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Check out what is living in the Hanover, IL prairie, PLUS Jim Louderman shows us how to prepare insects for the collection. WIN-WIN.

Help the Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation restore more native prairies in Illinois:


The Brain Scoop is written and hosted by:
Emily Graslie

Special Guests and huge thanks to:
Jim Louderman and Rebekah Shuman Baquiran, Assistant Collections Managers of Insects

Created By:
Hank Green

Directed, Edited, Animated, and Scored by:
Michael Aranda .

Filmed on Location and supported by:
The Field Museum in Chicago, IL

You know who's cool? Katerina Idrik, Rosa McGuire, Tony Chu, Seth Bergenholtz, and Kelleen Browning for translating our subtitles. Thanks!

Jim: Welcome to the insect division at The Field Museum. We're here today to look at some of the things that we've collected up in Hanover. When we were up and we were up there with the middle school and Emily was up there beating trees and all that kind of good stuff. 

Okay, so this is one of the carrion trap samples that we found in Hanover, and this is the one we took out of the middle of the prairie when the kids from the middle school were there. So they helped pick up this trap. The first thing I find is a histerid, it's a Hister beetle, and they eat a lot of dead animals. This one's a little bit bigger. This is a Necrophilia Americana. These just come to a big carcass, like a deer, and lay their eggs on it, and then the larvae eat the deer carcass. And this is a Onthophagus hecate. It's a type of dung beetle. They're out in the prairie eating things like deer poop. So they take the deer poop and they take a ball of the deer poop and they roll it around and then they lay their eggs in it and they bury it in the ground and then the larvae eat the deer poop. This is a thomisid, or a crab spider, and these are little spiders that can move forwards, backwards, and sideways. Crab spiders are the only spiders that can move in all four directions like that.

Emily: How do other spiders move?

J: Either forwards or backwards.

E: Oh.

J: This is a cricket, like a house cricket- the ones you find in pet stores. This is a fly, this is called a sarcophagid, which is a flesh fly. It's one of the big flies that we have around here.

E: What are all the wormy things? Are all those larvae and maggots and stuff? Yeah.

J: These? Like this? These are the millipedes. Oh, these?

E: Well no, the white ones, yeah.

J: The white ones like this?

E: Yeah.

J: Yeah that is fly larvae, so that's a maggot, and fly larvae are called maggots. And we can't identify fly larvae, so I don't pull them out. This is called a broad-headed bug, and these suck juices out of plants. This is a carabid, or ground beetle, and there's a whole bunch of different ground beetles living out in the prairie. This is a daddy long-leg, or Opiliones. Daddy long-legs aren't actually spiders. You can tell the difference because there is no waist between the abdomen and the thorax. It's all one part. Spiders have a waist between the abdomen and thorax.

E: Yeah.

J: So daddy long-legs don't, and also they have no venom and no fangs. So they're not gonna bite you, they're not spiders.

J: They're not spiders, they're not gonna bite you.

E: What about that giant grasshopper?

J: Oh yeah, I missed him. Where's he at? He's over here some place.

E: He's down in the...

J: Oh down here, okay, this is a big old grasshopper. This is an adult because it has fully developed wings, and that's what happens when grasshoppers and crickets and things reach adulthood. The wings go from just being little wing buds to being full wings. And there are flying wings under there so these can fly. And this is called a differential grasshopper. It's just one of the really big grasshoppers found around here. So that's most of what's in this dish. There's gonna be lots of other things in the rest of the sample. Then people want to know what we do with them after we take them out of the sample. So I'm just gonna move this over to the side. And then we pin them.

These are quite a bit longer than pins that are used for sewing. They're also much thinner. So that allows you to put it through the body of the insect and then have room on the underneath to put the collecting labels. To pin it, you just take the pin, stick it through the thorax, you stick the pin in so there's about a quarter inch or a little more left. Then I set them on these trays so that they dry and the abdomens don't fall down, and the legs stay in place, so that when it's time to put the labels on, you can put the labels on and they don't get caught up in the legs, and the abdomen doesn't break off when you put it into the collection.

