As you know, Shapiro sponsors the annual Cabbage White Butterfly Contest--the first person who collects the first cabbage white of the year from the three-county area of Sacramento, Solano and Yolo wins a pitcher of beer. It's a research project he's been working on since 1972 to determine the first flight of Pieris rapae. He's usually the winner because he knows where to look.
His email began suspenseful. Did he find it? Did he find it?
"The fog lifted to low stratus overcast, which very slowly broke up into stratocumulus, with a very light north wind aloft--it was calm at the surface," he wrote. "I had thought today might be a day to look for the first rapae, but by 11.30 a.m, the sun was still not visible and it was 53F in Davis. So I went to lunch."
"While I ate the sun broke through. When I went outside at 12.05 it was up to 57F and some blue sky was showing. I made a snap decision to go to West Sacramento even though there was no time to go get a net. I told myself that what I really needed was the first-flight date. Catching the bug was just for the contest. I would trust my own sight record! So off I went. I was in West Sacramento from 1 to 3 at the warmest part of the day. I had about 70% sunshine. The high was 63F but it was so humid that it actually felt warmer with the sun out. It was still dead calm. The vegetation is progressing now."
His email STILL kept us in suspense. Did he find it? Did he find it?
"The number of blooming Raphanus has doubled; there are thousands of Raphanus and Brassica nigra plants in vegetative condition; four Melilotus alba have come into bloom. One Avena is blooming--just one. The Conium rosettes are immense--as big as last year--and as is its allelopathic wont, its areal coverage has expanded greatly. I am very attentive to dorsal-basking rapae in the vegetation and looked constantly for them; no dice."
Did he find it? Did he find it?
"But it felt so like a rapae day... And then at 1.21 p.m. a butterfly flew by and nectared at Raphanus. It was a fresh (of course!) female Pyrgus communis--as it turned out, the only Lep (Lepidoptera) of the day. OK, now get this: in the entire project, i.e. since 1972, communis has never been recorded earlier than rapae in the Valley. But that's just for starters. Communis has never been recorded in January before, either. The earliest is ii.1.14, which happens to have been in West Sac; so today beat it by 10 days. Communis has been recorded in February at West Sacramento only 8 times--the usual first-flight date is in March!-and those were ii.16.01,ii.23.07,ii.17.12,ii.1.14,ii.12.15,ii.22.16 and ii.22.17. That is, of the 8 February records, 6 were during or adjacent to the drought. 2018 and 19 returned to the classic March start. Pyrgus scriptura almost always starts first, occasionally on the same day.
Did he find it? Did he find it?
"Not this year! Rapae still awaits. But this communis craziness is better than a beer! What next?"
What's next is the contest is still open. Beer for a butterfly. Suds for a bug. (For the rules, see the Bug Squad blog)
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported this week that its Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count shows a decline for the second consecutive year. “Sadly, fewer than 30,000 monarchs were counted—29,418 to be exact—for the second year in a row, so the western monarch population remains at a critical level,” according to Matthew Shepherd, director of communications and outreach. (See Xerces press release and blog about the population count for this winter.)
Researcher Elizabeth Crone, a professor at Tufts University, Medford, Ma., will shed some light on the issue when she delivers a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on "Why Are the Monarch Butterflies Declining in the West?" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 29 in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive, UC Davis campus. Her longtime collaborator, pollination ecologist and professor Neal Williams, will introduce her.
"Ecologists now face the dual challenge of documenting changes in the environment, and figuring out appropriate strategies for conserving and recovering natural resources in changing environments," says Crone, who is completing a research sabbatical at UC Davis. In her talk, she will focus on “using the tools of population ecology to address both sides of this challenge: quantifying changes in the abundance of western monarch butterflies (and factors associated with these changes), and using theory and data to design strategies and targets for restoration and recovery.”
“Analyses of past dynamics (1980-2017) showed that western monarch butterflies have declined more quickly than their eastern counterparts, and that these declines were most strongly associated with loss of overwintering habitat, and more weakly (but significantly) associated with increased pesticide use and warmer breeding season temperatures,” Crone writes in her abstract. “Analyses of current conditions (2018-2019) suggest that a recent dramatic drop in abundance occurred in spring, between when monarch butterflies leave coastal overwintering sites and arrive in the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills.”
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported this week that its Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count shows a decline for the second consecutive year. “Sadly, fewer than 30,000 monarchs were counted—29,418 to be exact—for the second year in a row, so the western monarch population remains at a critical level,” according to Matthew Shepherd, director of communications and outreach. (See press release and a blog article about the population count for this winter.)
