A monarch—the most special monarch ever--fluttered over our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. on Monday afternoon, Sept. 5 and touched down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
As it sipped nectar, I glimpsed something white, round, and lettered, something I've never seen before in the wild. This one was tagged.
Shouldering my camera with a macro lens as long as a military tactical flashlight, I slowly edged around the garden, nearly hugging my new best friend, a cherry laurel hedge, as I tried not to look like a predator seeking prey.
Please, please, don't fly away. Stay still for a few minutes so I can read your tag. Please. Please. I want to know where you're from, how far you've traveled to get here.
As if on cue, Danaus plexippus stayed still and I shot away on the continuous mode setting with my camera, a Nikon D700 equipped with a 70-180 macro lens. It's a handy lens for fluttering monarchs and skittish insects that move in and out of your viewfinder.
But when I read the little round white tag, my eyes widened and I think I did a happy dance or a somersault or a pirouette. The tag, with a serial number, read “Monarch@wsu.edu A6093.” Oh, wow! This monarch is from my alma mater, Washington State University.
Where have you been, email@example.com? I've been looking all over for you since Oct. 17, 2014 when I also encouraged others to look for you.
The next time you see a monarch butterfly heading your way--or settled in at an overwintering site in coastal California or in central Mexico--check to see if it's tagged.
It may have flown hundreds of miles from the Pacific Northwest, and Washington State University entomologist David James is eager to know where you found it.
James, an associate professor at Washington State University, studies the migration routes and overwintering sites of the Pacific Northwest Monarch population, which are thought to overwinter primarily in coastal California but also in central Mexico. He spearheads a Monarch-tagging project in which volunteers--primarily inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, Walla Walla--rear and release the butterflies.
And voila! There is firstname.lastname@example.org A6093.
To put it frankly, A6093 and I became quite close. True-blue friends. Well, he's orange and black, actually. Still, it was a five-hour friendship. I first saw him at 1 p.m., and he hung around our pollinator garden for five hours. How did I know the gender? When he spread his wings, I saw the familiar black dots.
A6093 was exciting to watch. He'd pause to sip some nectar from the Mexican sunflowers and butterfly bush, and then soar upward again, meeting and pursuing other butterflies. He was part of a swirl of orange butterflies, a symphony of orange butterflies, dancing in the sky to music only they could hear.
But here's what's really exciting. We emailed entomologist David James of WSU and learned that the monarch was tagged by Steven Johnson of Ashland, Ore. and released on Sunday, Aug. 28. “Information is slowly trickling in,” he wrote back today. “I think it likely that Steven reared it from an egg laid on his property."
"So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day. Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now."
"Clearly this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!”
Maybe we'll get more tagged monarchs? "You could well find another tag in your yard!" James said. "We believe they do take defined routes (valleys, rivers) so you may well be on a 'route.'"
So apparently our yard was a fueling stop or an "oasis," as James put it. "The tagged male--had you been able to look inside its body--would have been full of 'fat body' and a very reduced reproductive tract..so his interest in the opposite sex is currently minimal..and it'll stay that way until Feb 2017!"
(Editor's note: If you see a WSU-tagged monarch, take a photo and let WSU know. Contact email@example.com or the Facebook page. For more information about the project, see WSU's monarch butterfly news story about inmates' tagging project, and a news story on monarch decline.)
Washington State Prisoners Raise and Release Monarch Butterflies, Entomology Today, Entomological Society of America
If any insect should be the "cover girl" during National Pollinator Week, it ought to be the honey bee (Apis mellifera)
Specifically, it should be the worker bee, although the queen bee and drones (males) have their place, too.
But it's the worker bee, the forager, that basically works herself to death. She's out gathering nectar, pollen, propolis and water for her colony. She never calls in sick. She never punches a time card. She never protests. As soon as the temperature hits around 55 degrees, she leaves the warmth of the hive to go to work.
She might not return. She may run into pesticides, pests or predators (think spiders, praying mantids, wasps, birds and the like). She may wind up spending the night on a lavender blossom when it's too cold or too dark to return to the hive. She may have to fly five miles on ragged wings and in ragged weather carrying a load heavier than she is.
Once inside, she shares her bounty with the colony. She dances to let her sisters know where she found it. This isn't America's Got Talent--these dances are not for money or fame, but for purpose. "Hey, I just found a large quantity of lavender about two miles away. It's great quality. Let's go get more."
Her weapon is her stinger, but she uses that only in defense of the hive, or when something crushes her (like a human being that accidentally steps on her). She can't be compared to an assault weapon such as an AR-15 that can shoot 25 rounds in 2.5 seconds. One sting and she dies. One barbed sting and it's all over for her.
And she's beautiful, whether she's golden, light brown or gray-black.
