But when she began delivering her first-ever presentation at a scientific conference, “I found it quite fun to present my work and see people's excitement.”
Quayle, a first-year doctoral student in the Jason Bond lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, went on to win first place in the doctoral student competition at the annual meeting of the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), held recently in Seattle. The organization encompasses 11 Western states, plus Canada, Mexico and U.S. territories.
Quayle discussed her research, “Colorless but Never Dull: Unraveling Population Genetics and Color Evolution in ‘White' Darkling Beetles (Onymacris).”
“It was a really great conference with a lot of interesting talks,” Quayle said, “so I feel very honored to have placed first in the Ph.D student competition.”
“Iris has hit the ground running in all respects," said Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Winning the student paper award, the first time ever presenting her research, reflects her exceptional capabilities as a scientist and as a future professor and teacher. Iris comes from a non-traditional STEM background and it is exactly those experiences that will continue to contribute to her success as she evolves as a scientist. I predict that this is only a prelude of things to come.”
Quayle is focusing her dissertation on the evolutionary relationships and color/trait evolution in Onymacris. “This genus displays a lot of phenotypically and behaviorally charismatic traits and I am excited for my dissertation research to expand and grow in the next few years,” she said.
In her talk, Quayle noted that Tenebrionidae (darkling beetles) comprise “more than 80 percent of all known beetle species in the Namib, where the genus Onymacris contains a rarity unexpected from aptly named darkling beetles--the presence of several species with striking ‘white' elytra (wing sheaths).”
“A known history of hybridization, strong inclination towards polytypic taxa, and paraphyletic status with another genus reveals that coloration and speciation in Onymacris is anything but straightforward,” said Quayle, who is examining “the phylogenetic relationships between white Onymacris species to determine whether multiple derivations of pure white elytra is due to convergence or introgression.”
In her population genomic analysis, Quayle extracted DNA from all white Onymacris, using additional specimens for the four species with the largest geographical ranges (O. marginipennis, O. bicolor, O. candidipennis, O. langi cornelii).
“Studying the population structure and genomic components leading to white coloration highlights behavioral and ecological adaptations of organisms to an arid environment which is increasingly vital in the face of global trends towards aridity,” she told the group.
Quayle fielded several questions about the potential ecological pressures that may be driving diverse coloration. She noted that the darkest of white species (O. marginipennis which is brown and striped) is found primarily on vegetated hummocks, while all white species (O. candidipennis and O. bicolor) are found only on sandy coastal dunes with no vegetation.
Quayle served a year as a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Post-Baccalaureate Students (NSF-REPS) in the Bond lab before being accepted into the doctoral program in 2022. “I'm so grateful that I've been able to start this work early in my first year as a Ph.D. student,” she said.
Quayle, who grew up in Paradise, Calif., holds an associate of science degree in biology from Sacramento City College. Formerly known as Iris Bright, she received her bachelor of fine arts degree (creative writing and literature) in the honors program from Emerson College, Boston, Mass., in 2015 before switching to science. Fascinated with insects in her early childhood, she began collecting specimens at age 7. Her grandfather was an amateur entomologist.
Her career plans? Becoming a professor “so I can do further research and also share my passion and interests with the next generations!”
In lekking, certain species of males in the animal world, including black grouse, peacock and owl parrots, congregate in a courtship ritual to entice females to mate with them. This is unusual because spiders are notoriously solitary and cannibalistic.
Two UC Davis spider experts played a key role in analyzing the genetics of this spider. The new species is an orb weaver named Isoxya manangona. Its species name is derived from the Malagasy verb meaning to "gather" or "aggregate."
Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and project scientist James Starrett headed the genetic analysis. The research paper was recently published in the journal, Insect Systematics and Diversity.
“This paper is significant in a number of respects including the discovery of a new species of orb web-weaving spider that is social; most spiders are solitary predators that are cannibalistic,” said Bond, who doubles as associate dean, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “Although additional behavioral studies are needed to confirm, what is particularly interesting about this paper is that we report what is likely the first known observation of lekking behavior in spiders.”
Ingi Agnarsson, a professor of zoology at the University of Iceland and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., headed the international team of researchers.
While looking for bark spiders in the rainforests of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, the scientists observed large colonies of interconnected webs, built by what they later determined to be a new species.
In examining the webs, the researchers noticed multiple males gathering close together, sometimes touching, in a central, nonsticking line. They counted up to 41 interconnected, single-cohort adult female webs with up to 38 adult males aggregating on a central, single, nonsticky line.
In all, their mile-long research area yielded 22 spider colonies, ranging from 2 to 79 spiders in webs two inches to almost eight inches in size. The spiders are dark gray with black coloring and large protruding spines. The females are about 0.2 inches in size, with “cryptic yellow markings.” The males are smaller but with no yellow markings.
