Breaking news and a well-deserved honor:
Insect chemical ecologist Walter Leal, a distinguished professor at the University of California Davis, has just been selected to deliver the Founders' Memorial Award Lecture at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting, to be held Nov. 17-20 in St. Louis, Mo.
Leal, a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology), is known as a exemplary scientist, teacher and leader. He will discuss the work of insect chemical ecologist Thomas Eisner (1929-2011), widely known as "the father of chemical ecology."
Leal will present his talk, titled "Tom Eisner--An Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence," at the Entomology 2019 awards breakfast, which begins at 7:30 on Tuesday, Nov. 19.
“I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to honor Tom Eisner--one of the founding fathers of chemical ecology,” Leal told us today. “And, consequently, Tom's main collaborator, the late Professor Jerry Meinwald--my role model, mentor and friend of three decades.”
Leal investigates the molecular basis of olfaction in insects and insect chemical communication. (See the Leal lab's work on DEET in Entomology Today.) He researches environmentally friendly alternatives to control insects of medical importance, and also targets agricultural pests.
Leal is the first UC Davis scientist selected to present the Founders' Memorial Lecture, although medical entomologist Shirley Luckhart of the University of Idaho, formerly of UC Davis, delivered the lecture in 2018. In her lecture, "He Gave to Man Control Over That Dreadful Scourge, Yellow Fever," she honored Walter Reed (1851-1902), the U.S. Army physician who in 1901 led a team of researchers that linked the spread of yellow fever to mosquitoes.
ESA established the Founders' Memorial Award in 1958 to honor the memory of scientists who made outstanding contributions to entomology.
Thomas is known for his discoveries on chemical defenses used by insects against predators. “Notable among them was deciphering how the bombardier beetle defends itself with an internal exothermic chemical reaction, explosively sprayed at attackers,” according to a press release by Joe Rominiecki, ESA communications manager. “That discovery topped a lengthy list of revelations about the complex and often surprising biochemicals insects produce, from the bitter, predator-deterring taste of the cochineal scale's brilliant red pigment to the sticky foot secretions that allow the palmetto beetle to cling so tightly to leaf surfaces. “
A native of Brazil and educated in Brazil and Japan, Leal received his master's degree and doctorate in Japan: his master's degree at Mie University in 1987, and his doctorate in applied biochemistry at Tsukuba University in 1990. Leal then conducted research for 10 years at Japan's National Institute of Sericultural and Entomological Science and the Japan Science and Technology Agency before joining the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 2000.
Leal co-chaired the 2016 International Congress of Entomology (ICE), themed "Entomology Without Borders." The event, held in Orlando, Fla,. drew the largest delegation of scientists and experts in the history of the discipline. That would be 6682 attendees from 102 countries.
Among his many honors, Leal is a fellow of three organizations--ESA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the California Academy of Sciences--and an honorary fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. He received a silver medal from the International Society of Chemical Ecology. Another honor: he was inducted into the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
“Walter is an amazing person and an amazing scientist,” said Fred Gould, distinguished professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at North Carolina State University. “His work has opened new doors to the understanding of how insects receive and perceive odors and has saved farmers in California and Brazil more than $100 million. He's at a point where he could sit back and bask in the glory of his accomplishments, but that is not Walter. He remains as prolific as ever.”
"Walter's lecture promises to be outstanding," said colleague James R. Carey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and a fellow of ESA who received the organization's national distinguished teaching award. "He is known as one of the exceptional, truly elite, instructors at UC Davis and beyond." Carey praised Leal's "innovation in content delivery, engagement with his audience, his ability to inspire and motivate them, and his always-clever touches of humor."
ESA, founded in 1889, is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Its members, now more than 7000, are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland, the Society stands ready as a non-partisan scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics.
The ESA meeting in St. Louis is expected to bring together approximately 3,000 insect scientists to share their latest research and communicate the global science of entomology, Rominiecki said.
Logan, a visitor at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's recent open house on spiders and other arachnids, wowed the crowd with his knowledge of scorpions.
“Logan is only in kindergarten but he was showing his mom our arachnid drawer and describing the differences between the Emperor Scorpion, Pandinus imperator, and the Dictator Scorpion, Pandinus dictator,” said Bohart associate and scorpion scientist Wade Spencer, an undergraduate student at Bohart Museum. “Thankfully, he wasn't at all shy when I asked him to repeat what he had just said to the crowd.”
“He loved sharing his knowledge with those interested,” Spencer said. “And his mom is an arachnid saint as she supports his endeavors even while she still gets the willies from just looking at them. She told me she finds it important to keep her cool so that he may never lose his enthusiasm.”
The Bohart Museum's three-hour open house included a presentation on spiders by Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Scientists in both the Bond lab and the Bohart lab led arachnid activities, including "Eat Like a Spider" and "Catch a Moth."
Spencer and fellow Bohart associate and entomology undergraduate student Lohit Garikipati, tabled the scorpion display. The guests asked questions, gingerly touched them, and took cell phone photos.
