Friday brings us many things. Many good things (besides the end of the week).
Today, the students taking the Biology and Taxonomy of Insects module on the Applied Ecology suite of MSc courses here at Harper Adams University were treated to a day consisting entirely of Hymenoptera-related (wasps, bees and ants) lessons, from Dr Andrew Polaszek, of the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. Starting the day off with an overview of the Order, Dr. Polaszek went on to characterise the super-families using morphological and ecological definitions. The class later went on to try our hand at the initially daunting task of identifying specimens to super-family, family or genus level based on various keys. The fact that the majority of students were able to identify the specimens shows the quality of the keys and the direction Dr. Polaszek gave to us. By the end of the afternoon, most students had been identifying specimens for 2h30m, with the majority actively enjoying the process, and improving over the course of the day.
Moreover, the class had a collective epiphany – a direct consequence of Dr. Polaszek’s lecture. After being taught, for the majority of our undergraduate education, that the most speciose group of animals are the beetles (Coleoptera), Dr. Polaszek suggested that it may, in fact, be Hymenoptera. Due to the rich diversity of parasitoid hymenopterans already known, despite their painfully understudied status, he concluded that there may be an order of magnitude more undiscovered hymenopterans than are currently described (ca. 120,000) and this is a very conservative estimate. A logical, highly defensible position to hold, considering that almost every species of insect has a corresponding species of parasitoid wasp, some of which have more than one parasitoid species, each targeting a separate stage of their life history (e.g. parasitoids of eggs, larvae, pupae and adults). Not to mention hyper-parasitoids and phytophagous wasps specialising on different plant species. If this assumption and extrapolation is correct, the Hymenoptera must contain more species than any other group of insects, and possibly any other animal group.
Alas, I digress!
Another scholarship Antenna essay is available for you to read! This time, it comes from Danielle ‘Elle’ Klassen. Hailing from Canada, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta, with a major in Biology and minor in Agriculture. She’s interested in parasitoid wasps (Dr. Polaszek said “she’s a natural at wasp ID”) and using them to reduce people’s reliance on chemical pesticides. However, she states that “I’m still a budding entomologist so that could change in the coming months!”. She has a lot to give to the field and is an active member of the class.
Here’s her essay:
I grew up petrified of all insects (especially anything that could fly in my face) and I hated getting dirty. Dirt under my fingernails made me shiver. Bugs in my hair made me want to cry. I called myself a nature girl but I preferred to commune with nature from inside a clean and bug-free cabin in my home country of Canada.
Something changed during my undergraduate biology programme when by chance—I needed something to fill a gap in my schedule—I took a module called Insect Biology. I discovered a world that I never knew existed and each insect I learned about was so unique and so ideally suited to its environment that I fell in love with science, and specifically with entomology.
For the last year-and-a-half, I was a science teacher in Budapest, Hungary. I was lucky enough to teach 10-12 year olds about science while encouraging them to actively explore their natural environment. In my free time, I exercised my newfound interest in bugs by volunteering at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in the Hemiptera collection (specifically with Cicadellidae) where I learned about curating the specimen collection.
My interest in entomology—and tolerance for getting dirty—continued this summer when I worked on Dr Sarah Beynon’s Bug Farm in Wales. I constantly had dirt under my fingernails as I worked long days setting bug traps and counting and recording insect patterns. When I washed my hands, the water that cascaded down my arms was dark. I loved it. Working with insects felt like an adventure for me. No other field of study feels so undiscovered and yet so important to the future health of our planet.
The modules I’m most looking forward to are Commercial and Practical Biological Control and Diversity and Evolution of Insects. The first one appeals to my practical side: I wonder how we can use biological control to reduce the use of chemical pesticides without creating a massive chain reaction that collapses local populations. The second module interests me because I’m interested in the origins of animals. Learning how insects are uniquely suited to their habitat, and how they respond to a changing environment is of great interest to me.
The RES scholarship makes a big difference in my ability to focus on my studies this year and gives me the confidence that I am making the right decision about my field of study. I am an international student and although Harper Adams provides good value for money, the programme stretches me financially, especially after working for modest wages in a Hungarian school for the last 18 months and volunteering at the Bug Farm this summer. I paid for my Canadian undergraduate degree by working part time as a waitress. The RES scholarship allows me to focus full-time on gaining experience in fieldwork and labwork outside of instructional hours, and enables me to gain a wide range of valuable experiences leading to a future career in entomology.
An uplifting essay, showing what she’s capable of!
More essays to come soon.
Until next time.
Featured photo: George Hicks Green Tiger Beetle (Cincidela campestris) mating pair.
Photo 1: Our very own Elle Klassen!