If you like Pokémon, you know the insect connection.
Satoshi Tajiri of Japan, who developed Pokémon, collected insects in his childhood and initially toyed with the idea of becoming an entomologist.
He never forgot his love of insects and showcased them in Nintendo's Pokémon, now the world's second most successful video game-based media franchise, eclipsed only by Nintendo's Mario.
Enter three young entomologists at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis. What they did is amazing.
They published a humorous take on the evolutionary development and history of the 646 fictional species depicted in the Pokémon media over the last 16 years.
“We made a very real phylogeny of the very fake Pokémon creatures,” commented lead author Matan Shelomi, the UC Davis entomology graduate student who conceived the idea.
The article, “A Phylogeny and Evolutionary History of the Pokémon,” appeared in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), a tongue-in-cheek journal meant “to make people laugh and then think,” according to the editors. In keeping with the “laugh-and-then-think” concept, the journal also awards the infamous IG Nobel Prizes.
Shelomi, a graduate of Harvard where the IG Nobel Prizes are awarded, said he based his idea “in part on other AIR papers like the phylogeny of Chia Pets and the taxonomic description of Barney the Dinosaur.”
Until now, however, no one has traced the evolutionary history of the 646 fictional species, let alone develop a 16-generation phylogenetic or evolutionary tree.
The Pokémon project is the work of Shelomi; Andrew Richards, a junior specialist at the Bohart Museum; and Ivana Li, an entomology student/artist who works part-time at the Bohart.
Oh, wait! There's a fourth author, too--Yukinari Okido, whom Pokémon fans may recognize as the Japanese name of one of the fictional Pokémon professors from the game/TV show, Professor Oak.
How did it all come about? “I had a lull in my dissertation research and decided to spend the weekends and downtime making this phylogeny,” said Shelomi, who is studying for his doctorate in entomology with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. “It took at least a month to actually collect all the data, which I did manually by scrolling through Pokémon websites.”
What about reader reaction? “The paper is slowly making the rounds,” Shelomi said. “We've had quite a few people disagree with the tree, as some of the conclusions violate Pokémon canon, and we do have the usual phylogenetic problems of long-branch attraction, etc. The disconnect between the tree and Pokémon mating groups is a problem, but I argue that the Biological Species Concept should not be assumed for Pokémon and I stand by my tree.”
“So far, one scientist--a linguist in Japan--has asked for a copy of the dataset to use in a class on phylogram building," Shelomi said, "and he apparently came up with a different tree.”
“It would be nice to see a wide set of articles responding to this one,” Shelomi said. “I think it would be quite easy to fill a journal of Pokémon science, although much harder to justify creating one.”
Want to see the phylogeny? Click on the link or see it at the Bohart Museum, 1124 Academic Surge, Crocker Lane, UC Davis.
Insects and Halloween just seem to go together.
What would Halloween be like without costumes depicting honey bees, ladybugs, butterflies, bumble bees, and just plain bugs?
And maybe a few termites, roaches, bed bugs and stink bugs tossed in for good measure?
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, annually hosts two pre-Halloween open houses. One, sponsored by the Bohart Museum Society, is for donors, Entomology Department affiliates, and other invited guests. The other, hosted by the museum itself, is open to all as part of its education, teaching and public service mission.
Spiders--although not insects--are wildly popular at these functions. Spider decorations dangle from the ceiling and painted images adorn faces.
Among the most interesting "bug" costumes showing up at the Bohart last week: a monarch butterfly outfit donned by Maia Lundy of Davis Senior High School, an intern at the Bohart; and a black widow spider costume worn by Tabatha Yang, the museum's outreach and education coordinator. Tabatha and her husband, Louie Yang, assistant professor of entomology at UC Davis, are expecting their first child.
Kara Handy of Davis dressed as a witch, and a beautiful witch at that, with a stunning spider web accenting one eye.
Another guest, carrying an insect net, creatively presented herself as a pinned specimen. (Back in 2010, graduate student Matan Shelomi dressed as Billy the Exterminator.)
The Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane (formerly California Drive) will be open for more weekend open houses during the 2012-2013 academic year. These open houses are free and open to the public.
The schedule includes:
Sunday, Nov. 18, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Insect Societies"
Saturday, Dec. 15, 1 to p.m. Theme: "Insects in Art"
Sunday, Jan. 13, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Extreme Insects"
Saturday, Feb. 2, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Biodiversity Museum Day"
Sunday, March 24, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Aquatic Insects"
Saturday, April 20 (10 a.m. to 3 p.m., UC Davis Picnic Day)
Saturday, May 11, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "Moth-er's Day"
Sunday, June 9, 1 to 4 p.m. Theme: "How to Find Insects"
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It is also the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum in 1946.
