John "Jack" Longino knows his ants.
Longino, known by his students as "The Astonishing Ant Man," will present a seminar to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 27 in 122 Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive.
His topic: "Project ADMAC or Ant Diversity of the Mesoamerican Corridor."
Longino, who received his bachelor's degree in zoology, with distinction, in 1978 from Duke University, and his doctorate in zoology in 1984 from the University of Texas, Austin, traces his fascination with insects back to his childhood. He developed an interest in ecology and the desire to explain patterns of diversity, so "I settled on ants as an ecologically dominant group of insects worthy of study."
"As it became clear that I was living during a time of enormous biotic change caused by human activities, I developed a strong conviction that it was important not only to understand patterns of diversity but to document it in detail for this time in history. I divide my time between two research fields: taxonomy and ecology. On the taxonomy side, I have coordinated large-scale inventories of Neotropical insect biodiversity, I discover and describe new species of ants, and I further refine our understanding of species ranges and morphological variability. I make use of advanced imaging technology, specimen-level databases, and Web-dissemination to make biodiversity data available to the widest audiences."
"On the ecology side, I use quantitative inventory techniques that allow analysis of diversity patterns. I am interested in how species are distributed on tropical mountainsides, what ecological factors explain the elevational range limits of species, and how species might respond to climate change."
Ant specialist Phil Ward, UC Davis professor of entomology (and also known as "the ultimate ant man") will introduce and host Longino.
What is the MesoAmerican corridor? It's a zone of complex tectonic history, episodic biotic interchange between large continents, and frequent mountain-building," Longino says. "Ants blanket this landscape, forming a tapestry of fine-scale habitat specialization and geographic replacement. Many taxonomists have contributed to the description of species in the region and this fundamental 'biodiversity mapping' continues apace. Project ADMAC (Ant Diversity of the MesoAmerican Corridor) combines morphological analysis with large-scale DNA sequencing (targeted enrichment of Ultra-Conserved Elements) to reveal the evolutionary history and geographic structure of ant species in MesoAmerica."
"Ants show very strong patterns of elevational specialization and geographic turnover, and Project ADMAC will address questions of (1) how and when montane species evolve, (2) the effects of differing mountain ages on communities, (3) the impact of lowland barriers on montane ant dispersal, and (4) whether ants experienced a major biotic interchange on the closure of the Panamanian isthmus."
National Public Radio interviewed Longino in August of 2013 on his research. He told NPR he started out collecting stamps in his childhood, but that bored him. He decided to "get small."
"If you're shopping for a home entertainment system," he says, "you can't do better than a good dissecting microscope," he said. At the time of the NPR interview, Longino had just published two papers describing 33 new species of ants, bringing his personal "new species" total to 131, NPR reported. In the article, Longino described himself as "average" among entomologists, pointing out that some entomologists have described thousands of new species.
So, if you're like Longino, if you had a choice between a home entertainment system and a good dissecting microscope, the winner--hands down--would be the dissecting microscope.
And if you want to know about ants, you can download Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants for free at http://ants.yourwildlife.org/dr-eleanors-book-of-common-ants/. It's the work of science writer Eleanor Spicer Rice, noted insect photographer Alex Wild, and designer Neil McCoy.
Be sure to check out Alex Wild's Myrmecos blog at http://www.myrmecos.net/ for amazing ant photos and educational information. He holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (major professor Phil Ward) and is now curator of Entomology in the College of Natural Sciences, University of Austin--the university where Longino received his doctorate.
All in the family...the ant family...Formicidae.
Images of arthropods in the public domain that you can download.
Free. For. All.
Noted insect photographer/entomologist Alex Wild, curator of entomology for the Biodiversity Collections, University of Texas at Austin, has launched the "Insects Unlocked" Project, aiming for $8000 over a month-long campaign.
Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology in 2005 from the University of California, Davis, is a professional insect photographer extraordinaire. And, under his mentorship, a team of students in UT's Insect Image Lab "will learn the art and artistry of digital microphotography while capturing images of Texas's smallest wildlife," he explains. They will "create thousands of beautiful, unique, and informative visual works for release into the public domain. The resulting image collection will be open for anyone to use, free of the constraints of traditional copyright."
"Where can you use Insects Unlocked's images?" he asks. "Anywhere you'd like! Web pages, magazine covers, books, billboards, blogs, t-shirts, scientific papers, apps, social media, coffee mug designs, classroom presentations, Wikipedia, and more. Ours are public works and can be used for anything, including commercialization, without the need for advance permission or even credit."
