The lady beetle, aka ladybug, scurried up the lion's tail plant, Leonotis leonurus.
Up one stem and down another, she went. Apparently, she didn't find what she was looking for--aphids or other small bodied-insects--and took flight.
If you haven't planted this in your pollinator garden, you should. A native of South Africa, it is cherished for its dazzling orange spiked blossoms, reminiscent of a lion's tail. The plant is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, which means it has square stems.
Other attributes include: drought resistant, deer resistant, and basically disease-free and pest-free. It attract birds, butterflies and hummingbirds. And our little buddies, the lady beetles. You can never get enough of them!
Note also that the lion's tail is known for its medicinal properties. "The main psychoactive component of Leonotis leonurus is claimed to be leonurine, even though leonurine has never been found in the plant using chemical analysis," according to Wikipedia. "Like other plants in the mint family, it also contains marrubiin. The name 'wild dagga' links it closely to cannabis as 'dagga' derived from the Khoikhoi 'dachab' is an indigenous South African name for cannabis species. This name may be a misnomer, as no part of the plant is used as a hallucinogen."
Wikipedia adds: "The infusions made from flowers and seeds, leaves or stems are widely used to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, diabetes, viral hepatitis, dysentery, and diarrhea. The leaves, roots and bark are used as an emetic for snakebites, bee and scorpion stings. The fresh stem juice is used as an infusion drunk for 'blood impurity' in some places of South Africa."
We just like the calming effect it has in the pollinator garden.
That's the gist of what ecologist Richard Karban, professor of entomology in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, told us back in July 22, 2015 on the publication of his landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication (University of Chicago Press).
Our news article, on the department website, covered his research and his 240-page book.
Karban's book is “the first comprehensive overview of what is known about how plants perceive their environments, communicate those perceptions, and learn," said Graeme Ruxton of the University of St. Andrews, UK, co-author of Experimental Design for the Life Sciences and Plant-Animal Communication."
It is “the first comprehensive overview of what is known about how plants perceive their environments, communicate those perceptions, and learn," Ruxton said. "Facing many of the same challenges as animals, plants have developed many similar capabilities: they sense light, chemicals, mechanical stimulation, temperature, electricity, and sound. Moreover, prior experiences have lasting impacts on sensitivity and response to cues; plants, in essence, have memory.". Facing many of the same challenges as animals, plants have developed many similar capabilities: they sense light, chemicals, mechanical stimulation, temperature, electricity, and sound. Moreover, prior experiences have lasting impacts on sensitivity and response to cues; plants, in essence, have memory."
Karban has researched plant communication in sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) on the east side of the Sierra since 1995. His groundbreaking research on plant communication among kin, published in February 2013 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, drew international attention. In that study, Karban and his co-researchers found that kin have distinct advantages when it comes to plant communication, just as “the ability of many animals to recognize kin has allowed them to evolve diverse cooperative behaviors.”
A lot has happened since then. Karban continues his 40-year research, and it's continuing to draw widespread interest.
This week writer Zoe Schlanger featured him in a Bloomberg Quint article titled The Botanist Daring to Ask: Do Plants Have Personalities?
Schlanger followed him to his field study area in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. It's part of a 156-acre reserve owned by UC Santa Barbara. She described him as "a lithe beanpole of a man with arrow-straight posture and a tuft of white hair."
"In the past 15 years or so, thanks to advances in plant genetics and a new openness toward plant research once considered fringe, botanists such as Karban have found that plants produce and respond to complex chemical signals," Schlanger wrote. "They can detect the slightest touch. They know when they're shaded by a cloud or a fellow plant, and whether that plant is related to them. Several species can recognize can recognize their genetic kin and rearrange their bodies to avoid competing with siblings. They can manipulate predators to do their bidding and transmit electrical signals among their roots."
Read more of Schlanger's article at https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/do-plants-have-personalities-this-botanist-is-looking-to-prove-they-do.
Karban, a fellow of the Ecological Society of America, is the go-to person regarding plant sensing and communication.
We remember asking Karban: "What are 10 things to know about plant sensing and communication?" He answered:
- Plants sense their environments and respond.
- Although they lack central nervous systems, they process information and appear to "behave intelligently."
- They sense the position of competitors and "forage" for light.
- They sense the availability of water and nutrients in the soil and "forage" for these resources.
- Their decisions are influenced by past experiences, akin to memory.
- The respond to reliable cues that predict future events, allowing them to "anticipate."
- Plants respond differently to cues that they themselves produce, allowing them to distinguish self from non-self.
- They respond differently to close relatives and strangers.
- Plants that are prevented from sensing or responding experience reduced fitness.
- By understanding the "language" of plant responses, we can grow healthier and more productive plants.
So the next time you see monarch caterpillars chowing down on narrow-leafed milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), or Gulf Fritillary caterpillars skeletonizing their host plant, the passionflower vine (Passiflora), think about that. And ponder: Do plants have personalities?
