Thursday, April 28, 2011

Introducing Wasp mimicry to school kids

Today a group of 5th graders from Sells, AZ  visited the University of Arizona Insect collection. Our 'Bugman' Carl Olson wasn't here to entertain them, so I had to come up with something interesting, fun, but educational.

The kids and parents were all Tohono O'odham tribal members, and a great group to talk 'Bugs' to. They admired our pinned specimens of especially pretty  insects. Arizona has so many carismatic species...

By borrowing from other flickr members and using my own quite extensive digital insect collection I prepared a slide show of insects from divers orders that mimic stinging wasps and hornets by displaying yellow-dark banding.
I myself was surprised at some of the striking examples that I found.

Ancistrocerus tuberculocephalusAAA Some Insect ordersAAAA Vespula pensylvanica, Western Yellow JacketAidemona azteca nymphb Polistes  comanchusBembix sp
c Acmaeodera amabilisCopestylum sp.d Ripiphorus sp. femalee Aethecerinus latecinctusEumeninaeg Spilomyia crandalli
g Trichodes fasciatusHedriodiscus binotatus, SoldierflyPolistes arizonensisPolistes dorsalisPolybiomyia sp. Flower Fly, CeriiniSoldierfly
Sphecius convallis, Pacific Cicada KillerTrachyderes mandibularis
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Wasp mimicry (Yellow/dark), a set on Flickr. Click on the link to see all.

The kids went cheerfully along with my flickr slide show calling out the  different insect orders that they recognized.

They loved to handle my two life Agave Weevils. Of course, they also enjoyed hunting one of them down when it flew around the class room - after I had introduced it as a flight-less species.

A big Dynastes male with its wings spread open was everyones favorite. I wished the class had visited in summer, so I could have had some life Dynastes and Oxbeetles and maybe some Chrysinas. All of them occur on Reservation land, but I doubt that many of the kids get to see them.

The teacher Kathryn Killmer gave a great introduction to the path to college and university, and kids and parents were obviously fascinated with our subject matter, so one can hope that some of them  will eventually return to the U of A as students.

I hope they had as much fun as I did.


  1. The soldierfly and Acmaedera amabilis look quite delicious...

  2. Thats a aspect that we discussed, too. But although grasshoppers are commonly eaten in Mexico, and the tribe's area extends far into Sonora, the kids all seemed to dislike the idea just as much as most US Americans do. Only one of the older people asked about the food value of the big Dynastes grubs, but I don't know how serious he was.

  3. They certainly look like they had fun! What an awesome presentation. They look enthralled.

    Great set on mimicry too!

  4. They certainly look like they had a lot of fun!! So.... am I understanding correctly that all those bee 'mimics' don't sting you!!?

  5. No, the mimics don't sting. But I had the real wasps mixed into the presentation - so all the paper wasps, yellow jacket and hornet for ex. can sting painfully, if they are females. Of the others, the assassin bug can deliver a painful bite at least. Check Muellerian mimicry: It's good gang up and advertise together

  6. Well done, Margarethe! I guarantee they had fun, you can see it on their faces :-) Really great job on the spur of the moment. You have great empathy for the children, too. You are no doubt correct that they haven't seen the beetles on their native lands. Hm-m-m, maybe we can take them blacklighting?

  7. Sounds like a plan, just need to get a permit rom the tribal chairman (woman) not easy