Other beetles--cucumber beetles--ravage agricultural crops, drawing millions of foes.
Enter Jasmin Ramirez Bonilla, a UC Davis graduate student in entomology, who is seeking to control these pests on melons through more effective integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.
Jasmin, who plans to complete her master's degree in the spring of 2022, recently presented her thesis proposal, “Advancing Integrated Pest Management Strategies for Cucumber Beetles in California,” to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology at a Zoom session.
“The beetle of focus for my thesis is the Western striped cucumber beetle, Acalymma trivittatum,” said Jasmin, who studies with major professor and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger, a Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.“ A second species, the Western spotted cucumber beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata--a milder pest but still a pest of melons-- is also part of my project but not the primary subject of my studies.”
Her thesis project consists of three objectives:
- Characterize the non-crop and overwintering habitat
- Clarify short-distance dispersal dynamics after harvest
- Evaluate the utility of the aggregation pheromone, vittatalactone
Both species feed on muskmelons, Cucumis melo. “These include honeydew melon, cantaloupe, crenshaw, and cassava,” she said. “However, Acalymma is the specialist.” Cucumber beetles are pests of plants in the Cucurbitaceae family,which includes melons, gourds, cucumbers, squash and pumpkin.
Of key concern is “the lack of effective IPM tools for the management of cucumber beetles, especially the western striped cucumber beetle,” she said. “There is a critical need to visit this system and revisit the ecology to have a clearer understanding of the non-crop habitat uses and dispersal dynamics to improve and optimize the scouting and monitoring strategies. In addition, one way to monitor and manage insect pests is using semiochemicals such as aggregation pheromones and kairomones—for example, cucurbit blossom volatiles--which are of interest to be combined and studied their efficacy attraction.”
Preliminary data for one of her experiments indicates that the synthetic aggregation pheromone, vittatalactone, attracts the western striped cucumber beetle and the spotted cucumber beetle. “This pheromone was mimicked from airborne volatiles produced by male beetles, Acalymma vittatum, the cousin of the western striped cucumber beetle,” Bonila related. “This pheromone is a potential monitoring tool for managing these beetles and minimize the intensive applications of insecticides on the field.”
What sparked her interest in entomology? When she worked as a field research assistant for six months in 2017 with the UC Cooperative Extension in Woodland and sampled Lygus damage in sunflower fields.
“After this field assistant position, I worked as a junior specialist on an alfalfa weevil project to improve management in alfalfa,” Jasmin related. This was a research grant of the late Larry Godfrey (1956-2017), an Extension entomologist based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Godfrey, the principal investigator of the grant, worked with co-principal investigator Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Long until his death in April.
Long invited Jasmin to apply for the position. “That increased my interest in bugs,” Jasmin said. “There were so many different species and I was constantly collecting plethora of insects in each sample!”
A native of Guatemala, Jasmin moved to the United States at age 15 with her family. “Even though I wasn't born here, I still consider myself Guatemalan,” she related. “My family lives in Los Angeles and I attended Reseda High School in the San Fernando Valley.”
Jasmin, who received her bachelor's degree in earth system science at UC Merced in 2016, worked as a vegetation and ecological restoration intern with the National Park Service before enrolled in the UC Davis graduate program.
But it's the insects—particularly cucumber beetles—that fascinate her.
Picture this during National Pollinator Week: five monarch caterpillars and assorted honey bees sharing tropical milkweed.
It was love at first bite. Or love at first sip.
The 'cats kept munching and the bees kept foraging. Neither species seemed interested in the other.
But the adult monarchs definitely showed more interest in the tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), a non-native, than the other two species, both natives, that we planted: the narrow leaf (A. fascicularis) and showy milkweed (A. speciosa).
They laid eggs only on the tropical milkweed, and so far, have produced five caterpillars.
The score to date:
Tropical milkweed: 5 caterpillars
Narrow leaf milkweed: 0
Showy milkweed: 0
Reminder: Folks planting the tropical milkweed in temperate zones (like here in Vacaville,Calif.) must remove or cut back the tropical milkweed by winter. "A protozoan parasite of monarch butterflies, Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE for short, can travel with monarchs visiting the plants and become deposited on leaves," explains the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Yes, indeed. But meanwhile, we're witnessing untold sharing on the wildly popular tropical milkweed by not only monarch caterpillars but honey bees, syrphid flies, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees.
