Some people are born good-looking. Some have the gift of gab. And some are lucky enough to be born smarter than the rest of us. Whether we like it or not, Mother Nature does not dole these characteristics out evenly.--Simon Sinek
That applies to butterflies, too. Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
If you're rearing butterflies, such as Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), expect to see some defects, deformities and death. That chrysalis you've been watching? A butterfly may never eclose. In the cycle of life, the transformation from egg to larva to pupa to adult may never occur.
Nobody said Mother Nature is perfect.
The chrysalis is a withered grayish-brown, perfectly camouflaged on the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora). Sometimes you see a burst of reddish-orange wings and sliver spangled underwings, the remains of a butterfly that struggled to eclose.
Then you wait for one that will, one that will eclose.
The next one will take your breath away. Mother Nature is like that.
The three "F's" win hands-down: family, friends and food.
But "insects" should definitely added to that list. They are among the tiniest of critters on this planet, but think of their importance in our lives and in our ecosystems.
As British entomologist-zoologist George McGavin, author, academician, explorer and television presenter wrote in an article published in 2004 in The Guardian: "They are the most successful multi-cellular life form on the planet...Insects have endured for hundreds of millions of years. They have survived the numerous global upheavals and catastrophes that spelled the end for much greater and grander creatures and they will continue to be a major part of the Earth's fauna for many more millennia."
McGavin, an honorary research associate at both the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Oxford Department of Zoology, points out that insects are "the food of the world."
"Most of the higher animal species on Earth eat insect--they are the food of the world," he writes in his piece on Why I Love Insects. "All of the blue tit chicks in the British Isles alone consume 35bn caterpillars before they become adult. A single pipistrelle bat, the smallest bat species in the UK, has to eat between 2,000 and 3,000 insects most nights to stay alive."
McGavin also emphasizes the importance of pollinators and recyclers, that "we depend on bees for perhaps as much as a third of the food we eat....As recyclers, flies and beetles devour carcasses and clear prodigious quantities of dung every day."
We met George McGavin in July 2012 at a sunflower field in Winters. He and his crew were there to film a documentary on ultimate swarms, featuring Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis. Gary, an author, scientist and now a retired professional bee wrangler, clued him in on bee behavior.
Like many scientists, McGavin loves to share his enthusiasm for insects, something we all need to appreciate more and to support as much as we can. For example, the Entomological Society of America launched a Chrysalis Fund to bring insect education into the classroom. According to the website, it's "supported by donors dedicated to the mission of enhancing insect education for K-12 students. Teachers and educators with creative ideas for insect-themed programs or projects are encouraged to apply for funding." (On a side note, UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal donated his $1000 honorarium from the recent ESA Founders' Memorial Award Lecture to the Chrysalis Fund.)
So, what are we thankful for? Family, friends and food, for sure.
And the list also includes...insects.
Bick, who received her doctorate in entomology at UC Davis in June and then headed to Denmark in August for a postdoctoral position at the University of Copenhagen, just received word that she's the recipient of a $244,000 postdoc grant from the Innovations Fund in Denmark.
Bick, who specializes in integrated pest management (IPM), received the funding for her proposal, "Optimization of Agricultural Pest Management Strategies by Combining Modeling and Digital Insect Monitoring."
"I'm excited to be working at the University of Copenhagen and partnering with digital agriculture company FaunaPhotonics integrating modeling and LIDAR detection of insects for the next two years!" she said.
Emily's entomological journey began at Cornell University, where she received her bachelor's degree in entomology in 2013. Then she crossed the country to UC Davis for her master's degree in entomology (2017), followed by her doctorate.
Her accomplishments and accolades are many. She served as an emergency medical technician from 2008 to 2017 and gained her pesticide applicator's license in 2013. She was singled out to receive the Student Certification Award at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in 2018. In 2014, she was named a Board-Certified Entomologist, a honor bestowed on her at the ESA meeting.
Emily helped anchor the UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship at the ESA meeting in 2016, and the University of California (UC Davis and UC Berkeley) Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship again in 2018. The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts and played by winners of the ESA branch competitions. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions. (Watch the championship game on YouTube)
She also served as vice president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA).
Congratulations, UC Davis alumnus Emily Bick!
Ever seen a bumble bee nest?
We remember when insect enthusiast Rita LeRoy of the Loma Vista Farm, part of the Vallejo City Unified School District, found the nest of the yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenkii, in May of 2015. They were buzzing in and out, providing nectar and pollen for the growing colony.