A native of Alexandria, Va., Crone received her bachelor's degree in biology, summa cum laude, from the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va., in 1991, and her doctorate in botany from Duke University in 1995. She served as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1996-1997. Her career encompasses academic appointments at Harvard University, University of Montana, and the University of Calgary.
No stranger to UC Davis, Crone has collaborated with Neal Williams "on and off" for the past 20 years. “We had a National Science Foundation grant to study bumble bee populations from 2014-2019, so I have been visiting regularly since he got here. Starting in winter 2019, I have also had funding to take partial research leave from Tufts and work on western monarchs. I have been about half-time at Tufts and half-time at UC Davis." "I am grateful to Neal and the Entomology Department for hosting me during this extended stay!" she added.
Crone is a co-principal investigator (PI) with PI Cheryl Schultz, associate professor of biological sciences at Washington State University and co-PI Sarina Jepson, endangered species program director, Xerces Society, on a federal grant, "Western Monarch Breeding Phenology" (awarded May 2017-June 2020, with the potential for annual renewal). The grant was funded through the Department of Defense's (DoD) Natural Resources Program, DoD Legacy Program.
Of her research, Crone says "My research focuses on population ecology, especially of plants and insects, and plant-animal interactions. Specifically, I am interested in how environmental changes translate to changes in population dynamics: For example, is there a simple, linear matching of changes in resources to abundance of consumers, or do interactions among individuals and species moderate these responses? Much of my research also involves developing novel quantitative approaches to predict long-term dynamics from small scale observations and experiments. Current projects include studies of butterflies, bees, perennial wildflowers, sugar maples, and acorn-granivore interactions. Past projects include some of the best documented examples of cyclical dynamics in plant populations and spatial metapopulation dynamics in animal populations. I was also one of the first ecologists to adapt generalized linear mixed models to estimate variance terms for stochastic population models."
Her honors and awards are many and varied:
- Project of the Year Award, SERDP (Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program) 2018
- Foreign Member, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (elected 2017)
- Vice Chair / Chair, Theoretical Ecology Section, Ecological Society of America, 2010-2012
- Ecological Research Award, Ecological Society of Japan, 2014
- Fulbright Fellowship, 2007-2008
- National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biosciences Related to the Environment (1996-1997)
- U.S. Department of Energy Graduate Fellowship for Global Change (1991-1995)
- Baldwin Speece Award (College of William and Mary, for scholarship/service in ecology, 1991)
How did you get interested in science? Was there an "ah ha" moment?
I was in an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program studying plant-insect interactions in 1990. The thing that made me want to go to grad school was the fun puzzle of designing an experiment AND figuring out how to interpret the data - I had collected data on beetle feeding rates, and when I didn't know how to analyze them my advisor said "read a statistics book" ... so I did--since then I have always especially loved the puzzle of matching models to data.
From an earlier age, I have always enjoyed being outdoors, which is probably why I chose to study biology. But that was the moment when I knew I would enjoy a life of research.
Some of your major accomplishments?
From an applied ecology perspective, the biggest is helping the Fender's blue butterfly move from being listed as endangered to nearly ready for down-listing. From a basic ecology perspective, I figured out the ecological interpretation of variance terms in mixed models as estimates of spatial heterogeneity and environmental stochasticity, and worked out one of the best examples of how mast-seeding species are synchronized by their pollinators.
What fascinates you about monarchs?
The possibility that we can recover the western monarch population from its recent steep decline to being abundant again. This should be a problem we can fix.
What do you like best about science?
The puzzle of matching models to data and the possibility of saving species from extinction.
Any scientists in the family?
My sister is an astronomer. My dad was a math professor. Before him, though, no one in the extended family had even gone to college.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I once gut-renovated a house (with help from carpenters, but doing some of the work myself), I am very proud of my urban pollinator garden in Somerville (near Boston, Mass., and I am a good enough trombonist to (just barely) keep up with my trombonist friends.
I am waiting to find out whether our monarch funding will be extended or whether I will go back to a regular teaching schedule at Tufts. Even if I go back to "full-time" teaching, I am sure I will be doing western monarch and bumble bee research for the indefinite future, and will continue to be at least partly bicoastal.
(Editor's Note: the Xerces Society's site-by-site monarch count data is available at https://www.westernmonarchcount.org/data/. This covers all years since the first count in 1997.)
Those who painted rocks at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday, Jan. 18 were not just rock artists. They were rock stars, painting creative, inspirational and seasonal illustrations.
A sign on the table, staffed by entomologist Ann Kao of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (2019 alumnus of UC Davis), urged: "Paint a Rock!" The directions:
- Please choose a rock
- Be creative, you can write a kind message on it
- You may keep it or hide it somewhere outside
And that they did. They selected a smooth river rock and made it their own. They painted everything from butterflies, ants, and spiders to rainbows, smiles and the sun. Indeed, some of the critters looked like new species of arthropods just waiting to be named.
