If you've ever watched a mating pair of mantids and seen the male lose his head, or seen other insect mating rituals, then you ought to read entomologist Emily Bick's review of the play, An Entomologist's Love Story, which showing at the San Francisco Playhouse through June 23.
And see the play.
Emily Bick, a doctoral candidate in the Christian Nansen lab, University of California, Davis, recently attended a world premiere showing and penned a review published by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in its Entomology Today.
Her review is drawing high praise. San Francisco Playhouse tweeted: “Quite possibly the coolest review we've ever received.”
Bick, who holds a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University and a master's degree from UC Davis, is a board-certified entomologist and a member of the 2016 UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the ESA national championship for expertise in answering questions about insects and entomologists. Bick also will compete in the 2018 national championships, scheduled in November in Vancouver, B.C., as a member of the UC Berkeley-UC Davis Linnaean Games Team.
In her review, Bick wrote that the play “shows that life imitates art and art imitates life, with insect mating rituals serving as a proxy for human dating behavior.”
“The well-known antagonistic insect mating behavior of bed bugs' traumatic insemination, praying mantids' sexual cannibalism, and honey bees' mating plugs are all accurately described and then used to represent adversarial (human) dating behavior. Fireflies' bioluminescence, meanwhile, is cast in a romantic light.”
“The play brims with entomological humor, from anthropomorphizing bed bugs to a running joke that sometimes volunteers actually make life harder for researchers,” Bick noted. “While the public will be entertained by the gross descriptions of entomological behavior (pun intended), only we insect scientists will know that the “Lou” the protagonists keep referring to is actually Dr. Louis Sorkin of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (and that, yes, he does keep a bed bug colony there). Or, for those of us who have been lucky enough to take a tour, you know the Museum's offices really are that difficult to get to.”
The production team consulted with entomologists at the American Museum of Natural History and the California Academy of Sciences.
“Overall, An Entomologist's Love Story,” Bick wrote, “juxtaposes a range of complex human dating behaviors with a humorous yet biologically accurate description of example insect species' mating behavior. From an entomologist's perspective, I highly recommend seeing An Entomologist's Love Story if you are or will be in the San Francisco area before June 23.”
Bick, who is delighted that Entomology Today published her piece, says she can now list “published theater critic” to her resume.
(Editor's Note: Bick will compete in the Linnaean Games National Championships with the UC Berkeley-UC Team team at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C. The UC Berkeley-UC Davis team is captained by Ralph Washington Jr., a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a former graduate student at UC Davis. Other members are Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab. The UC Berkeley-UC Davis team won the Linnaean Games hosted in mid-June by the Pacific Branch, ESA. For a look at the kinds of questions asked, watch the 2016 National Linnaean Games Championship Round (won by UC Davis), posted on YouTube.)
Which team--the UC Berkeley-UC Davis team or the Washington State University team--would win?
That was the white-knuckle scene at the Linnaean Games competition hosted by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) at its meeting June 10-13 in Reno. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
The teams score points by correctly answering random questions. Per the rules, they often try to answer the question before it is completed.
Was the answer Dutch scientist Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek? Or not?
After hearing a portion of the question, WSU rapidly--and incorrectly--buzzed in the answer, Leeuwenhoek.
It was actually Jan Swammerdam.
The UC Berkeley-UC Davis Team emerged victorious. The team, captained by Ralph Washington Jr., a graduate student in public policy at UC Berkeley, (formerly a graduate student at UC Davis), included UC Davis doctoral students Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab, and Emily Bick of the Christian Nansen lab.
“Davis vs WSU was the final game of the night,” related Boudinot. “This went into Sudden Death as the teams were tied 90-90 after several UC Davis interrupts reduced their point total. We came back from DOWN to tie at about 15th question, and the sudden death question was specifically selected to be challenging. The key details were ‘Dutch ... microscopist from the 17th century.' WSU buzzed in on the interrupt and stated 'Leeuwenhoek,' which was incorrect, leading to their elimination. The correct answer was Swammerdam."
The complete question: What Dutch scientist, a microscopist, was the first to observe and describe red blood cells? As part of his anatomical research, Swammerdam (1637-1680) "carried out experiments on muscle contraction," according to Wikipedia. "In 1658, he was the first to observe and describe red blood cells. He was one of the first people to use the microscope in dissections, and his techniques remained useful for hundreds of years."
What a close competition! Congratulations to both teams!
PBESA will sponsor the UC Berkeley-UC Davis team at the National Linnaean Games at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14, in Vancouver, Canada. Runner-up WSU (my alma mater!) also will compete.
Some of the questions asked at this year's PBESA Linnaean Games, as related by Ralph Washington Jr.:
Question: Name the fungal agent that grows naturally in soils throughout the world and causes white muscardine disease and is commercially packaged as a biological insecticide for the control of termites, whiteflies, and other insect pests?
Answer: Beauveria bassiana
Question: Name the process through which spiders use silk to fly and disperse.
Question: Where are you most likely to encounter a rheophilic insect?
Answer: In moving streams.
UC Davis has done well in the Linnaean Games over the years. It won national championships in both 2015 and 2016; Washington captained both teams. Boudinot was a member of both teams, and Bick, the 2016 team.
Think you can answer some of the questions?
- Watch the 2016 National Linnaean Games Championship Round (won by UC Davis), posted on YouTube
- Watch the 2015 National Linnaean Games Championship Round (won by UC Davis), posted on YouTube
The list of national champions over the last five years:
1st Place: Texas A&M
2nd Place: The Ohio State University
1st Place: University of California, Davis
2nd Place: University of Georgia
1st Place: University of California, Davis
2nd Place: University of Florida
1st Place: North Carolina State University
2nd Place: University of Florida
1st Place: University of California- Riverside
2nd Place: Mississippi State University
The Pacific Branch of ESA is comprised of 11 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawai'i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), plus U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico.
As for the parent organization, ESA, it was funded in 1889 and is the largest organization in the world, serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. Its some 7000 members are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, pest management professionals, and hobbyists.
Those catchy words headlined a recent notice of a congressional briefing.
What does coffee, wine and baseball bats have to do with integrated pest management (IPM), you ask?
Well, insects can wreak havoc on the coffee, wine and forestry industries. Consider these invasive species:
- the coffee berry borer, native to Africa, is a pest impacting the coffee industry
- the European grapevine moth, native to southern Italy, targets grapevines
- the emerald ash borer, native to Eastern Russia, Northern China, Japan, and Korea, is a forestry pest.
So there you have it: coffee, wine and baseball bats.
IPM specialist Frank Zalom, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a past president of the Entomological Society of America, played a key role in that U.S. Congressional briefing, held last month in the Rayburn House Office Building.
A newly authored bill by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Florida) seeks a broader expansion of AIPM and a broader invasive species policy. The bill, the Areawide Integrated Pest Management (AIPM) Act of 2018 (H.R. 5411), would amend the Agricultural Research, Extension and Education Reform Act of 1998 with respect to enabling competitive grants for certain areawide integrated pest management projects, and for other purposes.
Zalom moderated the panel and delivered a presentation on the history of AIPM and the need to manage some pests on an areawide basis. AIPM is particularly useful for sites that are not suitable for management on an individual basis, such as natural and urban areas or for public health pests. It is similar to IPM, Zalom said, in that its focus is on implementing systems-based strategies that utilize multiple tactics which emphasize prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression using practices that are biologically-based and reduce risk to human health and the environment. However, its focus is on managing pest populations in all the habitats in which they occur. It involves multi-year strategic planning and organization, and it tends to utilize technologies that may be difficult or less effective when used on a limited scale.
First found in Napa County in 2009, the moth was eventually detected in nine California counties. A partnership that included the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), California Department of Food and Agriculture, County Agricultural Commissioner Offices, grape growers, and University of California Cooperative Extension Advisers and specialists implemented an applied research and public outreach and engagement program that ultimately resulted in the elimination of the insect from throughout these grape-growing areas. (For its work, the European Grapevine Moth Team, led by Lucia Varela, UC IPM advisor, won a Distinguished Service Team award in 2016 from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and received an international award at this year's 9th International IPM Symposium.)
Note that Rep. Gabbard, in particular, wants to protect Hawaii's coffee industry from the recently introduced coffee berry borer, and Rep. Yoho, the U.S. citrus industry from the Asian citrus psyllid and the devastating bacterial disease that it vectors.
Partner host organizations included the ESA, Weed Science Society of America and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).
