He feuded with fellow entomologists, was a bigamist (married to two wives at the same time) and caused an uproar when a tunnel he dug in a Washington, D.C. alley collapsed in 1924 and some declared it the work of German spies.
All that will come to light on Thursday, April 28 at UC Davis when entomologist Marc E. Epstein talks about his newly published book on Dyar's eccentric life, Moths, Myths and Mosquitoes: The Eccentric Life of Harrison G. Dyar, Jr.
Epstein will present a lecture and book signing from 7:15 to 8:45 p.m., in the International House, 10 College Park, Davis.
The event, free and open to the public, is co-sponsored by Jay Rosenheim, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and by his department. Epstein is a longtime research associate and friend of Rosenheim's.
“As far as how I got into doing research on Dyar, at the onset it was related to my dissertation at University of Minnesota on Limacodidae (family of slug caterpillar moths, so called because their caterpillars bear a distinct resemblance to slugs),” Epstein said.
This led to Epstein and Henson to writing the American Entomologist article “Digging for Dyar: the Man behind the Myth.”
“Since the article appeared in 1992 I've accumulated a lot more information about Dyar, his genealogy, and even more significant connections between him and his favorite moths,” Epstein said.
The book, published by Oxford University Press, will be available for purchase at Epstein's talk.
Epstein is a senior insect biosystematist for the order Lepitopdera (butterflies, moths) with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture. He is a research associate for the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution.
Harrison G. Dyar Jr. (1866-1929) was a Smithsonian entomologist of the early 20th century. He was a taxonomist who published extensively on moths and butterflies, mosquitoes, and sawflies. As a teenager, he studied insects, particularly moths. He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1889 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his master's degree in biology from Columbia University in 1894. His doctoral dissertation (1895) dealt with airborne bacteria in New York City.
Oxford University offers this description of Moths, Myths and Mosquitoes:
"On September 26, 1924, the ground collapsed beneath a truck in a back alley in Washington, D.C., revealing a mysterious underground labyrinth. In spite of wild speculations, the tunnel was not the work of German spies, but rather an aging, eccentric Smithsonian scientist named Harrison Gray Dyar, Jr. While Dyar's covert tunneling habits may seem far-fetched, they were merely one of many oddities in Dyar's unbelievable life."
"For the first time, insect biosystematist Marc E. Epstein presents a complete account of Dyar's life story. Dyar, one of the most influential biologists of the twentieth century, focused his entomological career on building natural classifications of various groups of insects. His revolutionary approach to taxonomy, which examined both larval and adult stages of insects, brought about major changes in the scientific community's understanding of natural relationships and insect systematics. He was also the father of what came to be known as Dyar's Law, a pragmatic method to standardize information on insect larval stages as they grow. Over the course of his illustrious career at the U.S. National Museum, Smithsonian Institution from 1897-1929, Dyar named over 3,000 species, established the List of North American Lepidoptera, an unrivaled catalog of moths and butterflies, and built one of the nation's premier Lepidoptera and mosquito collections."
Epstein researches and writes on evolution and classification of moths and their biodiversity, and develops identification tools for moths that threaten agriculture. He served with NMNH's Department of Entomology (1988-2003), co-founding the department's Archives and Illustration Archives. He received his master's degree (1982) and doctorate (1988) from the University of Minnesota.
For more information on the April 28th event, contact Jay Rosenheim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Friday noon, July 17, ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, will present a program on the species of ants found in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. This will be a special brown bag session in the haven, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Among the native ants at the haven are
- Dorymyrmex insanus (workers small, ~3 mm long, black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Dorymyrmex bicolor (workers small, ~3 mm long, bicolored, dull orange and black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
- Prenolepis imparis (also known as the “winter ant” or “winter honey ant”; workers small (3-4 mm long), brown, with shiny gaster; inconspicuous nests in soil)
- Formica moki (sometimes called “field ants”; workers medium-sized (6 mm long), with a dark head, orange-brown mesosoma (thorax) and silvery-gray gaster; nest in soil)
Images of these species can be found on the AntWeb (www.antweb.org).
At least six other species of native ants reside in the vicinity of the garden, including Formica aerata, Pogonomyrmex subdentatus, and Solenopsis xyloni. The introduced Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) occurs around the Bee Biology building, but it appears not to have colonized the bee garden.
Attendees will learn how to observe and identify California native ants, and learn about the differences between bees and ants in this free event. For more information see the flier and access the haven web site. The haven is owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was planted in the fall of 2009. Christine Casey is the staff director and Extension apiculturist Elina Niño is the faculty director.
Then on Saturday night, July 18, the Bohart Museum of Entomology's first-ever evening open house will take place from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. The Bohart is located at 1124 Academic Surge on Crocker Lane. Free and open to the public, Moth Night will include outdoor collecting; viewing of the Bohart Museum's vast collection of worldwide moth specimens; demonstrations on how to spread the wings of a moth; and information on how to differentiate a moth from a butterfly. Free hot chocolate will be served.
The event is in keeping with National Moth Week, July 18-26, an annual event coordinated by Friends of the East Brunswick (New Jersey) Environmental Commission. This year, National Moth Week will spotlight the Sphingidae family of moths found throughout the world commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths and hornworms. Citizen scientists will be out in force to record and photograph what they see that week.
Tabatha Yang, public education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart, said that after the sun sets, a black light demonstration will be held. Visitors will collect moths from a white sheet, much as residents do around their porch lights.
