October 12, 2013

A wonderful Bug Day

On September 7, I had the opportunity to participate as a volunteer in a "Bug Day", in the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. It was jointly sponsored by the Entomological Society of Ontario and the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club, and brilliantly organized by Sophie Cardinal, a bee researcher from the Canadian National Collection of Insects (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada). The interested person can find more details of what happened that day and some photos here.

It was indeed a celebration of insects and Nature, with around one thousand participants attending and enjoying the many "attractions" that were prepared by the organizers. Tables were set up to showcase insect collections in drawers, living insects in cages, a fish tank with aquatic insects, cockroach races, nature walks (where collecting and later mounting of insects was taught), entomology-related crafts and face-painting, use of microscopes, exhibition of specimens used in actual biological control projects in Canada, and many more things. 

Among those tables there was one devoted to "Rearing Caterpillars", led by Chris Schmidt, a researcher on Lepidoptera working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Chris had brought a number of caterpillars collected around Ottawa, including a few that could be touched by kids and adults. Over the four hours that the event ran, we talked to many persons interested in caterpillars and other aspects of Nature. We also enjoyed their faces when they examined some glass jars and tried to find larvae mimicking thin branches or bird droppings. It is this capacity to be surprised, while enjoying the new knowledge acquired, what makes so beautiful the study of the natural world. Especially for the small kids!

Chris Schmidt enjoying his talk with a family interested in caterpillars 
(Photo by Sophie Cardinal). 
I was fortunate to be there helping Chris, because I ended learning lots of things from his vast knowledge of local caterpillars -well, to be honest, his expertise goes way beyond local Lepidoptera. And it was also great to exchange from our different perspectives rearing caterpillars (Chris does it to get the adult moths and butterflies, while I do that to get their braconid parasitoid wasps). Two different worlds that nevertheless are deeply linked.

And, of course, I could not resist to bring some additional information... about those parasitoids. I printed a few images of parasitized caterpillars, and also wrote a small brochure on how to rear them -with the hope of attracting someone to this often-ignored task. It was great to find a few persons interested in such activities. At the end of the day I ran out of pictures and most of my brochures! 

Some images of caterpillars parasitized by microgastrine wasps 
(Images taken from Google Images).

Among people that impressed me the most were a couple of school teachers -both promised me that next spring they would try to get some students interested in rearing parasitoids from caterpillars... Hopefully I hear from then soon!

There was also a small kid who seemed to know very well the parasitoid wasps, and nicely explained to me the whole process of parasitism and emergence of the wasp larva from the caterpillar host ("How do you know that?", I asked him in awe, and he replied with ease "I found it in Wikipedia!". It was a wonderful experience). 
A simple explanation of what can be found when rearing caterpillars, part of the 
brochure on rearing caterpillars and parasitoids prepared for the Bug Day.
(Some images from Google Images, others taken by the author). 
And then there was another biologist, Alexander MacDonald, Manager of Protected Areas for Nature Canada. He was obviously very knowledgeable and interested, and got really excited with the idea of rearing parasitoids. We have kept corresponding since then, and I am delighted to see that collaborations can materialize in the most unexpected ways. 

At the end, this Bug Day was a great experience not only for those attending the event, but also for the volunteers. I do look forward to repeat the celebration the next year. And I certainly look forward to get involved with more citizens of Ottawa interested in rearing caterpillars parasitoids!

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