E: Yeah.

J: And then in two weeks it'll be completely dry and hard, and then you can put it into the collection. 

E: So you pose the legs and everything so they kind of dry in place?

J: Mhmm. When you pin a beetle, the wing cover is called an "elytra," and you put the pin through the elytra, just to the right of center and just below where the thorax attaches to the abdomen. Put it on the drying board, and you're done.

E: Nice!

J: Let me find something little.

E: There's some tiny, tiny spiders in there.

J: Spiders don't get pinned.

E: Awww.

J: Spiders, if you pin them, they just dry out and shrivel up or the abdomens rot and fall off.

E: Ew.

J: So, here's a little ant.

E: Does that not happen with insects because they have...

J: Insects have a thicker exoskeleton. Spiders have a thin exoskeleton, so they just don't pin well.

E: Yeah.

J: Okay, so little tiny things obviously, we aren't going to be able to put a pin through that.

E: Oh my gosh, yeah.

J: So what we do with these, these are just little points that we punch out of card stock, and we bend the tip over a little bit. And then we use a very sophisticated glue. Ta-da! Clear nail polish.

E: I was gonna say, I think I have some of that at my house. Wow, that's so tiny.

J:  Okay. And the point goes between the second and third leg on the right side of the insect when the insect is facing away from you.

E: I can't even- I would have no idea how to look at that.

J: So I've got the second and third leg spread apart. Put a little dab of nail polish on the end of the point, stick it on there.

E: Wow!

J: Make sure the insect is as straight across as you can get it, and then just put him on the board. That's how little tiny insects are prepared to go into the collection. These trays are all spiders that have been collected up in the prairie in Hanover. We've collected 137 different species of spiders so far.

E: Oh wow.

J: Which is a whole lot of spiders for a small prairie of 65 acres or so. At this point, between spiders and insects, we have 837 species. And doing a full summer worth of collecting next year, we could come up with as many as 12 or 15 hundred species.

E: Oh my gosh. And these were all of the insects that were like in the...

J: In the carrion traps, or the sweep netting, or the beating of trees. So these are insects that were collected in all the different ways we've collected up there.

E: Wow.

J: So, what we have found that's really interesting and important, we've found some habitat indicator species. So in this drawer...

E: (Gasps) There's the-

J: You recognize these guys.

E: Yeah!

J: These are the Phanaeus vindex carrion beetle that is an indicator of habitat species. And what's really cool, we've found not only females, that don't have the horn, we found some alpha males with the big long horn, and some beta males with the little short horn. So the alpha males are the ones that are gonna get to mate, to carry on their species.

E: Nice! They're so beautiful, too.

J: And there are others in here, like these are Nicrophorus marginatus, and those are one of the burying beetles. I think we talked about those, they find dead animals, shave the fur off, dig underneath them, bury them, and lay their eggs in them.

E: Yeah.

J: And those beetles actually provide parental care.

E: Oh yeah!

J: They hang around, and they protect the eggs from predators, and they clean the eggs because they're in a dead animal.

E: Yeah.

J: So they keep the fungus and bacteria and things off of the eggs, and then they do the same thing for the larvae. So it's one of the few beetles that actually does provide parental care for their babies.

E: You wouldn't- I wouldn't expect a lot of insects to have that kind of like, maternal instinct.

J: There aren't a lot of insects that do, there are quite a few spiders that do.

E: Really?

J: There are- like the nursery web spiders and the wolf spiders.

E: Yeah.

J: The wolf spiders, when the eggs hatch, they run around on the baby- on the female, on the mother. And the mother protects them, and they stay on the mother until they shed their skin once, and then they disperse and go all over the place.

E: Wow, that's pretty cool. It makes them sound cuddly.

