite catch was the huge caterpillar I found under the bark of a dead tree. From the bristles I assumed that it was an arctiid moth caterpillar like the small woolly bears you see walking across sidewalks in the fall, but I couldn’t find a proper identification to be sure until it hatched. It took seventeen days, but I finally got a beautiful three inch leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia. Most arctiid moths are brightly coloured, which is part of a predator avoidance tactic called aposematism. The bright colouration acts as a warning to predators that the bearer is unpalatable and should be avoided. Aposematism is used widely in the animal kingdom, most notably in the bright black and yellow of hymenopterans like wasps and bees. Aposematism helps you learn to stay away pretty well after a couple of stings or toxin filled mouthfuls!
That’s all for now folks, see you in a few weeks when I’m back from a five day aquatics and soil sampling trip on the BIObus!