Sometimes a microscope doesn’t help.
In the last few weeks we have ramped up a considerable sampling effort in suburban Wake County for mosquitoes. We are doing a lot with these mosquitoes, and testing several hypotheses about how the landscape affects mosquito diversity, abundance, and subsequent disease transmission.
BUT, that is not the topic for today. The topic for today is training students in mosquito identification. As insects go, mosquitoes aren’t that bad to ID, but they sometimes require very close inspection of scaling patterns to determine species. This does usually require a microscope.
However, as many old hands with insect identification can tell you, microscopes often obscure some characters, and definitely get in the way of using gestalt. This word, borrowed from the German, refers to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. However, gestalt is nearly impossible to teach. It is gained through experience.
What is easy to teach is to remind novice IDers (of mosquitoes or any smallish thing) to first take in the whole organism. A great example of this is the malaria vector Anopheles quadrimaculatus (see image). Its Latin name means “four spotted,” and you can clearly see four spots on the wings with the naked eye. However, if you look at the same wing under the microscope, the spots decompose into agglomerations of wing scales, and don’t look like distinct spots at all.
The point being, sometimes it is better to look at things from a ways away. Consider Lincoln in Dalivision!