Insect investigators

BEERWAH State High School has been chosen as one 50 schools from Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia to participate in the national Insect Investigators science program. This is being run by the University of Adelaide and coordinated in Queensland by the University of the Sunshine Coast, and involves students in the area of taxonomy.

Taxonomy is the science of discovering, describing and naming species. Estimates suggest that greater than 70% of Australia’s insect diversity is still largely unknown to science, meaning they don’t have a formal name. The program hopes to find and name 50 new species of insect.

Students safely capture insects

For effective taxonomy, the first step is to generate specimens. Students are using Malaise traps which passively collect any flying insects that fly into them (think butterflies, bees and blowflies).

Students safely store everything caught in alcohol to preserve them, and post them to the lab in Adelaide for the next step of the process.

The scientists at the University tests specimens from their specific groups of expertise, with microscopes and DNA. The goal is to find out what makes each species unique, and that could be anything from the shape of the head, to the numbers of hairs on the legs, to unimaginably tiny changes to the DNA of the insect.

These minute differences allow them to place the species within the broader tree of life, and give us clues about their biology and ecology; all part of the puzzle in understanding our biodiversity.

Using Malaise traps

Beerwah SHS Year 7 Pinnacle class students are excitedly waiting to see if they have caught any new species as they will be given the honour of naming them.

Main image: Beerwah State High is one of 50 schools in an insect investigators program