The insect museum includes a gift shop and a live "petting zoo," complete with Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula that you can hold and photograph.
The Bohart’s regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
Quick, what's the state insect of South Dakota?
If you answered "the European honey bee," you're right. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is also the state insect of 16 other states: Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
We call "our" honey bee the European or western honey bee because it's non-native. European colonists brought it to this country in 1622 to what is now Jameston, Va. Surprisingly, however, Virginia's state insect is not the honey bee, but the tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus).
California, too, has a non-bee state insect, even though this little agricultural worker arrived here in 1853. The Golden State's choice? The beautiful California dogface butterfly (Zerene Eurydice), a native. California is one of 27 states heralding the butterfly as its state insect. (Not all states have state insects, and some states have more than one. See Wikipedia.)
If you visit the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis campus, at its pre-Halloween open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27, you'll see a wall map of the United States with a colorful image of each state insect.
The museum, home of more than seven million insect specimens, is located in 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane (formerly California Drive).
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, encourages all to wear Halloween costumes. Last year many wore bee and ladybug costumes. Some painted their faces with a butterfly motif.
There will be plenty to see and do. There's even a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula).
If you're unable to attend the open house Saturday, be aware that you can visit the Bohart Museum from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It's closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission? Free.
The gift shop holds assorted treasures, including t-shirts, jewelry, insect-themed candy, and posters of the California dogface butterfly and dragonflies.
The "boo"--in the way of costumes and decorations--is traditional. The hiss? That's the sound emanating from the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka "hissers."
This all will happen from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Bohart Museum on the UC Davis campus. The museum is located in Room 1124 of Academic Surge, Crocker Lane (formerly California Drive).
The event is free and open to the public. Wear a Halloween costume! Ghouls just love to have fun---but so do ghosts and goblins.
The theme, "Insects and Death," focuses on forensic entomology. UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the Department of Entomology will be on hand to answer questions about insects as decomposers, and why they’re important.
Bohart Museum officials also will correct myths about “deadly” insects and “creepy crawlers.”
“House flies and mosquitoes cause more human deaths than all other insects combined,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
In addition to the hissers, other live attractions at the open house will be walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula.
Carved pumpkins, with an insect motif, will decorate the museum.
Over at the gift shop, you can purchase jewelry, T-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, and "entomological" candy. Especially popular around Halloween are scorpion-themed lollipops, chocolate-covered insects and flavored mealworms.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), is the home of more than seven million insect specimens. More information is available on the Bohart website at or by contacting Tabatha Yang at email@example.com or (530) 752-0493.
It's almost time for Halloween, when all self-respecting little ghosts, goblins and ghouls take a special interest in spiders.
We saw this little jumping spider (below) on a pink rose. It doesn't look like it could scare anything--except for maybe a sweat bee or hover fly.
This year the Explorit Science Center of Davis, a hands-on science museum located at 3141 5th St., is taking a special interest in spiders.
The center is sponsoring a number of programs on these critters and posted "Facts About Spiders" on its website.
For one thing, many people think spiders are insects. They're not.
Both spiders and insects are invertebrates, but spiders are not insects.
Insects have a head, thorax and abdomen, and the thorax has three pairs of legs. They also eyes, antennae and mouthparts, the Explorit Science Center website points out. "The entire body is protected by a tough outer covering called an exoskeleton. Animals that share these characteristics are called insects. The group to which they belong is called the Insecta."
Spiders, as the Explorit Science Center explains, have two main body parts. "The body consists of a combined head and thorax called the cephalothorax, and the abdomen. The cephalothorax has the eyes, mouthparts (no antennae) and four pairs of legs. Animals that share these characteristics include ticks, mites, scorpions and spiders. The group is called the Arachnida."
And speaking of spiders, schooolchildren visiting the Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus occasionally ask to "see the spiders." The Bohart is an insect museum (although the officials have been known to showcase a few spiders, too.)
Mark your calendar for Saturday, Oct. 27 for the Bohart's public open house from 1 to 4 p.m. in 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Drive (nearest intersection is LaRue Road.) This is a pre-Halloween open house and there definitely will be assorted spiders at the insect museum!