But have you ever heard of a song featuring the three-cornered alfalfa hopper, Spissistilus festinus, and another one spotlighting the male insect organ, the aedeagus?
And composed by a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, and performed by seven insect-attired UC Davis doctoral students?
That's what happened during the recent UC Davis Picnic Day celebration when the septet gathered in front of Briggs Hall to perform three songs composed by talented musician and entomologist Michael Bollinger, enrolled in the master's degree program, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The group performed Bollinger's compositions, “E Major Homeboy (Spissistilus festinus),” “Tragedy (of the Clocks)," and "Jackson's Song (Aedeagal Bits)," as well as a cover song, “Island in the Sun” by Weezer.
The performance went well. Very well. So did Picnic Day.
“My goal was to make sure Picnic Day worked overall, and that, for the band, the sounds were balanced and each of the elements could be heard,” said emcee and band member Brendon Boudinot, president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA) and a doctoral candidate specializing in ant evolution and classification.
The “Entomology at UC Davis” exhibit at Briggs Hall, the work of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won the campuswide “At One With Nature” category. And the band? It drew loud applause and high praise from the standing crowd.
Their name: “The Entomology Band.” (No take-offs of the iconic “Beatles,” “Buddy Holly and the Crickets” or “Adam and the Ants.”)
Bollinger's original songs capped a day of insect-related activities that included maggot art, cockroach races, nematode identification, scavenger hunts, and honey tasting.
- Molecular geneticist and drummer Yao “Fruit Fly” Cai of the Joanna Chiu lab, dressed in a fruit fly costume, Drosophila melanogaster, which he described as “our favorite model organism in Insecta!”
- Bark beetle specialist and rhythm guitarist Jackson “Darth Beetle” Audley of the Steve Seybold lab, portrayed an Asian longhorned beetle, Anoplophora glabripennis
- Honey bee researcher and bass guitarist Wei “Silverfish” Lin of the Brian Johnson lab, wore a costume that celebrated his moniker, Lepisma saccharina, a small, wingless insect in the order Zygentoma
- Ant specialist and keyboard artist Zachary “Leptanilla” Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, dressed as “a generic male leptanilline ant (Formicidae: Leptanillinae).” He said: “The yellow color “is not anywhere near so vivid in real life.”
- Systematist and tenor saxophonist Jill “Jillus Saximus” Oberski of the Phil Ward lab, dressed as a “generalized heteropteran,” which she described as “most likely a member of the family Acanthosomatidae (shield bug) or Pentatomidae (stink bug). My family and friends have called me Jillybug, so I came to be the band's representative of Hemiptera.”
- Molecular geneticist and vocalist Christine “The Clock” Tabuloc of the Joanna Chiu lab, wrapped herself in butterfly wings
- Ant specialist and bass guitarist Brendon “Hype Man-tis” Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, dressed in a green helmet, a blue and gold EGSA bee shirt and a UC Davis cow costume to showcase his department and campus-wide love of bovines.
The seven band members share a love of music.
Drummer Yao Cai, who grew up in Southeast China and holds an undergraduate degree in plant protection and a master's degree from China Agricultural University, has been playing drums since age 17. “We formed as a short-lived band for a show. After that, I realized that I really wanted to keep playing and improved my drum techniques. Thus, we started another band in college and played for six years in college, as an undergrad and graduate student.
“We were all agriculture-related majors and we mainly wrote original songs,” recalled Cai. The campus concerts sometimes drew a thousand spectators. “After we graduated from graduate school, we stopped. I really missed the time playing drums with folks since I came to UC Davis. Fortunately, after a ‘gap year,' Jackson, Michael and I started jamming in September 2017. Later on, our current talented members joined.”
“It is very interesting that I was in a band that was the first band in Department of Entomology in China Agricultural University and now we started the first band in Department of Entomology at UC Davis.”
Rhythm guitarist Jackson Audley said he “started learning to play the guitar when I was about 11-12 ish. The first band I joined was a Blink-182 cover band, in which I played the bass guitar, and we played together for most of eighth grade. Then in early high school I joined a Smashing Pumpkins/Radiohead cover band as the second guitarist. Shortly after joining that band, we started making predominantly original music. By the end of high school, we had played a few small shows around the Atlanta area and had recorded a few songs. Unfortunately, the band did not survive the transition into university and we broke up.”