The artists hid some of the rocks on the UC Davis campus. They are likely to wind up on the Facebook page, UC Davis Rocks, which encourages folks to paint rocks, hide them, and then post the images. The Bohart rocks will join other images on the Facebook page, including such resident rocks as "When All Else Fails, Hug the Dog" to "Take the Next Step" to "You Are Loved."
One talented rock artist at the Bohart Museum chose a Valentine's Day theme, painting two "Love Bugs”--a honey bee and a ladybug. The colorful rock now resides in the office of director Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. It's right next to her microscope where she will 'scope the real Apis mellifera and Coccinellidae species and other insects.
If you look on the Internet, you'll find some creative, inspirational and downright humorous rocks:
- "Life Is Short; Eat the Cupcake"
- "A Laugh Is a Smile that Bursts"
- "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"
- "Be a Rainbow in Someone Else's Cloud"
- And this two-sided rock: On one side, a simple three-word request, "Turn Me Over," and on the other side, a 10-word admonishment: "You Just Took Orders from a Rock. Are You Stoned?"
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, coordinated the open house, which showcased the research of six doctoral students: Charlotte Herbert Alberts, Yao Cai, Alexander Dedmon, Zachary Griebenow, Crystal Homicz and Ann Holmes. (See Bug Squad blog).
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane and founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas; and a gift shop stocked with books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy. The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.
Hmmm....did we say the "Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insects specimens?" Correct that! Make that "a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and one local Love Bug rock."
She donned her special outfit, a blue butterfly cape, and headed over to the open house at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, to “see the blue butterflies.”
The event, held Saturday afternoon, Jan. 18, primarily featured the research of six doctoral students: Charlotte Herbert Alberts, Yao Cai, Alexander Dedmon, Zachary Griebenow, Crystal Homicz and Ann Holmes. (See Bug Squad blog)
But it was also a time to view the butterflies and moths in the Lepidoptera collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith. He and fellow Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas spent three hours discussing the amazing world of butterflies and answering questions about the Lepidoptera collection, which totals nearly 500,000 specimens.
Tien loved seeing the bright blue morpho butterflies. She gleefully spread her wings and smiled delightedly.
Then Brownie Girl Scout Troop 5520 of West Sacramento toured the insect museum. They came prepared. Prior to the tour, they met in the lobby of the Academic Surge building to discuss and share their newly created posters about insects. Lauren Wells, 7, of West Sacramento chose the praying mantis.
Lauren and fellow Brownie Girl Scout member Madeline Louis, 8, of West Sacramento, marveled at the worldwide collection of butterfly specimens and listened eagerly as Kareofelas discussed the tropical ones.
“Our troop, including all of the parents raved about how much fun they had at the Bohart,” said parent Lisa Wells of UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "I think everyone was really surprised by how much fun they had and learned. Great place! In fact, a few parents claimed that it was our best troop outing ever in over 3 years.”
Other visitors drawn to the Lep section included Savanna Miller, 7, and her sister, Olivia, 4, of Vacaville. Their grandmother, retired teacher Genny Miller, accompanied them.
Little Olivia gazed at the first opened drawer and pronounced: “They're dead! They're all dead!”
The scientists assured her that yes, they are; that the butterflies are specimens; and that the Bohart Museum houses nearly eight million specimens for educational and scientific purposes (research). The specimens include the iconic monarch (Danaus plexippus); the lookalike viceroy (Limenitis archippus); the California state insect, the dogface butterfly (Zerene eurydice) and the extinct Xerces blue (Glaucopsyche xerces).
When the scientists explained how butterflies fly, Savanna and Olivia listened raptly. They then correctly imitated the flight of a butterfly as bystanders smiled approvingly. "That's how they fly! Well done!"
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is directed by professor Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), it not only houses nearly eight million insect specimens but a live "petting zoo" that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. Its year-around gift shop is stocked with books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Bohart Museum officials are gearing up for the ninth annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day, set Saturday, Feb. 15. Featuring 13 museums or collections, the science-based event offers an opportunity for visitors of all ages to meet and talk with UC Davis scientists—from undergraduates to staff to emeriti professors. It is free and family friendly.
Participants in the Feb. 15th Biodiversity Museum Day:
- Arboretum and Public Garden
- Bohart Museum of Entomology
- Botanical Conservatory
- California Raptor Center
- Center for Plant Diversity
- Department of Anthropology Museum
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Marine Invertebrate Collection (not linked)
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
- Nematode Collection
- Paleontology Collection
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection
- Viticulture Enology Culture Collection
The 13 museums or collections represent nine departments, all within walking distance on campus except the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road and the bee garden on Bee Biology Road. The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will showcase three museums or collections: Bohart Museum of Entomology, the Honey Bee Haven, and the Nematode Collection.
