Sucking Up RARE Insects

Hi everyone,

I’ve been working at BIO for a month now and am starting to get the hang of things around the lab. I’ve also been fortunate enough to spend a large part of this past week outside collecting insects and spiders.

A vial containing cat-faced spiders Araneus gemmoides from 1944
A vial containing cat-faced spiders Araneus gemmoides from 1944

In the lab, I’ve been looking at spiders that have been preserved for over half a century at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Each of the spiders comes with a label which provides important information like the species name, where it was collected, and date of collection. But since these labels are so old, much of the handwriting has been smudged or rubbed away, making it quite difficult to read. Through the use of a magnifying glass I do my best to make out what was written and add it to a spreadsheet for my supervisor to look over. If there are any species we don’t already have barcoded, we will try to do so with the ROM samples.

The wind made it difficult to set up our malaise traps but we got it done
The wind made it difficult to set up our malaise traps but we got it done

When I haven’t been in the lab, I’ve been in the field setting up or servicing traps and collecting samples. Last week, I and some other collections staff set out to the rare Charitable Research Reserve in Cambridge, Ontario to do some standardized sampling. This meant setting up pitfall, pan, malaise, and intercept traps as well as sweeping the area. Sweeping or sweep netting is essentially what it sounds like – moving a net back and forth in a sweeping motion for a set amount of time throughout a site. At the end of the allotted time, the net should be full of samples which we then store by sucking them through a hose into a jar; it is equal parts unsettling and neat! Over the week of sampling, the traps need regular servicing; especially if it has been dry or rainy. With the rainy weather we’ve had this past weekend, we had to remove some of the old water from the traps and add a bit of fresh soapy water. Otherwise the traps would have overflown and all of the samples we had collected may have been lost.

I also did some sweep netting at the Ojibway Prairie Complex in Windsor with the aim of finding some spiders that are new to Ontario. Recently many spiders new to Ontario and Canada have been found at Ojibway. This has been mainly attributed to the warming climate which has allowed many species to expand their range northward. At Ojibway my supervisor and I set up some pitfall traps and sweep netted the area. When we were using our aspirators to suck up what we had collected, I had my left arm exposed to hold the net and was absolutely devoured by mosquitoes. I swear I have around fifty bites on my arms!

Removing some vegetation from the net making it easier to collect insects
Removing some vegetation from the net making it easier to collect insects

When we were in the lab the next day, my supervisor informed me that we found a genus of spiders that was brand new to Canada. The genus is Allocosa and belongs to the Lycosidae (wolf spider) family. We expect to find even more spiders that are new to Canada in the coming months.

Thanks for reading!

– JP

 

 

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