Find the green darner.
Trying to spot the green darner dragonfly, Anax junius--so named because of its resemblance to a darning needle--is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
But there it was, camouflaged in shrubbery on Sept. 23 in the Benicia Capitol State Historical Park.
This dragonfly, one of the most common and abundant species in the United States, as well as North America, is one of the few dragonflies that migrate. It migrates from the northern United States south into Texas and Mexico, according to Wikipedia. "It also occurs in the Caribbean, Tahiti, and Asia from Japan to mainland China."
The green darner is included in the Bohart Museum of Entomology's poster, "Dragonflies of California," available in its gift shop in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, UC Davis campus. The poster is the work of entomologist Fran Keller, then a Ph.D student at UC Davis and now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College, and Bohart associate and naturalist/photographer Greg Karoefelas. (See the Bohart Museum website.)
Did you know that the green darner is the official insect of the state of Washington, the Evergreen State? And it is one of the largest dragonflies in the order, Odonata? Males grow to 76 mm (3.0 in) in length with a wingspan of up to 80 mm (3.1 in)?
Females oviposit in aquatic vegetation, laying their eggs beneath the water surface. The nymphs (naiads) are aquatic carnivores, feasting on insects, tadpoles and small fish. The adults--they catch insects on the wing. Their prey includes flies and mosquitoes.
We remember several years ago when dragonfly/damselfly expert Rosser Garrison of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) shared his knowledge of Odonata--and showcased some of his global specimens--at the Bohart Museum.
Fossil records show that they were the world's largest flying insects--some with wingspans measuring three feet--and they existed before dinosaurs. "Dragonfly relatives existed before the onset of the dinosaurs---Triassic Period, 250 to 200 million years ago,” related Garrison, a senior insect biosystematist at CDFA. “They are considered beneficial since both larvae---all aquatic--and adults are predators."
That green darner we saw in Benicia wasn't preying or sewing up people's ears (darners have been called "devil's darning needles") but it was darn camera shy.
Find the green darner!
When you head over to a nursery, and see bees and butterflies and other pollinators foraging on the plants, that's a good sign.
Buy the plants.
Promise: The pollinators will come.
Many gardeners and would-be gardeners are looking forward to the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden Plant Sale--the "first entirely open-to-the-public plant sale of the fall season." It's set from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13 in the Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive, near the School of Veterinary Medicine.
Members of the Friends of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden and the Davis Botanical Society receive 10 percent off their purchases. You can join online, at the door, or call ahead, officials say. New members receive a $10-off coupon as a thank you for joining.
That's a good incentive.
What plants are they offering? Download the inventory.
Meanwhile, summer has ended, fall crept in on Sept. 23, and winter is fast approaching--Dec. 21.
We caught a little sliver left of mellow mornings last weekend in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at Sonoma Cornerstone. An anise swallowtail, Papilio zelicaon, fluttered in, touched down to sip some nectar, and soared off. What a sight to see!
Buy a plant (help the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden), and promise, the pollinators that will surely come are free!
Tsetse flies, large biting flies that inhabit much of Africa, feed on the blood of humans and other vertebrates and transmit such parasitic diseases as African trypanosomiasis. In humans, this disease is better known as sleeping sickness.
In 2009, after continued control efforts, the number of cases reported dropped below 10,000 (9878) for the first time in 50 years. This decline in number of cases has continued with 2804 new cases reported in 2015, the lowest level since the start of systematic global data-collection 76 years ago. The estimated number of actual cases is below 20 000 and the estimated population at risk is 65 million people.--World Health Organization
"Tsetse flies are the sole vectors of human and animal trypanosmiasis throughout sub-Saharan Africa," says Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
He'll present a seminar on "Comparative Genomic Anaylsis of the Tsetse Fly: The Genetics of Lactation, Seminal Proteins and Other Unique Adaptations" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 10 in 122 Briggs Hall. (He is also chairing the department's seminars for the 2018-2019 academic year.)
Attardo says that these "flies are distinguished from other Diptera by unique adaptations including male specific reproductive adaptations, lactation and the birthing of live young (obligate viviparity), exclusive blood feeding by to the sexes and visually based host seeking. To understand the genetic changes underlying these adaptations, we sequence the genomes of six species of tsetse flies representing three sub-genera. These sub-genera represent different habitats, host preferences and vectorial capacity."
In his talk, he will "describe some of our findings from these analyses and how the genetics of these flies compare with relatives such as Drosophila, with an emphasis on the genetic changes underlying tsetse's dramatic reproductive adaptations. In addition, we will discuss observations associated with visual, olfactory, and salivary biology, as well as the identification of features novel to Glossina and their respective sub-genera."
Attardo joined the department July 1, 2017 as an assistant professor after 13 years at the Yale University School of Public Health, New Haven, Conn., first as a postdoctoral fellow from 2004 to 2008, and then as associate research scientist and research scientist
“I got my start in science working as an undergraduate researcher” at the University of Massachusetts in the lab of John Edman, who moved to UC Davis in 1999. There Geoffrey reared and worked with various mosquito species and kissing bugs for four to five years. He also worked on aspects of mosquito ecology, reproduction and nutrition with Edman and Thomas Scott, now both UC Davis emeriti professors of entomology.
