De Bekker, an assistant professor at UCF, will present a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology virtual seminar at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 27. The title: "What Makes a Zombie Ant Tick? Connecting Genomes with Behavioral Phenomes in Ants Manipulated by a Fungal Parasite." Access this Google form link to join the seminar on Zoom.
"My lab studies parasites that change the behavior of their hosts," she writes on her website. "Nature harbors quite some bizarre examples of parasites that evolved the ability manipulate. These manipulations range from slightly altered existing behaviors to the establishment of completely novel ones that are not part of the host's regular repertoire."
"One of the most dramatic examples of the latter is that of the zombie ants. Here, a fungal parasite takes control of the behavior of a carpenter ant, guiding it up the vegetation where it latches on in a final death grip. Working across various disciplines within the broad field of biology we use this parasite-host interaction as a model system to ask the question how a microbe can control an animal's brain to change the behavioral output so precisely. In addition, we know very little about how behavior in general is regulated. Our research will therefore not only inform us about the mechanisms that these parasites use to manipulate their hosts, but ultimately also give an important insight into the regulation of behavior in general."
De Bekker holds a five-year $970,000 National Science Foundation grant to study "parasitic fungi that hijack behaviors of their hosts." A member of the UCF faculty since 2016, she received three degrees in biology from Utrecht University, The Netherlands: her bachelor's degree in 2004; her master's degree in 2006, and her doctorate in 2011. She specialized in molecular microbiology. She did postdoctoral research at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, Department of Entomology, The Pennsylvania State University, from April 2011 to July 2012, and then served as a postdoctoral Marie Curie Fellow and Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany, before joining UCF. (See lab website)
Read some of her news media coverage:
- Five-Year Grant Will Deepen Research Into ‘Zombie Ants' (COS News, Feb. 26, 2020)
- The Science Behind Zombie Ants (UCF Today, Oct. 21, 2019)
- How a Parasitic Fungus Turns Ants Into 'Zombies' (National Geographic, April 18, 2019)
- The Science of Zombies: Will the Undead Rise? (Phys.Org, Nov. 1, 2019
- National Public Radio zeroes in on Zombie research (Oct. 31, 2019).
- How the Zombie Fungus Takes Over Ants' Bodies to Control Their Minds (The Atlantic, Nov. 14, 2017
(Editor's Note: The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's list of seminar speakers for the winter quarter is here.
He's back--not as a presidential candidate but as a meme.
A meme? It all started when photographer Brendan Smialowski for Getty Images photographed him at President Joe Biden's inauguration. As dignitaries in designer coats strolled by in the bitter cold (temperature stood at 22° and wasn't moving), there he was, all bundled up in a warm coat and mittens, sitting in a folding chair with his arms crossed, wearing a mask, and social-distancing from the crowd (pandemic precautions, you know).
Fact is, it's c-o-l-d in Vermont winters, and Sanders, who will be 80 on Sept. 8, knows that quite well. Cheers to him!
Enter Software engineer Nick Sawhney of New York. He created a tool that allows folks to insert the senator into any street address in Google Maps street view. Just click on https://bernie-sits.herokuapp.com/, insert a location, and you're good to go--that is, good for Sanders to go anywhere you want him to go. That could be Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Dublln, Duluth, Des Plaines, Dearborn Heights...and...ahem...Davis. (See some of the memes on this Washington Post article.)
In an interview with CBS, Sanders seemed amused by all the attention.
“In Vermont, we dress, we know something about the cold,” he told Gayle King. “And we're not so concerned about good fashion. We just want to keep warm. And that's what I did today."
Perhaps best of all, he agreed to a sweatshirt bearing the meme, and is donating the funds to Meals on Wheels.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, knows where they are. As mentioned in a previous Bug Squad blog, he spotted a cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, on Jan. 16 on the UC Davis campus, just south of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, located at 254 Old Davis Road.
As you probably know, Professor Shapiro always looks for rapae as part of his scientific research; he sponsors the annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest to determine its first flight of the year. COVID-19 canceled this year's contest.
But did you also know that Shapiro found FOUR other butterfly species on his Jan. 16th rounds in Davis, which included Old Davis Road on the UC Davis campus, and residential Davis?
- Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, seen in Lot 1 landscaping
- Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, spotted in residential Davis, north central
- West Coast Lady, Vanessa annabella, seen on Old Davis Road near the campus hotel.
- Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopa, spotted on Old Davis Road
The links on the species will direct you to his amazing research site, Art's Butterfly World, and the wealth of information.
Our butterfly-spotting record so far: Zero. Zilch. Nada.
But of course, what with the pandemic and all, we haven't been out much. The 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden is a good place to stroll, observe and photograph. We remember spotting a Mourning Cloak in the Arboretum's Ruth Risdon Garden on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 on an identification sign for the silver anniversary butterfly bush, Buddleia “Morning Mist."
It was a good place to warm its wings.
Meanwhile, here are a few images of the butterflies that Shapiro saw on Jan. 16. These images were taken in the two-county area of Yolo and Solano.
Agricultural Extension specialist Ian Grettenberger, coordinator of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's seminars, has lined up the remainder of the seminars, all to be held on Wednesdays at 4:10 p.m. (PST). Here are the speakers and dates. He'll be announcing other information and the Google form links to access the seminars.
