Sometimes you can't see the trees for the forest.
And sometimes you can't see the spider at all in a purple forest.
Such was the case this week when a tiny white crab spider cunningly figured out the best place to prey was in a flowering artichoke.
At first the spider crawled on top of the thistle, as honey bees dived in and out, threading through the petals, foraging for nectar and pollen. Did the bees spot the predator? If they did, they paid no attention. They were acting like kids jumping into a pool on a triple-digit temperature day on the first day of summer.
Then the spider slipped over to the edge of the purple forest and hid in the shadows. There it reigned supreme, Purple Reign. Unseen, and out of the heat.
Crab Spider: 3
Honey Bees: 0
Three sisters became breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Hunger in a purple forest.
They say good news comes in threes.
Sometimes it comes in fives!
Congrats to the five UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members for their outstanding academic achievements.
- Molecular geneticist and physiologist Joanna Chiu, vice chair of the department, was recently promoted from associate professor to full professor
- Community ecologist Louie Yang, promoted from associate professor to full professor
- Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, promoted from assistant professor to associate professor (with tenure)
- UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, honey bee scientist and educator, promoted from assistant to associate specialist
- Ecologist Richard "Rick" Karban, professor, selected to the high campus honor of UC Davis distinguished professor.
Professor Chiu, who serves as the vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, joined the faculty in 2010. She centers her research on molecular genetics of biological timing and posttranslational regulation of proteins. She uses animal models including Drosophila melanogaster and mice to study the mechanisms that regulate circadian and seasonal physiology and behavior. Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund her biological rhythms research. In addition to her research in biological rhythms, Chiu also aims to leverage her expertise in genomics to address key issues in global food security.
In 2019, Chiu was named one of 10 UC Davis Chancellor's Fellows, an honor awarded to associate professors who excel in research and teaching.
Chiu and Yang co-founded and co-direct (with Professor Jay Rosenheim) the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, launched in 2011 to provide undergraduates with a closely mentored research experience in biology. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal is to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research. (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Professor Yang, who joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 2009, was named a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2012. The Hellman Family Foundation contributes funds to support and encourage the research of promising assistant professors who exhibit potential for great distinction in their research. In 2013, he received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award of $600,000.
Yang won the 2018 Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising; and the 2017 Faculty Advisor Award of Excellence in NACADA's Pacific Region 9, comprised of California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Yang says of the research underway in his lab: “We study how species interactions change over time. We apply a diversity of approaches and perspectives to a diversity of systems and questions. We do experimental community ecology. We also use observational methods,meta-analysis, conceptual synthesis, ecosystem perspectives, and theoretical models. We like data, and we like learning new things.” (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Associate professor Vannette, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty since 2015, received a Hellman Fellowship grant in 2018 and a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award in 2019 to study microbial communities in flowers and a National Science Foundation grant to support work on solitary bee microbiomes.
Of her research, Vannette says: “All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants. I am interested in the basic and applied aspects of microbial contributions to the interaction between plants and insects. I also use these systems to answer basic ecological questions, such as what mechanisms influence plant biodiversity and trait evolution.”
“The Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms, too),” she says. “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil. We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?)” (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Extension Apiculturist Niño, who joined the faculty in 2014, is known internationally for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics. She maintains laboratories and offices in Briggs Hall and at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Niño serves as the UCCE Extension specialist for honey bees for all of California. She is the director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), which she launched in 2016. The California Master Beekeeper Program is a continuous train-the-trainer effort. CAMBP's vision is to train beekeepers to effectively communicate the importance of honey bees and other pollinators within their communities, serve as mentors for other beekeepers, and become the informational conduit between the beekeeping communities throughout the state and UCCE staff.
Niño is also the faculty director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the department's half-acre educational bee garden located next to the Laidlaw facility, which serves as the outdoor classroom for the Pollinator Education Program, lovingly known as PEP. (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Professor Karban, an international authority on plant communication and a 39-year member of the UC Davis entomology faculty, is now a distinguished professor, the highest campus-level faculty title.
The honor is awarded to those scholars “whose work has been internationally recognized and acclaimed and whose teaching performance is excellent.”
Karban, whose research interests include the population regulation of animal species and the interactions between herbivores and their host plants, currently focuses his research on two main projects: volatile communication between sagebrush plants that affects resistance to herbivory and factors that control the abundance and spatial distribution of wooly bear caterpillars.
Karban is the author of landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication. He is a fellow of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the recipient of the 1990 George Mercer Award from ESA for outstanding research.
The UC Davis ecologist is featured in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker in Michael Pollan's piece, The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants. Zoe Schlanger featured him in a Nov. 21, 2020 Bloomberg Quint article titled The Botanist Daring to Ask: Do Plants Have Personalities? (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Nine UC Davis Distinguished Professors
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology now has a total of nine distinguished professors: six current faculty--Bruce Hammock, Frank Zalom, Lynn Kimsey, James R. Carey, Jay Rosenheim, and Richard Karban--and three emeriti faculty--Harry Kaya, Howard Ferris and Thomas Scott.
In addition, emeritus professor/chair Robert E. Page Jr. is a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, as was the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019). The campus presents one distinguished emeritus professor award annually.
The department, chaired by nematologist and professor Steve Nadler, is ranked as one of the top entomology/nematology departments in the nation. Part of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, it is headquartered in Briggs Hall.
"Our scientists investigate a very broad range of fundamental questions involving insects, nematodes, and spiders -- and the plants, microbes, and various animals they interact with," Nadler writes on the home page. "Our department also disseminates practical knowledge resulting from these investigations, such as methods of integrated pest management, with the goal of improving agriculture and the environment for California and beyond. As you explore our website, you will be introduced to this exciting and comprehensive research-- and the teaching and outreach programs of our department."
