"Him" is Vernard Lewis, who terminated termites, bugged bed bugs, and controlled cockroaches.
As Pamela Kan Rice, assistant director of News and Information Outreach, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) wrote in her wonderful feature story this week on his retirement:
"He built a villa for termites, delighted school children with giant cockroaches, did “time” at San Quentin State Prison, traveled the world looking at insects and, in 2016, Vernard Lewis was inducted into the Pest Management Professionals' Hall of Fame. On July 1, UC Berkeley's first African American entomologist retired from a 35-year career as an urban entomologist, the last 26 years as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist."
We asked Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, and integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), for their comments:
"Vernard was The Expert for anything termite in California," Kimsey said. "He was the best; knowledgeable, personable and engaged. I'm really annoyed that he retired."
Can you imagine anyone building a home, Villa Termiti, just for termites? Or, rather, to do research?
Wrote Pam Kan-Rice:
"In the early 1990s, the UC Cooperative Extension specialist needed a place to test drywood termite detection and control methods. The College of Natural Resources wasn't keen on infesting a building with destructive pests near UC Berkeley's historic buildings, but ultimately allowed Lewis to construct the Villa Termiti in Richmond, about six miles north of campus."
"Villa Termiti has since hosted ants, subterranean termites, wood-boring beetles, and bed bugs for subsequent research projects."
Lewis, born in Minnesota and the oldest of 10 children, gleefully recalled his fascination with bugs when he moved from Minnesota to Fresno to live with his grandparents for six years. “California has a lot more bugs because Minnesota is frozen six months out of the year,” he said wryly. “During recess, while other kids were kicking balls, I was catching grasshoppers and feeding them to harvester ants.”
Lewis was also known for mentoring young scientists at UC Berkeley and stimulating children's interest in science. He joined the Oakland Unified School District's City Bugs project to educate K-12 school teachers and students about insects, life sciences and biodiversity.
He liked to bring live props and engage his audience. He recalled the time in 1993 when he brought a Madagascar hissing cockroach to show to 300 students at Claremont Middle School, Oakland. You guessed it. The center of attention escaped and both the cockroach and the kids ran for cover. (Well, they ought to visit the Madagascar hissing cockroaches in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. The roaches are part of the insect museum's live "petting zoo.")
Vernard Lewis led a fascinating and productive life. Be sure to read Kan-Rice's entire piece on Vernard Lewis on the UC ANR blog.
You'll note that:
- He showed his can-do attitude with: “My high school counselor said I wasn't bright enough to go to college. I took offense to that,” said Lewis, recalling his high scores on IQ tests administered in the 1950s and 1960s. “I asked him what was the best university in the country. He said, ‘UC Berkeley,' so I decided to go there.”
- He went on to receive three degrees from UC Berkeley: his bachelor of science degree in agricultural sciences in 1975; his master's degree in entomology in 1979; and his doctorate in entomology in 1989.
- He was fondly known as "Killer" at San Quentin Prison because as head of vector control (contract work), he exterminated bed bugs and cockroaches there from 1986 through 1988.
- The ESA featured him in its book “Memoirs of Black Entomologists,” published to spotlight African-American entomologists and to encourage black students to pursue careers in the life sciences.
Bottom line: UC ANR has lost a great scientist, researcher, collaborator, colleague and friend to retirement. Lynn Kimsey is still annoyed that he retired, but the termites, bedbugs and cockroaches--not so much.
For the contest, Wilson performed a parody of "Billionaire" ("I Wanna Be a Billionaire") by Travie McCoy and Bruno Mars. She humorously titled it "I Wanna Be an Entomologist."
Watch and listen on YouTube.
Now it appears that the work of entomologists collecting insects in California may be in jeopardy...not to mention teachers in grades K-12 and in college.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, this week proclaimed California's proposed permit rules for insect-collecting as not only “onerous and obtrusive” but will “obstruct the scientific work of researchers and teachers.“
"They amount to a mind-boggling, data-clogging nightmare,” she said.