J: Yeah, kinda. And you know, like most things around here, almost everything around here, they aren't gonna hurt you.

E: Yeah.

J: There are a few things: if you mess with a wasp, it's gonna sting you.

E: Yeah.

J: But if you leave it alone, it's gonna leave you alone.

E: They're mostly just curious when they're like buzzing around.

J: When they're buzzing around, they're just curious about what you're doing there, they're trying to figure you out. They're more scared of you than you are of them. They know that they can't really hurt you. They know that you're way too big for them to do anything with. They aren't going to be able to reproduce on you, they aren't going to be able to eat you, they aren't going to be able to do anything with you. So they're just curious as to what you're doing out there.

E: Yeah.

J: There were a lot of questions about the wasp of death.

E: Yeah!

J: Here's the wasp of death. This is one of the cricket hunters. And what they do is fly around and hunt for crickets, and sting them, and paralyze them, and then lay their eggs on them. They bury them in a burrow, and then over the next six to eight weeks the larvae of the wasp eats the paralyzed cricket. And the cricket is still alive. So nature isn't always nice, and fine, and gentle, and cool. They're really kinda gross sometimes. And there's lots and lots of wasps that do that to all kinds of different insects and spiders. These are Platydracus maculosus, and though they aren't prairie indicators, they're only found really in good habitats.

E: Oh, good.

J: So a lot of these things are habitat indicators, and they all indicate that it is a good habitat.

E:  Good!

J: So they're doing everything right up there in Hanover.

E: Is there anything that you would have expected to find that you didn't find this time?

J: Um, there's always lots of stuff. There's so many different things living there. Like I said, if we continue going we could find twice as many as we've found so far.

E: Yeah.

J: And you're always catching new things. Every time you go there's new things. And the way you determine when it's time to stop collecting is a species curve.

E: Oh.

J: You start out from zero, and as you're collecting, the curve goes up, up, up, up, but then it levels out. And when it starts to level out, and you're only getting a few new things, then it's time to quit.

E: Good! So...

J: So that's how we determine when it's time to quit, we don't just keep collecting forever. 

E: Does collecting this amount of insects- is that going to have any kind of negative impact on the populations?

J: No, you really can't hurt insect populations by collecting. They have so many babies. What controls insect and spider populations is food availability. If there's plenty of food, you're going to have plenty of insects and plenty of spiders.

E: Right. Are you afraid of accidentally, like, catching the last of a certain species, and then the species goes extinct? The chances of catching the last of a species is basically zero. If you're down to the last of a species, you're never gonna find it. Also, if you have a species that is endangered, you're unlikely to find them. Up in that area, there's only one insect species that could even be considered endangered, and that's the Hine's emerald dragonfly, and I've never seen one up there, in all the time I've been collecting up there and other places in that area, I've never seen a Hine's emerald. And one of the rules is if you collect an endangered species, you're done.

E: Really?

J: You can't collect anything more on that site. So if we were to collect, say, a Nicrophorus americanus, which is an endangered carrion beetle, we'd stop immediately. That's the last time we'd collect at that site.

E: Really. Oh, that's good to know.

J: So we're never going to collect a bunch of something that's endangered.

E: Well that's cool! I'm happy to see them all pinned and everything.

J: Yeah, they're all pinned up, they're all identified, we know what they all are.

E: Yay!

J: So, it's fun!

E: Yeah!

J: It's really fun to go out there and it's fun to be out in the field.

E: Yeah.

J: There's nothing better than being out in the field, and getting your hands dirty, and playing in the carrion traps, and digging in the soil. There's nothing better than that. And that's something that I really want to get across to kids. Get out there. Have fun with it. Collect insects. You can't hurt the populations if you collect a few insects. Have fun. Get into it. That's what it's all about.

E: That's good. Well, thank you so much, I had so much fun going out and collecting, and then to see everything laid out here and pinned and identified is really gratifying.


E: It still has brains on it.