Monarch butterflies aren't the only insects that hang around milkweed, their host plant.
You're likely to see a variety of predators, such as the European paper wasp, Polistes dominula.
This paper wasp is a little skittish around paparazzi so it helps to use a long macro lens, like a 105mm or a 200mm, that will allow you to get eye to eye, or nose to antennae.
It's a meat eater, and a voracious one at that. We've seen it shred caterpillars and attack newly emerged butterflies.
Unlike yellow jackets, "European paper wasps are not scavengers," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a professor of entomology at UC Davis. "They only take live insects, particularly caterpillars."
Their menu also includes aphids. "For these wasps, meat is meat," Kimsey said. "Aphids are great because you get steak and dessert at the same time."
One of the scientists who studies European paper wasps is Amy Toth of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, who coined and popularized the Twitter hashtag #wasplove. We've heard her deliver several presentations at the University of California, Davis, and we once asked her to list what she loves about wasps. Her answers are worth repeating! (See more information on a Bug Squad blog)
- They are pollinators
- They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants
- They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
- They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
- They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
- Their social behavior, in my opinion, is the most human-like of any insect. They know each other as individuals, and are great cooperators overall, but there is an undercurrent of selfishness to their behavior,
- They are artists. They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
- They are extremely intelligent. They're predators, architects, good navigators, and great learners. Among insects, they have large brains, especially the mushroom bodies (learning/memory and cognition area of insect brain).
- They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!
And to that, we add: European paper wasps are quite photogenic--just don't move around like paparazzi.
On a chance encounter, Quincy Hansen of Arvada, Colo., and Noah Crockette of Sacramento, both recipients of the global Coleopterists Society's Youth Incentive Awards, recently met for the first time. Beetle mania reigned. Reigned supreme.
Quincy, 15, won the 2016 Coleopterists Society Award, junior category, and Noah, 18, won the 2015 Coleopterists Society Award, senior category. The society launched the awards program in 1989 “to recognize young people (grades 7-12) studying beetles.”
Quincy was at UC Davis to try out for a spot on the U.S. Under 16 National Football Team roster. “If I make the team, I'll be playing football internationally for the United States,” he related. “While I was at UC Davis, I wasn't going to miss the chance to check out the entomology department and the Bohart Museum, so I stopped by.”
Said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator: “He knew all about Noah, so there was a little hero worship.”
Quincy, a 10th grader this fall at Faith Christian Academy High School, Arvada, submitted his successful grant proposal on “Survey of Coccinellidae of Adams County Colorado: Species Population Density, Seasonality, Weather Effects, Etc., Especially in Agricultural Areas.” He said his grant involves “seeing how they change throughout the summer in the presence of different variables.”
Noah's grant proposal was titled “Survey of the Dung Beetles of Stann Creek, Belize.”
Both Quincy and Noah have been interested in insects as long as they can remember.
Said Noah: “I have always been interested in bugs but my interest in entomology started in sixth grade. “I mostly became interested in insects through my internship at the Bohart and participating in the undergraduate UC Davis Entomology Club (open to all interested persons). Before then I had only known that I was interested in zoology and started going to the Ent Club after learning about it from talking to (UC Davis forensic entomologist and club advisor) Robert “Bob” Kimsey at UC Davis Picnic Day. After attending the club for awhile, Danielle Wishon (club president and entomology major) and Bob got me connected with the Bohart to start the internship from which my interest grew.”
Noah, a 2017 graduate of The Met Sacramento High School, plans to enroll in Cornell in the fall of 2018. “They gave me a one-year transfer contract so I am now spending a year at community college until I can go to Cornell in the fall of 2018,” he said. “I'm not sure exactly what I want to do career wise yet. I know for sure I want to major in entomology at Cornell. After that, I think that I would like to continue on with entomology and work in research. I also really love venom so I have also thought about going into venom research but would like to grow more familiar with it before considering it more.”
What are some of the things they've done, in and out of entomology?
