About

The Caterpillar Conundrum is part of a PhD project being conducted by Erinn Fagan-Jeffries at the University of Adelaide. She is studying parasitoid wasps in Australia, and needs to learn what their hosts are.
That’s where you come in!
Help us learn what species of wasp infects what species of caterpillar by participating in The Caterpillar Conundrum Citizen Science Project!

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What is the Caterpillar Conundrum project?

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.

Head to Participate to find out more and be a part of the project!


Why do we need the help of citizen scientists?

This is real science, and we really do need your help! Rearing caterpillars takes time, and only a small number get infected by parasitoids. To collect enough information, we need to rear hundreds of caterpillars… a big job for one PhD student! The more information we collect, the better we can understand how the caterpillars and parasitoids interact.

Head to the Blog to check up on the progress of the project!


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!

Head to Learn to find out some cool facts about caterpillars and parasitoids.