Insect Investigators Unleash the Power of Citizen Science

By Dr Alfonsina Arriaga Jiménez, UNE Discovery.

Citizen science is a powerful tool that engages everyday people in scientific research, fostering collaboration and contributing to the collective knowledge of our natural world. One extraordinary project that exemplifies the impact of citizen science is Insect Investigators, an initiative dedicated to exploring and documenting the incredible insect diversity across Australia.

Insects are heroes of our ecosystems; they are crucial in pollination, decomposition, nutrient cycling, and pest control, among other services. Their remarkable diversity and adaptability make them essential indicators of ecosystem health and climate change. However, much of their diversity remains undocumented, and that is where this citizen science steps in.

The Insect Investigators project invites school kids across Australia to become scientific detectives, encouraging them to explore and observe the fascinating world of insects in their school backyards. By participating, these young enthusiasts gain hands-on experience in scientific research while having fun with their friends and teachers.

This is an exciting story you may have seen in the news early this year. Beerwah State High School students in Queensland announced the discovery of a new insect species, thanks to their participation in the Insect Investigators project. Year 8 students made this remarkable discovery, marking Beerwah SHS as the latest school among eight others to find previously undescribed insects since the project started. After almost a year of study and DNA tests conducted by taxonomists from the University of Adelaide, it has been confirmed that the students have discovered a new species of wasp. This tiny parasitic wasp belongs to the genus Mirax, and it lays its eggs in caterpillars, ultimately leading to the caterpillar’s consumption from the inside out!

Microgastrinae - photograph by James Dorey.

Engaging school kids in citizen science initiatives like Insect Investigators offers numerous benefits. Firstly, it cultivates a sense of curiosity, wonder, and appreciation for the natural world, fostering a lifelong interest in science. Students develop valuable skills such as observation, data recording, and critical thinking by actively participating in data collection. Furthermore, the project nurtures a sense of environmental stewardship and teaches students the importance of biodiversity conservation.

Although Insect Investigators finished their sampling season, any school can still utilise the resources on their website. They offer free lesson plans, videos, and other educational materials. Additionally, schools are encouraged to upload their insect sightings to iNaturalist, a platform that helps record and share biodiversity data. The Insect Investigators website provides ideas on how teachers can use the data collected in the classroom, enhancing the learning experience.

If you’re interested in joining the ranks of Insect Investigators, visit their website to learn more about the project, its objectives, and some of its results.

Stay curious and keep exploring the wonders of our natural world!