Which is it – lobster or crayfish?

Besides size, the major difference between lobsters and crayfish is that lobsters live in saltwater, such as oceans and seas, while crayfish live in freshwater, including lakes, rivers, streams and ponds.

A special visitor at the Open Lab is the freshwater crayfish or koura.  This little guy is in gradual decline and is ranked on the threatened species list.


Learn more:




Biomimicry lab at Otari School


Creative minds are increasingly turning to nature for inspiration and fresh solutions in design, sustainability and engineering. Wellington Open Science Lab endeavours to spark awareness and interest in biomimicry, a dicipline of growing influence. Last Friday Otari School senior students and Open Science Lab came together for a session on biomimicry dealing with bird flight, feathers, butterfly wings and the lotus effect.

“Biomimicry is an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. The goal is to create products, processes, and policies—new ways of living—that are well-adapted to life on earth over the long haul.

The core idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.” (Biomimicry InstituteRead the rest of this entry

Natural Pest Control: Invite the Right Wildlife into Your Garden

Ladybird and aphid.Image result for lacewing nz lifecycle“When we kill off the natural enemies of a pest, we inherit their work.”
 – C.B Huffaker.

Many plants rely on insects for pollination and friendly bugs often need the pests for food.  Along with healthy soil, insect diversity is your garden’s first line of defence.

How dynamic is your patch?  What wonderful spineless critters care for your garden?  At the Pest Fest the Open Lab popped up with gardening guru Sarah Melvile at the ready to help us invertebrate enthusiasts share the signs of a healthy garden!  20151108_112339_smallWe sifted though leaf litter and found lots of great recyclers such as woodlice and earthworms.  IMG_8705_smallSpiders were plucked up and added to our spider spacer and wiggly worms to our wormery (made by us, design inspired by Nick Baker from his book Bug Zoo).

Pollinators are another beneficial insect to have in the garden.  Overseas research into spiders as pollinators is gaining momentum while we admire the hoverfly and it’s contributions.  They are relentless predators, I’d have them at my place over filth flies (such as the common house fly) any day!

Image result for nz hoverfly

Hoverflies might look like bees but they have no sting and only one set of wings.  They’re flies with a wonderful purpose and helicopter dance.

There’s no need to fear these ladies either, parasitic wasps, don’t sting but seek and destroy many pests.  The spike on the back is not a sting, it is an ovipositor (for laying eggs).

Can you spot a good bug?  What if that bug is at the larvae stage?

Image result for nz native ladybird life cycle

A gardeners favourite to gobble up the aphids is the ladybird.  Its larval form looks nothing like itself!  And the lacewing does impressive work in the garden too, check out it’s larval state.


So let your garden come to life and think before you spray, because everything in it’s path will get wiped out, not just the pests.

Celebrate Conservation Week 2015

This week DOC is celebrating Conservation Week with over 130 events, activities and competitions happening around the country.

Source: Celebrate Conservation Week 2015

Landhoppers, big and small

Landhoppers were jumping mad at the Open Lab today.  You’ve got to be quick to catch one of these.  These critters have a shrimp like appearance and can jump and burrow, fast!  They feed on decaying vegetation and keep the soil turned over and healthy.  (Photos from our session will be uploaded soon).

Landhoppers are crustaceans.    http://easyscienceforkids.com/all-about-crustaceans/

Common name: landhoppers.

Scientific name: phylum Arthropoda, class Crustacea, subclass Malacostraca, order Amphipoda, family Talitridae.


Toe biters galore!

Archichauliodes species Dobsonfly larvae were a popular find at the Open Lab today.   They are amongst the largest of our freshwater insects. These ‘toe biters’ appear caterpillar-like and possess gills along the sides of their abdomens.  The larvae are active predators of other aquatic invertebrates and have strong mandibles with which to grasp their prey. 

Archichauliodes species (CORYDALIDAE) its Marori name is puene.

For more information visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archichauliodes_diversus

Beneficial Insects of Our Farm: An Overview

Investigate a hidden world of critters. Learn how macroinvertebrates are indicators of water quality at the Open Lab.

A macroinvertebrate is a living organism that can be seen by the naked eye (macro), and doesn’t have a backbone (invertebrate). The presence or absence of these macroinvertebrates in freshwater ecosystems give us a good indication of water quality.