“This is a major deal for scientific teaching and research,” Kimsey emphasized. “Teachers who assign their students to make insect collections will now have to apply for a permit, and only eight persons are allowed on any one permit. Plus, they have to notify California Fish and Wildlife 48 hours in advance before they collect, and inform them what exactly they will be collecting. It doesn't matter what they're studying—cockroaches, wasps or corn earworms.”
“This will make it even more difficult to study or teach about insects in California,” she said, adding that “Today, California is the only state in the U.S. that requires collecting permits to collect any terrestrial invertebrates, insects, slugs, millipedes, spiders, etc. anywhere in the state, private property, parks, federal lands, cities even, if it's being done for scientific research or teaching in K-12 and college. Ironically, there are no permit requirements for amateur collectors who can collect as much as they want.”
“These requirements,” she said, “will make research and teaching on invertebrates, particularly insects so difficult that it might very well stop our training in entomology and drive researchers to work out of state.”
Kimsey, who received her doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, has directed the Bohart Museum of Entomology, since 1990. The seventh largest insect collection in North America, it houses nearly eight million insect specimens (terrestrial and fresh water arthropods) collected globally. The museum is also home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity of California's deserts, mountains, coast, and the Great Central Valley. Founded in 1946 by its namesake and noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) of UC Davis, the museum is dedicated to teaching, research and service.
In examining the proposed new rules for collecting insects, Kimsey cited seven crucial issues:
1. New Species. There may be as many as 100,000 species of terrestrial invertebrates in California and perhaps 6 percent are new to science. “This is far more species than we have the expertise in-state to identify,” she pointed out. “Sometimes it takes decades for someone to study a particular group. So it's impossible to give CDFW identifications much more detailed than Insecta for the permit paperwork.”
2. All Insects. These permit requirements apply whether “you're surveying the insects of a vernal pool or the distribution of dangerous invasive species, such as the yellow fever mosquito,” Kimsey said. “They also apply to the study of pest species, such as cockroaches and bedbugs.”
3. Bureaucracy. The required fees and detailed reports are onerous, obtrusive and seem to punish researchers and students studying and learning about insects, Kimsey declared. Permits take 6-8 weeks to be awarded and every time a change is needed, an emendation fee applies. “At UC Davis we are on the quarter system, which is 10 weeks. This means that a permit would be awarded by the time a class requiring students to make a collection is nearly over.”
4. Identification. “When we collect insects,” Kimsey explained, “we generally do not know what we've found until the material has been sorted, curated and identified to major group under the microscope--the vast majority of insects cannot be sight-identified and most are less than 1/4 inch long. This could take weeks and months. Specimens then need to be examined by experts who could be anywhere in the world.”
5. Chain of Custody. Every time the Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of nearly eight million insect specimens, ships specimens collected in California to an expert, “we would have to do CDFW chain-of-custody paperwork,” Kimsey said. “We take in an average of 30,000 specimens a year from university researchers and students. We loan up to 1,000 specimens a year to experts around the world. The paperwork would be crushing.”
6. Non-Target Insects. CDFW also requires permitees to account for by-catch, that is, non-target insects. “It's not clear if this includes insects collected on the radiator while driving in the study site,” she said.
7. Crime Scenes. Permits would also be required for the study of insects at crime scenes and any training that pertains to forensic entomology.
Kimsey said the simplest solution to this issue is “to simply remove terrestrial invertebrates from the permit requirements. But after the recent public meeting, that seems unlikely to happen.”
“We cannot see any benefit to the state in requiring permits for invertebrates when the information gained would be close to useless,” Kimsey declared. “California Wildlife and Wildlife informed us that the permit fees were necessary to cover the costs of dealing with the specimen data, but the data will not be useful and it would make much more sense to simply not cover terrestrial invertebrates.”
The entire data collection/permit process would result in a mind-boggling, data-clogging nightmare, she said. “If everyone in the state working on insects and teaching about them sent the specimen data to CDFW, they might be dealing with hundreds of thousands of data entries and thousands of reports annually, most of which would provide very little data. This amounts to an unfunded mandate, which will cost museums, scientists and teachers time and money. Museums would literally have to hire additional personnel to do the paperwork.”