Since then he's mostly played “for fun and I like to jam with folks.”
Jill Oberski, a native of Twin Cities, grew up mostly in Chaska, Minn., “a sleepy suburb of Minnesota.” She received her bachelor's degree in Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn., where she double-majored in biology and German studies.
“I started playing the piano in kindergarten, and switched to saxophone in fifth grade,” Oberski related. “I played classical and jazz in my school bands from sixth grade through college, and pit orchestra / pep band / marching band in high school as well. I've always been better at classical than rock/jazz/Latin.”
“I probably reached my highest point in late high school, when I served as co-section leader for the saxes in the Minnesota all-state symphonic band--we even got to play a concert in Minneapolis' orchestra hall. These days I'm only involved in the entomology band and some very casual ukulele playing.”
Brendon Boudinot, who received his bachelor's degree in entomology at the Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., performed on a metallic sky-blue bass. “I just love art,” he said. “Music is a family thing for me in a number of different ways. Although I have played instruments alone or in groups for many years, nothing really clicked in me until I heard Michael and Yao play together. They shred.”
“The Entomology Band is special to me, and I am just glad I could be a part of it.”
Vocalist Christine Anne Tabuloc, who grew up in the Los Angeles area and received her bachelor's degree from UC Davis in biochemistry and molecular biology, says she does not play an instrument. “I'm far less talented than everyone else in the group,” she quipped. “I've been singing for as long as I can remember. I've been writing lyrics since elementary school. However, I never got around to getting music written for them. I was in choir before and have had solos but that's pretty much it.”
Bass guitarist Wei Lin, who grew up in Xiamen, "a beautiful island in southern China," received his bachelor's and master's degree in China Agricultural University, majoring in plant protection and entomology. “This was my first experience in a band. I just started to learn bass last year when this band was built.”
Following the four-set gig, Boudinot told the appreciative crowd, “That's all we know!”
Pending performances? “The band,” he said, “is on hiatus.”
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology won two of the six special exhibit awards given at the 104th annual UC Davis Picnic Day, held April 21.
“Entomology at UC Davis (122 Briggs Hall) swept the category, “One with Nature,” while the Bohart Museum of Entomology won the wildcard award with its “Hidden Insects: Where the Sun DOESN'T Shine.”
The Picnic Day, themed, “Where the Sun Shines,” encompassed more than 200 exhibits or events throughout the campus. Popular vote determined the award recipients.
Other winners were:
Hunger Fix category: “Cool Science of Ice Cream” in the Mondavi Institute South Building Courtyard, where visitors could learn about and taste ice cream made by the UC Davis Pilot Plant
Earth and Engineering category: “Flight Simulator and Aerospace Displays”, the work of the Center for Human/Robotics/Vehicle Integration and Performance and held in in Academic Surge Building 1113
Taking Center Stage category: “Lord of the Strings,” physics demonstrations in Roessler Hall 66
Arts and Humanities category: “Musical Expedition” featuring the joy of music and hands-on experiences with musical instruments and jam sessions at a site outside the Music Building.
Coordinating the events at Briggs Hall were forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey and doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab and president of the Entomology Graduate Students' Association. Heading the activities at the Bohart Museum were director Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology, and Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
Activities within 122 Briggs Hall included Virtual Reality Bugs by UC Davis medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo; the Dr. Death (forensic) table featuring forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey; entomological forestry displays, medical entomology displays showcasing different species of mosquitoes; ant displays from the Phil Ward lab; a honey bee display providing comparisons of meals with and without the aid of pollinators and tools of the trade, including beekeeping supplies; and nine spectacular or “oh, my” drawers of insect specimens, primarily bees, beetles, butterflies. from the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Other activities at Briggs Hall, either inside the atrium, in an adjoining room, or fronting the building, included maggot art, cockroach races, honey tasting, Bug Doctor booth, Integrated Pest Management table, Sacramento Yolo-Mosquito and Vector Control district booth, Davis Fly Fishers, scavenger hunt, insect face painting, t-shirt sales and a bake sale.
