Click HERE to check out Ms. Debbie’s adventures from the beginning.
On the ship we have two main science teams….Team Midge and Team Moss. I’m on the “Midgers.” Our team is doing incredible things so I would like to share a little bit about our mission. Our midge team has 4 people, J.D. Gantz ( our team leader), Scott Hotaling, Jacob Idec, and me, Debbie Harner (education outreach coordinator). My teammates are extraordinary scientists. This is JD’s fourth trip to Antarctica. He has been studying midges for a long time. Scott is a biologist and lives in Washington state. He studies ice worms that form on glaciers in the northwest! And Jacob has just returned from Madagascar where he was studying ants in the rainforest! We also have a lab technician, Diane who has joined our team trips. She is our honorary midger and has been an invaluable part of our team. I have learned a lot from them, as I certainly am not the scientists they are, and I feel very privileged to be included on this team.
We are here to collect midges….lots of them! Let me share a little about this extraordinary insect. Belgica Antarctica is a wingless midge (fly). We have midges in Kentucky, but they have wings. This insect is the the largest terrestrial (land) animal in Antarctica. Other animals like penguins, birds, seals, and whales all migrate. They are not in Antarctica all the time like the midges are. Many of the previous missions to study midges have been operated from Palmer Station. Collections were made from nearby islands. On this trip, we are collecting midges from a larger area. Some places have never had midge collections before. We are trying to discover where the midges can be found. So far, our team has collected from almost 50 sites! We have found them living in some very different microhabitats. Often they can be found around seal or penguin guano. They are usually found in moss, praciola, or grasses, but can be found in very different areas. Sometimes you think that they will be found in a large moss bed, and then when you look….they aren’t there! These midges have been found to be one of the most adaptable species on the planet. They are able to adapt to very harsh conditions. They can freeze, lose about 70% of the water in their bodies, live without oxygen for weeks and still survive!
Let me share how the collection is done. First we have to get in a zodiac boat to reach our collection site. We then look for a site and exam it to see if midges can be found. These can be on top of a mountain, near a stream, around penguins or seals, on a rock face near the shore, or even buried in the snow under a rock. Here are a few of our sites so far.
I know you want to know what is in my mouth!!! It’s called an aspirator or sometimes a “pouter”. We are collecting the larva and they are very small, usually under 5 mm. We use this tool to suck up the midge on the end of the plastic tip and then we put it a vial. We collect about 60 midges per site, one per vial and we also get a vial with extras. Here we are collecting. We often have to lay on the ground to do this!
When we find an abundant site, we also bring back substrate to the ship for extraction. We spread out the substrate on wire racks that are over pans of ice water. Then we shine light on the substrate. The midges don’t like light, and they crawl down into the ice water. We are able to collect large numbers of midges in this way.
Our midges will be shipped back to the United States to the University of Kentucky. Here, and at other universities around the country, genetic testing will be done on the midges to see if the populations we are finding are related, or unique populations. There are questions about how the midges are able to disperse and be found in so many different places. How do they get from island to island? They can’t swim, or float for very long. Also, they don’t have wings, so they are not able to fly or be blown in the wind. They can live as larva for up to 2 years and only live as adults for 3-5 days. Is there some way for populations to disperse or are they unique populations that aren’t related? The genetic test that will be done on the midges will help us to find out!
Ice Blocker 6
How can the midges be found on so many different islands and places? On a piece of paper, draw three very different islands. On one island midges are found in a penguin rookery. Island 2 has midges on top of a mountain and Island 3 has them under moss along a stream. How would it be possible, if these midges are basically the same, to get from one island to another to create a new population? Remember, they can’t swim, float, or fly. Any ideas?? What is your hypothesis? Share them with me!
Go outside in your yard and see what you can find! Look under the grass or under some moss or rocks! Would you like to be an entomologist or science researcher too?
Here is a large population that we found on Hermit Island.
The star of our research show: the Antarctic midge (Belgica antarctica) — the only endemic insect on the continent — at seriously high densities. pic.twitter.com/3y319kBod3
— Scott Hotaling (@MtnScience) February 25, 2020
It’s “midge-a-cal!!!” don’t you think?
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