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Three cheers for Visiteers!

Thanks to an awesome group of volunteers who came to visit us at the Natural History Museum London today (Visiteers), the second batch of Chalcid slides in the Magnified section have now been completely classified! Hurray!

 

 

Visiteering is one of the ways in which we invite the public to take part in our science at the museum, and today’s stellar group has set an all-time record for number of classifications in one day. Absolutely Awesome.

 

We’ll try to get the third and final batch of Chalcid slides launched in a new Expedition soon – but in the meantime, a VERY big thank-you to the Notes from Nature community and our Visiteers in the museum for all of your help in setting this data free.

 

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Explore the world of the wasps with our Curator Gavin Broad

For all of you who have been helping us transcribe the specimen labels of the Chalcids – our slide-mounted parasitoid wasps, we thought you might enjoy learning about these fascinating creatures, and other members of the wasp family. Gavin Broad, who is Curator of Hymenoptera at the Natural History Museum did an #NHM_Live on Facebook last night (a weekly broadcast). Do watch the recording to find out why wasps are so undeserving of their bad reputation and that some even make honey.

2nd expedition of the NHM Chalcids launched on ‘Magnified’

We’re pleased to launch our second batch of microscope slides featuring the parasitoid wasps called Chalcids (pronounced ‘kal-sids’), which lay their eggs inside other insects. 

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that we have updated the Expedition title from ‘Killer Wasps’ to “Miniature Lives Magnified” and have made some small tweaks to the structure of the Workflow, and have also attempted to make our instructions and ‘Need more Help?’ text and examples more clear. Do drop us a note in the Talk forum if we can continue to make further improvements.

miniature-lives-magnified

The Background Story

As part of our effort to digitise the collections of the Natural History Museum London, we have been collaborating with the Notes from Nature team to explore the potential of crowdsourcing the transcription of our specimen labels. 

Our first pilot project was called The killer within: Wasps but not as you know them, and was launched in the newly-created ‘Magnified’ section on Notes from Nature on August 16th, 2016.

The purpose of this initial Expedition was to test the functionality of the platform, and the difficulty of the task for the community of volunteers.

Your response was stellar – over 600 people got involved in completing the first batch of 2,000+ slides  – a particular thank-you goes out to our 9 super-transcribers @maggiej , @reinheitscat , @dfreezor , @Sagaman , @HDumas , @RedBee , @stevenhm , @rgerman , and @Mikusan. The data-set that you have created for us is looking good. We are therefore launching our second batch of slides with confidence!

About the Chalcids

These microscope slides feature parasitoid wasps called Chalcids (pronounced ‘kal-sids’), which lay their eggs inside other insects. These tiny wasps are parasitoids, meaning they lay their eggs inside other insects. When chalcid eggs hatch the emerging larvae eat the inside of their host. They then grow and pupate until mature enough to burst out as adults, finally killing the host.

We have 6286 microscope slides in the collection and are asking the crowdsourcing community to collect data about when and where the specimen was collected, who by, and what host species it was collected from, as well as some museum collection data.

Here’s an example:

example-slide

These microscope slides contain the smallest members of the Chalcidoidea Superfamily, which are unfortunately impossible to see in the images on Notes from Nature – we encourage you to take a peak at those that are large enough to pin – their variety and beauty is amazing!

lycisca-ogloblina-hedqvist-1961

Hundreds of Chalcidoidea species have been used in biological control programs to combat insect pest species that damage crops, this translates into millions of pounds of savings in the agricultural sector.  Digitisation of Museum specimens such as those in our Miniature Lives Magnified project will help unlock and preserve species and distribution data essential for carrying out research to develop such programs.”- Natalie Dale-Skey Curator, Entomology

 

 

First ‘Miniature Lives Magnified’ expedition complete

Yay! We have finished our first expedition of the parasitoid Chalcid wasps in Magnified, beating the ETC by 4 days! I reckon that Friday the 13th is a lucky day after all.

An especially big thank-you goes out to @maggiej , @reinheitscat , @dfreezor , @Sagaman , @HDumas , @RedBee , @stevenhm , @rgerman , and @Mikusan who have all been particularly prolific in helping us to transcribe these microscopic slide labels – but of course many more people than can be mentioned have also generously donated their time to us. We thank you ALL.

And we know it wasn’t easy.

Laurence and Natalie and I at the Natural History Museum in London have been taking a look at the data that you have transcribed for us, and we can see that it often wasn’t clear what the difference was between the Species or Genus name of the Chalcid itself, the host insect it was found on, and the host plant they were both found on. We’ve got some thoughts on how we might make that both easier and more clear, so please bear with us while we take a few days to prepare for the Chalcids #2 expedition.

If you have any suggestions for us on how to structure or explain the fields we are asking you to fill, and how to provide better examples, please do drop us a note in the Magnified section of Talk. It is hugely helpful to us to receive your feedback.

In the meantime, I leave you with this beautiful image of a ‘Fairyfly’ – one of the Chalcid wasp families.

mymaridae-fairy-fly-slide-mounted-stephanodes-elegans-1414690

Setting the world’s Natural History data free

For all of you who have been helping us transcribe all of these specimen labels, I thought you might enjoy hearing from my boss (Vince Smith, who leads the Informatics team) and our Head of Life Sciences (Ian Owen) at the Natural History Museum in London, in their talk about how digitising the Museum’s 80 million specimens will help scientists answer big questions about how human behaviour is affecting life on earth.  – See more at: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/our-work/digital-museum.html#sthash.sqMZkeaN.dpuf

Chalcids to the Rescue!