Unfortunately, not many people were aware of the May 8 public hearing, but comments are continuing, although the department requested comments by 5 p.m., May 8, 2017, as outlined in the notice.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Regulations Unit - Scientific Collecting Permits
Attn: Ona Alminas, Environmental Scientist
1416 Ninth Street, Room 1342-A
Sacramento, CA 95814
Meanwhile, entomologists and other insect enthusiasts are weighing in this troubling issue on social media.
The comments include:
- "If California's bizarre new insect collecting regulations go through, it will effectively end entomology in that state."
- "This is absolutely horrific and pointless, I also wonder what the motivation is, who came up with this??"
- "Ironically, there are no permit requirements for amateur collectors who can collect as much as they want."
- "Will there be a special hot line? Hello? I would like to collect a cockroach this weekend. Ok you will need Form Pa111: permission to pick up and hold a cockroach; and Form Pa222: permission to detain a cockroach against its will!"
- "I love the fact that the permits are required only for scientific, educational, and non-commercial propagation purposes. So, if I wanted to collect butterflies to mount and sell, I could take as many as I wanted, no permit, notice, or paperwork required. But if I wanted to tag migratory butterflies and release them, I have to get a permit, give 48 hours notice, and maintain onerous amounts of paperwork."
- "I'm not a scientist and am only collecting these beautiful rare butterflies to feed to my frogs. No permit necessary." (said in jest)
- "We had to fill out more paperwork to collect and photograph common insects in Washington State National Forests than we did to study endangered invertebrates or endangered vertebrates!"
- "PA (Pennsylvania) was this way- for aquatic ecology we took a class field trip to get fishing permits to collect 'bait.'
He was just notified that he's a recipient of the UC Davis Academic Senate's 2017 Distinguished Scholarly Public Service.
"Professor Zalom is deserving of the Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award for his outstanding leadership in state, national and international organizations focused on integrated pest management," the Academic Senate awards committee wrote. "While serving as the president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America, Professor Zalom pioneered initiatives aimed at identifying sustainable solutions for some of the world's important insect-based problems. For example, he organized and co-chaired the 'Summit on the Aedes aegypti Crisis in the Americas' that brought together more than 70 researchers, public health officials, entomologists, and government agencies throughout the hemisphere to identify immediate steps to sustainable solutions to control the yellow mosquito that can carry dengue fever and Zika fever viruses."
And IPM? The Academic Senate pointed out:
"Professor Zalom is known globally for his leadership in the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities IPM Committee from 1999-2015, for being a founding member of the IPM Voice, which is a non-profit organization that advocates for progressive IPM that provides environmental, social and economic benefits, and for serving on the Board of Counselors of the Entomological Foundation that promotes educational programs for grades K-12. Professor Zalom's efforts in public service have contributed to the betterment of California and the U.S."
Zalom joins previous UC Davis entomology recipients Lynn Kimsey (2016), James Carey (2015) and Robert Washino (2012).
Zalom, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, joined the UC Davis faculty in 1980 as the Extension IPM coordinator for the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) and then served as the UC IPM director for 16 years before returning to the Department of Entomology in 2002.
For his work in IPM, he is also the recipient of the 2017 Perry Adkisson Distinguished Speaker Award from Texas A&M. He will deliver an invited presentation, “Invasive Species, Integrated Pest Management, and One Perspective from the West Coast" on Thursday, March 30 in College Station, Texas. The annual lecture honors Perry Lee Adkisson, chancellor emeritus and distinguished professor emeritus of the Texas A&M University System. His research accomplishments are internationally known in the areas of sustainable insect control and crop protection.
“Perry Lee Adkisson is among the icons of integrated pest management, and one of the people that I have most looked up to since starting my career in entomology," Zalom said last week. "I can't adequately express how honored I am to receive this award, and have an opportunity to visit with him once again in College Station.”
Zalom, too, is an IPM icon. (See more on Zalom's work on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
An icon, for sure.
It's buggin' ya.
No worries. The UC Davis Entomology Graduate Students' Association (EGSA) to the rescue. Every year EGSA conducts a t-shirt contest and the faculty, staff and students pick the winner. The t-shirts--past, present, and most popular--are for sale, with proceeds going to support the many activities of EGSA.
