Much Ado About Mothing

Hello there!

My name is Shannon and I am a fifth year Zoology student lucky enough to be part of the team at BIO this summer. Officially, my job is titled “collections processor”, but unofficially I’d like to think of myself as more of a bug doctor. Part of my day at BIO is spent performing check-ups on the bugs, inspecting them for damage after they have gone through the barcoding process (this is what we call voucher recovery). My job also includes performing bug leg amputations on some of the larger specimens for tissue sampling. However, doctoring bugs is not the only part of my job.

Sifting through this week's specimens. This collection of bugs was sent to us from St. Peter's School in Unity, Saskatchewan.
Sifting through this week’s specimens. This collection of bugs was sent to us from St. Peter’s School in Unity, Saskatchewan.

This past week has been a busy one in the Collections department for the BIO team, filled with receiving, sorting and counting all of the submissions from the School Malaise Trap Program. The School Malaise program is a program designed to let kids from all over Canada participate in one of the most important steps in BIO’s research: collecting specimens! With insects thought to make up over 85% of all animal life on Earth, and our goal being to barcode them all, everyone’s participation is well appreciated.

These large Luna moths - collected from New Brunswick - can also be found scattered around Ontario
These large Luna moths – collected from New Brunswick – can also be found scattered around Ontario

Sifting through this week’s received specimens, I had the chance to find out some interesting things about one insect order in particular: Lepidoptera. Lepidopterans are what we recognize as moths and butterflies.  Generally, most of us know moths to be the nocturnal creatures that flutter around our porch lights in the summertime. Interestingly, not all moths are nocturnal; some moths are considered crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk) while others can have diurnal habits (only active during the day). If you have ever had the opportunity to handle a moth you may have noticed how they appear to have a small fur coat and that brushing against it leaves a smattering of dust on your hand. Surprisingly, the furriness you see is not in fact fur at all; rather, it’s a highly organized collection of long modified scales. These scales form a very delicate coat that gives moths their brilliant colouration patterns. Also, these scales may be used to help moths regulate their internal body temperature and increase their aerodynamics when flying. Brushing against this coat causes the scales to be sloughed off forming a dust. So, the next time you see one of our fine fluttering friends be sure to keep that in mind!

Assorted moths collected from Western Australia
Assorted moths collected from Western Australia

Until next time,

Shannon

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