Our cat is an entomologist.
She has no formal training in the science of insects, but she can catch insects with the best of 'em. Plus, her credentials include a butterfly mark on her leg.
Xena the Warrior Princess is a rescue cat. We first spotted her outside a Costco store in the winter of 2000, the same year our son headed off to college to study computer science and mathematics.
A sign proclaimed "Free kitten!"
Not wanting a kitten, free or not (we already owned an adventuresome calico named Indiana Joan), we started to walk away.
But she was calling my name, this scrawny kitten dressed unabashedly in the same tuxedo colors our son wore while playing double bass for the Sacramento Youth Symphony's Premier Orchestra.
Coincidence? Probably. Fate? Perhaps. Serendipity? Certainly.
I thought about naming her "Free," but husband Jim didn't think that would be such a great idea. You just can't step out on the front porch and yell "Free! Free! Free!"
So Xena the Warrior Princess she became: half-warrior, half-princess, and all kitten. At first, Xena repeatedly performed sofa-to-chair leaps in the family room--antics that prompted friend Marilyn to observe: "I think her mother had an affair with a flying squirrel."
Then came the insects. The butterflies, the beetles (not the kind that play music) the honey bees, the sunflower bees, the carpenter bees and the moths.
(We will not talk about the roof rat and the flicker. They are not insects.)
Every night, or so it seems, our feline entomologist snares a hornworm moth and eagerly shares it with us. UC Davis entomologist (and apiculturist) Eric Mussen says the mangled specimen (below) is either a tomato hornworm or tobacco hornworm.
At least it's not a flying squirrel.
LBAM is back in the news.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture announced Aug. 29 that it has established a 19-square-mile quarantine straddling portions of two counties after the light brown apple moth (LBAM) was found July 23 in Napa County and Aug. 10 in Sonoma County.
That's bad news all around.
As a leafrolling caterpillar, the light brown apple moth loves grapes. And just about everything else from A to Z: apple, apricot, beans, caneberries (blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, raspberry), cabbage, camellia, chrysanthemum, citrus, clover, cole crops, eucalyptus, jasmine, kiwifruit, peach, pear, persimmon, plantain, pumpkin, strawberry, tomato, rose and zea mays (corn).
It's a herbivorous generalist.
When I attended the Northern California Entomology Society meeting in May of last year, Alameda County acting ag commissioner Gregory Gee commented about its polyphagous nature: "It even likes pine trees."
Pine trees! Even!
Fact is, Gee said, the pest (Epiphyas postvittana) likes other landscape trees, too, including oak, willow, walnut, poplar, cottonwood and alder.
A native of Australia, LBAM has been found in a dozen counties since retired UC Berkeley entomologist Jerry Powell, a moth taxonomist, first detected the pest in his Berkeley backyard on July 19, 2006.
Controversy swirls over how long the pest has actually been in California and how to battle it. UC Davis entomologist James R. Carey says it's probably been here for years--maybe even decades. Carey doubts that the foreign invader can be eradicated.
But there's no controversy about its appetite.
UC Davis entomologist Frank Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist who researches tree crops, small fruits, vegetables and invasive species, said LBAM's appetite spans 250 hosts--and the spectrum of known hosts continues to grow.
Meanwhile, the moth even has its own song, a no-spray message played by KGO Radio as bumper music. The tune, "Ain't No Moths on Me," written and performed by the Bay Area group, Charity and the JAMband, is as catchy as the Muhammad Ali quote, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
LBAM has no stinger but it definitely stings.
A USDA study indicates that, if California becomes generally infested, the moth could cause billions of dollars in crop damage annually. Additionally, it would hinder export opportunities and interstate commerce due to quarantine restrictions, as demonstrated by the quarantines already enacted by Canada and Mexico. California agricultural exports to the two countries totaled more than $2.4 billion in 2006. Source: CDFA press release.
He didn't bring her flowers.
They were already sharing a sunflower leaf.
He didn't bring her candy.
They'd already dined on nectar.
It was Labor Day and the two crane flies looked quite friendly in our bee friendly garden.
More than friendly.
I think they were in love.
Crane flies, also known as mosquito hawks, look like Texas-sized mosquitoes. "Big 'uns," as my Texas-born grandmother used to say. But these insects won't bite you or suck your blood. They're long-legged, two-winged insects with such slender abs that their "to do" list probably includes daily workouts at the gym. They're members of the family Tipulidae (suborder Nematocera, order Diptera).
Despite their name, mosquito hawks don't eat skeeters. They just look like they might.
They're basically quite harmless. The larvae feed on plant roots, sometimes causing problems in nurseries. The adults are a hot menu item ("the daily special") for birds, fish and other animals. Bring 'em on!
What's good about the mosquito hawk are its nicknames: gallinipper, jimmy spinner, skeeter eater, skeeter lion, leatherjackets (referring to the tough brown skin of the larvae), daddy long-legs (in Canada and Ireland), doizabizzler and gollywhopper.
Gollywhopper? You can't say that without smiling.
You just can't.
Okay, be honest.