The Entomology Graduate Students' Association organized and ran most of the displays, while undergraduates in the UC Davis Entomology Club staffed their own displays (sold mantises, carnivorous plants, mealworm cookies) and did face paintings, Boudinot said. Students, faculty, and staff participated.
A performance by the Entomology Band, with three original tunes composed by Michael Bollinger of the Frank Zalom lab, ended the daylong activities at Briggs. The band included Jackson Audley of the Steve Seybold lab, rhythm guitar; Wei Lin of the Brian Johnson lab, bass guitar; Yao Cai, drums and Christine Tabuloc, vocals, both of the Joanna Chiu lab; and Zachary keyboards; Jill Oberski; tenor saxophone; and Brendon Boudinot, bass guitar, all of the Phil Ward lab. Dressed in insect costumes, they performed four tunes
For its open house offerings, "Where the Sun DOESN'T Shine," The Bohart Museum highlighted nocturnal insects, cave dwelling insects, and beaver butt beetles or Platypsyllus castoris, an ectoparasite on beavers. Visitors also held live tarantulas, with entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the butterfly and moth section, engaging the crowd and supervising the activity. The Bohart, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, houses some 8 million insect specimens, plus a live “petting zoo” and a year-around gift shop.
Doctoral candidate and nematologist Corwin Parker of the Steve Nadler lab won the Picnic Day design with his illustration of a bee barbecuing.
And an ant design for a onesie, “My Sister Loves Me,” by doctoral student and ant specialist Jill Oberski of the Ward lab rounds out the winners' circle.
Boudinot, a fourth-year doctoral student and president of EGSA, said the ant featured on his design “is a minor worker of the Drogon ant and described recently by our post-doc Eli Sarnat." Sarnat, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 2009, is now a post-doctorate researcher in the Okinawa Instituite of Science and Technology in the Economo lab. The ant in Boudinot's design is based on Sarnat's work, published in AntWiki and in The Guardian.
Oberski's adult ant is “loosely based on Ochetellus, a mostly-Australian genus.” After admiring an image taken by Alex Wild, also a Phil Ward lab alumnus (doctorate in entomology in 2005) and “I went from there.” Wild, a renowned macro photographer, is the curator of Entomology at the University of Texas/Austin.
The winning T-shirts and other previous winners can be ordered online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/ and also will be available at Briggs Hall on April 21 at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day and future Picnic Days. Doctoral student and medical entomologist Olivia Winokur of the Chris Barker lab, serves as treasurer of EGSA and t-shirt sales coordinator. She may be reached for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The EGSA is comprised of UC Davis graduate students who study insect systems. Its 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. The officers, in addition to Brendon Boudinot, are Emily Bick of the Christian Nansen lab, vice president; Maureen Page of the Neal Williams lab, secretary; Olivia Winokur of the Chris Barker lab, treasurer; and two Graduate Student Association representatives, Charlotte Herbert of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and Nick Booster of the Jay Rosenheim lab.
The seminars begin Jan. 10 and will continue through March 14. All will take place on Wednesdays from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
The schedule (subject to change):
Jan. 10: Amy Morrison, UC Davis epidemiologist, project scientist and scientific director of the Naval Medical Research Unit No. 6 (NAMRU-6) Iquitos Laboratory. Topic: "Targeting Aedes Aegypti Adults for Dengue Control: Infection Experiments and Vector Control in Iquitos."
Jan. 17: Fiona Goggin, professor of entomology, University of Arkansas and a UC Davis alumnus. Topic: “Molecular and Phenomic Approaches to Study Plant Defenses against Insects and Nematodes."
Jan. 24: David Gonthier, postdoctoral fellow, Clare Kremen lab, UC Berkeley. Topic: to be announced. His primary research objective is to understand the importance of biodiversity across natural and managed ecosystems.
Jan. 31: Amanda Hodson, UC Davis postdoctoral fellow and assistant professional researcher with Louise Jackson's Soil Ecology Lab, UC Davis. Topic: "Molecular Detection and Integrated Management of Plant Parasitic Nematodes." Her research interests include soil ecology, integrated pest management and ecological intensification of agricultural systems.