The Journal of Economic Entomology, published by the Entomological Society of America, graced its June cover with a honey bee. It's of a forager heading toward a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The background: I captured the image several years ago in my pollinator garden in Vacaville, as I watched, awestruck, as the worker bees turned the tower of jewels into a buzzing tower of bees. Oh, sure, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, syrphids, butterflies and hummingbirds were working the blossoms, too, but it was this determined worker bee that caught my eye.
She probably died several weeks after that flight photo. Honey bees live only four to six weeks during the busy season. The queen bee, an egg-laying machine that can pump out 2000 eggs a day, quickly replaced her.
For a moment, though, as the bee headed for the tower of jewels, time stopped. The worker bee did not.
Happy National Pollinator Week!
Or, she might say "A fly is a fly is a fly."
That's because major corporations, news media and people-who-should-know-or-who-should-at-least-fact-check are still confusing honey bees with flies.
May Berenbaum, 2016 president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA) and a National Medal of Science recipient, recently received a solicitation letter from a well-known nature corporation asking her to help the honey bees.
All's well and good, right? Wrong. The photo on the envelope was not of her beloved honey bee. It was a photo of a fly. A syrphid fly.
Never send a fly to an ESA president, the top of the entomological chain, and claim it's a bee.
Apparently this corporation--okay, the Sierra Club, as this is all over the Internet--obtained the "bee" photo from someone who could not distinguish certain species in the order Hymenoptera (which includes honey bees) and the order Diptera (flies). The drone fly, Eristalis tenax, is often confused with the honey bee, Apis mellifera. To entomologists, it's like confusing an elephant with a giraffe.
Berenbaum, who also has a keen sense of humor, posted a blurb on her Facebook page about the fly.
"Really, Sierra Club? You send a letter asking to help save honeybees with a photo of a syrphid fly on the envelope?" (She also pointed out that "honey bee" is two words, not one.)
That drew all kinds of comments:
- Save the syrphids!!!
- Is there a syrphid that mimics a honey bee? Maybe they fell for it.
- That is so terrible it's almost wonderful.
- Personally, I'm wondering who the heck is taking all of the pictures of syrphids!! Aren't bees a lot more common?
- I may have to use this in my next lecture about mimicry and how successful it can be, even against visual-based predators.
- May and I were close friends in high school and, I'm pretty sure that she is the smartest person I've ever met.
- Well, Eristalis tenax is just such a great mimic, I am proud of that species!
- I see images of bumble bees with "Save the Honeybee" on stickers. Kind of like "Save the Cow" with a picture of a bison, or worse. How to offer professional advice/fact checking for articles/media? Would love to do it!
- That's funny and sad at the same time!
- There are so many syrphid photos that have been used as bees, I begin to wonder if most people really don't know what bees look like!
But my favorite:
So we were sitting at the dinner table and a friend said "If only someone was running for president who was worth voting for."
Without missing a beat, my daughter said "What about May Berenbaum?"
You've now been duly nominated.
What do you think?
Okay then, "What are the three primary conditions that define eusociality?"
Or how about "Nicrophorus americanus is listed under what legislative act?”
Those are just three of the questions that the UC Davis Linnaean Games Team correctly answered to win the national championship at the Entomological Society of America's annual Linnaean Games competition, held recently in Minneapolis. UC Davis defeated the University of Florida 130 to 70.
The Linnaean Games is a college-bowl type competition in which teams answer questions about insects and entomologists. The teams hold practice sessions throughout the year. So much to know, and you never know what questions will be asked! And then you have to pounce on the buzzer quickly to beat the other team to the answer!
The UC Davis team is comprised of captain Ralph Washington Jr., and members Jessica Gillung, Brendon Boudinot and Ziad Khouri. All are graduate students in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. They earlier won the Linnaean Games competition at the regional level: the Pacific Branch of ESA.
This is the first year in ESA's 32-year history that UC Davis has won the championship.
Washington is studying for his doctorate with major professors Steve Nadler and Brian Johnson, who respectively specialize in systematics and evolutionary biology of nematodes and the evolution, behavior, genetics, and health of honeybees; Boudinot with major professor Phil Ward, systematics and evolutionary biology of ants; and Jessica Gillung and Ziad Khouri with major professor Lynn Kimsey, who specializes in the biology and evolution of insects. Kimsey directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Two members of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty--Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey and Extension apiculturist Elina Niño--served as the team's advisors.
The questions that UC Davis correctly answered in the championship game:
Toss-Up Question: What is the smallest insect that is not a parasite or parasitoid?
Answer: Beetles in the family Ptiliidae.
Bonus Question: Some species of mosquitoes lay eggs that can undergo diapause or aestivation. Give at least three cues that trigger the aquatic eggs to hatch.
Answer: Temperature, immersion in water, concentration of ions or dissolved solutes.