Wednesday, Jan. 27
Charissa de Bekker, Ph.D
University of Central Florida, Biology Department
Title: "What Makes a Zombie Ant Tick? Connecting Genomes with Behavioral Phenomes in Ants, Manipulated by a Fungal Parasite."
Google form link to virtual seminar
Host: Ian Grettenberger
Wednesday, Feb. 3
Shalene Jha, Ph.D
University of Texas, Austin, Department of Integrative Biology
Title: "Plant-Insect Interactions and Ecosystem Services in the Context of Global Change"
Host: Charlie Nicholson, postdoctoral researcher, Neal Williams lab and Elina Lastro Niño lab
Wednesday, Feb. 10
Estelí Jimenez-Soto, Ph.D
UC Santa Cruz, Environmental Studies Department
Title: Pending (Her research lies at the intersection of agroecology and political ecology of agriculture to understand the socioecological entanglements of food production and biodiversity conservation in Mexico and the United States.)
Host: Marshall McMunn, postdoctoral fellow, Rachel Vannette lab
Wednesday, Feb. 17
Brian Weiss, Ph.D
Yale University, Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases
Title: Pending (His research focuses on acquiring a better understanding of the relationship between insect disease vectors and their associated micro-organisms.)
Host: Geoff Attardo, assistant professor
Wednesday, Feb. 24
Jessica Kansman, Ph.D
Pennsylvania State University, Department of Entomology
Title: Pending (Her research focuses on mechanisms driving non-consumptive effects of natural enemies on aphid performance and behavior.)
Host: Ian Grettenberger
Wednesday, March 3
Monika Gulia-Nuss, Ph.D
University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Title: Pending (Her research program investigates the fundamental questions related to vector biology and vector-parasite interaction. She is particularly interested in aspects of invertebrate reproductive physiology, nutrient allocation, and vector competence and population genomics.)
Host: Geoff Attardo, assistant professor
Wednesday, March 10
Romina Rader, Ph.D
University of New England, School of Environmental and Rural Science
Title: Pending (She studies community ecology in agroecosystems)
Host: Neal Williams, professor
Questions? For questions, contact Grettenberger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shapiro spotted a cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, at 1:55 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16 on the UC Davis campus, just south of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, located at 254 Old Davis Road.
“At 1:55 p.m., I saw a male rapae flying a linear path along the edge of the waste ground between campus parking lot 1 and the railroad track, heading east,” he wrote in an email. “It stopped to nectar at a large Raphanus (wild radish) plant. That was directly south of the Manetti-Shrem Art Museum. I did not have a net and, there being no contest requiring a voucher, I did not care. It was 72F and clear with a trace of NE wind. I kept going. This is the earliest rapae since i.16.16 (Jan. 16, 2016)."
"Wouldn't it have been nice for the first one to be on the day of Biden's inauguration?" he asked.
Colleague Matthew Forister, the Trevor J. McMinn Research Professor of Biology at the University of Nevada and a former graduate student of Shapiro's, analyzes and graphs the annual data. "The observed day (Jan. 16) is a couple of days earlier than the line would have predicted--in a funny twist of fate, before adding the new data point, the predicted day for this year was inauguration day!" Shapiro launched the contest in 1972 as part of his scientific research to determine the first flight of the Pieris rapae.
The traditional rules: if you collect the first live cabbage white butterfly of the year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo, and deliver it to 2320 Storer Hall, UC Davis campus, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday (and detail the exact time, date and location of your capture), and it's judged the winner, you win a pitcher of beer or its equivalent. It's all in the name of research.
This year, however, Shapiro canceled the beer-for-a-butterfly contest "because (a) all the bars are closed open-endedly and (b) the level of circulating virus is so high that I am remaining in Davis and restricting myself to walkable sites to visit until it becomes less dangerous."
Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.
In 2020, Shapiro spotted the first-cabbage-white-of-the-year at 11:16 a.m., Jan. 30 at Putah Creek Nature Park, Winters but didn't claim the prize as he didn't collect it. "It flew back and forth across Putah Creek and then departed the area, flying out of reach above the trees," he noted.
Shapiro, who usually finds the first butterflies, has been defeated only four times, and all by UC Davis graduate students: Jacob Montgomery in 2016; Adam Porter in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each defeated him in the late 1990s.
The list includes:
- 2019: Jan. 25: Art Shapiro collected the winner near the Suisun Yacht Club, Suisun City, Solano County
- 2018: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento, Yolo County
- 2017: Jan. 19: Art Shapiro collected the winner on the UC Davis campus
- 2016: Jan. 16: Jacob Montgomery, UC Davis graduate student, collected the winner in west Davis
- 2015: Jan. 26: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2014: Jan. 14: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2013: Jan. 21: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2012: Jan. 8: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
- 2011: Jan. 31: Shapiro collected the winner in Suisun, Solano County
- 2010: Jan. 27: Shapiro collected the winner in West Sacramento
The butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow. In its larval stage, it's known as the imported cabbageworm, and is a major pest of cole crops, including cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale.
No doubt Shapiro will also remember Jan. 16 as a "five-in-one-day." He saw five different butterfly species as he walked around the Old Davis Road area and the north central residential area. The four others: Red admiral, Vanessa atalanta; Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae; West Coast Lady, Vanessa Annabella; and the Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopa.