It's a strikingly beautiful insect.
But in its larval stage, the alfalfa butterfly, Colias eurytheme--also known as the orange sulphur butterfly--is a pest.
If you grow alfalfa, you're not a fan of this butterfly, and rightfully so.
"Alfalfa caterpillars can consume entire leaves," according to the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website. "The larger larvae are most destructive."
The butterfly lays its eggs "on the new growth of alfalfa that is less than 6 inches tall," UC IPM says. "Eggs hatch into green caterpillars in 3 to 7 days. Full-grown caterpillars are about 1.5 inches long and are distinguished from other caterpillars on alfalfa by their velvety green bodies with white lines along their sides."
"Caterpillar populations usually result from a flight of butterflies into the field when the alfalfa is less than 6 inches tall. Extremely large numbers of adults migrating between fields are often present from June to September in the Central Valley and from May to October in the southern desert."
We've been seeing lots of alfalfa butterflies sipping nectar on our African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum × basilicum 'Dark Opal').
Sometimes they don't notice you and you can edge toward them, camera in hand.
Sometimes they don't even notice that a honey bee is shadowing them. Honey bees are also quite fond of African blue basil.
Butterfly meet bee. Bee meet butterfly.
In the insect photography world, that's called a "two-fer"--a bonus of two insects in one photo.
Or more specifically, think "sculpture in front of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis."
The Bohart Museum, which owns one of the world's largest tardigrade collections, plans to install a tardigrade sculpture to grace its entrance, says director Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis.
The Bohart Museum Society has set up a GoFundMe account: see https://www.gofundme.com/f/waterbear-sculpture.
"The reason for this is that we have one of the world's largest tardigrade collections, which was compiled by (senior museum scientist) Steve Heydon's predecessor, Bob Schuster," Kimsey explained. "This collection is the result of years of collecting, mounting, imaging, and identifying by former collection manager Bob Schuster and emeritus professor Al Grigarick and their collaborators."
The Bohart collection includes some 25,000 slide-mounted specimens. Kimsey and collaborator Carl Johannsen work on a National Science Foundation grant to database and conserve the collection.
Kimsey says this about tardigrades:
- They belong to their own phyllum, the Tardigrada (meaning "slow steppers"), and to date there are some 1,500 described species throughout the world."
- They belong to one most peculiar and indestructible groups of animals known. Microscopic and nearly indestructible, they can survive being heated to 304 degrees Fahrenheit or being chilled for days at -328 F. And, even if they're frozen for 30 years, they can still reproduce." See video on EurekAlert.
- Tardigrades can survive high pressures of more than 1,200 atmospheres found in the bottom of the abyss. They can tolerate 1,000 times more ionizing radiation than other animals.
- In research published in 2016, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo found that the water bear expresses a tardigrade-specific protein that binds itself to DNA. This acts like a "shield against x-ray radiation, preventing the DNA from snapping apart," according to an article published in Gizmodo.
- German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1731-1793) first described the critters in 1773, referring to them as "kleiner Wasserbär," or "little water bears."
- They're easiest to find on lichens and mosses but they can also be found on beaches, in the subtidal zone, freshwater sediments, soil, hot springs and even on barnacles. They've been found high in the Himalayas to down in the deep sea. They've even been found in the interior of Antarctica.
- They mostly feed on plants or bacteria but some are predators on smaller tardigrades. They use the stylets in their tubular mouth (snout) to pierce individual plant or bacterial ells or small invertebrates.
- The stubby water bear sports a barrel-shaped body and eight pudgy legs. The adults usually range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm in length.
- They are really popular with kids in part because of their representation in the movies Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Star Trek and Family Guy.
Kimsey has been in touch with sculptor Solomon Bassoff (Faducciart) in Roseville. "He did the caterpillar in the Davis Central Park."
The donations are coming in.
- Alumnus and donor Stephen Clement commented: "I donated because of the mentoring I received from Al Grigarick (major professor for Ph.D) and from Bob Schuster for his taxonomic help (M.S. degree), 1970-1976."
- Donor Pablo Bleyer declared: "Tardigrades were some of my childhood friends."
- Donor Bob Goldstein: "Davis seems like a great place for a tardigrade sculpture! I'm inspired by the tardigradologists and nematologists I've admired there. A eutardigrade seems like it'd be less prone to causing injuries, but I can support a heterotardigrade :)"
"Tardigrades are awesome," Kimsey said, marveling that "They can dry out completely and then become immortal. In fact, SpaceIL may have left thousands of dried tardigrades on the moon when it crashed earlier this year."