“Spiders are notoriously solitary and cannibalistic, with instances of colonial or social lifestyles in only about 50-60, or ~0.1% of 50,000 described species,” the authors wrote in their abstract. “Population analyses indicate that most colonies consist of multiple cohorts formed by close relatives. Territorial social spiders facultatively form colonies by interlinking individual webs, but further cooperation is infrequent, and only among juveniles or (rarely) females. In spiders therefore, aggregations of males outside of the male-male competition context has been unknown.”
The researchers noted that the males were “resting tightly together,” but they found “no evidence” of male-male aggression. “Genetic analyses from RAD sequencing suggest that most colonies consist of unrelated individuals,” they wrote in their abstract. “Furthermore, genetic variability of males was somewhat less than that of females. Single cohort colonies made up purely of adults, and peaceful male aggregations, have not previously been observed in spiders. Although direct behavioral observations are preliminary, we speculate based on the available evidence that these colonies may represent a novel and first case of lekking in spiders.”
Since it was near the end of the field season, the researchers had no opportunity for more observations, and never witnessed mating.
Other co-authors of the paper are Zachary Babbitz of Boston College, Matjaž Gregoric of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Onjaherizo Christian Raberahona of the University of Madagascar; Steven Williams, Oxford Brookes University, UK, and Matjaž Kuntner of the Smithsonian Institution.
Starrett, who joined the Bond lab in 2018, holds a doctorate in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics from UC Riverside. He is a former postdoctoral fellow (2016-2018) in the Jason Bond lab at Auburn University. Professor Bond joined the UC Davis faculty in 2018 from Auburn University, where he directed its Museum of Natural History (2011–2016), and served as professor and chair of the Auburn Department of Biological Sciences (2016–2018).
It's a myth. There are no established populations of Loxoceles reclusa in California, doctoral candidates Emma Jochim and Xavier Zahnle of the Jason Bond arachnology lab related during their 30-minute mythbusting at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, "Many Legged-Wonders," on Saturday, March 18. First-year doctoral student Iris Quayle of the Bond lab moderated the session.
They study with their major professor Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Jochim related that a person claiming to have been bitten by a brow recluse spider in California may have recently returned from a state where they are established or that they handled one that was shipped from that area.
That brings to mind the research of Rick Vetter of UC Riverside and his piece on "Myth of the Brown Recluse: Fact, Fear and Loathing."
"This website presents evidence for the lack of brown recluse spiders as part of the Californian spider fauna. Unfortunately, this contradicts what most Californians believe; beliefs that are born out of media-driven hyperbole and erroneous, anxiety-filled public hearsay which is further compounded by medical misdiagnoses. Although people are free to disagree, this opinion has come about after more than two decades of constant research resulting in many publications in the scientific and medical literature."
Vitter goes on to say: "Spiders are one group of arthropods that are very well known by the common person yet are terribly misunderstood; because of the rare occasion of a deleterious venom incident, almost all spiders are lumped into the category of 'squish first and ask questions later.' There are remarkably few spiders in California that are capable of causing injuries via biting. Overall, spiders are beneficial to humans in that they eat many pestiferous insects that either infest our foods (many phytophagous insects), are vectors of disease (flies, mosquitoes) or are aesthetically-challenged (cockroaches, earwigs). Unfortunately, humans have a low tolerance for spiders in their homes, either because spiders are symbols of danger, unkemptness or arachnophobia. One of the first steps one should take in dealing with these critters should be to identify them properly before blasting them with pesticide and/or getting hysterical."
Meanwhile, listen to UC Davis arachnologists:
Said one attendee: "Dr. Rick Vetter at U. C. Riverside fought the battle for the truth for decades and finally pretty much threw up his hands in defeat. He just couldn't get the media or California medical profession to stop claiming the Brown Recluse is HERE and diagnosing every little spot or open sore as a spider bite. My opinion is that people LIKE to think they were bitten by a brown recluse and wear it as a badge of honor. So much more thrilling than saying bacteria infection.”
"I just got bit by a brown recluse spider in California."
No, you didn't--unless you recently returned from a state where they are established or handled one shipped from that area. There are no established populations of Loxoceles reclusa in California.
So said doctoral candidates Emma Jochim and Xavier Zahnle of the Jason Bond arachnology lab when they dispelled myths in their 30-minute, family friendly session about arachnids at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, "Many Legged-Wonders," on Saturday, March 18. First-year doctoral student Iris Quayle of the Bond lab moderated the session. Their major professor, Jason Bond, is the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Jochim and Zahnle covered scores of myths. Here are their answers (abbreviated and shared here by Iris Quayle)
Myth: Arachnids and myriapods are insects.
Answer: No, they're not insects. You can tell them apart by the number of body segments and legs. Arachnids have two body segments and 4 pairs of legs. Insects have 3 body segments and 3 pairs of legs, and myriapods have lots of body segments with either one or two pairs of legs per segment.