“I decided to develop my career in science and went to work in Dr. Alexander Raikhel's lab at Michigan State University as a graduate student. I was always drawn to understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the extreme biology of insects and Dr. Raikhel's lab provided that opportunity. There I focused on the molecular biology of egg development in mosquitoes.”
After receiving his doctorate, Attardo joined the Yale lab of Serap Aksoy to work on tsetse flies. “In terms of fascinating physiological adaptations, the tsetse fly is one of the champions of the insect world!” Attardo says. “In addition to being vectors of a deadly disease, Trypanosomiasis, these flies have undergone amazing alterations to their physiology relative to other insects. Some examples of this are their ability feed exclusively on blood, their obligate relationship with a bacterial symbiont, the fact that they lactate and that they give birth to fully developed larval offspring. The opportunity to study the adaptations these flies have made is like opening a toy chest for an insect physiologist. My work in tsetse has focused on the molecular biology underlying the adaptations associated with the development of lactation, symbiosis, male and female mating interactions/physiology and nutrient metabolism and mobilization.”
In research on mosquitoes, Attardo demonstrated that mosquitoes require nutritional cues to begin egg development. “Egg development had been known to be regulated by a steroid hormone called 20-hydroxyecdysone,” Attardo explained. “However, treatment of mosquitoes with this hormone along did not activate egg development. My research showed that when female mosquitoes take blood, the protein in the blood is broken down into amino acids which in combination with the hormone activate egg development. Either amino acids or the hormone along were not capable of activating this process, but when they are combined it unlocks a massive physiological change which causes the production of yolk proteins and activation of egg development.”
One of the highlights of his career: the publication of the tsetse fly genome in the journal Science. He served as the annotation coordinator, editor and illustrator for the publication. One of his tsetse fly images graced the cover. “The publication of the genome opened up new avenues of research in tsetse that were previously unavailable and facilitates more work to be done on this important disease vector by making all this data available to the community,” Attardo related. “I am working on following up this work with a paper comparing the genome sequences of six different species of tsetse flies that differ in their geographic, ecological, host preference and vectorial capacity characteristics. We hope to connect the underlying genetics of these flies with with these differing life traits to understand their biology, evolution and identify potential targets with which to control this vector.”
A native of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Geoffrey received his bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1994 and his doctorate in genetics from Michigan State University, East Lansing, in 2004.
A career in science came naturally. “My parents are both somewhat scientifically inclined, so I may have taken after them,” he says. “My father has a doctorate in metallurgy from Columbia University and led a long successful career at IBM. My mom was a full-time mom, but has a background in microbiology with a master's degree from Yale.”
(Editor's note: See list of seminars for the fall quarter.)
Watching it like a hawk...
A variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum, that is.
We look forward to breezes--even strong gusts--in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., because often we'll see dragonflies touch down.
They'll hunt, perch, and hunt again. The wind threatens to dismount them but they hang tight.
Such was the case on Sept. 28, a time between summer and fall. Clouds parted, the sun burst through, and the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and blue spike salvia (Savlia uliginosa) swayed in the breeze.
This dragonfly swayed, too. But the wind did not defeat it. Not this "hawk."
Variegated meadowhawks live near ponds, lakes, and swamps--and if you're lucky, they'll visit your back yard. They are largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males, according to OdonataCentral.org. They're found throughout the United States and southern Canada; also Mexico south to Belize and Honduras. "This species may be seen on the ground more than other meadowhawks. It will also readily perch on the tips of grass stems and tree branches. It can be numerous flying over roads, lawns, meadows, marshes and ponds...It is largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males."
Interested in dragonflies? The Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis (located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane) offers a beautiful dragonfly poster, "Dragonflies of California," in its gift shop. It's the work of entomologist Fran Keller (she received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College) and naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas, a Bohart associate whose expertise includes butterflies and dragonflies.
That's what we've been told for years. We hear that butterflies don't like the red ones, and that they may, in fact, be poisonous to them.
We've grown both in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Both flourished. However, we removed the red passionflower vine, P. jamesonii, because the Gulf Frits avoided it. They lay their eggs--and quite profusely, too--on our lavender passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), also called "Maypop." (In fact, every year they skeletonize them. Hungry, hungry caterpillars!)
Which brings us to the question from a reader: "I have the Maypop and Purple Passionvine, which is working well as a host plant for the Gulf Frit. I recently bought a Red Passionvine and then read it is poisonous to the Gulf Frit. Is it true?"
We asked butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has monitored butterfly populations in Central California for more than four decades and publishes his research and observations on his website.
"They don't use some of the red-flowered species," Shapiro says. "I don't know if they're actually poisonous. I've never found the bug on P. jamesonii around Ohlone Park in Berkeley, where there's tons of it. There's a large plant at the northwest corner of 3rd and B in Davis that may be this species, and they don't use it, either."
P. jamesoni, also known as "Coral Seas," (one of some 500 varieties in the world, see Wikipedia for the full list) is indeed striking with its brilliant red flowers.
As an aside, P. jamesoni is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. That would be the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which describes itself "an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resource an international organization."
Justification for Being on the Red List:
"Passiflora jamesonii is endemic to the Ecuadorean Andes, where it is known from five subpopulations on both sides of the range. Only one subpopulation is inside Ecuador's protected areas network. The species seems to prefer untouched areas, so fires are a severe threat," according to the IUCN Red List.