Magnifying the miniature at Science Uncovered 2016 | Miniature Lives Magnified

On Friday 30 September the Miniature Lives Magnified team joined our colleagues in the halls of the Museum in South Kensington for our annual festival, Science Uncovered.

The theme for this year’s event for European Researchers’ Night was Hidden Worlds – a perfect opportunity to invite folks to give our online The Killer Within Expedition a go, and to show off our chalcid wasps!

Photo showing a box of tiny chalcid wasp specimens under a microscope with the screen of the computer behind (out of focus) showing the magnified specimens.
Miniature Lives Magnified at the Museum’s Science Uncovered event

It was wonderful to meet with such a wide range of visitors, from children coming straight from school with their families, to young adults enjoying a date night with a beer in hand, and of course the full range of ages as Museum-goers enjoyed the chance to chat with all our scientists and learn more about their work.

The kids who came to take a closer look, seemed to enjoy the “Aliens” nature of these parasitoid wasps, who lay their eggs inside other insects. When they hatch, the emerging larvae eat the inside of their hosts. The host is alive while the larvae grow but is always killed in the end.

In contrast, the adults we spoke with were fascinated by the important role that these tiny creatures play as biological control agents. They are the natural enemy of a wide range of insect pests that damage crops, thus reducing the need for chemicals and pesticides.

For example, one  species that has been used successfully for biocontrol purposes in Europe is Psyllaephagus pilosus. Since 1993, it has been released in Ireland, Wales, France and California (USA) for the control of eucalyptus psyllids, which are a  major threat to susceptible eucalyptus species that are grown in urban landscapes, as wind shelters, or as commercial forests.

Photo showing two students working on a computer at the event
Newly recruited citizen scientists helping to transcribe specimens for Miniature Lives Magnified

ALL were amazed to hear that these tiny creatures (often microscopic) could make up as much as 10% of all insect species, with recent estimates suggesting that there may be more than 500,000 species in existence.

To get a closer look, we brought out a number of our specimen drawers and our handy-dandy Dino-Lite digital microscope that shows the enlarged image on a computer screen. In the bright Museum spotlights, visitors could make out the amazing range of their colours.

Photograph (magnified) of the iridescent chalcid wasp, lying on its side on a card mount.
Torymus canariensis Hedqvist, 1977 (Chalcidoidea, Torymidae, Toryminae; Holotype Female). Collected in the Canary Islands. Photograph by Natalie Dale-Skey

Thanks to those who joined us at our table throughout the night: a further 81 classifications were completed, bringing us to the 45% complete mark for the project – a nice dent in the 6,000+ microscope slides we have in total in our chalcids collection!

With your help, the data and information contained in the labels on these slides is being made available to scientists worldwide, who can study these creatures further and add to our arsenal of natural pests to improve sustainable agriculture, and address the impacts of climate change. If you have a few minutes to spare from time to time, why not help us make a bigger dent in the transcription of this globally important collection?

Help us transcribe the chalcid slides on Notes from Nature – The Killer Within.

All data transcribed by the expedition will be made freely available for anyone to use on the Museum’s Data Portal.

The Miniature Lives Magnified team.