Toss-Up Question: Chikungunya is an emerging vector-borne disease in the Americas. Chikungunya is derived from the African Language Makonde. What means Chikungunya in Makonde?
Answer: Bending up.
Toss-Up Question: A Gilson's gland can be found in what insect order?
Toss-Up Question: Certain Chrysomelid larvae carry their feces as a defensive shield. To what subfamily do these beetles belong?
Bonus Question: The first lepidopteran sex pheromone identified was bombykol. What was the first dipteran sex pheromone identified? Give the trade or chemical name.
Answer: Muscalure, Z-9-Tricosene. It is also one of the chemicals released by bees during the waggle dance.
Toss-Up Question: What famous recessive gene was the first sex-linked mutation demonstrated in Drosophila by T.H. Morgan?
Bonus Question: Cecidomyiidae are known as the gall flies. What is unique about the species Mayetiola destructor, and what is its common name?
Answer: Mayetiola destructor is the Hessian Fly, a tremendous pest of wheat. It does not form galls.
Toss-Up Question: Nicrophorus americanus is listed under what legislative act?
Answer: The Endangered Species Act
Toss-Up Question: In what insect order would you find hemelytra?
Answer: The order Hemiptera.
Toss-Up Question: The subimago stage is characteristic of what insect order?
Answer: The order Ephemeroptera
Bonus Question: A 2006 Science article by Glenner et al. on the origin of insects summarized evidence that Hexapods are nothing more than land-dwelling crustaceans, which is to say that the former group Crustacea is paraphyletic with respect to the Hexapoda. What hierarchical name has been used to refer to this clade?
Toss-Up Question: What are the three primary conditions that define eusociality?
Answer: Cooperative brood care, overlapping generations, and reproductive division of labor
A total of 10 teams competed in the 2015 Linnaean Games:
Eastern Branch: Virginia Tech University and University of Maryland
North Central Branch: Michigan State University and Purdue University
Pacific Branch: UC Davis and Washington State University
Southeastern Branch: University of Georgia and University of Florida
Southwestern Branch: Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M
A YouTube video of the championship game--with all of the questions asked--will be posted soon. Last year North Carolina State University defeated the University of Florida to win the finals.
ESA will be meeting with the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) with an expected attendance of more than 7,000 scientists and researchers. The theme: "Synergy in Science: Partnering for Solutions."
Bugs rule. They definitely do.
"Insects did just about everything first," according to Kjer. "They were the first to form social societies, farm, and sing — just about anything you can imagine. Insects are the dominant players in almost all terrestrial ecosytems, and as such, they have a major impact on agriculture and human health.”
It's indeed a high honor to be delivering a Premier Presentation; ESA officials selected only 20, and two of the presenters are affiliated with UC Davis--Kjer and Jenny Carlson, who recently received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and now holds a postdoctoral position at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Carlson, who studied at UC Davis with major professor Anthony Cornel, was based in the William Reisen lab. Reiser, newly retired, directed the Center for Vectorborne Diseases.
UC Davis will be well represented at the ESA meeting.
James R. Carey, distinguished professor of entomology, will receive the ESA's distinguished national teaching award.
Mohammad-Amir Aghaee, formerly with the Larry Godfrey lab, will receive the John Henry Comstock Award, Pacific Branch of ESA (PBESA). He holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University.
The championship UC Davis Student Debate Team, captained by Danny Klittich, doctoral candidate in the Parrella lab, will defend its title. Members are Rei Scampavia (labs of Ed Lewis and Neal Williams), Jenny Carlson (Anthony Cornel lab), Ralph Washington Jr. (Steve Nadler lab) and Joanna Bloese (Larry Godfrey lab).
The student debate will include the following topics: What is the single best genetically engineered technology for arthropod pest control? With the development of tools like RNAi, in the future we may be capable of eradicating species. If we can eradicate a species, should we? What is the single best tool for managing pesticide resistance?
The UC Davis Linnaean Team, which won the PBESA competition, will compete for the top honors. It won the PBESA competition with Ralph Washington Jr. (Steve Nadler lab) as captain; and members Jéssica Gillung (Lynn Kimsey lab), and Brendon Boudinot (Phil Ward lab). New to the team is Ziad Khouri (Lynn Kimsey lab). The Linnaean Games are lively college-bowl type competitions at which the teams answer questions about insects and entomologists.
The Insect Photo Salon includes "some of the most beautiful insect photos in the world will be presented this year in the Insect Photo Salon,” according to the ESA program. (Yours truly was honored to have two accepted.)
EGSA will be selling T-shirts at the meeting, including its 2015 winning T-shirt by Stacey Rice, junior specialist in the Larry Godfrey lab. It depicts a long-legged wasp on a penny-farthing or big wheel bike. By the way, it's a new "species"--she depicted it with long legs to be able to reach the pedals. And the bike? That's part of the UC Davis culture.