Entomologist Jeff Smith of Rocklin, an associate and 27-year volunteer at the Bohart Museum, will show visitors how to spread the wings of moths. Smith curates the 400,000-specimen Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum. Smith organizes and identifies the butterflies and moths, creates the drawers that display them, and the labels that identify them. In between, he shares his passion for insects and spiders at outreach programs. Since 1988, Smith has spread the wings of 200,000 butterflies and moths, or about 7000 a year.
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas of Davis, a longtime associate at the Bohart Museum, will assist with the open house and the outdoor collecting. The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly 8 million specimens.
Here's a good reason why you should not clean the fixtures around your porch lights--if you need a reason.
The lights attract all kinds of nocturnal flying insects. It's like the proverbial draw of a moth to a flame.
Spiders weave their webs on the light fixtures to trap their prey. If you remove the webs, you'll remove the insect smorgasbord.
Recently we saw an insect we'd never seen before on the light fixture: a praying mantis lying in wait, maybe to snare a moth or share the spider's bounty.
The porch light screams '"science project!" We remember our son's science projects in elementary school, including "Can a Plant Grow Upside Down?" and "How Fast Can a Yo-Yo Spin?" Somewhere the curious mind of a science student will look at the light on his or her front porch and ask: What insects are flying toward the night light and how many? How many predators are lying in wait? What do they eat? And, what roles do these lights and predators play in luring the insects to their death?
Meanwhile, the praying mantis has vanished. It's end of the season. Next year there will be many more praying mantids. One deposited an egg case beneath a table on the back porch. After they emerge and eat their brothers and sisters (no sibling love there!), one or more may hang out on the light fixture next year.
The two go together like a moth to a flame, so why not have "Moth-er's Day?"
And that's exactly what the Bohart Museum of Entomology is doing from 1 to 4 p.m.,Sunday, May 4 in Room 1124 of Academic Surge, Crocker Lane, UC Davis. The open house is free and open to the public.
The Atlas moth (Attacus atlas), the world's largest moth with the greatest wing area of 10 to 12 inches, will be among the insect specimens displayed. The Atlas is found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia--and in the Bohart Museum!
Visitors will see the incredible diversity of moths, and learn the differences between moths and butterflies. "There is far greater diversity among moths than butterflies," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
Both moths and butterflies are in the order Lepidoptera, which refers to the scales on their wings.
Another large moth on display will be the "bat moth" or "black witch" (Ascalapha odorata), found in Central America, South America, Bahamas and parts of the southwestern United States. In Mexican and Caribbean folklore, it is considered a harbinger of death. The insect played a role in the movie, "Silence of the Lambs" but the name was changed to "Death's-head Hawkmoth."
The white-lined Sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) is another critter you'll see. It flies both at night and during the day and has a wing span length between 2.7 and 3.9 inches. Some folks know it by its nickname, "the hummingbird moth." A member of the Sphingidae family, the white-lined sphinx moth is found throughout most of the United States, plus Mexico, Central America and Canada.
What other kinds of moths will you see on Moth-'ers Day?
- The White Witch (Thysania agrippina), which holds the record for the largest wingspan in an insect (one Brazilian specimen has a wingspan of almost 12 inches). Note that the Atlas has the greater wing area.
- Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemacaulata), what you don't want to see in your garden.
- Sunset Moth (Urania leilus), a colorful day-flying moth often mistaken for a butterfly
- Cosmosoma spp., a genus of clear-winged moths
- Automeris spp., a genus of moths with distinctly large owl-eyes on the hindwings
- Sesiidae, a family of moths mimicking wasps
- Bee-Hawk Moths (Hemaris spp.), a genus of sphinx moths mimicking bumble bees, and sometimes mistaken for hummingbirds
- Moon Moths (Argema spp.), found in Africa and Asia
- Tiger Moths (family Arctiidae), amazing butterfly mimics
- Indian Meal Moths (Plodia interpunctella), also called pantry moths (the caterpillars are grain pests)
The Moth-er's Day event is also a good time to explore the Bohart Museum gift shop for Mother's Day gifts, including jewelry (necklaces, pins and earrings), books and other items suitable for entomology fans.
Visitors can hold live insects such as Madagascar hissing cockroaches, Vietnamese walking sticks, walking leaves and a rose-haired tarantula.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, was founded in 1946 by the late Richard M. Bohart. Dedicated to teaching, research and service, the museum houses nearly eight million insect specimens collected globally. It boasts the seventh largest insect collection in North America.
You'll learn all about butterflies and moths of Central Europe if you attend his talk or webinar (listen live) from 12:10 to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 26 in 122 Briggs, University of California, Davis. The webcast will later be archived.
His topic: “Butterflies and Moths in Central Europe: Natural History, Climate Change and Voltinism."
Altermatt is the last speaker in a series of spring seminars launched March 31 by the UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Altermatt, who is with the Marcel Holyoak Group at UC Davis, received his doctorate in 2007 from the University of Basel, Switzerland. From 2007-2009, he served as a scientific collaborator at Hintermann & Weber AG, (Ecological Consultancy, Planning and Research), working on the project “Biodiversity Monitoring Switzerland.”
Entomology graduate students James Harwood and Amy Morice of professor James Carey’s lab will be webcasting the seminar. The Wednesday webcastings draw widespread audiences, some from as far away as Brazil.
This is the last spring seminar, but the noon-hour seminars will continue in the fall.