They're not, of course.
And neither are butterflies always "pretty." They can be "pretty gross," according to a delightful children's picture book, "Butterflies Are Pretty...Gross," by Rosemary Mosco with illustrations by Jacob Souva.
Yes, they can.
Mosco is a science writer and naturalist who tells it like it is, not how we want it to be. No sugar-coating. No candy-coating. No coats.
It's all there: "Warning — this book contains top-secret information about butterflies! Prepare to be shocked and grossed out by this hilarious and totally true picture book introduction to a fascinating insect."
Impersonating a "pretty" butterfly, Mosco relates that "We flutter through meadows, we pose on fancy flowers, we show off our wings, we shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow."
Then she cautions "Don't turn the page. Close the book. You're done. The story's over. Nothing to see here."
Oh, but there is!
Mosco goes on to tell us what butterflies land on, what they eat, what they slurp and other scientific facts. (We won't spoil the endings.)
It's a fantastic book--especially for those interested in science--as she covers the metamorphosis from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult. Readers, both children and adults, will learn something new on each page.
Mosco mentions seven butterfly species, including the Monarch, Danaus plexippus; Harvester, Feniseca tarquinius; Alcon Blue, Phengaris alcon; Red Cracker, Hamadryas amphinome; Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes; Red-Banded Hair Streak, Calycopis cecrops; and Julia Heliconian, Dryas iulia.
Butterflies, she points out, taste with their feet, and a Monarch mama "tastes the leaves" before laying her eggs. Then she asks "What if your parents stuck their feet in your cereal before you ate it?"
Can't you just hear young readers or listeners yelling "Yecch"? (Remembrances of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology tours when the guides say "Don't say yecch! Say interesting!" And they do!)
Mosco's passion for insects shines through in this book. You may remember her as the co-author of the New York Times' bestseller, "The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for the World's Most Adventurous Kid." The colorful illustrations are kid-friendly and as memorable as the text.
Yes, Rosemary Mosco does have a favorite butterfly. And it's not the Monarch. The author, who lives in New England, says it's the Guava Skimmer, Phocides polybius. Native to the Americas, this species was first described by Johan Christian Fabricius in 1793.
"It's a tropical butterfly," says butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. "In the United States, it's recorded only as a stray from Mexico in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas."
"This species (Phocidespolybius) is nearly everyone's favorite," according to the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) of South Texas. "The adult often makes long stops at flowers allowing for excellent photographs to be taken."
(Editor's Note: For information on butterflies found in the Central Valley of California, access Professor Art Shapiro's research website. He has been studying butterfly populations in the valley since 1972.)
This is not something you see every day.
When Lynn Kimsey, director of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, Department of Entomology and Nematology, recently traveled to San Luis Obispo, she saw a honey bee "licking a baby acorn" on an oak tree.
Why was the bee licking a baby acorn?
In her investigation, Kimsey discovered why.
"Apparently the acorn weevil larvae developing in the acorns secrete some kind of sugars--sweet pee if you must. I didn't realize this but apparently acorn honey is a big deal in Eurasia and beekeepers will intentionally move their colonies under oaks for this reason. Weevil pee honey… weird."
"Humans definitely collect the honey from the bees," Kimsey related. "The amount of sweetness from the acorns is way too little for us to do anything with directly."
If you look on YouTube for oak honey, you'll find a product from northern Greece described as "rich, thick, chocolatey, and packed with minerals, enzymes, propolis and goodness; lower glycemic index than most honeys therefore suitable for people wishing to consume a low sugar honey." (See https://youtu.be/vFpH8YBcQlw.)
Indeed. And there's a Raw Honey Shop based in Brighton, UK, that explains what it's all about: "What makes the acorns weep the fluid? There is a species of weevil, which is known as the acorn weevil (Curculio glandium). This weevil burrows into the acorns which causes them to release a sweet fluid, which the bees collect directly from the acorn and then convert it into honey." (Check out their video.)
It's early morning.
A newly eclosed Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, perches alone in the center of a lavender bed in Vacaville, Calif. It's too early for the honey bees.
This Gulf Frit probably eclosed at dusk yesterday and then flew several yards from the host plant, Passiflora, to the lavender bed.
As the sun warms her wings, she unfolds them gingerly. As honey bees arrive, buzzing all around her, she moves a few feet.
Eventually she flutters away as more honey bees arrive, a hummingbird hovers over an agave, and California scrub jays chatter.
Just another day in the Life of a Butterfly and another opportunity to showcase this glorious orange-reddish butterfly with silver-spangled underwings.
"This dazzling bit of the New World Tropics was introduced into southern California in the 19th Century--we don't know how--and was first recorded in the Bay Area before 1908, though it seems to have become established there only in the 1950s," writes butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, on his research website. He's been monitoring butterfly populations in the Central Valley since 1972. "It can be quite common in the East and South Bay--particularly in Berkeley-- nd has been found breeding spontaneously as far inland as Fairfield where, however, it is not established. There are scattered records in the Central Valley and even up to Folsom, perhaps resulting from people breeding the species for amusement or to release at social occasions. According to Hal Michael, who grew up in South Sacramento, this species bred there in abundance on garden Passiflora in the early 1960s. It seems to have died out by the early 1970s, however. Intolerant of hard freezes, it still managed to survive the record cold snap of 1990 that largely exterminated the Buckeye regionally! In the Bay Area, this species can be seen flying any day of the year, if it is warm and sunny enough.
Yes, flying throughout much of the year. We've seen a Gulf Frit laying eggs on Christmas Day. A gift unlike any other. Early mornings are good, too.