Today he posted on his Facebook page: "I am pleased to report that the Insects Unlocked project to crowd-fund public domain arthropod images is more than 60% funded, not even a week into a month-long campaign. Your support has been generous and unexpected--thanks so much! To celebrate, over the weekend I created some new public domain images for the project, including this 60 image focus-stack of a Brachygastra mellifica Mexican honey wasp (see below). If you'd like to support more images like this, consider contributing at the link: https://hornraiser.utexas.edu/proj…/54e79bbc14bdf7205ddd5ab7
Basically, donations to the program will support several undergraduate students as they learn the UT imaging system and receive training in scientific imaging, entomology, and outreach. As Wild says, "Donations will also improve our processing computers, add cameras and lighting rigs for field use, and offset the costs of web hosting. Our team will start in the summer of 2015, using the 2015-16 academic cycle as a pilot while we evaluate the feasibility of a long term publicly-funded program."
How many images will be in the public domain? "The amount and type of images we produce is proportional to the level of support we receive," Wild says. "Our image lab is located inside the UT insect collection, and we begin with high-magnification captures of curated material, as well as live field photography at the adjoining Brackenridge Field Laboratory. Should we exceed our funding goal, the Insects Unlocked team may be able to mount expeditions to diverse parts of Texas to photograph and video more live insect behavior in the field.
Wild, who studied with major professor/ant specialist Phil Ward at UC Davis, captures amazing images of insects. His work has been published in scientific journals, books, magazines, and newspapers, including the New York Times, National Geographic and Scientific American. He returned to the UC Davis campus in October 2011 to deliver a presentation on "How to Take Better Insect Photographs." His presentation is the most popular of all the UCTV seminar videos posted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Watch it online.
Wild is enjoying his new position as curator. The collection contains about 500,000 pinned and 500,000 ethanol specimens. "We have one of the world's largest collections of cave arthropods," he said.
Alex Wild appreciates the generosity of the 75 donors (as of today). But he, too, is generous--exceedingly generous!--with his time and talents that will benefit us all.
It was Dangerfield (1921-2004), you know, who coined the catchphrase, "I don't get no respect."
Male ants don't either, says myrmecologist (ant reaseacher) Brendon Boudinot, a doctoral student in Phil Ward's Department of Entomology and Nematology lab, University of California, Davis.
Boudinot, who recently won a first-place President's Award for his presentation on “Revising Our Vision of Ant Biodiversity: Male Ants of the New World” at the 2014 Entomological Society of America meeting in Portland, Ore., is passionate about ants, particularly male ants.
Male ants get little respect or attention, said Boudinot, who aims to raise public awareness of their importance and demystify them through his scientific research.
“There are about 12,800 living species of ants described to date,” explained Boudinot, who enrolled in the UC Davis doctoral program after receiving his bachelor's degree at Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash., in 2012. “Males are known for only 27 percent of these species, and no identification resource exists for identifying male ants for most bioregions.”
Addressing this concern, he provided the first male-based identification keys to subfamily and genus level for the New World. The keys cover 13 of the 16 subfamilies and 151 of the 324 genera. This, coupled with a global male-based key to all 16 ant subfamilies he submitted in November, will enable male ants to be identified by genus in the New World---encompassing North, Central, and South America---for the first time.
“This will facilitate the use of male ants in evolutionary, ecological, and taxonomic studies,” Boudinot said. “Moreover, it encourages a shift in the focus of myrmecology, the study of ants, by allowing male-specific collecting methods to be used and will encourage future workers to include males in their research.”
As for telling the difference between a male and a female ant, that's not easy, even for many ant researchers, Boudinot acknowledged. “Males and reproductive females, queens, usually have wings and look different from workers. Males are usually differentiated from females by having slightly different morphology. Besides having complex and strange genitalia, male ants also tend to have one more antennal segment, larger eyes, and in general look more ‘waspy.' "
The genitalia of male ants are fascinating, he said. “Think of a Leatherman or Swiss Army knife which has paired muscular claspers, graspers, and sawblades. Male ants have evolved winglessness and worker-like morphology at least five times in the ants, which has historically led to the accidental description of these wingless males as new species. This is a weird phenomenon which I will be focusing on for a chapter of my dissertation. Why have they evolved winglessness? What are the evolutionary patterns of skeletomuscular reduction? Are there trade-offs for a colony when they lose the ability to produce dispersing males? Anyway, this should be fun.”
Boudinot noted that the inaccurate portrayals of ants in Hollywood movies lead to lifelong misinterpretations. “There is a perception that there are two kinds of ants: red ants and black ants--and sometimes yellow ants--and that the workers of ants include both sexes, as in the Disney movies A Bug's Life and Antz,” Boudinot said. “Really, ants are incredibly diverse---which is why I am fascinated with them in part.”
Reproductory misinformation abounds in “A Bug's Life,” the 1998 American computer-animated comedy adventure film, Boudinot said. All worker ants are female and sterile, but Princess Atta marries a male, Flik. “Flik and Princess Atta wouldn't have married, and if they did, Flik wouldn't be the dad as chances are she, as a worker, would be able to lay only unfertilized eggs which would become clonal males.”