Meanwhile, stuffed toy water bears, the scientific version of a teddy bear, are quite popular in the Bohart Museum's gift shop, which also includes insect-themed books, posters, t-shirts, jewelry, candy, and insect collecting equipment.
The museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, collected globally. It also maintains a live "petting zoo" featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
And on the horizon: a one-of-a-kind, talk-of-the-campus tardigrade sculpture.
And now doctoral candidate John Mola of the Neal Williams lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will present his exit seminar on "Bumble Bee Movement Ecology and Response to Wildfire" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 9 in Room 122 of Briggs Hall.
Mola, who specializes in bee biology, pollinator ecology and population genetics, says in his abstract:
"Observing bumble bees on flowers can be a deceptive practice. When standing in a field looking at a bunch of bees, we have little clue about the distances they traveled to get there or the number of colonies to which the individuals belong. However, modern genetic tools let us reveal this unseen information. In my dissertation I use genetic mark-recapture to understand two areas of general ecological interest and apply them to bumble bees: organismal movement and disturbance ecology. In this talk I discuss what I learned about bumble bee movement ecology in a subalpine meadow complex and insights gained from an unexpected opportunity to study the response of a bumble bee population to wildfire."
Mola holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental studies from Florida State University, and a master's degree in biology at Humboldt State University. He enrolled in the UC Davis Ph.D. program in ecology in 2014.
In August 2019 Mola published a "Review of Methods for the Study of Bumlbe Bee Movement" in Apidologie with his major professor, co-author and pollination ecologist Neal Williams. The abstract:
"Understanding animal movement is critical for conservation planning, habitat management, and ecological study. However, our understanding is often limited by methodological constraints. These limitations can be especially problematic in the study of ecologically and economically important pollinators like bumble bees, where several aspects of their biology limit the feasibility of landscape-scale studies. We review the methods available for the study of bumble bee movement ecology, discussing common limitations and tradeoffs among several frequent data sources. We provide recommendations on appropriate use for different life stages and castes, emphasizing where recent methodological advances can help reveal key components of understudied parts of the bumble bee life cycle such as queen movement and dispersal. We emphasize that there is no one correct method and encourage researchers planning studies to carefully consider the data requirements to best address questions of interest."
Mola expanded on the topic on his website: "This manuscript contains more within it than the title alone lets on. Understanding the landscape-scale movements of bumble bees has long-plagued researchers despite heavy interest. In some ways reviewing the methods is to review the history of bumble bee movement research. We cover the tools one may use for tracking bumble bees. We also include information on how to interpret and contextualize results, considerations on conceptualizing bumble bee movement, and suggestions for future research efforts. I think folks will find the table and supplemental information particularly handy in planning research and writing manuscripts (we provide a long list of great studies on bumble bee movement in the supplemental). If you're really interested in the research area, consider coming to BOMBUSS 2.0 where Jamie Strange and I will be co-leading a session on this very topic. https://wildlifepreservation.ca/about-bombuss/"
In 2018, Mola wowed the judges at the graduate student research poster competition at the fourth annual UC Davis Bee Symposium for his work on "Bumble Bee Movement and Landscape Genetics." As the first-place winner, he received the $850 cash prize. The judges: Tom Seeley, professor at Cornell University, the symposium's keynote speaker; speaker Santiago Ramirez, assistant professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, and native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor at UC Davis.
“In conservation biology and ecological study, we must know the distances organisms travel and the scales over which they go about their lives,” Mola said of his work at the time. “To properly conserve species, we have to know how much land they need, how close those habitats need to be to each other, and the impact of travel on species success. For instance, if I'm told there's free burritos in the break room, I'm all over it. If the 'free' burritos require me traveling to Scotland, it's not worth it and I would spend more energy (and money) than I would gain. For pollinators, it's especially important we understand their movement since the distances they travel also dictates the quality of the pollination service they provide to crop and wild plants."
“Despite this importance, we know comparatively little about the movements of bees--the most efficient of pollinators--due to the difficulty of tracking individuals," Mola explained.
Mola says that "Unlike birds or large mammals, we can't just attach large radio collars and follow them around. As such, my work has focused on improving methods that we can use for study. I use a combination of landscape ecology and molecular genetics to identify the locations of siblings (colony-mates) in landscapes. From that information, we can infer all sorts of useful information about the potential foraging range, habitat use, population size, etc. It's a very exciting time to be working on these topics as the availability of new genetic and GPS technologies allows us to answer or re-address scientific and conservation issues with bees.”
Mola's next step: Fort Collins, Colo., where he will be a USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) Mendenhall postdoctoral fellow.