We gardeners and photographers are also drawn to the spectacular red, orange and yellow flowers that add both beauty and color to a cherished pollinator patch in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic...and National Pollinator Week.
She didn't know it was National Pollinator Week.
If she had, she would have paid it no mind.
She just knew that this was some fine pollen as she struggled to fit inside the strawberry blossom.
The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is like that: determined, decisive, and mission-bound.
And they do love strawberries.
How much? In investigating the foraging behavior of bees in agricultural landscapes, a research team from the Universities of Göttingen, Sussex and Würzburg found that dance of the honey bee (waggle dance) indicated a fondness for strawberry fields over oilseed rape fields. They published their study in January 2020 in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. (See EurekAlert).
As we all know, honey bees dance to communicate the direction, distance and quality of the food source they have visited. These scientists video-recorded the dances and decoded them.
Berry, berry fine!
California growers--and we the consumers--reap the benefits of this bee love. Our state grows about 88 percent of the U.S.-grown strawberries on approximately 34,000 acres, according to the California Strawberry Commission. "Statewide fresh strawberry production averages 50,000 pounds per acre each season." The approximately 300 strawberry growers hail from five distinct areas: Watsonville/Salinas, Santa Maria, Oxnard, Orange County/San Diego, and the Central Valley.
The honey bee we saw foraging on a single strawberry blossom in our yard did so for about five minutes. She seemed to know that this was some fine pollen.
Some fine pollen, indeed.
She paused midway to clean the pollen from her proboscis (tongue).
It's all about insect courtship rituals and intimacy, or what entomologists sometimes call "insect wedding photography."
The Bay Area-based SaveNature.Org, a non-profit conservation organization, and its Insect Discovery Lab will sponsor an "Insect Palooza Happy Hour!" on Thursday, June 25 from 4 to 5 p.m. on the Zoom live video platform.
"Professor Norm" (that's Norman Gershenz, chief executive officer and co-founder) will preside and answer questions.
"Insects inspire our emotions--find out about mate guarding and courtship rituals," says Gershenz, who estimates the world insect population at more than 50 million species.
The Insect Palooza is limited to 25 adult participants. Registrants (register here at $15 per person).will receive a unique link. The virtual event will start exactly at 4 p.m., with 5-10 minutes allocated for questions and answers at the end of the program.
Gershenz and his wife, Leslie-Saul Gershenz, Ph.D., a bee scientist with the USDA laboratory on the UC Davis campus (she holds a doctorate in entomology from the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology), co-founded SaveNature.Org. Their work has drawn a number of awards as well as international attention from National Geographic, Time magazine, ABC's "World News Tonight," and other news media.
SaveNature.Org, dedicated to international conservation, has raised more than $4.7 million to help preserve thousands of acres of rain forest, coral reef and desert habitat around the world, said Gershenz, who created and developed the first Adopt-an-Acre program in the United States, as well as the award-winning Conservation Parking Meter. His credentials include 18 years with the San Francisco Zoo as an educator, member of the animal care staff, fundraiser, and researcher. In addition, he has worked as a field biologist and naturalist in Borneo, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Costa Rica and Namibia.
Together they won a total of seven communication awards in a competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE).
Steve Elliott, communications coordinator for the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, Davis, won one silver (second-place) and two bronze (third-place) for his writing and photography;
- Writing for the Web, silver award for “IPM in Yellowstone”
- Photo Essay, bronze award for “Growing in Guam”
- Social media, bronze award for single blog post, “To Communicate Better, Start with Audience”
Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist for the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won two silvers for her writing and photography;
- Writing for Newspapers, silver award for “Paying It Forward,” about the successful career of award-winning academic advisor Elvira Galvan Hack
- Picture Story, silver award for “Kira Meets a Stick Insect” (at Bohart Museum of Entomology)
Diane Nelson, communication specialist for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, won a bronze for her writing:
- Writing for the Web, bronze award for "Can Science Save Citrus?"
Ricardo Vela, Miguel Sanchez and Norma de la Vega of UC ANR's News and Information Outreach in Spanish won a bronze award for a video:
- Diversity 6, Electronic Media and Audio for Targeted Audiences, bronze award for Breakfast - Desayuno de Campeones - English and Spanish videos
The awards will be presented Wednesday, June 24 during ACE's virtual conference, which opened June 22 and continues through June 25.
ACE is an international association of communicators, educators and information technologists who focus on communicating research-based information. The organization offers professional development and networking for individuals who extend knowledge about agriculture, natural resources, and life and human sciences.