The UC Davis winners are Erin Taylor Kelly of the Geoffrey Attardo lab, Hyoseok Lee of the Christian Nansen lab, Jill Oberski of the Phil Ward lab, Lacie Newton of the Jason Bond lab, and Clara Stuligross of the Neal Williams lab.
- Kelly won first place for her poster, “Metabolic Snapshot: Using Metabolomics to Compare Near-Wild and Colonized Aedes aegypti,” in the Physiology, Biochemistry and Ecology Section.
- Lee won first place for his entry, “Predicting Spring Migration of Beet Leafhoppers, Circulifer tenellus (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae) from Natural Overwintering Sites into Tomato fields in California" in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category of the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Behavioral Ecology Section
- Oberski won first place for her entry, “Why Do Museum Collections Matter?” in the Graduate Infographics category, Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section.
- Newton won second place for her entry, “Integrative Species Delimitation Reveals Cryptic Diversity in the Southern Appalachian Antrodiaetus unicolor (Araneae: Antrodiaetidae) Species Complex,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section, Genomics.
- Stuligross won second place for her entry, "Larval Pesticide Exposure Reduces Adult Wild Bee Reproduction,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Pollinators 2 Section.
The first-place winners received a $75 cash prize, a one-year membership in ESA and a certificate, while the second-place winners won a year's membership and a certificate.
One that is drawing a lot of attention--and rightfully so--is the Oberski poster, "Why Do Museum Collections Matter?" (See below.) The Bohart Museum of Entomology, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is one of the many outstanding insect museums in the world. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor and former department chair, the Bohart houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens.
As Oberski writes: "Cabinets of curiosity and natural history museums are the original basis of our knowledge of global biodiversity. Such collections, however, are more than just well-organized dead organisms. Museums are enormous libraries of identified species, localities, and dates, constantly updated and reorganized based on the best new information. These data inform countless fields of research, and can even answer future questions no one has yet thought to ask. Most importantly, they preserve irreplaceable type specimens, which are a crucial part of species description. Now that many of these insect collections are being digitized and accessed from around the globe, why is it necessary to maintain them as physical materials? While many datasets do lend themselves well to digitization, insect specimens experience significant data loss. Most commonly, photographs are taken of the specimens, but photos are usually inadequate for discerning taxonomic features. Even high-resolution 3D scans are no substitute for direct observations. Finally, museums are centers of education and public outreach. Through collections, biology students and communities can physically experience global insect biodiversity they might not otherwise see, regardless of location or mobility. The “wow” factor of magnificent specimens is most powerful in person. As our lives become increasingly computer-oriented, we must recognize that to enjoy and study nature, no digital replacement will suffice."
Oberski, who joined the Ward lab in 2017, holds a bachelor of arts degree, cum laude, from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., where she majored in biology and German studies.
The Entomological Society of America, headquartered in Annapolis, Md., and founded in 1889, is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. They include educators, extension personnel, consultants, students, researchers, and scientists from agricultural departments, health agencies, private industries, colleges and universities, and state and federal governments. It is a scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics. For more information, visit www.entsoc.org.
(See in-depth piece on the four other UC Davis recipients on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)
UC Davis faculty members Diane Ullman and Gale Okumura challenged their students to do just that in their remote-instructed class “The Power of Visual Language through Symbolism and Expression in Clay” and the result is an amazing mural, "When Words Are Not Enough."
The newly installed nine-tile mural, featuring flora and fauna designs, graces the wall just outside Room 126 of the Environmental Horticulture Building, 200 Arboretum Drive. Measuring 36 x 34-inches, it's the collaborative work of students Leslie Briceno-Marquez, Jason Hu, Analiese Ignacio, Heewon Shin, Emma Storm, Anushka Vispute and Mia Xiong, and their instructors.
Ullman, an artist and entomologist, is a professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Okumura is an artist, designer and lecturer with the UC Davis Department of Design.
The mural includes a honey bee, created by Storm, an anise swallowtail butterfly by Briceno-Marquez, and an octopus by Anushka Vispute.
Students learned the history of the use of symbols and signs in visual language from ancient to contemporary times, and gained an introduction to basic design principles, including the golden ratio, rule of thirds, and the use of lines, shapes, composition and perspective, as well as color theory and Gestalt Principles. They then applied them to their designs
The instructors billed the course as “how to use symbolic representation in design and visual narrative to enhance expression and understanding of ideas and concepts.” Each student designed a symbol and then integrated it with their classmates' symbols in an online collaborative process. The work was then printed on tiles using a screen-printing method.
“The ability of the students to absorb such diverse information and transform their learning into meaningful designs was impressive,” Ullman said. “Each of the designs is very personal, but also expressive of a world view based on hope. Transforming their work into the cohesive mural we had all imagined together was exciting and transformative for the students and for us as teachers.”
