But have you ever wondered which hosts Culex mosquitoes prefer?
Tara Thiemann, postdoctoral scholar in the William Reisen lab at UC Davis, will discuss host favorites when she speaks on "Survey of Culex Bloodfeeding Patterns in California" at the next UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar, set from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 23 in 122 Briggs.
As a postdoctoral researcher, Thiemann works with Reisen, a noted medical entomologist, on studies investigating novel assays to identify current and emerging arboviruses in California.
"Culex tarsalis and members of the Culex pipiens complex are the primary vectors of WNV in California," Thiemann notes in her abstract. "Both mosquito species feed on a variety of avian hosts, as well as disease-susceptible mammals, such as horses and humans, so determining the bloodfeeding patterns of these mosquitoes is a critical component in understanding the transmission dynamics of WNV throughout the state."
The research project involved identifying bloodmeals from more than 2500 mosquitoes, and identifying hosts, including avian, mammalian and reptilian.
Thiemann, who received her doctorate in entomology in 2011 from UC Davis (dissertation: “Bloodfeeding Patterns of Culex tarsalis and the Culex pipiens complex in California”) says her research shows that variation in bloodfeeding patterns "primarily resulted from differences in host availability and abundance."
Several species, including the house sparrow, house finch, mourning dove, and domestic dog, proved frequent hosts throughout the state, Thiemann points out, "and highly competent corvids, Western scrub-jay, yellow-billed magpie, and American crow, were fed upon more frequently than in previous studies."
If you miss her talk, not to worry. The UC Davis Department of Entomology plans to record it and it will be posted in about two weeks on UCTV.
Sometimes you get lucky.
While watching floral visitors foraging last week in our rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora), we noticed a tiny black bee, something we'd never seen before.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, identified it as a female leafcutting bee, Megachile gemula, "which has an all-black form."
It's a rather uncommon bee, but a distinctive bee, said Thorp, who is one of the instructors of The Bee Course, offered every year in the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz., for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees. Participants come worldwide to learn about bees.
Megachile gemula is native to the United States. The females snip round holes in leaves and line their nests with the material. From egg to larva to pupa, a new generation emerges from the sealed nest.
Meanwhile, if you want to go on a walking tour with Thorp, mark your calendar for Friday, June 22. Thorp will lead a Tahoe National Forest Service tour of native plants and pollinators in the Loney Meadow, near Nevada City, Nevada County. The tour, free and open to the public, will take place from 10 a.m. to approximately 2 p.m.
The walk is provided as part of the Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region’s 2012 Pollinator Special Emphasis Area "which has been developed to call attention to the importance of butterflies and native bees in providing important services for food production and ecosystem health," said Kathy Van Zuuk, Yuba River Ranger District botanist and forest level non-native invasive plant coordinator.
And what bees might tour participants encounter? Probably bumble bees, mining bees, digger bees, leafcutting bees, mason bees and cuckoo bees, Thorp said. Other floral-visitors are expected to include flies, butterflies, and beetles, he said. Van Zuuk and fellow botanist Karen Wiese will identify the native plants.
Those interested should meet at 10 a.m. at the Sierra Discovery Trail parking lot located off Highway 20 to carpool to Loney Meadow (where parking is limited). Participants of all ages should bring water, snacks, insect repellent, sunscreen and wear suitable footwear. (No dogs, please.)
Further information is available by contacting Van Zuuk at (530) 478-6243 or emailing her at email@example.com.
Decades after he passed, a cousin gave me a set of his books from his childhood home. One was "The Early Poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes," published in 1899 by T. Y. Crowell and Company.
In it is a poem, "To an Insect," and it's about katydids.
"I love to hear thine earnest voice,
Wherever thou art hid
Thou testy little dogmatist
Thou pretty Katydid!
Thou mindest me of gentlefolks,
Old gentle folks are they,
Thon say'st an undisputed thing
In such a solemn way."
Holmes (1809-1894), a physician, poet and professor, goes on to describe the sounds of a katydid as "thy piercing notes, so petulant and shrill" and asks "Oh, tell me where did Katy live and what did Katy do?"
Katydids, like grasshoppers and crickets, belong to the order Orthoptera. The katydid family, Teggigonildae, includes more than 6400 species. They're found throughout the world, with the greatest diversity in the tropics. They live where their host plants are.
Last weekend we saw long filamentous antennae poking from behind the red salvia in our yard. Upon closer inspection, it belong to a...drum roll...katydid.
The katydid is no friend of the farmer; it can wreak havoc in agricultural crops. Still, there's something about a katydid that makes you stop and ask "Katydid or Katy didn't?"
Or as Oliver Wendell Holmes pondered "What did Katy do?"
It was a pomegranate kind of day. Red, bright and wonderful.
The papery-thin reddish blossoms in our yard draw both beneficial and pestiferous insects. Honey bees are there for the pollen and nectar; ladybugs are there for the pesky aphids. Occasionally we see another pest, the spotted cucumber beetle (which prefers cucurbits).
The pomegranate, an ancient fruit native to Persia (what is now Iran), is a long-lived tree. Indeed, some pomegranate trees in Europe are more than 200 years old. One in our yard spans 85 years.
Spanish settlers introduced the pomegranate into California in 1769, and today, the state leads the nation in the production of pomegranates. Agricultural statistics show that in 2010, California's San Joaquin Valley alone blossomed with an estimated 22,000 acres of pomegranates. That's about 200 trees per acre.
One of the primary pomegranate varieties is "Wonderful." The honey bees and ladybugs think so, too!
UC Davis molecular biologist Shirley Luckhart, professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology (MMI) and a graduate student advisor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology, has just received a 2012 Outstanding Mentor Award from the UC Davis Consortium for Women and Research.
Professor Luckhart is an international authority on malaria, but on campus, she's also known as an outstanding educator and mentor. So it was no surprise--except to her--that her 15-member lab got together and nominated her for the coveted award.
In her letter of support, doctoral candidate Anna Drexler described Luckhart as "an exceptional mentor" who "cares deeply about the people she mentors and has regular meeting times scheduled with each individual in the lab and with the lab as a whole. In her weekly lab meetings, she fosters a collaborative environment where people can practice presentation skills, brainstorm new ideas and gain help troubleshooting research problems. Additionally, I have found her door is always open to myself and other students, regardless of her very busy schedule."
In these tough economic times, when funding is so tight it squeaks, Luckhart manages to find funding. As Drexler pointed out: Luckhart "works very hard to secure funding for students that she takes on and has, to date, been successful in this for every student in her lab. She strongly encourages each of her protégés to present independent research at one major research conference per year and provides funding for these events."
Doctoral candidate Elizabeth Glennon praised "the cohesive and collaborative nature of her lab" and "the quality of training that her students receive."
The Luckhart lab drew national attention when Time magazine featured the lab's role in making a malaria-proof mosquito. Time singled out the malaria-proof mosquito as "the best invention" in the Health and Medicine category of its "50 Best Inventions of 2010."
Frankly, we don't know how Shirley Luckhart can juggle all those balls she's tossed up in the air. Research, education, public service, advisor to multiple graduate student groups--and mentoring. (Read what the scientists in her lab wrote about her.)
In a world of gems that are few and far between, Shirley Luckhart is a rare treasure.