Noah served as an intern for the past seven years at the Bohart Museum. He's collected insects twice in Belize on Bohart-affiliated collecting trips “where I was able to get field work experience in entomology as well as herpetology and ornithology.” The trips were led by Fran Keller, assistant professor, Folsom Lake College, and David Wyatt, an entomology professor at Sacramento City College. Keller, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis mentored Noah and showed him the ropes--along with the bugs, bats, butterflies, birds and frogs.
“My last trip to Belize was when I completed my Coleopterists Society project in which I designed and constructed 12 baited pitfall traps which I used to survey the dung beetle species on the property as well as determine their preferred bait, between human feces, pig feces, chicken manure, rotten chicken, and rotten fruit,” Noah said.
Noah's other endeavors: “I've also gotten the chance to teach an entomology class to elementary students during my freshman year and organize a museum day at Shriners Hospital for Cildren for my senior project.”
Outside of entomology, Noah's interests include hiking, kayaking and birdwatching. “I really love the outdoors,” he said. “Last year after my trip to Belize I was also given the opportunity through my school to go on a month-long backpacking and kayaking trip through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Alaska. I also played rugby for C.K. McClatchy High School during my senior year which was a fun experience and I now plan on continuing with the sport. At home I like to keep reptiles and invertebrates--mostly tarantulas--as pets and enjoy collecting zoology related books and objects.”
Do they have a favorite insect?
“That's a hard one,” said Quincy. “I have several that I might consider my favorite, but at the moment I'm going to say that Asbolus verrucosus - the blue death-feigning beetle, is my favorite insect.”
And Noah? “I have a tendency towards scarab beetles. I particularly like the tribe Cyclocephalini, the masked chafer beetles. “I really like that they are a Dynastines like the Hercules beetles but lack any sort of horns or other glitzy features. Even though they are small and brown, I love the subtle beauty of the markings which remind me of the Rorschach ink tests.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, plans to include "The Beetle Boys' encounter at the Bohart" in her news newsletter. Coincidentally, her major professor, the late Richard M. Bohart, for whom the Bohart Museum is named, also played football--on the UC Berkeley team.
Commenting on the meeting at the Bohart: “Noah was kind enough to show me through the massive beetle collection UC Davis possesses,” Quincy said. “I feel like we bonded pretty well over a shared interest in insects, and I think we both had a good time sharing information and checking out the specimens. When we'd had our fill looking through everything from Lycids to Lucanids we moved our attention to non-beetle insects. We had a pretty good time, and Noah was, of course, very knowledgeable and kind.”
Noah delighted in meeting a fellow beetle enthusiast. “At first it was surprising to me that he knew who I am and that he was familiar with my scarab work in Belize. As I talked to Quincy more, I became very impressed with his knowledge and passion for entomology. I helped him look through the collection, and I could see how much he loves the science from the evident fact that he has studied and practiced entomology driven purely by his own interest.”
“He was very familiar with many of the groups I showed him even though he had not necessarily seen them before which further proved his continuous study of the field. Back when I applied to the Coleopterist Society Youth Incentive Award, I wondered what other high schoolers would have the interest or familiarity with the society to apply for the award," Noah said. "Meeting Quincy, I finally got to see who else would apply to the grant. I am glad to see that there are other young students who choose to immerse themselves in the field of insect research that I have learned to love so much. I am sure he will do great on his project and succeed in his future goals in the field.”
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, said the Coleopterists Society's awards should encourage other youth to apply. Recipients hail from all over the world, from California to Kenya. The organization pledges to provide up to $600 each year.
The objectives of the Youth Incentive Award, as listed on the society's website, are to:
- provide encouragement and assistance to young beetle enthusiasts (grades 7-12).
- promote the study of beetles, the most diverse group of insects, as a rewarding lifelong avocation or career.
- provide opportunities for young people to develop important life skills such as leadership, cooperation, communication, planning and conducting a scientific study, grant writing and managing funds.
- provide some financial support to enrich activities or projects.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday night, July 22, promises to be a fun and educational event. It's free and open to the public.
