Lecture 1: INTRODUCTION & PARATAXONOMY
Goals of this course
To teach and to produce. Consider yourselves more as members of a biodiversity assessment team rather than simply students in a class. By producing specimens that document Connecticut's non-marine arthropod fauna you will be learning many new skills in addition to generating data and resources for research.
Why study arthropods?
Parataxonomy is a term that was first coined by Daniel Janzen (e.g. Janzen 1991) to describe the jobs held by assistants to taxonomists within INBio of Costa Rica. Nurses and paramedics are not doctors but without them doctors would be overwhelmed: the idea is to save the doctors to do the work for which only they have the training. Assign the other (no less important) tasks to nondoctors who are trained for it. Currently, a great percentage of our rare and valuable Ph.D. taxonomists' time is spent doing tasks that parataxonomists could be trained to do. Parataxonomists increase the efficiency, value and productivity of the taxonomic machine.
The parataxonomists of INBio in Costa Rica must complete a 5-6 month long course that meets for 10-14 hours per day, 5 days a week. This totals at least 1000 hours of training. UConn's Field Entomology course will total about 51 hours of training. You can understand that this course can not give you the qualifications equivalent to those of a Costa Rican parataxonomist. (But we'll try!)
Thus: students are not expected to master the taxonomic skill of identification beyond the most basic--that is the job of the specialist. An Insect Identification upper division course is required to begin towards becoming a proficient identifier of insects..
To properly document something as complex as arthropod biodiversity requires training. Collecting is not entirely intuitive, although rarely are the skills taught that you will learn in this course. Quite frequently I must handle specimens that were obviously prepared by someone lacking even basic training.
In many ways collecting is an extension of our species' "hunting & gathering" abilities. To be qualified to work as a collector one should be trained. Many non entomologists seem to believe that anyone off the street is capable of collecting insects --the assumption is made that it is an intuitive skill that anyone can deduce with no prior training. Here are some examples to demonstrate this point:
example 1. An intern with only a General Entomology course as training was assigned to survey arthropod species. Over 8 weeks he collected ca. 800 specimens working 35 hours per week (280 hours total, 2.9 specimens/hour). During a 12 week period I collected ca. 2000 specimens of Coleotpera at ca. 10 hrs per week (120 hours total, 16.7 specimens/hour).
example 2. 1978 YNP vs 1993 YNP. 1978 daim=9cm, 1993 diam=11cm, 1978=42 traps, 1610 trap days, 4,047 beetles. 1993=28 traps, 3472 trap days, 19,318 beetles (when corrected for trap surface area : 1978=408,584 cm2*days and 1993=1,319,360 cm2*days. Therefore 1978=0.001 beetles/effort unit, 1993=0.015 beetles/effort unit [15x greater]). When time is removed from the equation: 1978=10,668 cm2 of trap surface area, 1993=10,640 cm2, therefore 1978=0.4 beetles per cm2 of trap surface area and 1993=1.8 beetles per cm2 of trap surface area (4.5 X greater).
Lab 1: SORTING & MORPHOLOGY
1. You will be assigned a scope and learn how to use and care for it.
*take great care in moving scopes in and out of the cabinets (eye pieces can crash into the shelf)
*always carry with two hands, lower the head as low as it will go when finished
*when carrying scopes be sure that the stage clips are over the stage glass plates (these have a tendency to jump out of the scope and commit suicide on the floor)
*learn how to set the oculars for your eyes. close one eye, look through the ocular that does not adjust, then set focus. Now open the other eye and turn the ocular adjustment ring so that both eyes are in focus.
2. Sorting a trap sample:
Although you haven't learned all the insect orders yet, you will "dive right in" by sorting a subsample collected during 1995 in Rhode Island using a Flight Intercept Trap (details on this trap later..). Working in 70% ETOH (ethanol) and using the petri dishes provided, forceps and a probe (or two pair of forceps if there are enough) pull out the Coleoptera (beetles) and place these in one dish and the Hymenoptera (wasps & ants) and place these in a separate dish (note: wasps have 4 wings and flies have only 2). Leave everything else in the original sample, which should include many flies and perhaps some other fascinating beasts.
There will be many microHymenoptera and Coleoptera that you will most likely think are merely bits of dirt--once the big guys are out, use higher magnifications to find the little ones. Work as fast as you can without being sloppy. Be sure to ask me about anything you see under the scope that intrigues you.
3. Insect Morphology:
The above illustrations will help you locate the following parts on any of the beetles you've sorted: (start with a large beetle and then see if you can find the same parts on one of the small guys)
circle or check-off the following parts once found:
pro-, meso- and metathorax
leg [coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, tarsus]
labial & maxillary palpi (segmented appendages posterior to the mandibles of the mouth)
These are the basic terms that are unavoidable when working with insects. Do your best to familiarize yourself with these terms today.
If there is time left, and you haven't finished sorting your sample, please do so.