Feb. 7: Marm Kilpatrick, assistant professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz. Topic: to be announced. He studies ecology of infectious diseases and population biology. His research "unites theory and empirical work to address basic and applied questions on the ecology of infectious diseases as well as population biology, evolution, climate, behavior, genetics, and conservation."
Feb. 14: Maj Rundlöf of Lund University, Sweden, a visiting International Career Grant (INCA) fellow in the Neal Williams lab, will speak on “Pesticide Exposure and Flower Resources as Drivers of Bumble Bee Diversity in Agricultural Landscapes"
Feb. 21: Kerry Mauck, assistant professor of entomology, UC Riverside, will speak on “How Plant Viruses Use Chemistry to Manipulate Hosts and Vectors." She studies insect vector behavior, plant-pathogen interactions, chemical ecology, and integrated disease management.
Feb. 28: Brendon Boudinot, Ph.D candidate in the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will speak on "Phylogenetic Morphology of the Big-Eyed Tree Ants and Kin (Formicidae: Pseudomyrmecinae)."
March 7: John Tooker, associate professor of entomology and Extension specialist, Department of Entomology, Pennsylvania State. Topic: to be announced. His areas of expertise include insect ecology, plant-insect interactions, conservation biological control, chemical ecology and gall insects.
March 14: Alvaro Acosta-Serrano, senior lecturer, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Topic: to be announced. His research focuses on fundamental aspects of the biology of kinetoplastid parasites and their vectors, and on developing molecular tools to control and prevent parasite transmission in disease-endemic areas.
Sarah Silverman, a doctoral candidate who is studying insect demography at UC Davis with major professor James R. Carey, won a second-place award in her category.
Boudinot, who studies classification and evolution of morphology, delivered a 10-minute oral presentation in the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section on "The Protopodal Theory of Genitalic Evolution in the Hexapoda (Arthropoda: Mandibulata: Pancrustacea)."
Boudinot completed his undergraduate work at the Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., and spent a year working as a research technician at the University of Utah before starting his graduate work in 2014 with advisor Phil Ward. He focuses his research on evolution and ecology, approached from the perspective of systematics. “I integrate several lines of inquiry to answer historical evolutionary questions, including morphological and molecular phylogenetics, paleontology, and traditional comparative morphology,” Boudinot related. “I specialize on the skeletomusculature system of the male genitalia of the Hexapoda and the classification of the Formicoidea.”
Silverman gave a 10-minute oral presentation in the Diptera-Mosquitoes category of the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Section, on “Population as Cohort: Interpreting the Mortality Patterns of Wild-Caught Adult Mosquitoes of Unknown Ages.”
Silverman completed her bachelor's degree in environmental science at McGill University in Montreal. For her undergraduate thesis, she studied the phenology of wild Osmia bees. Her work at UC Davis is in the field of insect demography. “I specifically study insect lifespan in the wild, as well as the the age-structure of insect populations in the wild using an innovative methodological approach: the capture of live-insects in the wild which are then maintained and observed in the lab until death,” she said.
At its annual meetings, the ESA offers graduate students the opportunity to present their research and win coveted prizes. The first-place President's Prize recipient receives a one-year free membership in ESA, a $75 cash prize, and a certificate. The second-place winner receives a one-year free membership in ESA and a certificate.
The oral presentations are evaluated on scientific content (50 percent) and presentation (50 percent). For scientific content, judges score them on introduction and background with pertinent literature cited; objectives clearly stated and concise; materials and methods (study design) clear and concise; results and discussion clear, concise and accurate; and significance of results to field of study. Judges evaluation the presentation on organization, slides and delivery.
Boudinot's previous President's Prizes were for work on the male genitalia of ants, and for providing the first male-based identification material for the ant genera of the New World.
Ants are highly diverse, with over 13,000 known species, Boudinot said. "They are, however, but one stitch in the diversity of all insects, and we are entering a new era for the study of morphology in the 21st century."
The genitalia of male insects are fascinating, he said. "Both male and female insect genitalia are derived from the appendages of a pair of abdominal segments. Evidence from the skeletomusculature indicates that these structures are really legs of a crustacean ancestor that have been modified for numerous reproductive tasks--from copulation and insemination, to singing and silk-spinning."