Click on image to enlarge

This Stonefly nymph, found in the Kawharawhara Steam within the bounds of Otari-Wilton’s Bush is missing it’s second cerci (tail) and has gills between.

Some macroinvertebrates are very tolerant of pollutants, while others are extremely sensitive. Therefore macroinvertebrates such as mayflies, stoneflies and caddisfly nymphs can be used as biotic (living) indicators for stream health. An index,  called the Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI), has been developed for this purpose.

In a healthy stream, it is best to find a diverse range of macroinvertebrates with a high numerical value. Mayfly larvae (pictured below) and stonefly larvae (pictured above) are very sensitive to pollution with a high number they are what we hope to find in a stream to indicate a good water quality.  Please view “A user guide for Macroinvertebrate Community Index”  to gain an in depth understanding of the MCI and its applications.


click on image to enlarge


Click on image to enlarge.

These two photos are both of mayfly nymphs taken during the pop up Open Lab session at Zealandia.  Notice their cerci (tails) count three.  There are four types of nymphs we can classify them by how they mobilize themselves.  The first photos is of a crawler and the second a swimmer.


These little guys were photographed at the pop up Open Lab session in Otari-Wilton’s Bush.

2  4

Scientific name: phylum Arthropoda, class Diplopoda. From Greek “diplos”, two, and “poda”, legs, referring to two legs per segment.

Common name: millipedes.

Maori name: weri mano

Visit Massey University website to view their Guide to New Zealand Soil Invertebrates.

If you cant wait till the next Open Lab session to view more invertebrates try your hand at collecting them yourselves and view under a handheld magnifying glass.  You can simply scoop up a tray fill of leaf litter and a bit of soil (discard large leaves and twigs to make sorting easier).  Spread out  your soil and leaf litter sample in a thin layer in a shallow pan and try and identify what you find.

Or you can trap them using either of the methods DOC suggests in their article “Take a garden insect census“.

If you have trouble identifying your find or simply want to share you critter photograph it and upload it to NatureWatch.

Pop Up OPEN LAB at Otari-Wilton’s Bush


The Open Lab popped up at Otari-Wilton’s Bush  on Sunday in the newly refurbished Cockayne House.   Karin Mahlfeld and Natasha Evans, the Open Lab founders, played host to a diverse group of invertebrate enthusiasts of all ages.

Children alongside equally curious parents sifted through leaf litter collected with the help of Dave Roscoe from within the bounds of the park.  Petri dishes were filled with debris and an assortment of visible mini beasts were examined under the microscopes.   Some critters previously overlooked due to their minute size scuttled into view.

Bronze beetles, mites, common earth worms, and micro snails were identified.     One young girl who was very taken with her discovery of a micro snail is sure to be following Karin’s footsteps in no time!

Those not engaged with the leaf litter scooped freshwater invertebrates into petri dishes and ice cube trays.  Stoneflies were the most numerous as well as Caddishflies in the freshwater sample taken form Kaiwharawhara Stream near the Troup Lawn. One boy, so excited about what he was discovering announced with pride each time he scooped up a different species.   He even managed to look at the spent exoskeleton of a few mayfly.   From our lay observations of the types of macro invertebrates present the stream appears to be in reasonable health. For more information on using macro invertebrates to assess stream health visit this site.

The Open Lab is pleased to be able to cater to a group that ranged from children as young as three to those continuing their research in retirement.   Stimulating interest and awareness in biodiversity and invertebrates in particular is what Open Lab is all about.

Karin later gave a short presentation on Micro Snails.   Karin’s personal collection of pinned micro snails were popular and Dave’s photography displayed on posters made them larger than life.  People were encouraged to pick up and examine the diverse range of species including macro snails such as the Wainuia.

Click here to have a listen to this interview “An Extraordinary Diversity of Land Snails” on Radionz to hear more about the unsung micro snails!

Many thanks to David Roscoe, Margaret Crimp and Andrew Evans for your time during the session.   We’d also like to thank The Clinic – Ngaio School’s community learning space for the loan of their equipment.   And of course to Otari- Wilton’s Bush and Wellington City Council for providing a space to pop up in!

This is the second time the Open Lab has run.  We’ll be returning to Zealandia during the school holidays and plan to be at the zoo late November.  On the 8th of November we’ll be popping up at the Pest Fest!

Story by Natasha Evans