The blood-sucking insect, which transmits the parasite that causes human and animal trypanosomiasis, has wreaked havoc in African countries.
It's distinguished from other Diptera by unique adaptations, "including lactation and the birthing of live young," says medical entomologist-geneticist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Mark your calendar.
The UC Davis Department of Animal Science is hosting his seminar, “Tsetse Fly Reproduction: Exploration of the Unique Reproductive Adaptations of a Neglected Disease Vector” at 12:10 p.m., Monday, Oct. 7 in the Weir Room, 2154 Meyer Hall.
"Tsetse flies function as the sole vectors of human and animal Trypanosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa," Attardo says in his abstract. "In addition to their role as disease vectors, tsetse flies distinguish themselves from other flies in terms of their amazing physiological adaptations. Of these adaptations, the reproductive biology/physiology of these flies stands out as one of the most dramatic."
"Female tsetse flies carry their young in an adapted uterus for the entirety of their immature development and provide their complete nutritional requirements via the synthesis and secretion of a milk like substance. Tsetse milk is derived of roughly 50 percent lipids and 50 percent proteins. Tsetse milk proteins are coded for by repurposed genes and by genes specific to tsetse flies. These genes are regulated in tight correlation with the female's pregnancy cycle. In addition, tsetse flies have established an obligate relationship with the bacterial symbiont Wigglesworthia glossinidius. This symbiont is required for lactation and larval development. Metabolic analysis of tsetse flies lacking this symbiont reveals a tightly integrated relationship between these organisms. This relationship is required for the metabolism of blood, production of essential micronutrients and synthesis/secretion of lipids essential for milk production.”
Attardo led landmark research published Sept. 2 in the journal Genome Biology that provides new insight into the genomics of the tsetse fly. The researchers compared and analyzed the genomes of six species of tsetse flies. Their research could lead to better insights into disease prevention and control.
“It was a behemoth project, spanning six to seven years,” said Attardo. “This project represents the combined efforts of a consortium of 56 researchers throughout the United States, Europe, Africa and China.” (See news story.)
In 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 60 million people were at risk of sleeping sickness, with an estimated 300,000 new cases per year in Africa, and fewer than 30,000 cases diagnosed and treated. Due to increased control, only 3796 cases were reported in 2014, with less than 15,000 estimated cases, according to WHO statistics.
WHO says that the parasitic disease “mostly affects poor populations living in remote rural areas of Africa. Untreated, it is usually fatal. Travelers also risk becoming infected if they venture through regions where the insect is common. Generally, the disease is not found in urban areas, although cases have been reported in suburban areas of big cities in some disease endemic countries.”
Fact: At least 80 percent of those attending the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house on entomophagy ate one or more insects--a cricket, an earthworm or a mealworm. The diners ranged in age from a 9-month-old girl to senior citizens.
Some came back for more--especially the mealworms and earthworms, said Bohart associate Emma Cluff. The crickets? Not so much.
A two-year-old from Dixon happily munched everything given to him. "He'll eat anything," his mother said.
Various companies, including Hotlix, Exo and Chirps Chips, provided the samples.
Besides eating insects, visitors asked questions about entomophagy and handled insects from the petting zoo, which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks or stick insects, and tarantulas.
They also made buttons proclaiming "I Ate a Bug at the Bohart."
A display, titled "Bug Buffet," drew widespread interest: "Have you ever eaten ant pancakes or scorpion scaloppini? Well, eating bugs (entomophagy) is a lot more common than you might think. All round the world, people eat delicious and nutritious insect delicacies."
The dishes mentioned on the display:
- Locust Biscuits, featuring the brown locust, Locustana pardalina
- Mexican Caviar, starring the giant water bug, Abedus herberti
- Termite a la Carte, featuring termites, order Isoptera
- Maguey Worm Tacos, with Maguey worms, family Megathymidae
- Raw Cossid Moths, starring the larvae of the cossid moth, Xyleutes leucomochia
- Fried Pupae, presenting the pupae of the silkworm moth, Bombix mori
The next Bohart Museum open house, themed Parasitoid Palooza!, is on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 1 to 4 p.m. It is free and family friendly. The museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Drive.
"An insect parasitoid is a species whose immatures live off of an insect host, often eating it from the inside out," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart Museum. "It is part of their life cycle and the host generally dies."
The late UC Davis entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), founder of the Bohart Museum, researched Strepsiptera, or twisted-wing parasites, for his doctorate in 1938. Both the Bohart Museum and an entire family of Strepsiptera, the Bohartillidae, are named in his honor.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is home to the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. It also maintains a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com. (See list of open houses for the 2019-2020 academic year.)