Hi, I'm a jumping spider.
I see that you found me on the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.
I'm just here for the prey, and you are definitely not prey, so not to worry.
I'm a member of the Salticidae family and my family contains more than 600 described genera and more than 6000 described species. I have eight eyes. Actually, that's four pairs of eyes and three secondary pairs. How many eyes do you have? What, only two? You got robbed!
I'm a pretty good hunter. When I detect a potential prey, I orient myself and swivel. When I'm close enough, I pause and attach a dragline and then I sprint onto my prey. Pretty cool, huh?
People don't really notice me until Halloween and then they craft those awful-looking sticky webs and all kinds of weird looking spiders just to scare everybody. Do you need scaring? Please be kind and not yell at me or throw things at me. Think of Halloween as "Be-Kind-to-a-Spider Day."
So, if you see me, a real rendition of the fake Halloween spider, don't poke me or crush me or ask me how high I can jump. Or how far. I don't get into logistics.
I'm just here for the prey, not the questions.
If you vacationed at Doran Regional Beach, Bodega Bay, on a Wednesday last year (pre-COVID-19 pandemic), chances are you saw scores of dedicated volunteers pulling out the invasive ice plant, Carpobrotus edulis, along 201 Doran Beach Road. It's hard work but it's rewarding.
Wednesday was--or is--Ice Plant Removal Day. (See the Sonoma County Regional Parks website.)
C. edulis, a succulent native to South Africa, is unwanted in Bodega Bay's wetlands because it chokes out native, endangered plants and alters the soil composition. When it's removed, native plant species return as do a diversity of wanted wildlife.
Yes, nurseries sell ice plant as a ground cover because it's hardy, easy to grow, and spreads quickly. The neon pink blossoms, in particular, are spectacular. (See photo)
C. edulis, though, is as pervasive as it is pretty. It's the flora equivalent of Public Enemy No. 1.
Nevertheless, you'll see "wanted" insects foraging on the "unwanted" plants along the Doran Beach trails. We've seen honey bee and butterflies foraging on the blossoms--including a pollen-packing bee seeking nectar--a short distance from the ice plant removal site. And once we saw a Great Blue Heron snatch a vole from the ice plant growing along the Jetty Campground, Doran Beach.
Beauty and beasts are where you find them, whether they're flora or fauna or wanted or unwanted. Take a hike. Take a camera. Or, better yet, volunteer for an Invasive Plant Removal Day. The California Native Plant Society will thank you.
Should we now worry about those Asian giant hornets becoming residents of our Golden State?
Kimsey, a global authority on wasps, bees and other insects, is a two-term past president of the International Society of Hymenopterists. She recently co-authored “The Diversity of Hornets in the Genus Vespa (Hymenoptera: Vespidae; Vespinae); Their Importance and Interceptions in the United States” in the journal Insect Systematics and Diversity with two other entomologists: lead author Allan Smith-Pardo, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS); and James Carpenter of the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology.
The latest news: the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) announced Oct. 24 that a nest was discovered and destroyed in a tree cavity near Blaine, Wash. This marked Washington's first known nest of Vespa mandarinia. North America's first detected colony of the giant hornets was destroyed in September 2019 on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A single V. mandarinia was found dead in Blaine, Wash., in December 2019.
But to worry. The hornet won't like California's hot, dry summers and lack of rainfall.
As Kimsey told reporter Kellie Hwang of the San Francisco Chronicle: "It is exceedingly unlikely that these hornets can establish in California. If you look at where they're found in their native range in southern Asia, this region has summer rain. I think California is too dry, except perhaps along the far northern coast.”
Washington State University (WSU) entomologists and their colleagues agree. They recently "examined more than 200 records from the hornet's native range in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, then used a set of ecological models incorporating climate data to predict likely global habitat across six continents," according to a WSU news release.
They found that "Asian giant hornets are most likely to thrive in places with warm summers, mild winters, and high rainfall. Extreme heat is lethal, so their most suitable habitats are in regions with a maximum temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on those factors, suitable habitat for the giant hornet exists along much of the U.S. west and east coasts, adjacent parts of Canada, much of Europe, northwestern and southeastern South America, central Africa, eastern Australia, and most parts of New Zealand."
"Much of the interior of the U.S. is inhospitable to the hornet due to extremes of heat, cold, and low rainfall," the news release related. "This includes the eastern parts of Washington state and British Columbia, as well as California's Central Valley, all of which have major fruit and nut crops that rely on honey bee pollination."