However, as we all know, overwintering bumble bee nests are even more difficult to find. The queen is hibernating, getting ready to emerge next spring to start a new colony.
And now comes newly published research led by the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, on Fantastic Bees and Where to Find Them: Locating the Cryptic Overwintering Queens of a Western Bumble Bee.
Published Nov. 20, 2019 in Ecosphere, an open access journal of the Entomolgoical Society of America, it is drawing the attention it should.
"Bumble bees are among the best‐studied bee groups worldwide, yet surprisingly we know almost nothing about their overwintering habitats nor the microsite characteristics that govern selection of these sites. This gap represents a critical barrier for their conservation, especially if preferred overwintering habitats differ from foraging and nesting habitats. Current conservation plans focus on foraging habitat, potentially creating a problem of partial habitats where improved forage might fail to prevent population declines due to limited overwintering sites. We provide the first data on the overwintering habitat for any western North American bumble bee. Our data suggest that overwintering and foraging habitats are likely distinct, and queens' selection of overwintering sites may be shaped by environmental stressors of the year. In our study area, queens overwintered in litter beneath cypress trees, where no floral resources exist. Whether this separation of overwintering and foraging habitat holds for other bumble bee species remains to be discovered. Our data highlight the need to consider the whole life cycle for understanding population dynamics and conservation planning. This need is underscored by growing evidence for the decline of multiple North American bumble bee species."
They detailed how they "looked for overwintering queens on California's central coast. We spent ~80 person‐hours searching different ground covers around abandoned military barracks at former Fort Ord Military Base where we previously observed large numbers of nest‐searching queen Bombus vosnesenskii Radoszkowski and B. melanopygus Nylander."
"Ground cover at Fort Ord is typical of the central California coast: a patchwork of grassy meadow, mats of non‐native ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis), and small stands of Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata). In December 2018, we searched for bumble bee queens by carefully digging the vegetative, litter, and soil strata of grassy meadow, ice plant mat, and the needle litter under two cypress and two pine tree."
What did they find and learn? It's well worth the read: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2949
The Dec. 7th class is sold out. But keep in touch: another class is scheduled June 14, 2020.
In the December class, set from 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Center on Bee Biology Road, participants will learn how wax is made, how to collect it, how to process it, and how to make their own wax products such as candles and wax reusable food wraps.
It will be taught by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty and director of the California Master Beekeeper Program, and lab assistants Robin Lowery and Nissa Svetlana Coit.
Lowery and Coit "will be leading us through the practical part of the wax working day,” announced Wendy Mather, program manager of the California Master Beekeepers Program. “This class is perfect for the hobby and sideline beekeeper and for other individuals interested in learning the basics of working with wax.”
The instructors said the class "will be a creative and science-based class learning the what, why and how of beeswax, making candles, lotion bars, beeswax food wraps, lip balm and dipped flowers to take home.” The products are wonderful for holiday gifting, they said.
As a bonus, the instructors will provide an overview of the honey extraction process, and learn bottling, labeling rules and regulations, and how to perform a honey tasting.
Class participants will have an opportunity to make candles with wicks, use molds, pour wax into jars or cans, dip flowers in wax, and make hand lotion, chapsticks, and wax reusable food wraps.
The two lab assistants are daily exposed to bees, beekeeping, and all things related to honey bee husbandry, said Mather. Lowery, a two-year beekeeper, assists with managing the apiary and the research at the E. L. Nino lab. "She has been making gifts for special occasions for over 15 years and looks forward to modeling how to dip and roll candles, make sealing wax, lotion and lip balm, and wax food wrappers," Mather said.
Beeswax is a natural wax produced by worker honey bees, which have eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments. Hive workers collect the wax and use it to form cells for honey storage and for larval and pupal protection. When beekeepers extract the honey, they remove the wax caps from the honeycomb frame with an uncapping knife or machine.
Beewax has long been used for making candles (they are cleaner, brighter and burn longer than other candles) and for cosmetics and encaustic paintings. Wax food wrappers, used to wrap sandwiches and cover bowls of food, are environmentally friendly, sustainable, economical, and a reusable alternative to plastic bags. Statistics show that globally, people use an estimated one trillion single-use bags every year, or nearly 2 million a minute. While beeswax is a natural wax, plastic bags and plastic bags contain chemicals, and there is concern that chemicals can leach into the food.
The $235 registration fee covers a continental breakfast, snacks, lunch and refreshments, and materials. Participants make and take two of each item. Mather may be reached at email@example.com for more information.