Category Archives: Fall 2014

Fall 2014 Interesting Finds: Bees (Order: Hymenoptera)

Bees (Order: Hymenoptera)

Common eastern bumblebee
Common eastern bumblebee

 Bees, like ants, are actually a specialized form of wasp. They play an important role in pollinating flowering plants. In July 2013 the world’s 20,000th bee species was officially described by a researcher from York University in Toronto. Your Malaise traps collected 6 species of bees and among those were the red-belted bumble bee (Bombus rufocinctus) and the honey bee (Apis mellifera).

The common eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) is the most often encountered bumblebee across much of eastern North America. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees in the genus Bombus form colonies which last only one season. During the winter, mated female bumble bees hide in sheltered places and emerge in the spring to start new colonies in cozy places such as old mouse nests. Once her new home is tidy and her eggs are laid, the queen covers them with wax sheets for protection and incubates the eggs by lying over them for a period of time.
Common eastern bumblebee

Currently Bombus impatiens is being reared and transported to some areas as a commercial replacement for honey bee pollination. Although introducing this species may be very helpful for the agriculture industry, there are some trade-offs as well. “Managed” pollination programs have introduced this eastern species to western North America, and in some places, such as California and Mexico, Bombus impatiens is now displacing native bee species.

Fall 2014 Interesting Finds: True flies (Order: Diptera)

 True flies (Order: Diptera)
Non-biting Midges (Chironomidae)

Chironomidae, commonly known as nonbiting midges, are a family of flies which can be found all over the world. A genus from this family, Limnophyes, was the most common insect during the Fall 2014 School Malaise Trap Program with 1,623 specimens being found in all 59 traps! These midges come from a very large family of insects; experts estimate that there are well over 10,000 different species of Chironomidae world-wide!
Non-biting Midges (Chironomidae)

Many of these species superficially resemble mosquitoes, but they lack the wing scales and elongated mouthparts which a mosquito uses to feed on blood. The larvae and pupae of nonbiting midges are important food items for fish and other aquatic organisms. Furthermore, chironomids are important indicator organisms, meaning their presence or absence in a body of water can indicate whether pollutants are present or if environmental changes have taken place. This sensitivity to environmental changes also makes chironomids a potential source of information when reconstructing past climate. Lake sediments dating as far back as 10,000 years contain the head capsules shed by chironomid larvae during development. These head capsules allow for species identification and, because chironomid species differ in their tolerances to various environmental factors such as temperature and drought, the identity and abundance of chironomid species present in the sediment indicate the climate at that point in time.

Fall 2014 Interesting Finds: Beetles (Order: Coleoptera)

Beetles (Order: Coleoptera)

Beetles are the largest group in the animal kingdom. 25% of all known animal species are beetles. 400,000 species have been described so far and many scientists believe that there are as many as 1 million beetle species on Earth. Beetles have inhabited our planet for more than 300 million years which means they were around even before the dinosaurs.

Among the 211 beetle species caught in the Fall 2014 School Malaise Trap Program were quite a few pest beetle species, especially those of the leaf beetle family (Chrysomelidae), such as the strawberry rootworm (Paria fragariae). Beetles from this family are known to feed on particular fruits and vegetables as you can easily tell from their common name.

Warty leaf beetle (Exema canadensis)
Warty leaf beetle (Exema canadensis)

It is not uncommon for larvae in several subfamilies of Chrysomelidae to use their own excrement to form protective shields or coverings, but the warty leaf beetle’s larvae in the subfamily Cryptocephalinae take this habit to the extreme. The warty leaf beetle’s eggs hatch underneath a fecal blanket which their mother has provided for them and then the larvae proceed to use their own waste to further develop a case which they continue to add to as they grow. You may think that this practice is unpleasant; however, this casing serves a very important function. Warty leaf beetles are able to avoid observation and detection from predators due to the fact that their specialized casing resembles caterpillar frass (caterpillar poop).
Warty Leaf Beetle

Warty leaf beetle species are typically very host plant-specific and most species primarily use only a single host plant genus or even a single species to feed and live on. Congratulations to Camp Heidelberg for collecting the only species (Exema canadensis) of warty leaf beetle ever obtained during the School Malaise Trap Program.

Fall 2014 SMTP Interesting Finds: True flies (Order: Diptera)

True flies (Order: Diptera)

Robber flies, also called assassin flies, belong to the family Asilidae. They are powerfully built and have notoriously aggressive predatory habits. They feed mainly or exclusively on other insects and as a rule they wait in ambush and catch their prey in flight.

Robber Fly on Leaf
Robber Fly on Leaf

These predators can be recognized by their usually bearded face and a concave top of the head between the eyes. Robber flies range in length from 1-5 cm, with the females being larger than males.

The fly attacks its prey by stabbing it with its short, strong proboscis (straw-like mouth part) injecting the victim with saliva containing toxic enzymes which rapidly paralyze it and soon digest the insides; the robber fly then sucks the liquefied material through the proboscis.

