The first Sunday of November, I had the pleasure of attending an insect workshop at the Fletcher Wildlife Interpretive Centre hosted by no other than the President of the OFNC, Fenja Brodo. Each participant had access to a microscope, an array of insect specimen samples, as well as the opportunity to ask questions that our experienced demonstrator answered.
Fenja provided everyone with an Orders of Winged Insects in Algonquin Park dichotomous key as well as a handout outlining the characteristics of each order of insect*. With these tools, we were able to independently identify the specimens, and when stumped receive a little help! It was quite a learning experience. The knowledge and resources gained from this outing can be applied to career and hobby alike.
Insects have a particular anatomy – all insects can be separated into three distinct sections: the head, consisting of the eyes and antennae; the thorax, consisting of the legs (three on each side) and wings; and the abdomen.
Diptera: This order consists of mainly flies, with one pair of wings and one pair of halters for balance. There is no long tail at the tip of the abdomen, and the antennae are very short.
I identified two insects in the Diptera order – Nephrotoma ferryginea and Hybomitra aquatincta. N. ferryginea (the reddish, middle specimen in image below – click image to zoom), had two wings and two noticeable halters, along with very long legs. The abdomen was larger than the thorax and head combined. I remember thinking that there had to be a weight imbalance, but then noticed the way that the wings and legs seem to fall in the direction of the abdomen. For the second Diptera specimen, H. aquatincta (image below, specimen on right), I had to take a second glance. I thought, at first, that I was looking at a honeybee. It was much larger than the N. ferryginea fly, had slightly shorter antennae, and was covered in hairs!
Hemiptera: This order consists of the true bugs, insects with two pairs of wings, the hind wings being membranous but the forewings with a membranous apex and thickened, slightly stiffer basal area. When at rest, the membranous tips of the wings overlap. These insects have either none or two ocelli (tiny eyes that are sensitive to light and darkness, located behind the larger eyes, that are sensitive to movement).
I identified one specimen within this order. In the image above (specimen on left), the front part of each forewing has more veins, and appears stiffer, while the other half and the hind wings are more membranous. This is where the order name originates – in Greek hemi or half and pteron or wing. The Hemiptera specimen also had a red stinger! Unfortunately, the genus and species is unknown.
Coleoptera: This is the order of Beetles. Their forewings are hard and meet in a straight line down the middle. The hind wings are membranous and located underneath the forewings. Hind wings are for flying, but some species have lost these wings and can no longer fly.
I identified two specimens in this order: Chryochus auratus, and the second specimen’s Genus and species was unknown. The first was small, and had colourful, metallic- looking forewings (image to left, specimen on right). It was hard to distinguish between the thorax and the abdomen of this insect. Fenja mentioned that this insect eats leaves throughout its entire life – larva to adulthood! The second specimen was much larger, black/brown in colour, and had legs covered in hairs that resembled rose thorns under the microscope (image to left, specimen on left). I questioned whether or not they were used for any form of defense, but learned that the hairs were simply proportional to the size of the larger insect.
Blattodea: This order consists of cockroaches. These insects have two pairs of wings, uniform in texture and folded over the body. The hind legs are similar to the middle legs, and they have long antennae.
This was the final order for which I identified a sample (image to right). The Genus and species is unknown, but it belonged to the family Blattidae, which is native to the area. This cockroach was copper in colour, but had many other beige and brown markings on the back. The parchment- like wings covered the entirety of the thorax and abdomen, and the legs were also covered in hairs.
Did you know this order was once part of the Orthoptera order that consists of crickets and grasshoppers? This truly demonstrates the evolving nature of taxonomy!
This event was an amazing learning experience! On top of this, I met other individuals with like interests and I was also able to share my own knowledge on the topic and assist them with microscope set-up and identification. It gave real purpose to my personal studies!
*Fenja used Bugguide.net as a resource for the handout. Check out Bugguide.net here: http://bugguide.net/node/view/15740