- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Squirm, maggots, squirm!
If you look behind the scenes of the entomological activities at the 108th annual UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 23 at Briggs Hall, you'll see a Department of Entomology and Nematology doctoral candidate coordinating everything from Roach Races to Maggot Art.
“I'm really excited to get our events up and running again after two years," said Danielle Rutkowski, the UC Davis Graduate Student Association (EGSA) coordinator of the department's Picnic Day activities at Briggs Hall (with forensic entomologist and faculty member Robert Kimsey).
COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the in-person UC Davis Picnic Day in both 2020 and 2021, but not 2022, nor the renewed enthusiasm.
“Coordinating events has been challenging, mostly because I've only been to one in-person Picnic Day myself!" said Rutkowski, who enrolled in the doctoral program in 2018, and is advised by associate professor Rachel Vannette and UC Davis distinguished professor Richard Karban.
"But it's been fun to work with other graduate students and the entomology club to get our exhibits from previous years back together. This is the first Picnic Day for many students in the department, so I want to make sure it's a fun experience for volunteers as well as visitors.”
Entomological activities at Briggs Hall will include Bug Doctor and Doctor Death booths; displays featuring honey bees, ants, mosquitoes, integrated pest management, forest entomology, medical entomology and agricultural entomology; and EGSA's insect-themed t-shirt sales, as well as the crowd-pleasing Roach Races and Maggot Art. And more. (See schedule at Briggs and Bohart Museum of Entomology.)
“The Roach Races are a definite favorite of the public; they're really high energy and a lot of fun," Rutkowski said. "And the (American) roaches are from a colony that the entomology club cares for, so they can return home after a hard day of racing. Maggot Art is another popular event among visitors, and we order the maggots from a bait supplier.”
Rutkowski says there are plenty of events “that I haven't seen before, and I'm looking forward to being a part of them this year. We'll have a lot of displays set up in Briggs 122, which I'm excited to see. We'll be bringing back some previous displays on forest entomology and medical entomology, as well as some new displays on agricultural entomology and caterpillar biology.”
Her research is funded by a three-year USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) pre-doctoral fellowship of $180,000; it provides tuition stipends and research funding to study the impacts and mechanisms of fungicide and bee-associated fungi on bumble bee health. Her other grants or scholarships include a 2020 Academic Senate grant of $25,000 to research the effects of fungicide on the health and microbiome composition of bumble bees; three George H. Vansell Scholarships (2019, 2020 and 2021 totaling $8950) to study the effects of fungicide on the health and microbiome composition of bumble bees; and a 2018-2020 UC Davis Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship of $95,200.
Danielle holds a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University in entomology and biological sciences, with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary biology. She graduated in May 2018 summa cum laude with distinction in research.
At Cornell, Rutkowski worked with Professor Richard Lindroth on multiple projects investigating how genotype and environmental conditions interact to affect the growth, defense, and insect community of aspen trees. She did independent research with Professor Jennifer Thaler, carrying out an independent honor's thesis research project on ecological interactions between insect herbivores, plants, and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Rutkowski also worked with Thaler on numerous other projects, studying interactions between potato plants, Colorado potato beetles, and their predators, as well as projects studying the interactions between arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, tomato plants, and insect herbivores.
Active in the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Rutkowski presented her research at the annual meetings in 2017, 2018 and 2021, and received the President's Prize (first place) in both 2017 and 2021. Rutkowski has also served as a member of the UC Davis graduate student group, Equity in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Entrepreneurship (ESTEME), planning activities and lessons for middle school students in the Davis area.
But for now, Danielle Rutkowski is juggling (1) her research on bumble bees (2) her dedication to her academic studies and (3) her mentoring and student teaching with (4) her commitment to public service: coordinating the highly popular Roach Races, Maggot Art and other entomological activities at the UC Davis Picnic Day's campuswide open house.