Stichopogon trifasciatus
Stichopogon trifasciatus

You might hear this species before you see it, as it departs its perch with a loud, buzzing flight, quickly landing again nearby, usually on a vertical branch or twig.


Only one species of robber fly was collected during the program at St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School. Congratulations on this interesting find!

Fall 2014 SMTP Interesting Finds: Pseudoscorpions (Pseudoscorpiones)

Pseudoscorpions (Pseudoscorpiones)

Pseudoscorpion (Pseudoscorpiones)
Pseudoscorpion (Pseudoscorpiones)

Pseudoscorpions are a type of arachnid, meaning that they are not insects, but are closely related to spiders. They are named “Pseudo” scorpions because they have pincers that resemble scorpions, but do not have a tail and stinger. They can be found anywhere from a tree canopy, to somewhere in your home where they feed on the larvae of some household pests. They can also be found in leaf litter, where they feed on other tiny arthropods. Males use chemicals known as pheromones, and a fancy dancing behaviour, to attract females to mate. These arachnids construct a silken cocoon which they use to protect themselves during the winter. Pseudoscorpions occur all over the planet, but are rarely collected in Malaise traps. In total, only one specimen was collected during the Fall 2014 School Malaise Trap Program, by Chesley District Community School. For an interesting video of a pseudoscorpion hunting, click here.

Fall 2014 SMTP Interesting Finds: Stoneflies (Order: Plecoptera)

Happy New Year from everyone here at BIO!

Brrrrrr it’s getting cold outside, and what better way to kick off the year than with an insect order which contains a few species who genuinely enjoy the cold (to an extent!).  Meet the stoneflies!

Stonefly (Leuctra sp.)
Stonefly (Leuctra sp.)

The Plecoptera are an order of insects, commonly known as stoneflies. There are approximately 3,500 species found worldwide, except in Antarctica. Almost all species of stoneflies develop as nymphs in clean, moving water and are intolerant of water pollution. Their presence in a stream or still water is therefore a good indicator of excellent water quality. Once hatched from the eggs, stonefly nymphs usually complete their development within a year, but many take longer. Some larger species may spend two to three years as nymphs before crawling out of the water as adults.

Flickr Creative Commons CC Kris & Fred
Taeniopteryx – Winter Stonefly by Kris & Fred

Once they emerge from the water, adult stoneflies will usually spend their lives within close proximity to the water’s edge. Unlike the outstretched wings of dragonflies and damselflies, stoneflies fold their wings neatly against their backs when at rest and are generally not strong fliers.  The name “Plecoptera” literally means “braided-wings”, from the Ancient Greek plekein (“to braid”) and pteryx (“wing”). This refers to their complex pleated, or fanlike broad hind wings.

Congratulations to Carleton North High School for collecting the only species of stonefly found during the Fall 2014 School Malaise Trap Program!

Fall 2014 SMTP Interesting Finds: Wasps (Order: Hymenoptera)

Wasps (Order: Hymenoptera)

The Hymenoptera are one of the largest orders of insects, comprising the sawflies, wasps, bees and ants. Over 150,000 species are recognized, with many more remaining to be described. The name refers to the wings of the insects, and is derived from the Ancient Greek ὑμήν (hymen): membrane and πτερόν (pteron): wing. During the Fall 2014 School Malaise Trap Program you collected 1058 species of Hymenoptera across all participating schools. We have highlighted some of your interesting finds below.

Fairyfly (Anagrus ustulatus)

Fairyflies, despite their name, are actually very tiny wasps, and can be found in temperate and tropical regions throughout the world. They average only 0.5 to 1.0 mm long and they include the world’s smallest known insect, the Alaptus fairyfly, with a body length of only 0.139 mm, and the smallest known flying insect, at only 0.15 mm long.

While many insects form complicated social groups – think of ants and bees, for example – the fairyfly is just the opposite. Although they get together for mating, there’s no courtship and no family groups among fairyflies. This makes them relatively hard to study, which is why much of their behavior is still a mystery to scientists.

Fairy Fly2
Fairyfly (Anagrus ustulatus)

Fairyflies are some of the most common chalcid wasps, but are rarely noticed by humans because of their extremely small sizes. This apparent invisibility, their delicate bodies, and their hair-fringed wings have earned them their common name. Their adult lifespans are very short, usually lasting for only a few days. All known fairyflies are parasitoids of the eggs of other insects, and several species have been successfully used as biological pest control agents.

Fairyflies were abundantly caught during the Fall 2014 School Malaise Trap program, with specimens being collected at 49 of the 59 participating schools!

