BioBlitz

Insects

 

Cayuga Nature Center   Smith Woods   Total species found
 1 1 6     2 2    1 2 8

 

BioBlitz kicked off the start of the semester and was a great learning experience for the students of Cornell’s ENTOM 3310. The team focused on identifying species to the family level. Despite a great sampling effort, it is easy to miss common insects during BioBlitz due to their small size or obscurity, the time of year, or chilly, wet weather like what was experienced during the BioBlitz weekend. A total of 93 insect families were recorded. Some of these families had several species represented. For example, within the bee family Apidae (which includes species such as honeybees and bumblebees), ten different species were found! There were many common families not counted, which means that the insect diversity is actually probably much higher than what was counted. There are about 1 million described insects, and many millions more that have not yet been described. 

Insects are the most extraordinarily specious and diversified group of animals on earth, and species are adapted for almost all habitats on the planet. You’ll find them on land, air, and water. In our area, you’ll even find insects that can crawl around on the snow in January! Insect diversity and success is largely due to complex and highly variable mouth parts, the ability to fly, metamorphosis, and incredible reproductive capacities.

While insects can be detrimental to humans by transmitting deadly and debilitating diseases to us, our pets and livestock, or devastating our crops, there are of course also many insects that are beneficial. These insects eat pests, work at decomposing detritus, or pollinate flowers, and provide us with products such as honey and silk. 

When undertaking a 24-hour collecting extravaganza of a specious group such as insects, it is a great benefit to have a large group of participants with diverse interests and strengths in insect identification. The Cornell ENTOM 3310 class of talented and energetic students was well-suited for the task. The BioBlitz allowed the class to collect specimens, gain knowledge and experience in the field, and contribute to the documentation and understanding of insects in the Cayuga Basin. A large and showy parasitoid wasp was spotted by a couple of student-participants in Smith Woods. Pelecinus polyturator is a species of wasp which has no common name, but it is a beautiful giant of the wasp world -- lumbering by in flight and alighting on trees. At first, you may not notice them resting on leaves in wooded areas, but these insects are hard to miss if they fly by your nose in late summer. 

A parasitoid is an organism that uses another host organism to grow and develop. This means that the parasitoid larva (immature stage) eats the host and eventually kills it. Adult parasitoids do not eat other insects but will drink water or often consume nectar as a food source. Adult parasitoids do not sting humans. In the case of P. polyturator, the female uses her incredibly long abdomen for a different purpose. This species is a parasitoid of larval june beetles (phyllophaga species), and the wasp female lays eggs in the beetle grubs buried under the ground. Females are typically over 2 inches in length. Males are less commonly collected and with their shorter abdomens, are under 1 inch long.

In the Cayuga Basin, you can find representatives of 24 out of the 28 orders of insects that occur worldwide! 

The ENTOM 3310 website has photo links to student web-pages on Cayuga Basin area insects: insectsofcornell.weebly.com

Participants

Team Entomology, led by Cornell ENTOM 3310 instructors Elizabeth Murray and Bryan Danforth with post doc Peter Buck also included 14 entomology undergrad and graduate students who attended as part of the lab requirement for ENTOM 3310. Students gained a broad overview of insect diversity, including learning how to collect and identify insects. Junior Jacob Gorneau , Entomology major, had one of the highest number of observations at the Smith Woods site, contributing 23 observations just from that locality!

Team entomology camped overnight at the Cayuga Nature Center to collect into the night and early morning.