Myth: Millipedes have 1000 legs and centipedes have 100 legs.
Answer: Only one recently (2021) species of millipedes has 1000 legs, actually 1300 plus, and that is Eumillipes persephone from Australia. Many soil centipedes have more than 100 legs.
Myth: Camel spiders can jump 4 to 6 feet straight up and eat the stomachs of camels.
Answer: Most solifugid species are 2-3 inches in length and definitely cannot bite into hard camel hide. They can have a bit of a bite for humans, but have no venom, though.
Myth: These are all daddy long legs (image shown of a harvester, crane fly, and cellar spider).
Answer: This depends on where you are from regionally. They all are referred to as "daddy long legs." Also, the myth of daddy long legs being super venomous is false as being dangerous to humans. Of this group, only the Pholcids (cellar spiders) have venom. The venom of cellar spiders can kill insects but is too weak to bother humans; their venom composition is very weak.
Myth: Black widows get their name because females always cannibalize males after mating.
Answer: That is why they got their name, but they are not the only spiders who do this. It is actually quite common fpr a a male to offer a nuptial gift in the form of a fly or other food source to deter the female from devouring him.
Myth: This creature (image of an amblypygid shown) exists only in the fictional world of Harry Potter.
Answer: Amblypygids are very real and are arachnids, but not spiders.
Myth: You consume eight spiders in your sleep every year.
Answer: It's highly unlikely that you will ever consume any in your sleep.
Myth: Every tick will give you a deadly disease
Answer: Ticks are vectors for lots of diseases. Here in California only the blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease.
Myth: Baby scorpions are deadlier than adults.
Answer: No, they do not produce enough to be deadly.
Myth: Both millipedes and centipedes bite.
Answer: Only centipedes bite and they are venomous.
Statements for the Audience: True or false?
The audience was invited to call out the answers.
Statement: There are spiders that can spit silk out of their mouth.
Answer: True. The family Scytodidae spit silk as well as produce silk though their spinnerets. Used for mating and prey capture.
Statement: Maternal care can be seen in some arachnids and myriapods.
Answer: True. Many arachnids carry their young on their backs, and myriapods will protect their egg clutch.
Statement: The grasshopper mouse is immune to scorpion venom.
Answer: True. Bark scorpions comprise the majority of its diet.
Statement: Some myriapods and all scorpions fluoresce.
Answer: True, main theories for scorpions are that they use this to communicate in the dark or to warn of predators. Main theory for myriapods is that it is to warn of predators. Some myriapods are eyeless (blind).
Bohart Open House. The Bohart Museum open house, held from 1 to 4 p.m., featured displays of arachnids. Visitors conversed with the scientists and held Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks from the Bohart's live petting zoo. Directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, the Bohart Museum houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus the petting zoo and a gift shop. Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, it is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m. More information is available on the Bohart website at https://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by emailing email@example.com.
Resources on brown recluse spiders (Rick Vetter, UC Riverside)
- How to Identify and Misidentify a Brown Recluse Spider
- Myth of the Brown Recluse: Fact, Fear, and Loathing
- Recluse Spider Map
It featured primarily spiders.
Next week the Bohart Museum is adding more legs. It's hosting an open house themed "Many-Legged Wonders."
The event, free and open to the public, is set from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 18 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
You can expect to see spiders, millipedes, centipedes, scorpions, tarantulas and isopods. And more.
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart announced that doctoral candidates Emma Jochim and Xavier Zahnle of the Jason Bond arachnology lab will dispel myths about spiders and millipedes at a question-and-answer session from 1 to 1:30. Doctoral student Iris Quayle will moderate.
From 1:30 to 4 p.m., will be the general open house with a showing of live animals and specimens. UC Davis student Elijah Shih will display his isopods. A family arts-and-crafts activity is also planned.
Research associate Brittany Kohler, the "zookeeper" of the Bohart petting zoo, says the current residents include:
- Princess Herbert, a Brazilian salmon-pink bird-eating tarantula (Lasiodora parahybana), age estimated to be around 20 (current oldest resident)
- Peaches, a Chilean rose hair tarantula (Grammostola rosea)
- Coco McFluffin, a Chaco golden knee tarantula (Grammostola pulchripes)
Beatrice, a Vietnamese centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes), newest resident
- Two black widows (Latrodectus hesperus)
- One brown widow (Latrodectus geometricus)
Among the other residents are Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a giant cave cockroach, stick insects, a bark scorpion and ironclad beetles.
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus the petting zoo and a gift shop stocked with insect-themed books, posters, jewelry, t-shirts, hoodies and more. Dedicated to "understanding, documenting and communicating terrestrial arthropod diversity," the Bohart Museum was founded in 1946 and named for UC Davis professor and noted entomologist Richard Bohart. The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m.