EGSA treasurer and graduate student Cindy Preto of the Frank Zalom lab is coordinating the t-shirt sales. The themes include honey bees, beetles, a wasp, a moth, weevils (“See No Weevil, Hear No Weevil and Speak No Weevil") and “Entomology's Most Wanted” (malaria mosquito, red-imported fire ant, bed bug and house fly). One of the best sellers is “The Beetles,” mimicking The Beatles' album cover, “Abbey Road.”
EGSA, Preto said, is "run by and for graduate students who study insect systems. Our objectives are to connect students from across disciplines, inform students of and provide opportunities for academic success, and to serve as a bridge between the students and administration. We also plan social and academic events for students, faculty, and staff to enhance social and intellectual cohesion and to connect our department with the community at large."
It's the cover story of a special focus issue, "Disease Management in the Genomics Era," in the journal Phytopathology.
The research was directed by UC Davis integrated pest management (IPM) specialist Frank Zalom and research biologist Mysore "Sudhi" Sudarshana of the USDA's Agriculture Research Services (ARS), who is based in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology.
Last year the Zalom team hypothesized that the three-cornered alfalfa hopper could transmit the Grapevine Red Blotch-associated virus, GRBaV, "based in part on phylogeneic analysis of coat protein sequences of 23 geminiviruses that revealed that GRBaV-CP was most similar to that of another geminivirus that was transmitted by another treehopper," explained Zalom, a distinguished professor of entomology with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a past president of the Entomological Society of America.
“In commercial vineyards, lateral shoots of grapevines girdled due to feed injury by the adult three-cornered alfalfa hopper also tested positive for the virus using digital PCR,” the scientists noted in their abstract. “These findings represent an important step in understanding the biology of GRBaV and develop management guidelines.”
The disease, first noticed in 2008 and attributed to a newly identified virus in 2012, is present in many major grape production regions of the United States and Canada. It can reduce fruit quality and ripening.
The research team consisted of Zalom; Sudarshana; Brian Bahder, then a postdoctoral researcher in the Zalom lab and now an assistant professor and insect vector ecologist with the University of Florida; and Maya Jayanth, then a student in the Sudarshana lab.
In the Pest Alert, Zalom, a former director of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, noted that “red leaf symptoms that differed from other known red leaf diseases affecting grape foliage” were first noticed in red wine grape cultivars in Napa County, and subsequently in many other California grape growing counties as well.
“Leaf symptoms first appear approximately mid-summer; however, timing of symptom expression differs among grapevine cultivars and year,” Zalom wrote. “In red-fruited cultivars, common symptoms include red blotches originating from the leaf margin or within the leaf blade and primary and secondary veins that often turn red. In white fruit cultivars, symptoms appear as pale green to pale yellow patches.”
Zalom noted that symptoms usually start on basal leaves and progress up the shoot. In some cultivars, such as Chardonnay and Zinfandel, “marginal burning may occur similar to severe potassium deficiency. In some red-fruited cultivars such as Malbec and Mourvèdre, the entire blade may turn red by harvest.” Grapes produced on infected vines are characterizes by reduced brix and other changes that can seriously impact wine quality.
“Foliar symptoms are generally distinct from those of grapevine leafroll disease (GLD) early in the season, but leaf blade coloration may resemble those of GLD by late fall,” Zalom pointed out. “At this time, red blotch disease is not known to kill grapevines.” However, the effect of the virus infections on yield and fruit quality varies and no cure exists at this time.
But back to the three-cornered alfalfa hopper. What's it look like? It's a green, clear-winged, wedge-shaped (thus the name "three-cornered") insect that's about a quarter of an inch long. That's about the size of a pomegranate seed or a tiny pea.
Earler this year we borrowed (and returned) a couple of insects from the Zalom lab and set out to capture some images of Spissistilus festinus on a grape leaf.
It's definitely a good hopper; we popped it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to slow it down.
And it's definitely camouflaged. Green on green.
It draws its name from alfalfa, but it feeds on many other plants, including soybeans, beans, cowpeas and sweet clover. It also can infest tomato, melon, wheat, oats, Bermuda grass and Johnson grass and the like.
Expect to hear more about Spissistilus festinus...