When award-winning photographer Teresa Willis of Vacaville encountered a red caterpillar on a dirt road at about 6000 feet in a canyon north of Paradise Valley, Nev., she did what photographers do--she captured an image of it.
And posted it on her Facebook page where some of her friends likened it to the Oscar Mayer weiner.
The caterpillar is indeed red. Bright red. Well, what is it?
Renowned butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis, who knows about such things, says it is the larvae of an owlet moth (family Noctuidae) "and the species is probably Noctuid."
"It's infested with the parasitic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, a generalist parasite of insect larvae, which it turns bright red," Shapiro says. "Experiments have shown that this acts as a warning color, deterring visual predators (such as birds) from eating them (and the nematodes in the process)."
Hardly any Lepitoptera escapes identification from Art Shapiro, who maintains the popular website, Art's Butterfly World at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/ and is a UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology.
As for Teresa Willis (see more of her work at http://www.redbubble.com/people/teresalynwillis), you can say she got the red out.
With the help of a parasitic nematode, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora.
But they're much more than that. Much more.
Ant specialist Brian Fisher, an entomologist with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, describes ants as "industrious, tenacious workers who live in colonies and obey a hierarchy of rulers."
And they're also massive.
“Consider that the collective weight of all the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the world's humans," Fisher says. "It's a big subject with a big impact. That alone makes ants worthy of scientific study.”
Fisher, associate curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences and an adjunct professor of biology at both the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, will deliver the 2011 Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar, UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Fisher, who just returned from a collecting trip in Madagascar, will speak on “How Many Ants Can an Island Hold? Exploring Ant Diversity in Madagascar" from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the Recreation Pool Lodge on La Rue Road, UC Davis. The lecture is free and open to the public.
He'll be honored at a reception set from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Rec Pool Lodge.
Fisher received his doctorate degree in entomology from UC Davis in 1997, studying with major professor Phil Ward.
Often found hip-deep in Madagascar mud, Fisher is a self-described modern day explorer who has devoted his life to the study and conservation of ants and biodiversity around the world. His research sends him through the last remote rainforests and deserts of Madagascar and Africa in search of ants. Although his subjects may be small in stature, they make a huge impact on their ecosystems.
By documenting the species diversity and distribution of this “invisible majority,” Fisher says he's helping to establish conservation priorities for Madagascar, identifying areas that should be set aside to protect the highest number of species. Along the way, he has discovered hundreds of new species of ants. He has published more than 75 peer reviewed articles including Ants of North America with Stefan Cover.
Every year, Fisher trains dozens of international graduate students in the taxonomy and natural history of ants, providing them with skills to use ants as an important indicator of biodiversity across the globe. He has appeared in a number of BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic films and has been profiled in Newsweek and Discover magazines.
So, for the last 23 years, Brian Fisher has traveled the globe finding, collecting, identifying and naming ants, describing their behaviors, and cataloguing their traits. Of the estimated 22,000 ant species known to science, Fisher has personally discovered 1000 species.
Born in Normal, Ill., the son of a college professor and a fifth grade teacher, Brian Fisher always knew he wanted to work outdoors. But for awhile, he didn't know what. The day after his high school graduation, he caught a flight to Europe and spent two years bicycling the continent, learning French and carpentry before returning home.
Once he returned to the states, he enrolled at the University of Iowa, majoring in biology. “But I was itching to get to Latin America, learn Spanish and live the dream of a tropical plant collector,” he remembers. It was during a year in Panama that he worked part-time for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He also worked as an aspiring botanist, collecting specimens of tropical flora.
It was during his stay in Panama that the love bug bit. Ants!
“You go to the tropics and the sheer diversity of insects are literally raining down on you,” Fisher says. “At that point, I decided to switch from being a great botanical explorer to becoming an ant finder.”
The Nov. 9th UC Davis seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993), an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production. During his 37-year UC Davis career, he was based at the Shafter Research and Extension Center, also known as the U.S. Cotton Research Station. He researched pest and beneficial arthropod management in cotton fields, and host plant resistance in cotton to insects, mites, nematodes and diseases.
And we're sure Tom Leigh encountered a number of ants along the way, but not as many nor as diverse as Brian Fisher has.
You want to know why flies are fantastic?
They are, you know. Just ask Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
He'll discuss "Why Flies Are Fantastic" at the Northern California Entomology Society meeting, set from 9:15 to 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3 in the conference room of the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District, 155 Mason Circle, Concord.
Hauser will speak at 11 a.m.
The event, open to club members and their guests, begins at 9:15 a.m. with registration and coffee. Five speakers, including Hauser, are booked on the agenda.
Bob Dowell of CDFA’s Plant-Integrated Pest Control will speak at 9:30 a.m. on the "Distribution, Phenology, Quarantine and Threat of Cherry Worm Fruit Flies in California,” followed at 10:15 a.m. by John Chitambar of the CDFA Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch. Chitambar, a nematologist, will discuss “Nematodes that Cause Economic Losses to Plants and Animals."
The schedule also includes the annual business meeting at 11:45 a.m., and a catered lunch at noon by Kinder’s.
The afternoon speakers: Curtis Takahashi of CDFA’s Integrated Pest Control, discussing “Control of Newly Arrived Exotic Wood Borers” at 1:15 p.m., and Larry Godfrey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who will zero in on "Improved Management of Cotton Aphids in Cotton and Citrus: Importance of Overwintering Populations in Pomegranates" at 2 p.m.
The Northern California Entomology Society is comprised of university faculty, researchers, pest abatement professionals, students and other interested persons. Current president is Leann Horning, an ag technician with the CDFA’s Biocontrol Program. Members will elect new officers--president and vice president-elect--during the business session.
The society meets three times a year: the first Thursday in February, usually in Sacramento; the first Thursday in May, at UC Davis; and the first Thursday in November in the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District conference room, Concord. Membership dues are $10 year.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty serves as the secretary-treasurer. For further information, contact Mussen at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone him at (530) 752-0472.
Have you ever looked closely at a fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) and seen its proboscis, aka tongue or feeding tube?
If you stay still and don't shadow it while it's nectaring, you'll see the proboscis darting in an out of a blossom.
The late afternoon sun lit up its long black proboscis while it was nectaring lantana and African daisies in our yard last weekend.
It's the little things you don't see a lot, but the little things you remember.
Wear your favorite insect costume. Show off your insect tattoo.
When the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis hosts its pre-Halloween open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, it promises to be a "blood-suckin' good time."
And it's free and open to the public.
One of the highlights will be an insect costume contest. A prize will be awarded to the "best dressed insect" under 6; ages 7-12, 13 to 18, and adults. Judging will be based on creativity and originality, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator.
In addition, a prize will be awarded to the best overall insect tattoo, Yang said.
Another special event is the 3:15 p.m. mosquito pinata bashing. The pinata is the work of Brittany Nelms, a PhD student within the Entomology Graduate Group with a designated emphasis in Vectorborne Diseases (she studies with William Reisen of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases). The pinata will be filled with candy and some insect toys, Yang said.
Among the "blood bugs" on display will be mosquito, bed bug and biting fly specimens. (Not to worry--they're specimens; they're not alive.)
Located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, the Bohart Museum houses a global collection of more than seven million insect specimens and also maintains a live “petting zoo” with such residents as Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, launched its series of weekend openings for the fall season on Saturday, Sept. 24 with “Catch, Collect and Curate: Entomology 101.”