Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is known as "The Fly Man of Alcatraz."
When he's not teaching classes, advising students and graduate students, or heading out on homicide cases, you can usually find him on "The Rock"--researching flies.
Kimsey will discuss "The Flies of Alcatraz" tomorrow (Thursday, May 5) at a meeting of the Northern California Entomology Society, to be held at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. His talk starts at 1:15.
Kimsey has walked where Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Robert “The Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud and Arthur “Doc” Barker walked. He sleeps where "The Bird Man of Alcatraz" sleeps when his research involves overnight trips.
“One day when I was working on research until 4:30 a.m., I laid down in the cell, extremely tired,” Kimsey said. “I looked through the steel bars and saw the lights of San Francisco. I thought about how I’d feel if I had to spend a large chunk of my life in this cell. I’d certainly be very angry with myself.”
Kimsey became involved in the fly project in July 2007 when he received a call about the annoying flies from entomologist Bruce Badzik, integrated pest management coordinator with the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Complaints rose to a feverish pitch in late August, September and October. The flies seemed to land on people as if they were rotten meat. Kimsey witnessed the incessant “shoo-fly” behavior on the docks and encountered it on a personal basis.
Kimsey identified the troubling fly as a “kelp fly” (Fucillia thinobia) or “cormorant fly” in the family Anthomyiidae. “But it’s not a kelp fly as such,” said Kimsey, who plans to publish his research in an entomological journal. “It has nothing to do with kelp. It lives in purge-soaked soil under dead cormorants found in rookeries all around the island. It does not exist in any other place.”
Since then, he and Badzik have identified 17 species of flies. They are the first to research the flies of Alcatraz.
Kimsey has also become friends with many of the National Park Service employees, the former inmates and the former guards.
“Federal prisoners were sent to Alcatraz not necessarily because of the nature of their crime but of their deportment or behavior toward others in jails elsewhere,” Kimsey said. “If they fought constantly, tried to kill the guards, or tried to escape, Alcatraz was the place to send them. They were not necessarily the worst of the worst, but the most difficult.”
County fairs are known for cotton candy, corn dogs and cool treats.
But some--such as the 136th annual Dixon May Fair in Solano County--have bugs!
When the fair opens Wednesday, May 4 at 655 S. First St., the Floriculture Building will house gorgeous flowers...and gorgeous bugs.
The Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is providing for public viewing: a bee observation hive; posters offering facts about honey bees and native bees; and macro photos of honey bees.
The bee observation hive is where you can see the queen bee laying eggs, the workers tending to the brood, and drones walking around, being fed by their sisters. If you're lucky, you'll see a retinue of workers surrounding the queen as they fulfill her every need.
Also in the Floriculture Building, the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis will be displaying mounted butterfly and other insect specimens.
The fair opens at 10 a.m. daily through Sunday, May 8, Mothers' Day.
Gotta love those solider beetles (family Cantharidae).
When an army of soldier beetles goes on patrol in your garden, just thank them. These "leatherwings" are there to mete out justice to the plant-sucking aphids and other undesirable critters. Aphids are high on their menu preferences. So are grasshopper eggs, caterpillars and other soft-bodied insects.
The Cantharids look almost comical as they scoot down limbs and leaves--and then suddenly run out of room. We watched this one (below) reach the end of a leaf. Its antennae twitching furiously, it paused and looked around for another foothold.
No more leaf. Just air. End of the line.
It's not just future entomologists who study insects. So do future physicians, veterinarians, chemists, ecologists and scores of others.
Indeed, insects are involved in many biological fields, including genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; cell biology; population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; and agroecology.
At UC Davis, a trio from the Department of Entomology faculty wants to make a difference in college students' education. They've formed a campuswide Undergraduate Honors Research Program in Insect Biology to help undergraduates obtain long-term mentoring and research experiences.
Veteran professor Jay Rosenheim and newer faculty members Louie Yang and Joanna Chiu said they want to "provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research. This will be useful for students whose career goals will take them to medical school, veterinary school, or graduate programs in any biological sub-discipline.”
UC Davis freshmen and sophomores interested in applying for the program must do so by May 15 by sending an email to Elvira Hack (email@example.com). In a one-page letter, they will explain their motivation to join the program, and their special interests. Selected students will then be interviewed.
The gist of the program:
- During an initial academic retreat (at the Sagehen Creek Field Station in the Sierra Nevada mountains), faculty will instruct students about the process of science, approaches to choosing research questions, and the core elements of experimental design.
- Students will be placed in a faculty mentor’s laboratory. The goal: to find a strong match between the student’s research interests and the research focus of the mentoring faculty member’s lab.
- Students will be encouraged to take supporting coursework in insect biology (that is, general entomology, insect physiology, insect ecology) to provide the most relevant foundational information for conducting research in insect biology.
- For many participating students, it’s expected that there will be a natural transition from paid positions (when the students are contributing to a larger research effort) to course credits (when the students are pursuing their own independent research).
- Students will receive ongoing training and career guidance in conducting research, scientific writing, presentation of research results at professional scientific meetings, and all aspects of preparing applications for graduate or professional schools.
We applaud the work that Rosenheim, Yang and Chiu are doing, and the 30-some members of the mentoring faculty.
Rosenheim, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty in 1990, has long supported the academic and research needs of students. In fact, on May 11, he will receive a UC Davis Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Teaching. Faculty and students consider him "an extraordinary educator, a remarkable scholar and a superb teacher and mentor."
The ultimate compliment, however, came from an unsolicited comment on the web: “the best teacher at (UC) Davis. Hands down. Take him if you can.”
"Just wanna be your teddy bear..."
When Elvis Presley sang that, his fans swooned.
Well, there are bee fans that can't get enough of the "teddy bear" bee, aka the male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta).
It's often called a "golden bumble bee." Golden, it is. Bumble bee, it is not.
The female of this carpenter bee species is solid black.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, spotted this male Valley carpenter bee yesterday in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research at UC Davis. He does research in the half-acre bee friendly garden. (By the way, it's located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, and is open from dawn to dusk. There's no admission.)
We at UC Davis periodically receive phone calls about "golden bumble bees." The green-eyed, golden-haired carpenter bee does attract a lot of attention.
"Oh, let me be, your teddy bear."
Or better yet, let me "bee" your teddy bear.