Earlier this month, my office chums and I stumbled across a pretty awesome battle taking place on the pavement on our way to lunch. I say ‘battle’, but it was actually completely one-sided: a colossal parasitoid wasp was riding a big turgid caterpillar like a jetpack, injecting her eggs into the finger-sized fleshy tube. The caterpillar tried raising its tiny legs in pugilistic rage, but after a few seconds of thrashing about, it was resigned to its fate. The wasp flew off, laughing (or so it seemed). The caterpillar? I’m sure he’s fine.
Luckily, I was able to snap a quick picture before the rough-and-tumble was over, providing an image (i) to refer to when identifying the beasts, (ii) to show police as evidence in the event of a grievous bodily harm charge, (iii) to impress people on Twitter with, and (iv) to scare my sister with.
Matthew Dray (@mattdray) August 16, 2013
The caterpillar was pretty straightforward to identify with green and yellow diagonal stripes along its flanks (a Norwich City FC supporter?) and a blue ‘tail’ (hopefully those colours are correct, my eyes don’t work properly); it was the lime hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae). The wasp? I knew we had a member of the Ichneumonidae family on our hands, but frantically searching my insect ID books came to no avail; not even my George-C-McGavin-signed book could help (you let me down, George). I had no idea. Whatsoever.
Fortunately, with the help of Twitter, @DavidNotton saved the day; it was (tentatively) Callajoppa cirrogaster. A bit of generic-search-engine work told me a bit about the taxonomy, but I thought it would be interesting to look at its distribution on NBN Gateway, which holds 90 million (!) species records for the UK. How many of those were C. cirrogaster? Precisely three: two in Nottingham and one in Wicken Fen, both before the 1940s. A rare customer!
David Notton (@DavidNotton) August 21, 2013
So what to do? You can’t add records to NBN, but there are a few ways for budding citizen scientists to record their findings. iSpot is great tool (website, app, Twitter) that allows you to upload pictures and show off your findings, or to get help with identification. There are also keys, quizzes and a ‘Biodiveristy Mentor’ who updates you on what to spot in your area. This is a great way for the public to engage with species recording and identification, which can ultimately help inform scientists about range shifts, alien invasions and species interactions. To add to its legitimacy, iSpot is supported by The Open University and The British Ecological Society, and is part of the wonderful Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) initiative. iSpot has over a quarter of a million records already. How many of those are C. cirrogaster? There’s at least one!
Anyway, I’m off to scare my sister with the photograph.