Imaging Insects From Saudi Arabia

Since early May we have been focusing on completing all the images of specimens from Canadian National Parks and the Mecca region in Saudi Arabia from the Global Malaise Trap Program. Of the specimens I have imaged, there are some unique species from Saudi Arabia that stood out. Their life history has always intrigued me.

Hymenoptera, Bethylidae - BOLD:ACR7610*
Hymenoptera, Bethylidae – BOLD:ACR7610*

This Hymenopteran belongs to the Bethylidae family, they are predatory and have parasitoid stage in their life cycle, whereby they utilize their stinger to paralyze a host victim. The host is then hidden and eggs are laid on them which hatch and consume the host.

 

Hymenoptera, Chrysididae, Chrysidinae - BOLD:ACS7539*
Hymenoptera, Chrysididae, Chrysidinae – BOLD:ACS7539*

Of the Hymenopterans, this specimen belongs to one of my favourite insect families to image. Chrysididae (subfamily Chrysidinae) have gleaming metallic-coloured bodies and a simple defensive behaviour of rolling into a ball (like a hedgehog). They are commonly recognized as the cuckoo wasps and are most diverse in desert regions. Cuckoo wasps are typically kleptoparasites – laying eggs in host nest, the wasp larvae consume the host’s egg or larvae.

 

Hemiptera, Geocoridae, Geocoris, Geocoris erythrocephalus - BOLD:ACR7733*
Hemiptera, Geocoridae, Geocoris, Geocoris erythrocephalus – BOLD:ACR7733*

This Hemipteran belongs to Geocoridae family; the DNA barcoding results showed that the species is Geocoris erythrocephalus. They are commonly known as big-eyed bugs, these beneficial predators can be found in a variety of habitats, including fields, gardens and turf grass. In many agricultural systems, big-eyed bugs are considered essential predators in many agricultural systems for the control of various small pests (aphids, caterpillars, and mites). They are predatory in their nymph and adult stage but can survive on plant nectar and honeydew when prey is scarce. Like other true bugs, big-eyed bugs possess piercing/sucking mouth parts, which they utilize to stab their prey and feed on them by lapping up the internal slurry of the host.

Apart from the occasional software glitches and technical difficulties, damaged specimens seem to be one of our biggest challenges. Since our goal is to produce the best possible quality image to represent for that species’ barcode index number for the database (BIN) to accompany the genetic data on the Barcode Of Life Database we try our best to locate the least damaged specimen in our collection. Post DNA sequencing specimens have often been handled many times with forceps by the time they reach the imaging department. This often causes inevitable damages to many of the fragile or brittle specimens, which can range from a few missing body parts to completely being squashed into chitinous ball of tissue.

Insects have always been a passion of mine, but since I joined imaging team at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) in January of 2012 this passion grew to something way bigger than I expected. What I enjoy the most about working in the imaging department at BIO is having the privilege to closely image specimens from all over the globe, from the microscopic (invisible to the naked eye) to largest species. Being able closely work  with some of the most diverse collections of arthropods (in Canada) everyday has broadened my knowledge on insect biology and diversity which I could further expand and apply in years to come.

Apart from working with some of the most diverse collection of insects, I am also granted the ability to work with some of the most state of the art imaging equipment on the market. I have an immense appreciation for microscopy since it has opened my eyes to unique details of the microscopic world that are often missed by the naked eye. Here at BIO we utilize a Z-stacking imaging method which takes a sequence of images at adjustable step sizes throughout the specimen, the sequence of images are stacked together and combined to generate a high resolution image.

Thank you for reading!

Adrian

*The BOLD ID can be used to look up the specimen on the Barcode of Life Database (http://www.boldsystems.org)