The open house, celebrating National Moth Week, will take place from 8 to 11 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, and also outside, where two blacklight traps will be set up to collect moths and other insects. The event is free and open to the public and is family friendly.
A $75,000 scanning electron microscope, on loan from Hitachi Corp. for research and outreach, will be available for visitors to see moth scales and other insect parts.
Bohart Museum senior scientist Steve Heydon and two Bohart associates "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis and naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas of Davis will set up the light traps and answer questions. Bohart associate Jeff Smith of Sacramento, who curates the butterfly and moth specimens, will field questions about moths and butterflies and show specimens from around the world.
The family craft activity will be to make a moth-shaped window ornament resembling stained glass, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. Free refreshments--hot chocolate, herbal tea and cookies--will be served. Common Grounds of Davis is donating part of the refreshments.
On permanent display is the Trump moth, Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, a relatively new species that Bohart Museum scientists collected at Algodones Dunes, bordering Arizona and the Mexican state of Baja California. Evolutionary biologist and systematist Vazrick Nazari of Canada named it donaldtrumpi because the yellow scales on the tiny moth's head reminded him of the hairstyle of Donald Trump, then president-elect. The orange-yellow moth has a wingspan of less than one centimeter.
Nazari published the piece on the Trump moth Jan. 17, 2016 in the journal Zookeys and explained the name: “The reason for this choice of names is to bring wider public attention to the need to continue protecting fragile habitats in the U.S. that still contain many undescribed species." The Neopalpa donaldtrumpi belongs to the family, Gelechiidae of the Lepitoptera order.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, houses nearly eight million specimens; a year-around gift shop; and a live "petting zoo," including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and orchid praing mantis and tarantulas.
For more information on the open house, email email@example.com or call (530) 752-0493.
The event, to take place from 8 to 11 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is free and open to the public. The blacklighting demonstration will occur after sundown.
National Moth Week, set July 22-30, celebrates the beauty, life cycles, and habitats of moths.
Bohart Museum scientists will be on hand to discuss moths and answer questions. They include Bohart associate and entomologist Jeff Smith of Sacramento, who curates the moth and butterfly specimens. Also expected: "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis of Davis and Bohart senior museum scientist Steve Heydon who traditionally set up the blacklighting sysem and identify the insects.
The Trump moth, Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, is a relatively new species that Bohart Museum scientists collected at Algodones Dunes, bordering Arizona and the Mexican state of Baja California. Evolutionary biologist and systematist Vazrick Nazari of Canada named it donaldtrumpi because the yellow scales on the tiny moth's head reminded him of the hairstyle of Donald Trump, then president-elect. The orange-yellow moth has a wingspan of less than one centimeter.
Nazari published the piece on the Trump moth Jan. 17, 2016 in the journal Zookeys and explained the name: “The reason for this choice of names is to bring wider public attention to the need to continue protecting fragile habitats in the U.S. that still contain many undescribed species."
The Neopalpa donaldtrumpi belongs to the family, Gelechiidae of the Lepitoptera order.
Three Trump moths were collected in a Malaise trap in one of the washes on the east side of the dunes. In a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Bohart scientists have collected nearly 2,000 species of insects from about 200 square miles of sand, according to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis. Some six percent are new to science.
Of the Trump moths collected, Nazari kept one in Canada, the norm--but the holotype, the one he determined as the standard for the species--is a permanent part of the Boohart, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
Naming species for people--from citizens to celebrities to presidents to other public figures--is common. President Barack Obama has nine species named for him (more than any other president). His namesakes include a long-legged, resourceful Northern California spider, Aptostichus barackobamai, and a colorful spangled darner, a perchlike fish, Etheostoma obama.
The Bohart Museum offers a biolegacy program in which donors can select a species for naming, and receive a framed photo and documentation (publication). The Bohart Museum scientists describe as many as 15 new species annually, and their associates, "many more," Kimsey says.
For more information on the open house or the Bohart's biolegacy program, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 752-0493.
"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.