I’m sure that many of you around the world are as big a fan as we are of David Attenborough here in England, and we hope that the new series of Planet Earth is reaching you where you are as well. (If not, we do encourage you to buy the DVD the second it comes out!)

If you watched the first episode, then you will have learned of the plight of the red crabs native to Christmas Island, and how they are being decimated by an invasive species of ant.

Well, we’re pleased to tell you that this marvelous creature in the image below is coming to the rescue!

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Tachardiaephagus somervilli (Mahdihassan, 1923) – Specimen of the species to be released on Xmas island for biological control of invasive yellow crazy ants. 

Have you heard the one about the wasp that kills the bug that feeds the ants that kill the crabs that keep the forests healthy on Christmas Island?

If not, that’s because it hasn’t happened yet, but it is a tale worth telling.

In the coming weeks, Parks Australia will release a 2mm wasp on Christmas Island to control the island’s yellow crazy ant infestation. Crazy ants are a big threat to the island’s wildlife, including its famous red crabs.

Biological control – when we use one species to control another – is infamous for giving Australia its cane toad invasion. So, how do we know this one will work?

Read more about how A Tiny Wasp Could Save Christmas Island’s Spectacular Red Crabs from Crazy Ants.

Here on Notes from Nature, we have an entire collection of these marvelous microscopic parasitoid wasps – containing much valuable information for researchers around the world, with many more potential ‘biological control’ applications yet to be uncovered.

Help us set that information free, in our Magnified expedition: The Killer Within: Wasps, but not as you know them.

killer-within

 

 

Hot off the Press – Three new species of Parasitoid Wasps

A huge thank-you to everyone who has been helping us transcribe the Parasitoid Wasp “Killer Within”  specimen labels, in the ‘Miniature Lives Magnified’ section – they can sometimes be quite tricky, but you are doing work that will aid many future discoveries. This first set of slides is now 84% complete, and it would be awesome to finish those before the end of the year, if anyone is up for a final push!

genaemirum-phacochoerus-head-news-1

But in the meantime, we’d like to share some exciting research with you, that Dr Gavin Broad, Principal Curator of Hymenoptera at the Natural History Museum has just co-authored. Together with his collaborator Dr Simon van Noort, Curator of Entomology at Iziko South African Museum, they have identified three new species of parasitoid wasps  – two of which were laying undescribed in our own collections!!

All three species belong to the genus Genaemirum, which is found across Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. The finds bring the total number of species in the genus to eight – and offer more clues to the genus’ biology, which is poorly understood.

Deadly dinner guests

Parasitoid wasps lay their eggs in or on a host animal, eventually killing it when the larvae hatch and eat their host. This lifestyle has seen some parasitoid wasp species used as pest control, particularly if the hosts cause destruction to economically important crops.

Their fatal effect on the host also distinguishes parasitoids from parasites, which live off a host but don’t usually kill them.

‘Until now, we knew almost nothing about the biology of Genaemirum species,’ says Dr Gavin Broad, Principal Curator of Hymenoptera at the Museum, and a co-author of the research. ‘They were first described in 1936, but since then we’ve only been able to guess at the hosts that they parasitise.’

However, one of these three new species, G. phagocossorum, was reared from a log infested by the cossid moth Coryphodema tristis.

‘This suggests that members of the Genaemirum genus live on wood-boring moths – something that was suggested, but never confirmed, as long ago as 1967,’ says Dr Broad.

‘It’s exciting to think that these specimens could finally help us answer that 80-year-old question.’

Warthog wasp

It’s not just the mystery of its host species that has made Genaemirum an interesting genus to study.

‘They have the most extraordinary head structures,’ says Dr Broad. ‘Gerd Heinrich, who originally described the genus, characterised them as “monstrous”.

‘In fact, one of the species we found in the Museum’s collections has the most extreme head I’ve ever seen.

‘It has massively expanded genae, or “cheeks”, a long lower face and horns above the antennae. We named it G. phacochoerus, after the genus name for the warthog, because of its striking appearance.’

Still digging

This unusual head shape lends weight to the suggestion that the genus parasitises wood borers, according to Dr Broad.

‘It looks like the female’s head has developed into a shovel shape,’ he explains. ‘This could help her shovel her way through piles of frass – the waste produced by the moth larvae as they bore through the wood – to get to a host for her eggs.’

The hunt for answers isn’t finished yet, however. The research, a collaboration with Dr Simon van Noort, Curator of Entomology at Iziko South African Museum, is part of ongoing efforts to document African parasitoid wasps in the family Ichneumonidae.

‘If we had a male G. phacochoerus specimen to compare to the female, that would tell us even more,’ says Dr Broad. ‘The shape of its head could support or refute the wood-borer host theory, since males don’t need to access a host.’

‘But for now, we’re one step closer to understanding these strange species.’

Read the full news story on the Natural History Museum website: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/science-news/2016/december/monstrous-wasps-could-reveal-their-species-secrets.html

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