If you were attending class at 7:30 a.m., could you get excited about flies? No? How about the gender differences? Still no?
You would if Mary Frances “Fran” Keller were there teaching you.
You won’t find anyone more enthusiastic about entomology than Fran Keller.
A doctoral candidate in entomology, she recently received an outstanding teaching award at UC Davis.
She's amazing. Take it from pre-med student Shawn Purnell, one of Keller’s students.
“My perception and expectations of teacher assistants were forever raised when I met Fran,” he said.
“Truthfully, the very first time I had lab, I thought Fran was a little crazy. I had never before seen anyone become so enthralled in explaining the differences between male and female flies, especially at in the morning. I thought to myself, why would I ever be interested in this and how is this knowledge ever going to benefit me? To my surprise, by the very next lab I found myself blissfully explaining the conditions of Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium to my lab partner. Fran’s passion toward her students and enthusiasm for not only zoology, but also all aspects of academia, created an irresistible learning environment.”
If it creeps or crawls or flies or jumps, Fran wants to know about it. She's especially partial to tenebrionids or darkling beetles (see her Web site). She’s also an accomplished artist, illustrator and nature photographer. And a wife and mother of two.
Her four years as the teaching assistant (TA) in an insect physiology class taught by Charles Judson, emeritus professor of entomology and professors Bruce Hammock and Walter Leal, led to the teaching honor. The trio nominated her for the award, which Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef presented to her at a May ceremony on the UC Davis campus.
How does she do it? Excel at teaching? Fran gets to know her students individually and then focuses on their interests. “She showed me countless examples of how the subject (biological sciences) applied to medicine," Shawn Purnell said. "I especially remember her telling a story about how a graduate student willingly ate a tapeworm to further her research, and what the doctors had to do in order to remove it.”
"It's reassuring to know that out of a maze of 30,000 students and faculty at Davis," he said, "that there are people like Fran who really care."
Said Fran: “Not all students learn in the same way. There are global, linear and kinesthetic learners. I believe that illuminating a student’s learning style opens the door for thinking critically.”
"My very best teachers would not accept less than what they knew I was capable of doing. They understood my potential and treated me as an individual in a sea of many.”
Fran, scheduled to receive her doctorate next June, studies with major advisor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chair of the Department of Entomology.
The doctoral candidate is based at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, where she also designs museum posters, such as the Butterflies of Central California, Dragonflies of California, California State Insect (California Dogface Butterfly) and Pacific Invasive Ants. Currently she's coordinating a sale of gift items listed on the Bohart Web site. Proceeds benefit the museum's outreach program.
What’s she been up to lately? I hope you're sitting down!
This fall she will be TA’ing Entomology 100 with her major professor Lynn Kimsey, who describes her as "one of my most gifted students ever."
She's an invited speaker for the first California Desert Research Symposium (CDRS), set Nov. 8 at the University of the
Fran is also organizing the Coleoptera symposium at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting set Nov. 16-19 in R
And for all you dragonfly enthusiasts out there, she's designing a new dragonfly t-shirt for the museum gift shop.
And about those flies she so eagerly discusses at 7:30 in the morning? How much time do you have?
It's a mighty mite and it's causing beekeepers fits.
The varroa mite (see photo below) is an external parasite that attacks honey bees. It sucks blood from the adults (apparently preferring drones, the male bees) and from the brood (immature bees). "It's commonly found in most hives," says UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen.
Untreated infestations of varroa mites can weaken and kill honeybee colonies
Initially from Asia, the eight-legged reddish brown parasite was first detected in the United States in 1987. It was discovered in two states that year: Florida and Wisconsin (from the same beekeeper colonies). It's now all over the United States.
"Bees try to brush it off with their legs," Mussen said.
Mussen, editor of the bi-monthly newsletter, "from the UC Apiaries," writes about varroa mites in his July-August edition. He's been writing the newsletter since 1976.
In addition to the UC Apiaries newsletter, Mussen writes Bee Briefs, where you can read about such topics as "getting started in beekeeping," "removing swarms" and "honey bees and California native plants."
Both publications are invaluable to the beekeeping world and to folks who just want to know more about bees.
Mussen, a Cooperative Extension apiculturist at UC Davis for more 31 years, is the 2008 recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America.
In national demand for his expertise on honey bees, Mussen appeared on Good Morning America on March 12, and has also been interviewed for The Lehrer Hour, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the television documentary, California Heartland. Coverage also includes Sticky Stuff of Modern Marvels, the History Channel.
“Eric is the primary conduit of information on apiculture, certainly for the entire western U.S. and perhaps even broader than that,” said UC Davis entomologist Larry Godfrey, past president of the Pacific Branch of ESA.
Widely recognized for his work, Mussen received the California State Beekeepers’ Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1999; Apiary Inspectors of America’s Exceptional Service Award in 2000, and the California State Beekeeper Association’s Beekeeper of the Year Award in 2006.
In 2007, the American Association of Professional Apiculturists honored him with an Award of Excellence in Extension Apiculture, one of only five awards the group has presented in 20 years.