Spencer currently has 37 scorpions of various species. Scorpions are venomous, not poisonous, he pointed out. As Professor Bond said in his talk: "Poisonous is what you eat it make you sick. Venomous means it takes toxin and it injects it into you."
"Fun fact about scorpions, Spencer said, "is that all of them are safe to eat as none of them are poisonous (toxins ingested or absorbed), but all of them (as far as we know) are venomous (containing poison(s) which are injected by some means)."
"I use the term 'medically significant' because it has the most potent venoms we know of, but I refrain and even discourage the use of the term 'dangerous' when describing scorpions and other venomous creatures," Spencer said. "It's often our own carelessness which makes them dangerous. If you live in in scorpion country, shake out your boots if you leave them outside and buy a $20 UV flashlight on Amazon. Those are simple ways to detect them and avoid being stung."
Spencer said he handles "my little Leiurus q. to show just how gentle and adorable she is so that people can have visual confirmation to back my claim that there is no such thing as a dangerous scorpion--though it should be clear I am not saying they're cuddly or friendly like a puppy. I advocate for them to be treated with caution and respect.
The UC Davis student attributes his interest in scorpions to his great-grandmother.
"My great-grandmother would always take me on afternoon picnics in the Big Tujunga Canyon Wash, a mostly dry river bed in the San Gabriel mountains in my home town of Sunland. She was a naturalist at heart and taught me about the native plants, geology, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and my favorite: the bugs. If ever we encountered a scorpion, she would stop and show me, but wouldn't kill them. Instead, starting when I was 3, she taught me that they were nothing to fear and showed me how to gently handle them. I've handled thousands ever since and not once been stung."
"I'm often asked why I'm not stung, and my response is always the same: 'It's not a cat!' By that, I mean, there's no risk of it randomly attacking me. I have scars all over my body from dogs and cats."
Spencer loves scorpions for three primary reasons:
- "Knowing their ancestors were the first animals on land about 450 million years ago."
- "Many of their venoms are being studied for use in shrinking brain tumors, sending fluorescent dyes to tumors with such specificities as to view 200 cancerous cell clusters--whereas MRIs can view 500,000 cell clusters. And some--to regulate insulin, treat arthritis, and antimicrobial components--have been used in mice with MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureas), completely curing them in 4 days."
- "Working with them directly and seeing how many people we have helped get over their fears has me simply head-over-heels for them."
The scorpion display drew the interest of adults and children alike. Three Brownie Girl Scouts from Vacaville giggled and comforted one another when they experienced the "Virtual Reality Spiders" demonstration conducted by medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. But not so the scorpion display.
"When it came to the live stuff, the girls (Kendl Macklin, 7, Jayda Navarette, 8, and Keira Yu, 8) were more calm than nervous," said Spencer, adding "I thanked them for their bravery and showing the adults that there was nothing to fear."
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, a gift shop, and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects or walking sticks, and tarantulas. The insect museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m.
"Most people are unaware of the glue on a spider's web because you can't see the droplets with your naked eye, but it's a really important feature of the web that spiders rely on to capture prey," says postdoctoral researcher and spider glue expert Sarah Stellwagen of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) lab of Mercedes Burns.
Stellwagen, who will speak at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on Wednesday, April 24, says that spider glue "is also a modified silk protein, but has lost its fibrous characteristics that we think of when we hear the word silk. Currently, there are only around 20 full-length silk genes known--but many many partial sequences--because these genes are really hard to sequence due to their size and repetitiveness."
Her seminar, titled "Towards Spider Glue: From Material Properties to Sequencing the Longest Silk Family Gene," is at 4:10 p.m. in Room 122 of Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive. Hosts are Hanna Kahl, UC Davis doctoral student in entomology, and Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Stellwagen and colleague Rebecca Rensberg sequenced the genes that encode for the spider glue protein. Their work appears in the April edition of the journal G3-Genes Genomes Genetics. (See her website, http://www.spiderglues.com)
Of her UC Davis seminar, Stellwagen said: "I'll be talking about the biomechanics of spider glue--how droplets of glue on a spiders web stretch, and how environmental variables like humidity, temperature, and ultraviolet light affect that stretch. I'll also be talking about the molecular biology of the glue--discovering the DNA sequences that code for main proteins that make up the glue, and how that sequence relates to the mechanical properties." (See It's All About the Glue.)
She delivered oral presentations on "Towards Spider Glue:Sequencing the Longest Known Silk Family Gene" at the 2019 International Congress of of Arachnology, Christchurch, New Zealand, and the 2018 American Arachnological Society Annual Meeting in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Stellwagen received her doctorate in biological sciences in July of 2015 from Virginia Tech. Her dissertation: "Structure and Function of the Viscous Capture Spiral and its Relationship to the Architecture of Spider Orb Webs." She completed her master's degree thesis, from Clemson University, on "Spider (Aranea) Diversity, Habitat Distributions and Pitfall Trapping in Kings Mountain National Military Park, South Carolina."
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminars, coordinated by medical entomologist/assistant professor Geoffrey Attardo, take place at 4:10 p.m. every Wednesday in Room 122 of Briggs Hall, through June 5. (See list of seminars)
There may not be "time enough" for some species that are rapidly declining.