For three hours, six UC Davis doctoral students discussed their research and fielded questions from the 270-plus guests, ranging from pre-kindergarten students to senior citizens. The event, free and family friendly, followed the theme, "Time Flies When You Are Studying Insects: Cutting Edge Student Research."
Doctoral students who showcased their research were:
- Entomologist Yao Cai of the Joanna Chiu lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Cai, a fourth-year doctoral student, studies circadian clock in insects. “Using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) and Danaus plexippus (monarch butterfly), as models, we seek to understand how these insects receive environmental time cues and tell time, how they organize their daily rhythms in physiology and behavior, such as feeding, sleep and migration (in monarch butterfly),” he said. Assisting him were Nitrol Liu, a graduate student in the Chiu lab, and associate Ben Kunimoto, a Davis Senior High School student.
- Entomologist Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies assassin flies (also known as robber flies) with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology.
“Assassin flies are voracious predators on other insects and are able to overcome prey much larger than themselves,” said Alberts, a fifth-year doctoral student. “Both adult and larval assassin flies are venomous. Their venom consists of neurotoxins that paralyze their prey, and digestive enzymes that allow assassin flies to consume their prey in a liquid form. These flies are incredibly diverse, ranging in size from 5-60mm, and can be found all over the world! With over 7,500 species, Asilidae is the third most specious family of flies. Despite assassin flies being very common, most people do not even know of their existence. This may be due to their impressive ability to mimic other insects, mainly wasps, and bees.”
- Entomologist-ant specialist Zachary Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Griebenow, a third-year doctoral student, showed specimens of the ant subfamily Leptanillinae, most of them male. He emphasized the great morphological diversity observed in males and talked about his systematic revision of the subfamily. In particular, he explained "how the study of an extremely obscure group of ants can help us understand the process of evolution that has given rise to all organisms."
- Forest entomologist Crystal Homicz, who studies with Joanna Chiu and research forest entomologist Chris Fettig, Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Davis. (She formerly studied with the late Steve Seybold of USDA Forest Service and the Department of Entomology and Nematology.)
"Bark beetles are an incredibly important feature of forests, especially as disturbance agents," said Homicz, a first-year doctoral student. Her research focuses on how bark beetles and fire interact, "given that these are the two most important disturbance agents of the Sierra Nevada." She discussed how the interaction between bark beetles and fire, why bark beetles and fire are important feature of our forest ecosystem. She also discussed more generally "the importance of bark beetles in many forest systems throughout North America." Assisting at her table: Gabe Foote, a new first-year doctoral student in forest entomology.
- Forensic entomologist Alexander Dedmon, who studies with Robert Kimsey, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"My research focuses on insect succession," said Dedmon, a fifth-year doctoral student. "In forensic entomology, succession uses the patterns of insects that come and go from a body. These patterns help us estimate how long a person has been dead." Visitors learned about "the many different ways insects can be used as evidence, and what that evidence tells us."
- Ecologist Ann Holmes, affiliated with the Graduate Group in Ecology, Department of Animal Science, and the Genomic Variation Laboratory, studies with major professors Andrea Schreier and Mandi Finger.
Holmes, a fourth-year doctoral student, talked about her research project that looks at insects eaten by bats in the Yolo Bypass. "The insects eat crops such as rice, so bats provide a valuable service to farmers," she explained. "Hungry bats can eat as much as their own body weight in insects each night." Visitors learned how DNA is used to detect insects in bat guano (poop). "Insects in bat poop are hard to identify because they have been digested, but I can use DNA to determine which insects are there. We care about which insects bats eat because bats are natural pest controllers. With plenty of bats we can use less pesticide on farms and less mosquito repellent on ourselves."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) section, and Bohart associate and naturalist Greg Kareofelas showed part of the Lepidoptera collection, which totals nearly 500,000 specimens. UC Davis entomologist graduate Ann Kau staffed the craft activity table--rock painting. The rocks, mostly insect-themed, will be hidden on campus. Undergraduate student Ian Clark displayed the critters in the live "petting zoo," including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. (Photos in the next Bug Squad blog). Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, organized a scavenger hunt featuring questions and clues about insects.
The Bohart Museum, directed by entomology professor Lynn Kimsey and founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity.
The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.
Meanwhile, UC Davis is gearing up for its ninth annual Biodiversity Museum Day on Saturday, Feb. 15, featuring 13 museums or collections. Free and family friendly, the event is a science-based day at which visitors of all ages can meet and talk with UC Davis scientists—from undergraduates to staff to emeriti professors, coordinator Tabatha Yang of the Bohart Museum said.