While touring the Bohart Museum, "Bob," as he prefers to be called, took a special interest in the Magdalena alpine butterfly collection. It's an all-black alpine butterfly considered "the most elusive of several rare and beautiful species found on the (Magdalena) mountain" in west-central New Mexico. He featured the butterfly in his book, "Magdalena Mountain: A Novel."
This week Pyle figuratively ascended another summit when the Entomological Society of America (ESA) selected him as one of the 10 recipients of its 2021 Fellow award.
Those selected as ESA Fellows "have outstanding contributions to entomology— via research, teaching, extension, administration, military service, and public engagement and science policy," ESA says. Their career accomplishments "serve to inspire all entomologists."
Dr. Robert Michael Pyle, independent scholar, writer, biologist, and educator, is internationally honored for his devotion to insect conservation (particularly as founder of the Xerces Society), promoting public awareness and enjoyment of butterflies, and contributions to natural history and place-based literature," according to an ESA news release. (Read how and why he founded Xerces.)
Born July 19, 1947 in Denver, Colo., Bob remembers chasing butterflies in his youth, and meeting Charles Remington, Paul Ehrlich and John A. Comstock and other prominent lepidopterists.
Pyle holds two degrees from the University of Washington, Seattle: a bachelor's degree (nature perception and protection, 1969) and a master's degree, nature interpretation, 1973). He went on to receive his doctorate in 1976 from Yale University, where he wrote his dissertation on the "Eco-Geography of Lepidoptera Conservation."
Now a resident of the Columbia River-tributary town of Grays River in southwest Washington, and a 62-member of the Lepodopterists Society, Pyle is best known for his 1971 founding of the Xerces Society. He helped initiate the annual butterfly counts at their overwintering sites along the California coast. "He was the first to attempt to follow the monarch migration, reported in Chasing Monarchs and papers with Lincoln Brower, demonstrating a new model for the migration," ESA wrote in a press release on its website. "Pyle's several hundred publications include 27 refereed papers and major reports and two Annual Review articles. His 25 books include Wintergreen, The Thunder Tree, Mariposa Road, Nature Matrix (finalist for the 2021 PEN America Award for the Art of the Essay); five collections of poetry; the novel Magdalena Mountain; and Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest."
"Pyle's Watching Washington Butterflies and Handbook for Butterfly Watchers were the first American books promoting butterfly watching alongside collecting, an activity now developed far beyond his dreams," according to the ESA news release. "His Audubon Society Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America, still in print and widely used after 40 years, was the first to cover the entire fauna and to use photographs from life." The 2020 film The Dark Divide, showcases his life story; he is portrayed by actor David Cross.
Pyle's many other awards include Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Burroughs Medal, two National Outdoor Book Awards, and a Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Conservation Biology. He has described nine new taxa of butterflies and has one patronym, a myriapod.
Robert Michael Pyle is indeed the face of insect conservation, and a welcome addition to the growing list of ESA Fellows.
When you're a honey bee and you're packing pollen and approaching your landing--an artichoke thistle--it's a good idea to clean your proboscis (tongue) first.
Caught in flight: a honey bee doing a little grooming.
This one hovered like a syrphid fly or flower fly, perhaps waiting for the bee below her to move a bit as a few seconds lapsed.
"A long tongue (proboscis--pronounced pro-BAH-sis) is used to suck nectar from flowers," Explains Norman Gary, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, in his book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees. "It functions as a straw, yet it unfolds and retracts like a miniature landing gear. Extemely sensitive taste buds at the tip trigger the sucking response for the intake of nectar and water."
The honey bee touched down, the grooming complete, and the other bee gone.
Just a few seconds in the life of a honey bee cleaning its "miniature landing gear" before it lands on another thistle.
"Sweat bees have earned their common name from the tendency, especially of the smaller species,to alight on one's skin and lap up perspiration for both its moisture and salt content."
So write University of California scientists in their award-winning book, California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists.
California has some 1600 species of undomesticated or wild bees, point out the authors (Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville and Barbara Ertter).
And one of them is the sweat bee, Halictus ligatus, a member of the family Halictidae. It's a medium-sized, ground-nesting bee with a striped abdomen.
This week one of these species (as identified by research scientist John Ascher) looked especially striking on a Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, a member of the Aster (Asteraceae) family. Both the plant and the bee are natives.
Several years ago we managed to photograph a flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, munching on one of these sweat bees. Not a good day for that little gal!
No dragonflies were around, however, when we watched this one foraging on a Black-Eyed Susan.
Did you know that the Black-Eyed Susan is the designated state flower of Maryland? And that it was the inspiration for the University of Southern Mississippi's school colors (black and gold)? And that it's a larval host to butterflies such as the bordered batch, gorgone checkerspot and silvery checkerspot?
Who knew? If you plant it, though, be aware that it is toxic (when ingested) to cats.
A reader asked: "A friend was just telling me that butterflies and moths land differently. She couldn't remember if it was a moth that landed with its wings up or down. It looks like they land with their wings down. Am I right?"
We asked three experts affiliated with the University of California, Davis, for their responses.
Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, commented: "There are moths that hold the wings erect over the back like butterflies, and butterflies that hold them out at the sides like moths. Life can be confusing."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, said: "It depends on the kind of moth or butterfly. Some species/genera of moths will rest with wings folded vertically over them and some rest with wings folded flat over the abdomen. Same with butterflies, and some of this may depend on which surface they want to expose to dangers around them. For example, anglewing butterflies (Polygonia) have great bark-like colors on the ventral surface and they rest with wings over the body so they blend in with the bark of trees that they choose to land on. Buckeye butterflies most often expose the upper surfaces which have the large eyespots that may deter predators. So, not a good rule of thumb."
Bohart Museum associate Greg Kareofelas commented: "Some moths land flat against the substrate, but others can land with their wings closed over their back, depends on the situation sometimes. Some butterflies land with their wings closed, then open them, etc., etc. I think every possibility is possible."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. However, it is usually open to the public four days a week and it traditionally hosts open houses throughout the year, including a Moth Night that features moth displays and blacklighting. John "Moth Man" De Benedictus, senior museum scientist Steve Heydon and colleagues set up a blacklighting system, comprised of a UC-lit white sheet, in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
Home of nearly eight million insects, the Bohart Museum also includes a year-around gift shop (now online) and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas. UC Davis distinguished entomology professor Lynn Kimsey serves as the director.
(Editor's Note: Check out the moth and other videos on the Bohart Museum website)
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."