What's going on?
Butterfly guru Arthur Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of evolution and ecology, will speak on butterflies and the insect apocalypse at the third annual Butterfly Summit, an all-day event that begins 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 27 at Annie's Annuals and Perennials, 740 Market Ave., Richmond. Free and family friendly, it's co-sponsored by the Pollinator Posse, a Bay Area-based volunteer group co-founded by Tora Rocha and Terry Smith.
Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California since 1972 and maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu. A member of the UC Davis faculty since 1971 and author of the book, Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Valley Regions, he has studied a total of 163 species in his transect. His is the largest and oldest such dataset in North America.
Shapiro, who will address the summit at 11 a.m., is frequently quoted in the regional, national and international news media, including BBC, New York Times and the Washington Post. He was recently interviewed on the National Public Radio Program, Insight with Beth Ruyak, on "Butterflies as Heralds of the Apocalypse." He recently addressed a monarch butterfly summit at UC Davis at which he declared that "California monarchs are on life support." (See his presentation.)
10 a.m.: Bring the kids to see our caterpillars and adult butterflies, talk with our experts and share your experiences.
11 a.m.: Where have all the insects gone? Art Shapiro of UC Davis will share his thoughts on the insect apocalypse happening around the globe and will discuss the state of insects and butterflies in Northern California.
1 p.m.: Angela Laws, monarch ecologist from Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and Mia Monroe, volunteer, will discuss how your gardening practices can help the plight of the California monarchs
All day: Stop by the regional information tables to learn about what you can do to help re-establish butterfly populations.
Pollinator Posse: Tara Rocha and Terry Smith, along with Jackie Salas, horticulturist at Children's Fairyland, Oakland, will be available for questions.
Andy Liu: A landscape architect and garden designer specializing in butterfly habitat, Liu will explain why his neighborhood is alive with Swallowtails, Gulf Fritillaries and many other winged wonders.
Tim Wong: He is known as known as the "Pipevine Swallowtail Whisperer." Wong an aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences.
Andrea Hurd: Hurd, with the Mariposa Garden Design, will share her methods for designing meadows for butterflies. She specializes in songbird, butterfly, and pollinator habitat gardens using California native and pollinator-friendly plants.
Robin North: North, a garden designer specializing in pollinator and songbird habitat gardens in the North Bay, will share ideas for designing Sonoma County habitat gardens.
Suzanne Clarke: Clarke, a Sonoma County Master Gardener and "Butterfly Whisperer," will show how to rear caterpillars at her table and discuss the benefits of gardening for habitat.
Alameda County Master Gardeners: They will be on hand to show how to garden for native pollinators.
What is the Pollinator Posse? It's a group formed in Oakland in 2013 to create pollinator-friendly landscaping in urban settings and to foster appreciation of local ecosystems through outreach, education and direct action, said Rocha, a retired Oakland parks supervisor. "With eco-friendly landscape techniques at the heart of our work, we teach respect for the creatures which keep Oakland– and the world– blooming."
"We envision a day when life-enhancing, thought-inspiring green spaces will grace every corner of the city and the world beyond," she said.
The Pollinator Posse (see their Facebook page) is heavily into not only butterflies, but all pollinators. "Individuals and groups with separate distinguished achievements in the fields of entomology, horticulture, education, public works and volunteer engagement saw the challenge and opportunity of sustaining the indispensable work of pollinators by expanding habitat and awareness," said Rocha. "A generous gift of $10,000 from our founding sponsor, Clif Bar, launched Posse programs which have established acres of pollinator habitat; maintained existing habitat; and offered outreach and education to Oakland communities.
Their latest events include:
- A Tees for Bees at the Chabot Golf Course (filming for Tora Rocha's Jefferson Award)
- A Tee for Bees at the Redwood Canyon Golf Course (see images on Facebook)
- Sponsorship of a native pollinator garden and installation of three small "AirBeeNBees"at the Forgotten Soldier Community Garden in Auburn (See media coverage)
The Pollinator Posse will be a sponsor at the Forgotten Soldier's Earth Day celebration and will be helping youngsters create their own mini "AirBeeNBees."
Another highlight: the Pollinator Posse will be participating in the third annual California Honey Festival on Saturday, May 4 in downtown Woodland. This is co-sponsored by the City of Woodland the the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
The gift shop is offering a selection of insect-themed T-shirts, in both adult and children's sizes, for $10, and the Bohart-produced 2019 calendars for $8.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, says that "we have adult sizes in the clubtail and pondhawk dragonfly and dog-faced butterfly designs, and a variety of children's t-shirts."
It's a fun and innovative calendar, with art by UC Davis entomology student/artist Karissa Merritt, based on sentence collections from Kimsey's classrooms. Kimsey collects puzzling or humorous sentences ("What's that again?") written by her students. The calendar is a project of the non-profit Bohart Museum Society.
The Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million insect specimens, also maintains a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
The Bohart, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. (More information is available on the website or by contacting email@example.com or (530) 753-0493.)