Four panelists—Faith Oi of the University of Florida, Lee Van Wychen of the Weed Science Society of America, Paula Shrewsbury of the University of Maryland and Kelley Tilmon of Ohio State University--zeroed in on urban pests, aquatic pests, forestry pests, and agricultural pests, respectively, and the industry impacts.
- Oi elaborated on mosquitoes, including the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, a major public health issue.
- Van Wychen discussed the waterhyacinth, an aquatic pest in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and Everglades in Florida.
- Shrewsbury drew attention to the emerald ash borer, a pest in both urban and rural forests
- Tilmon covered the agricultural pest, the brown marmorated stink bug.
The panelists focused on various geographic topics to help Congressional offices from across the nation understand why AIPM is relevant to them and to support AIPM-related policies.
AIPM strategies not only offer important economic, health and environmental benefits, Zalom said, but the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 directs federal agencies to use IPM techniques in carrying out pest management activities.
Coffee, wine and baseball bats? The next time you're enjoying a ball game or sipping a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, think about the emerald ash borer, coffee berry borer and the European gravevine moth.
And the IPM specialists trying to protect us from invasive species...
And attendees did. They asked questions, expressed concerns, and offered comments.
Members of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Students' Association, headed by president Brendon Boudinot, fielded scores of questions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"Bug Doctor" Boudinot, a doctoral candidate who studies ants in the Phil Ward lab and who co-chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Picnic Day Committee, remembers that a little girl asked him "Do bugs get ear infections?"
That was Lilliana Phillips, 5, of Carmichael, who stood in line with her father, William Phillips, a UC Davis alumnus (bachelor's degree in environmental toxicology and master's degree in pharmacology toxicology.
"Good question," Boudinot told her as the crowd smiled.
"I had to think about that one for a while," Boudinot later related. "My best answer is that perhaps mantises, grasshoppers, and cicadas do, as they all have 'ears' (tympana), albeit in different places on their bodies!"
Other questions zeroed in on evolution, insect control, mosquito hawks and butterflies.
"I had a long conversation with an undergraduate about the evolutionary descent of insects and their arthropod kin," Boudinot said. "We discussed the origin of the Arthropoda, the reason why Paleozoic insects were so large, and a number of other topics."
Another undergraduate, a math and economics major, asked Boudinot about the use of differential calculus in his research.
"A number of people asked about insect control, and some even asked plant control questions," Boudinot said. "One woman and her family asked me about 'mosquito hawks.' I informed her that these large flies are not predatory, and have grub-like larvae which feed on decaying material, among other aspects of their natural history."
Another student quizzed him about his knowledge of the color blue in the insect world. "We talked about structural colors. I was unaware that there is a genus of butterfly, Nessaea (Nymphalidae), which has true blue pigmentation--an extreme rarity in the natural world!" (According to Wikipedia, unlike virtually all other butterflies with blue coloration, the blue colors in this genus are due to pigmentation rather than iridescence--for example, Morpho species.)
One young boy asked if mosquitoes will ever go extinct. "I told him that mosquitoes will certainly not go extinct in our lifetime. However, there are many many species of mosquitoes which do not bite people, and if he wanted to learn more about them, he could ask the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District folks (in the nearby booth).
"The final, long conversation I had was with an engineer who was fascinated by insect anatomy and physiology. The conversation started with the mechanism for insect breathing, led through heart and gut anatomy." Boudinot then headed to Briggs 158 to use the chalkboard to explain how the insect cuticle has a machine function.
The next "Bug Doctor" in the rotation was Zachary Griebenow, a first-year Ph.D. candidate in the Phil Ward lab.
The little girl who asked the "Do bugs have ear infections?" also asked him for his take.
"I said that I doubted it," Griebenow related, "as the auditory organs insects have are chordotonal: essentially, they consist of a scolopidiform sensillum attached to cuticle at both ends. Therefore, as there is no fluid involved, the idea of an infection attacking such a structure seemed unlikely to me."
"Another individual asked me to explain the distinction between arachnids and insects, which I did as one might expect (differences in tagmosis, appendages, etc.)"
Lastly, Griebenow was asked whether insects "answered to the same God as we do." He responded that he did not have the authority or knowledge to answer the question.
UC Davis entomology graduate students, including Boudinot, are accustomed to answering entomological questions. Boudinot served as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Linnaean Games Team that won the Entomological Society of America's national championship twice: in 2015 and 2016. The ESA Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions.
