Specifically, her position is with the National Identification Services (NIS) of the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or what USDA officials refer to as "APHIS PPQ NIS." The Thysanoptera collection of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) is housed with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
“I love my work,” she said, “and I love my favorite insect, thrips.”
Thrips are tiny insects that cause billions worth of damage annually to U.S. agricultural crops. Barely visible to the naked eye, they heavily damage fruits, vegetable and horticultural crops, so much so that they can—and do--pose a biosecurity threat. In 1996, Cuba's Fidel Castro accused the United States of aerially releasing Thrips palmi over potato fields.
“Of the more than 5000 species of thrips known in the world, some are serious pests, and some are beneficial as pollinators and predators,” O'Donnell said. “Some thrips transmit plant diseases, such as the tomato spotted wilt virus and the Impatients necrotic spot viruses.”
“To monitor agricultural crops effectively, it's important to be able to identify them, but it's difficult to do so without understanding thrips taxonomy and identification,” O'Donnell said. “Thrips are so small—one millimeter long or less--that they're like a speck. Inspectors see larvae, eggs and adults on plant material coming in. It's difficult to separate species at the life stage of eggs, larvae and adult males.”
“There were many times I was doubtful that I could continue to meet the demands of my chosen field,” O'Donnell said, crediting her family, friends and UC Davis scientists with offering her the support she needed to complete her education.
O'Donnell holds three degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor's in agricultural systems and the environment (1997), a master's degree in plant protection and pest management (2000) and a doctorate in entomology (2007).
After receiving her doctorate, she joined the USDA as “the co-lateral Thysanoptera specialist, USDA-APHIS-PPQ,” west of the Mississippi. That is, she was a key thrips specialist for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Plant Protection and Quarantine Program. Her work involved detecting, identifying and intercepting thrips and other pests arriving at U.S. ports from around the world.
Her major professor Diane Ullman, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, describes her as "a tremendously talented biologist and she holds a real fascination for thrips, their classification, host relationships and biology."
"She will do a fantastic job in this position, which will be important to the global community studying thrips and trying to develop management strategies," Ullman told us.
Read more about Cheryle O'Donnell here. She offers good advice to prospective graduate students in encouraging them to follow their dreams: "Focus on your goals, never deviate from those goals, and never allow obstacles to get in the way,” she advises. "It is a difficult and challenging path you have chosen but it will be worth all the hard work. The UC Davis community, the ‘village' which supports you, is an experience you will never forget and the payoff will be great throughout your life.”
Meanwhile, O'Donnell is anticipating two mid-May thrips conferences at the Asilomar Conference Center, Pacific Grove. One of the key organizers is Professor Ullman. See more information.
What a grand event!
When the University of California, Davis held its annual campus "Take Your Daughters (And Sons) to Work" Day today (April 23), the participants met one-on-one with entomologists, firefighters, physicians, plant specialists, veterinarians and scores of others in the UC Davis workforce.
It was one big open house.
At the Bohart Museum of Entomology, children's author S.S. Dudley (also known as retired scientist Steve Stoddard of medical entomologist Thomas Scott's lab in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology), entertained the crowd by talking about the places he's been, the insects he's seen and the people he's met. He is the author of “Butterfly Wish” and “Elf Hills.”
Joel Fuerte, 6, of Woodland, whose mother Gabriela "Gabby" Sanchez Fuerte, works for the School of Education, listened wide-eyed.
Joel then walked over to the live "petting zoo" and held walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula named Peaches. Little Roxanne Bell, 7, whose mother Jenna works at the Mondavi Center, said that Peaches "tickled" her. Her expression? Priceless!
Meanwhile, Tabatha Yang, education and public outreach coordinator, led tours of the museum, which houses nearly eight million insects.
"Take Your Daughters (And Sons) to Work" goes by the name of TODS, but that doesn't began to explain what it's all about. It's more than just a career day. Officials say "it not only exposes girls and boys to what a parent or mentor does during his/her workday, but shows children the value of their education and provides an opportunity to share how they envision their future and begin steps toward their goals in a hands-on and interactive environment."
Yes, it does.
Maybe some day little Joel Fuerte will become a children's author and little Roxanne Bell, an entomologist. Or vice versa! Or, maybe they can do both, and follow the career path of Steve Stoddard, aka S. S. Dudley.