Scientists dislike the sensationalized name "murder hornets" (so named because insects can quickly destroy a honey bee colony). The insects defend their colony when it is threatened, but generally will not attack people or pets, according to WSDA. The fear is there, though. "Their stinger is longer than that of a honeybee and their venom is more toxic," WSDA says. "They can also sting repeatedly."
But "murder hornets?"
Maybe we should just call them "giant hornets," you think?
Chemical ecologist Anjel Helms of Texas A&M University will share information on that topic from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 28, in a virtual seminar hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Access this site for the Zoom link.
Host and the fall seminar coordinator is Cooperative Extension specialist and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"The research in our lab focuses on understanding how chemical compounds mediate interactions among microbes, plants, herbivores, and herbivore natural enemies," Helms says. "We combine analytical chemistry and behavioral ecology in laboratory and field-based research to investigate how organisms use chemistry to navigate, communicate, and defend themselves. This seminar will discuss some of our ongoing projects examining how plants and insect herbivores use chemical information from their environment to assess their risk of attack and how herbivore natural enemies use such information to find potential prey."
The insects Helms researches include the striped cucumber beetle (Acalymma vittatum) and squash bug (Anasa tristis).
Helms, an assistant professor, holds two degrees from Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif., both awarded in 2009: a bachelor of science degree in biology and a bachelor of arts degree in biochemistry. She received her doctorate in ecology in 2015 from The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Penn. While in the John Tooker lab, Helms studied the chemical ecology of plant-insect interactions, especially how plants defend themselves against insect herbivores. She investigated how plants use olfactory cues to predict impeding herbivore attacks and the molecular mechanisms involved.
In addition to the general field of chemical ecology, Helms' research interests include plant-insect interactions, tritrophic interactions, belowground chemical ecology, chemical communication, and plant defense.
Her most recent publications:
Helms, A.M., Ray, S., Matulis, N.L.*, Kuzemchak, M.C.*, Grisales, W.*, Tooker, J.F., Ali, J.G. Chemical cues linked to risk: Cues from belowground natural enemies enhance plant defences and influence herbivore behaviour and performance. Functional Ecology. 33, 798-808 (2019). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2435.13297
Acevedo, F.E., Smith, P., Peiffer, M., Helms, A.M., Tooker, J.T., Felton, G.W. Phytohormones in fall armyworm saliva modulate defense responses in plants. Journal of Chemical Ecology. (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-019-01079-z
Yip, E.C., Sowers, R.P.*, Helms, A.M., Mescher, M.C., De Moraes, C.M., Tooker, J.F. Tradeoffs between defenses against herbivores in goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Arthropod-Plant Interactions. 13, 279-287 (2019). DOI: 10.1007/s11829-019-09674-3
For any technical issues regarding the seminar, contact Grettenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The article, “Genome-Enabled Insights into the Biology of Thrips as Crop Pests,” is published in the journal BMC Biology. It is the work of 57 scientists on five continents.
“This project represents over eight years of work by at least 17 laboratories across the globe,” said Professor Ullman, a former chair of the entomology department and a fellow of the Entomological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Her laboratory worked closely with project leader and first author Dorith Rotenberg of North Carolina State University. Project scientist Sulley Ben-Mahmoud of the Ullman lab is the paper's third author.
The western flower thrips, Frankliniella occidentalis, causes billions of dollars a year in damage worldwide. Native to Western North America and about the size of a pinhead, the insect feeds on a wide array of food, fiber, and ornamental crops and transmits plant viruses that cause significant economic damage.
“The western flower thrips and the viruses it transmits, including tomato spotted wilt virus, is important to California agriculture, causing serious problems for tomato growers, pepper growers and growers of leafy greens,” Ullman said. The tomato spotted wilt virus infects more than 1000 plant species, ranging from tomatoes, tobacco and peanuts to pansies and chrysanthemums.
“This system has been a central element of my research program for over 30 years," Ullman said, "and I am extremely excited to see this important resource made available as a tool to help us understand and control these important pests.”
In their abstract, the authors wrote that the publication should lead to “understanding the underlying genetic mechanisms of the processes governing thrips pest and vector biology, feeding behaviors, ecology, and insecticide resistance.”
This is the first genome sequence and analysis for a member of the Thysanoptera, an order that contains more than 7,000 species of small insects with fringed wings.
(See more information on the project on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)