Some of the questions the UC Davis team, captained by Ralph Washington Jr., successfully answered in the 2016 competition:
- Question: “You have just moved into an apartment that has been vacant for weeks but whose prior owners had several cats and dogs. A very few days after you move in you are bitten by a huge number of cat fleas that seem to have appeared out of nowhere. What characteristic behavior of cat fleas biology is probably responsible for this?” Answer: “Cat flea pupae eclose in response to the presence of a host.”
- Question: Insects inhabiting a very thin water film such as splash zones marginal to streams are called what?
- Question: The insect order Notoptera unites what two former insect orders?
Answer: Notoptera unites Mantophasmatodea and Grylloblattodea
- Question: What are the two obvious clinical symptoms that someone is suffering from onchocerciasis?
Answer: Blindness and hanging tissue around lymph nodes, often times the scrotum.
- Question: What is the common name for the zygentoman pest that thrives in high humidity and high temperatures and is often found in boiler rooms?
Answer: The firebrat, Thermobia domestica.
- Question: Projection neurons travel across what two major regions of the insect brain?
Answer: The protocerebrum and the deutocerebrum
Click on the YouTube video to see the champion round of the 2016 Linnaean Games.
UC Davis alumnus Matt Forister, McMinn Professor of Biology at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), will return to UC Davis campus on Wednesday, April 25 to discuss the research he and his lab are accomplishing on the "colonization of alfalfa by a focal butterfly (the Melissa blue) as well as other arthropods and microbes."
Forister has titled his seminar, set for 4:10 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, "Understanding Host Evolution: A Case Study of Alfalfa Colonists Across the Great Basin." This is part of the weekly spring seminars hosted on Wednesdays by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"Host range dynamics are central to issues that include diversification, specialization and persistence of populations in the Anthropence," Forister writes in his abstract. "Outstanding questions in this area include the relative importance of different host traits in the colonization process, as well as the underlying genetic architecture associated with the use of alternative host plants. I will cover our attempts to understand the colonization of alfalfa by a focal butterfly (the Melissa blue) as well as other arthropods and microbes. Results will include a detailed look at genetic architecture in the Melissa blue as well as ongoing work on alfalfa phytochemistry to understand how the plant manages host-associated communities." (See his lab research website)
Forister is the co-principal investigator of a 2016-2021 grant from the National Science Foundation to study "Dimensions: Collaborative Research: The Evolution of Novel Interactions within a Network of Plant, Insect and Microbial Biodiversity." The UNR portion of the $1.9 million grant is $540,000.
Keenly interested in monarch butterfly research, Forister also holds a $25,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant titled "Western Monarch and Milkweed Habitat Suitability."
Among his research publications: "The Global Distribution of Diet Breadth in Insect Herbivores," published in 2015 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; and "Global Weather and Local Butterflies: Variable Responses to a Large-Scale Climate Pattern along an Elevational Gradient, published in 2015 in the journal Ecology.
Forister received his doctorate in ecology from UC Davis in 2004, studying with major professor Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. He then worked as a post-doctoral research associate from January 2005 to July 2006 at Stony Brook University, New York, and then headed to the University of Nevada to accept a position as research assistant professor from September 2006 to July 2008 with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.
Forister joined the UNR Biology Department faculty in July 2008 as an assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor in July 2013. His research interests include plant-herbivore interactions; specialization; speciation; hybridization; co-evolution; evolution of diet breadth; niche shifts in herbivorous insects; global change and adaptation to anthropogenic change; analyses of long-term ecological datasets; and monitoring and conservation of insects. His teaching expertise targets ecology, biodiversity, molecular ecology, biodiversity, and biostatistics.
Highly honored by his university, Forister was named the McMinn Professor of Biology in 2015, and selected the recipient of the Hyung K. Shin Award for Excellence in Research in 2014; Regents' Rising Research Award in 2013; the Mousel-Felner Award for Excellence in Research in 2012; and the Stephen Jenkins Mentorship Award in 2012.
The Entomological Society of America honored him in 2005 with the George Mercer Younger Investigation Award for "the most outstanding paper in ecology by a scientist under 40."
Forister made his mark at UC Davis, receiving a $10,000 Faulkner Fellowship, a $11,000 Zolk Fellowship, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship of $86,418.
He and Art Shapiro continue to collaborate on multiple projects.
(Editor's Note: This lecture will be recorded)