Profile: Colette Gibbings - Aquatic Insect Keeper

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Zoo Keeper Colette Gibbings works in ZSL London Zoo's B.U.G.S exhibit. We asked her to tell us more about what she does, her favourite insect and a cool bug related fact. 

Zoo keeper Colette Gibbings counting moon jellyfish

Name:
Colette Gibbings 

What do you do here at ZSL London Zoo?: 
I am a keeper within the BUGS department, responsible for the care and maintenance of everything related to aquatics within the building. I have a large variety of animals in my care from corals, fish, axolotls, lobsters, starfish but I also have my own aquatic insects that I care for. 

Can you explain a bit about your job - what you do and why you decided to work with insects? 
My job includes a whole range of tasks, from  feeding, cleaning out and changing exhibits around for the animals to breeding the animals and maintaining their populations. 

What made me want to work with insects is the sheer diversity of species you can have and how even the tiniest species can be so beautiful and interesting. I love all animals, but since I was a child I have always been more interested in insects and creepy crawlies – I think they are amazing! I also find it particularly fascinating that you can find insects in and around water, their lives and lifecycles are just incredible. 

Sunburst Diving Beetle (Thermonectus)

What is your favourite insect and why?
My favourite insect is definitely the Sunburst Diving Beetle – Thermonectus marmoratus – which are found in the SW United States and Mexico. They live in pools of water in which they swim and hunt for food, but they can also fly, so if their food resource in that pool runs out then they can fly to another with more food. 

Diving beetles breathe air, they go to the surface of the water and pull air underneath their wings, which they can absorb through their bodies; they also hold on to a small air bubble just like a scuba diver would carrying an oxygen tank to allow them to stay underwater for long periods of time. They are ferocious hunters of mosquito larvae, but will also eat larger prey that might fall into the water, such as crickets or other small insects. 

They require access to land to lay their eggs, and once the eggs hatch the larvae fall back into the water where they feed on small aquatic invertebrates until they are large enough to become a beetle. At this stage the larvae will pull themselves out of the water, hide in soil or moss and pupate. They stay in pupation for 1 week, until they emerge as beautiful beetles back into the water. They are truly fascinating creatures and make for a fantastic exhibit as they are constantly on the move and doing something. 

Can you tell us your favourite insect fact?
A common misconception is that Spiders are insects. They are actually Arachnids, meaning they come packed with 8 legs, whereas our insect friends only have 6. There are many other differences of course, but this is one that is the easiest to see! 

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