Researching Pelecinids – Part 2

One of the most useful resources the Triplehorn Insect Collection has to offer is its extensive HOL database, an online taxonomic initiative that documents collected specimens of various insect groups. This database already contains records for over 845 thousand Hymenoptera specimens, and it continues to grow every week through the hard work of countless contributors.

One way to contribute to HOL is to photograph and upload images of collected specimens, further enriching the available data on specific taxa. Prior to the start of my research on pelecinids, there were zero images of the genus Pelecinus available in the database. To remedy this, I had the opportunity to work with Jordan Reynolds, an undergraduate student in Art & Technology who is currently working on specimen photography for the collection. Over the last several weeks, Jordan taught me about the technologies and techniques required for taking high-quality images for the database.

My goal in photographing a selection of the collection’s Pelecinus polyturator specimens is three-fold. First, I will obtain a more in-depth understanding of the external anatomy of these intriguing insects. Second, I can compare the morphologies of males and females of different sizes and localities. Third, I will contribute previously unavailable data to the HOL database.

Photographing collection specimens is not as simple as taking a picture with a camera. Because the specimens are relatively small, and because we require intricate detail in the images, we instead use a method known as focus stacking. With this method, the camera gradually moves along a track and takes multiple images at different distances. The focused areas of each image are then “stacked” together by a computer program so that the entirety of the final image is clear. Because the P. polyturator specimens required a large depth of field, we sometimes had to photograph and stack up to 100 images to create a sufficiently focused final image.

In addition to taking individual specimen images, we also took several comparison images. These provide a quick side-by-side comparison between two different specimens. Some of the images we took compare males and females of similar localities. Other images showcase females of similar localities and their dramatic variance in size.

comparison image of P. polyturator females

Comparison image illustrating the size variation in P. polyturator females

Of course, no system is perfect, and we faced many challenges along the way. Most of the parasitic wasps that get photographed by the collection are very small in size (no more than a few millimeters long). Therefore, the collection’s microscopic camera that is traditionally used for parasitoid photography is designed to take highly detailed images of very small specimens. P. polyturator females are unusual in that they are very large parasitoids that can exceed 40 mm in length. Because of this, many of the specimens we wanted to photograph could not fit under the microscopic camera. We instead opted to use a DSLR camera, which is used for macrophotography of larger specimens such as beetles and butterflies. Using this nontraditional method of parasitoid photography, we were able to produce high-quality images of the larger specimens by exploiting various imaging techniques.

Another challenge we faced was the handling of the specimens. All mounted insects in a collection must be handled with great care because they are dry and brittle. Pelecinids must be handled with extra caution because their long, string-like antennae and fragile abdomens will break with even the slightest bump.

We ended up with many beautiful images of these wasp specimens. The complete collection of images has been uploaded to HOL and is available on the page dedicated to P. polyturator. I would like to thank Jordan for all of his help with this photography endeavor. Without the countless hours he spent performing behind-the-scenes image processing, the final images could never have turned out so well.

About the Author: Hannah McKenzie is an undergraduate entomology major at the Ohio State University. She currently works at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and is participating in undergraduate research on Pelecinus wasps.

Bumble bees in our garden


Every Spring and Summer there are bumble bees in the small garden in front of the Museum of Biological Diversity at Ohio State University.

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

They are attracted to the Purple Coneflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot), Mint, and other flowering plants that happen to grow over there.

Garden in front of the Museum of Biological Diversity, as it was in July of 2013.

Garden in front of the Museum of Biological Diversity, as it was in July of 2013.

Bumble bees are fascinating creatures. They play a vital role in our environment, and they are beautiful, too! I am interested in learning more about bumble bees and I am concerned about their future in a rapidly changing world.

For a few years now I’ve been taking photos of the ‘Museum bumble bees’ whenever I have a chance. Sunny, warm days are the best to observe and photograph these hard-working insects. I also keep records of when I took the photos and what kinds of plants where flowering in the garden at the time.

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

This year I contributed some of my photos and observations to Bumblebee Watch, “a collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees“. This citizen science project is an opportunity for anyone who’s interested in bumble bees to contribute to their conservation by adding precious species distribution information to the site in the form of photos and dots on the map. If everyone who takes a photo of a bumble bee in the USA would submit the image (and where it was taken) to the site, scientists would have a very large amount of important distribution records to work with. The more we know about the bumble bees the better our chances to help them survive.

Bumble Bee Watch (and one of my photos) were featured on the Metro section of the Columbus Dispatch on July 17.

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

It’s easy to contribute to the site and you can later see your contribution on the Bumble Bee Watch map. My observations and photos are now showing as a little green dot right on 1315 Kinnear Road (the Museum address) in Columbus, Ohio.

PS. The species identifications were provided by the Bumble Bee Watch Project identifiers.


About the Author: Luciana Musetti is the Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at Ohio State University. All photos by the author.

Praying mantids have hatched!

Insects are everywhere!  Even in the most urban environment, insects are easy to find.  You just have to keep your eyes open and you will see them. Entomologists are always on the lookout for insects. First, because we admire them, second, because we study them and want to know more about the way they live. Sometimes we bring the insects with us to the lab, sometimes we take photos of them in the wild and leave them be.

Because of that interest, we keep finding cool insects, or insect-related structures. Huayan Chen, an Entomology graduate student in Norman Johnson‘s lab, found this beautiful Chinese praying mantid (Order Mantodea: Family Mantidae: Tenodera sinensis) egg case on the stem of a tall grass on his way home on a cold January day. He brought the egg case back to the lab hoping to find egg parasitoids. However, instead of parasitoids, he was surprised one day by dozens of mantid nymphs. Here are some of the photos he took of the babies as they explored their new world.

All photos courtesy of Huayan Chen. He also wrote most of this blog post.