Fall 2014 SMTP Interesting Finds: True bugs (Order: Hemiptera)

True bugs (Order: Hemiptera)

True bugs are an insect order scientifically known as Hemiptera with about 80,000 species. You might know representatives such as cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, and, most prominently, stink bugs and bed bugs. In the Fall 2014 School Malaise Trap Program, the leafhoppers (family Cicadellidae) were the most diverse group, with 158 species collected. Aphids (family Aphididae) were in second place with 119 species, which included a number of interesting species.

Ladybug2Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects with sucking mouthparts called stylets that allow them to pierce plant tissue and suck out the sap. Depending on the plant species and extent of the attack, aphid feeding can lead to yellowing, curled leaves, stunted growth, and even death. The soybean aphid (Aphis glycines) was one of the most widely collected species of aphid, being found in traps at 21 different schools, primarily in Ontario. The soybean aphid is native to Asia but it has become a serious pest of soybean in North America since 2000. Interestingly, the Halloween lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), which can help to control the soybean aphid and is also an introduced species, was collected at 18 schools in this Fall program.

With little natural protection from predators, aphids employ various mechanisms to avoid predation. Species collected in the Fall program exhibit a few of these mechanisms, including two Tetraneura species that can cause plants to form galls, abnormal swellings of plant tissue, wherein the aphids can survive. Multiple species of woolly aphid (subfamily Eriosomatinae), which excrete a waxy, woolly-looking covering that provides protection from predators, were also collected.

Norway maple aphid (Periphyllus lyropictus)
Norway maple aphid (Periphyllus lyropictus)

Aphids are not only pests of agricultural crops, they can also damage trees. Collected in the Fall  program, the Poplar leaf aphid (Chaitophorus populicola) feeds on poplars and cottonwood while the Norway maple aphid (Periphyllus lyropictus), as the name suggests, feeds on Norway maples. Another interesting find were three species of giant conifer aphids (Cinara spp.), some of which are known to attack Christmas trees and, because they can survive freezing temperatures, they can remain on the trees on route to consumers, becoming a nuisance during the holidays.

2014 Fall SMTP Interesting Finds: Spiders and their relatives (Class: Arachnida)

Spiders and their relatives (Class: Arachnida)

While Malaise traps are most useful for capturing flying species, 69 species collected in the Fall School Malaise Trap Program were spiders which certainly don’t fly! These 69 spider species belonged to 57 different genera of 21 families – a very diverse group! Westside Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario collected the greatest number of spider species with 14.
Cellar Spider Sp.

One very interesting find of the Fall program was the spider species Pholcus manueli which was collected at Glendale Secondary School in Hamilton, Ontario and represents the first record of this species from Canada! Pholcus manueli is a cellar spider, belonging to the family Pholcidae. Cellar spiders are often confused with harvestmen (order Opiliones) and share the common name of daddy longlegs. Cellar spiders and harvestmen are rumoured to be some of the most venomous animals in the world but they are, in fact, harmless to humans. Cellar spiders typically live indoors where they build webs and hang upside down, waiting for their insect prey.

Cellar spider (Pholcus manueli)
Cellar spider (Pholcus manueli)

In previous years, occurrences of Pholcus manueli were restricted to Asia and to the southern regions of the United States. However, within the past five years, the range of this species has expanded to the midwestern United States, particularly Ohio, where it has taken the place of another invasive species, Pholcus phalangioides, and become very abundant in barns, sheds, and basements. The collection of this species in Hamilton with the School Malaise Trap Program suggests that it is continuing to spread northward, potentially due to climate change. The quick spread of Pholcus manueli may seem surprising particularly when you consider that this species is not known to disperse through ballooning, where a spider produces a ‘parachute’ out of silk threads that can carry it in the wind for long distances. However, this species may be able to disperse long distances through phoresy, where one animal attaches to another, perhaps a mammal or bird, for transport. Can you think of other ways that this spider species could have arrived in Canada?

Check out our Fall 2014 Detailed Program Report here!

@ Jack Chambers: What We Thought!

What some students thought…

I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed this program. It was really interesting how many and different types of bugs we found. Thanks for making science FUN! – Nabil

I thought that this was a really fun way to get students interested in science and it really made us consider how many species of insects we had in our schools backyard. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to see this! – Alexandra 🙂

The overall experience was very fun, and it was really exciting to go down to our trap everyday and see what we had caught. Thanks a lot! -Wyatt

I had a lot of fun being a part of your program. It taught me a lot about bugs and how there are a lot of different kinds of species. It was a great experience, thanks! -Rachel

It was very fun going outside everyday to check on the bugs that we caught. Thank you, I really enjoyed this program! -Jieun

I had a lot of fun with setting up the trap, and see all of the bugs we caught! Thank you, I really enjoyed this program! -Bre

It was a great experience participating in the program, I’ve never done anything like it. It was fun, interesting, and very exciting! Thanks! -Matthew

I had lots of fun catching bugs so they could get DNA Barcoded. Setting up the trap was fun too. I enjoyed the program! Can you solve a Rubik’s Cube? -Ryan

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