Remote instruction proved to be challenging at times. “This class was meant to be highly participatory and hands on, so leading discussions in a remote environment and not being able to have students in our classroom, also called the Labudio (Lab plus Studio) was really difficult,” Ullman said. “We overcame this obstacle by sending them the materials they needed to draw their designs and then we used their digitized designs to print the design on ceramic tiles that were sent to them for completion, along with the glazes and brushes they needed. They then sent them back to us and we fired them.”
“This meant that all the steps of screen printing they would have learned and done themselves in the Labudio—printing film positives of their designs, coating silk screens with special emulsion, burning the screens with their designs, printing their designs with underglaze on ceramic tiles, had to be done by us. In addition, we had to prepare and address the packages. Even though the class was relatively small, this was labor intensive.”
Several artists from the UC Davis and local community rushed to their aid: Sarah Rizzo, Teresa Slack, Val Jones and Heather Mechling Eckels. Some are associated with the UC Davis Art-Science Fusion Program, co-founded by Ullman and artist Donna Billick of Davis, now a retired co-director of the program.
“It was a challenge because we maintained all social distancing mandates and could not be there all at the same time,” Ullman pointed out. “Everyone wore masks when they came to help, and we disinfected the space with bleach every time we worked there. They all came at different times to help—entirely out of the goodness of their hearts. We are so grateful for their helping hands.”
The instructors credited Bay Area artist Jos Sances with “sharing his printing techniques and loaning us emulsion when we couldn't buy it due to the pandemic. Donna Billick helped install the mural and taught us how to do it for the next mural installation. We are grateful for the life-long learning opportunity this work has been for us and our opportunity to meet and learn from these great artists.”
The mural has drawn dozens of accolades on Ullman's Facebook page:
- “It's just gorgeous!”
- "That octopus is amazing. Well, in fact each square has such awesome treasures.”
- “Love this!”
- “So beautiful!
- “Wow! This is beautiful—and even more impressive given the challenges with online learning”
- “This is so cool”
The instructors are teaching the same class this quarter and look forward to more creativity.
The Environmental Horticulture Building mural is one of 36 projects either installed or exhibited by students of Ullman—who teaches Entomology 001 and first-year seminars--and her collaborators, including Billick and Okumura.
If you're a graduate student in entomology and competing with your team in the Entomology Games, a college-bowl type trivia game hosted by the Entomological Society of America, it's not only good to know your insects but you ought to have an interest in sports, crime-fighting insect figures, and cartoons.
Take this year's Virtual Entomology Games, won by Alabama's Auburn University, with Purdue's Boiler Bugs scoring second. A tiebreaker question determined the winner.
Tiebreaker Question: Gary Larson is known for using insects as a source of humor in his acclaimed comic strip "The Far Side." A survey of 4,300 "Far Side" comics revealed that exactly how many contained some sort of entomological reference?
The correct answer: 359 comics. Auburn guessed 650, but the Boiler Bugs responded with a whopping 1477. Locally, the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology team answered with a more conservative 500. (See Bug Squad blog about the UC Davis team.)
A Quarterback, a Vigilante and a Paranormal
- "Even though this new wasp species is distinctly not fossorial, LSU grad student Ilgoo Kang elected to name it after what Heisman-winning quarterback?" The answer: Joe Burrow.
- Keye Luke, Jay Chou, and Bruce Lee have all portrayed Kato, the crimefighting partner of what fictional vigilante? The answer: The Green Hornet
- Although this year's festivities were postponed due to COVID-19, the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, normally hosts an annual festival that commemorates the 1966 sightings of what paranormal figure? Answer: Mothman
Just who is the Mothman? According to Wikipedia, it's part of West Virginia folklore. Mothman is "a creature reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 15, 1966, to December 15, 1967. The first newspaper report was published in the Point Pleasant Register dated November 16, 1966, titled "Couples See Man-Sized Bird ... Creature ... Something." The national press soon picked up the reports and helped spread the story across the United States."
So, according to Wikipedia, the "Mothman was introduced to a wider audience by Gray Barker in 1970 and was later popularized by John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, claiming that there were supernatural events related to the sightings, and a connection to the collapse of the Silver Bridge."
Of course, you need to keep up with entomology meetings and legendary entomologists as well to compete in the Entomology Games. Some of this year's questions:
- What four-word phrase is the theme of next year's International Congress of Entomology? Answer: "Entomology for Our Planet"
- What taxonomist was named an ESA Fellow in 1924 in honor of her numerous contributions to the classification of Microlepidoptera? Answer: Annette Frances Braun
- Thaddeus Harris is often called the "father of economic entomology" in the US. What other 19th century entomologist is known as the "father of economic entomology" in Canada? Answer: James Fletcher
- What Harvard professor wrote the 1795 book "The Description and Life History of the Cankerworm" and is sometimes referred to as the first American entomologist? Answer: William D. Peck