Of wasps and penny-farthings and holiday gifting

Dec 9, 2015

Quick, what do wasps share in common with penny-farthings and holiday gifting?

Umm, a t-shirt? Right, you nailed it!

If you're trying to find something "buggy" for your friends and family, then you'll want to take a look at the design that won the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Students' Association (EGSA) t-shirt contest.

"Hymenoptera on a Bike" is the work of Stacey Rice, a junior specialist in the lab of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension specialist Larry Godfrey, who is based at UC Davis. Rice researches Bagrada bugs (Bagrada hilaris), an invasive stink bug from Africa known for attacking cole crops, including broccoli, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and mustard.

She is also an artist, and a very creative one at that. So when the EGSA announced its annual t-shirt contest, Rice decided to fuse art with science.

“I wanted to draw a penny-farthing, which is part of the UC Davis culture,” she said. "Then I wanted an insect that would be able to put its abdomen on the seat and have long enough legs to reach the pedals.”

Rice solved the dilemma by creating a “new species” of wasp and winning the contest, as determined by a vote of the department's faculty, staff and students. 

An alumnus of UC Davis, Rice received her bachelor's degree in biological sciences with a minor in veterinary entomology in March 2015. Her goal is to attend graduate school and receive her doctorate, either in integrated pest management or forensic entomology.

She became interested in both fields after enrolling in a “behavioral ecology of insects” course taught by Edwin Lewis, associate dean for agricultural sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and professor and former vice chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

The t-shirt, now available to the public on the EGSA's website, sold well at the Entomological Society of America's recent meeting in Minneapolis. (For more information on the T-shirt and other EGSA t-shirts available, access the online store at http://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad or contact EGSA treasurer Cindy Preto at crpreto@ucdavis.edu. All proceeds benefit EGSA.)

And wasps? Think #wasplove.

When Amy Toth, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, presented a seminar in May to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, she covered her latest research on wasps and her enthusiasm was contagious.

We later asked her to list why she loves wasps (she coined the hashtag, #wasplove), and she obliged:

  1. They are pollinators 
  2. They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants
  3. They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!
  4. They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.
  5. They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.
  6. 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, manifest in nearly constant passive-aggressive interactions between individuals.
  7. They are artists.  They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.
  8. 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).
  9. They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!

And to that list, we add No. 10: wasps are also photogenic!

Especially when they're riding a penny-farthing.  

Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey

Attached Images:

By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist