Reaching the halfway point | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our initial cohort of ID Trainers for the Future are nearing the end of Phase 2 of their 12-month long traineeship – Chloe Rose provides an update on the work they’ve been doing so far:

Over the last six months you will have heard all about the vast array of workshops we’ve had delivered to us by the Museum’s experts, the beautiful parts of the country we’ve visited for field trips and the various different projects we’ve all been working on. It has been an action packed, whirlwind and we’ve all gained so much. But it’s now time to wrap things up as we head towards Phase 3 of the traineeship. This will mean the five of us going off on our separate ways for three months, to spend time with one of the Museum’s curation teams.

Photo of the ID Trainers walking to a fieldwork site

Setting out to perform Hymenoptera fieldwork

Here is where we will get the opportunity to refine our identification, fieldwork and curatorial skills to one particular species group. Between us we will be covering beetles, dragonflies, lichens and flowering plants. My project will involve working on the hymenoptera collections and looking at an understudied subfamily of parasitic wasps. I will be required to sort and describe the species and look to writing a comprehensive key for identification purposes. Watch this space for future updates on how our curation projects are going. For now, though, back to what we have been doing during August.

Well they definitely saved the best for last with the workshop on Hymenoptera. This was delivered by Gavin Broad, the Curator of the Ichneumonnidea and Vespoidea collections. A particular favourite of mine, although I may be somewhat biased considering my choice of curatorial work!

A photo of a drawer full of iridescent green wasps

Some of the real jewels of the Hymenoptera collection at the Museum

Gavin concentrated his workshop on parasitic wasps, unsurprising considering this is not only the largest of the Hymenoptera groups but also the largest species group in the UK in total. It is comprised of an impressive 7,770 species, of which there lie 60 families and 18 super families. So rather a lot to cover in just four days…

When I talk to people about working with parasitic wasps, I can see it in their faces as they remember their last picnic invasion and the silly dance they performed from fear of getting stung from the last time they encountered a wasp. That’s when I begin to inform them that there is so much to these hugely diverse, but much-maligned insects, of which may be the most diverse group of animals on earth. Their life histories range from the quietly unobtrusive to the somewhat gruesome.

The relationship between parasitoids and their hosts are intricate and during the workshop Gavin introduced us to some fascinating and very memorable examples. Although not a UK example, a particular favourite of mine was a parasite of the orchard spider (Leucauge venusta) in Costa Rica.

After feeding on the abdomen of the spider the larvae injects a hormone into the host that, once it enters the brain, causes it to change its behaviour and alter its webs. The spider, without knowing, creates the perfect nest for the larvae to then transform into an adult. Once you begin to delve into the world of Hymenoptera, you quickly begin to realise how little is known in this mesmerising group, and how much more study is needed.

Our last task for Phase 2 has given us the chance to put everything that we have learnt over the last 6 months into practice by working on creating identification keys for various understudied groups. We have been improving some of the existing poorly illustrated keys by using enhanced photographic technology known as photo-stacking. While this uses a fairly standard digital SLR camera, the software is designed specifically for challenging 3D subjects, providing depth of field on a microscopic level.

A photo showing Anthony sitting at the photo-stacker equipment

Anthony working on the photo-stacker

Chris Raper, who manages the UK Species Inventory, is a dab hand at the photo-stacker and has taught us all we know. We are now all able to produce impressive shots, such a this burying beetle below taken by Katy Potts. We will then use these pictures to illustrate our keys and provide easily accessible identification tools which will be made available through the Museum website over the coming months.

A photo of the beetle showing the detail and depth of field that can obtained via the photo-stacking technique

Nicophorus vespillo imaged using the photo-stacker by Katy Potts

Thanks Chloe, and best of luck to all five of you on your curation placements! We’ll be catching up with each of you over the next 3 months while you’re away. In the meantime, the project is busy gearing up to start recruitment for the next cohort of trainees.

If you are interested in becoming one of the trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future scheme, you can apply between the 14 September to 12 October inclusive to become part of the next cohort. See www.nhm.ac.uk/idtrainers for more info.

2 thoughts on “Reaching the halfway point | Identification Trainers for the Future

  1. Merrill Facckrell

    We have a home that is about 130 years old recently we have had strange spiders that we have never scene you have one on your site that matches it’s black with white spotted what need help how bad are they also one red with yellow leg
    We live in Syacuse Utah USA

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