Profile: Jamie Mitchell - Insect Keeper

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Zoo Keeper Jamie Mitchell works in ZSL London Zoo's B.U.G.S exhibit. To celebrate National Insect Week (20-26 June) we asked him to tell us more about what he does, his favourite insect and a cool bug related fact. 

Weaver Ant with LarvaeName: 
Jamie Mitchell
 
What do you do here at ZSL London Zoo:  
I am the keeper primarily responsible for the practical day to day care and husbandry of terrestrial invertebrates within the B.U.G.S exhibit.
 
Can you explain a bit about your job - what you do and why you decided to work with insects? 
I feed, clean and create exhibits for the creepy crawlies that live here at B.U.G.S, as well as pairing the adults we want to breed and rearing the many resulting baby insects. 

As many kids do, I was often out in the garden or the park looking for insects and other mini-beasts, being fascinated by the tiny worlds which occur under every log and stone. There is so much going on right in front of us that we don’t know about, and it’s nice to be able to show people that all animals are incredible, no matter how small!

What is your favourite insect and why?
My favourite insect has to be the Weaver ant, or Oecophylla smaragdina. Weaver ants are found in Australia and South East Asia where they live in trees. They’re an absolutely fascinating species to watch, but there are two main reasons these are my favourite species we keep here at ZSL London Zoo. 

Firstly, it’s the amazing silken nests which they ‘weave’ in the leaves of living plants. Their larvae produce silk, and the adults literally use them like a sewing kit to stitch leaves together to make their nests, using the leaves almost like a tent. Colonies can be huge, with more than half a million worker ants and over a hundred nests spanning multiple trees.

The other reason is that they are probably some of the grumpiest animals I look after! No matter how big or small an intruder, if they feel that their nest is in danger they won’t hesitate to attack by biting and spraying formic acid at whatever has dared approach them… although for our colony that’s usually just me giving them breakfast!
 
Weaver Ants

Can you tell us your favourite insect fact?
There are probably more types of beetle on the earth than other type of animal! There are more than 350,000 recognised species but entomologists estimate there may even be as many as 4 million.

ZSL London Zoo is hosting week-long celebrations for National Insect Week, celebrating the little things that run the world from Monday 20 to Sunday 26 June.

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