We are asking volunteers to rear caterpillars that they find in their backyard or local park and upload the data to a BowerBird Project. A small number of these caterpillars will have parasitoids inside them, which will form cocoons on the body of the caterpillar and emerge as wasps or flies. If this happens, we’ll ask the volunteer to send in their parasitoids and dead caterpillar so we can sequence the DNA. The DNA will help us learn about the relationships between parasitoids and their hosts. What’s a parasitoid? Parasitoids are animals that live on or in other animals, and feed off them to survive. They are parasites, like the head lice you might have been infected with in primary school. A parasite normally doesn’t kill their host (the animal they’re living on) but a parasitoid does. The parasitoids we are studying are insects like flies and wasps that lay their eggs in caterpillars. Why do we want to know about caterpillars and parasitoids? Well if you like hot chips, or apples and pears, this information is important to you! Potato crops and orchards are just a couple of examples of agriculture crops that battle with caterpillars eating their plants on a daily basis. Whilst these caterpillars have an important place in our ecosystem, we don’t want them taking over our crops. Parasitoids are an important part of solving this problem. By releasing parasitoids into their crops to reduce caterpillar numbers, farmers don’t need to spray as many pesticides, which kill beneficial insects too. The parasitoids are what we call biological control agents… like the secret agents of the agriculture world. Before we can know what parasitoids might be useful, however, we need to know how they are related to each other and what caterpillars they infect – that’s where you come in! Many of the caterpillars will not have parasitoids inside them, in which case we are asking volunteers to take a photo at each stage of the life cycle and add it to a single BowerBird sighting, to build a database of images for identification purposes.
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