Overhead in the lady's restroom of a restaurant at the Sausalito marina:
Mother to daughter: "There's a lady in here."
Daughter: "A lady? Well, why wouldn't there be a lady in here? This is a lady's restroom."
Mother: "Look right over there, on the wall."
Indeed, there was a "lady" in the lady's restroom: a lady beetle. Family Coccinellidae. The damsel in distress was crawling up and down the cement wall searching for something it couldn't find. An escape route!
So, I picked up the domed-wonder and transported it from Marin County to our Solano County home. I deposited the little traveler on an Iceland poppy.
The lady beetle perked up, checked out its surroundings, and began exploring.
Happy Earth Day!
Visitors to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) display in front of Briggs Hall at the 101st annual Picnic Day last Saturday at the University of California, Davis, got a close look at the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar.
While the visitors watched or held them, the other caterpillars kept busy, munching on the leaves of their host plant, the pipevine.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology, has seen lots of Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor) already this year. "There are plenty," he said today. "Don't eat 'em; they're quite poisonous."
Both the caterpillar and the adult are poisonous. The caterpillars of the Pipevine Swallowtail feed on the poisonous host plant, Aristolochia, also known as the pipevine, Dutchman's pipe or birthwort. It contains the lethal toxin aristolochic acid.
Nevertheless, the black caterpillars turn into beautiful adults. Found throughout North America and Central America, they are black with iridescent blue hind wings. Their wingspan can exceed three inches.
"The Pipevine Swallowtail flies from late winter (February-March) to autumn (October, occasionally November) but is much more numerous before the 4th of July than later; typically it has two large flights followed by stragglers the rest of the season, often with a 'blip' upward in August," Shapiro writes on his website. "Usually the host plant stops growing in June, and thereafter there are no sites suitable for egg-laying--unless there is a local catastrophe (usually fire, though weed-whacking will do). Then the plants regenerate rapidly, producing new growth in the off-season, and any females around at the time quickly find and make use of the new shoots. Adults routinely live a month or so."
"This species is warningly colored and inedible to vertebrate predators," Shapiro points out. "It derives its protection from the toxic aristolochic acids produced by the host, which it sequesters; females even pass these along to the eggs, which are also protected (and are brick red, laid in bunches of up to 20, and quite conspicuous)."
"Adults are eager visitors to many flowers, including Wild Radish, California Buckeye, Blue Dicks, Ithuriel's Spear, and Yerba Santa," Shapiro notes. "In summer they regularly nectar at Yellow Star Thistle when there are no native plants in bloom."
We've seen many of the Pipevine Swallowtails fluttering around in the UC Davis Arboretum and gathering nectar from butterfly bushes.
A word of warning from Shapiro: "Don't eat 'em; they're quite poisonous."
And yes, there was. A Madagasar hissing cockroach was one of the critters that UC Davis entomology major Wade Spencer showed to guests at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house last Saturday during the 101st annual campuswide Picnic Day.
Some folks call them "hissers." That's because of the hissing sound they make when when they force air through their spiracles, or respiratory openings. Sometimes they hiss when you touch them or pick them up. Want to hear them hiss? Access George Gavin's program on the BBC website.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches can reach three inches long. They seem to favor rotting logs for their homes. They're vegetarians, so guests at the Bohart Museum don't have to worry about them as predators.
Hollywood producers can't get their fill of them.
And then there was the television series Fear Factor. (The Bohart Museum received some of the excess roaches.)
We also remember when Six Flags Great America sponsored a Halloween contest at its 2006 FrightFest and challenged people to eat a hisser. Eat 36 hissers in one minute and beat the world record. Fortunately, they rescinded the idea and the offer.
The hissers at the Bohart, though, are not for eating. They're for admiring. Some 4000 people visited the Bohart Museum last Saturday to view all the exhibits, which included a pollination display and the ongoing live "petting zoo." Although the crowd favorite is Peaches, a rose-haired tarantula, also popular are the walking sticks and hissers.
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, houses nearly eight million insect specimens. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, it is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and on special weekends.
The next weekend open house is from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 17. The theme? “Name That Bug! How About Bob?” Admission is free.