If there's one thing that Boudinot wants youngsters of today to know about ants, it's this: “There are remarkable things to discover everywhere, and unanswered questions abound. Discovery is borne out of observation, and there is so much to observe in any single square meter of Earth's surface. I like ants in this respect because they are everywhere! In tropical rainforests ants and termites (another group of social insects) may make up to one-third of the total animal biomass, dwarfing that of vertebrates such as panthers, birds, and amphibians. There are about 90 species of ants in Sonoma, Napa, Yolo, and Sacramento counties alone, including fungus-cultivating ants!”
Boudinot encourages people to check out AntWeb.org. “This website is a digital database of thousands and thousands of species of ants, many of which look like they are extraterrestrials or are strange beasts out of nightmares,” he said, adding “Okay, and some of which are just fluffy and adorable.”
Fact is, bugs bug people. Birds bug bugs. Bugs bug bugs. If you've ever seen a praying mantis lying in wait for a bee or a ladybug snatching an aphid, or a dragonfly grabbing a hover fly, you know they do. Bugs bug bugs.
In the insect world, people seem to love only butterflies, bees, ladybugs and dragonflies, as evidenced by bug-inspired clothing, jewelry or tattooes. They do not like bed bugs, knats and mosquitoes.
When you think about it, there are about a million described species of insects in the world, "more than five times the number of all animals combined," according to emeritus professor Jerry Powell in his book, California Insects. "Estimates of the number remaining to be discovered and named vary from 1.5 to 5 million or more."
We all talk about the good, the bad and the bugly. The good: the honey bee. The bad: the mosquito. The bugly: the praying mantis.
So it was interesting today that Organic Pest Control of New York City named the world's top 50 bug blogs/pest control blogs. You can see the list here. Geographically, they range from California to Singapore to the UK. "These sites were shown to have valuable, fresh and frequently updated content that is helpful in both entomology and the pest control industry," according to the website.
At least two blogs have UC Davis connections. Biologist and noted insect photographer Alex Wild of the University of Illinois, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis with major professor/ant specialist Phil Ward, is listed for his Myrmecos (that means ant) blog.
The other blog with the UC Davis connection: yours truly with Bug Squad.
Here's what the website said about about the first 10 on the list:
Bug Girl's Blog (Charismatic Minifauna)
This blogger has a PhD in entomology (insect study) and is not afraid to share her fascination through the blog. Another standout feature of the blog is her knowledge of how to control insect populations without the use of pesticides. Top posts include “How to Inspect Your Hotel Room for Bed Bugs” and “Ask an Entomologist.” (Note: this is by Gwen Pearson, who for a long time, never revealed her true identity, not even at an Entomological Society of America meeting.)
Visit here for a blog by Illinois-based biologist and photographer Alex Wild. The blog's name is derived from the Greek word for ant and contains Alex's musings on the little creatures that share our planet. The galleries are a must see given Alex's love of both insects and his talent with a camera.
Insects in the City
Mike Merchant has served as entomology specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension since 1989. His areas of specialty involve research on the insects that effect people including spiders, scorpions, fire ants, termites, and others. Get pest control from an academic point of view by stopping at his blog.
This blog is named after a quote from Joseph Krutch on the human standpoint on insects. Alison also fills her blog with other discoveries on insects and closer looks at them. Everything from ants to wolf spiders are featured.
Butterflies of Singapore
Because some bugs can be downright beautiful, there is this blog. Get a look at “nature's flying jewels” without ever leaving your home. With entries dating back to 2007, there are loads of butterflies to see.
Living With Insects Blog
Jonathan Neal also has a Ph.D in entomology and teaches at Purdue University. His blog is devoted to the intersection of people and insects. Subjects such as fire ants, bees, and many more are often discussed.
Beetles In The Bush
Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. With entries on loads of common and uncommon household pests, his focus is of course the beetle. However, you can also find entries on items such as spiders, reptiles, and most recently, Bichos Argentinos.
Urban Dragon Hunters
These bloggers standout for targeting their insect research and blog towards the largely ignored urban areas. Located in Wayne County, Michigan, they have recorded 50 new species of odonata, or dragonflies. Stop by to see which and learn more about them.
Bug Squad is the blog of Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. This blog, launched in 2008, is part of the University of California's Agricultural and Natural Resources website. Check for the latest research and other information.
What's That Bug?
Also known as The Bugman, Daniel Marlos is the author of “The Curious World of Bugs.” With a healthy pest-free garden in Los Angeles, he is free to explore his love of bugs, as well as share useful pest control tips. Be sure not to miss specialty posts on just about every insect in the U.S.
And, be sure to check out the other winning blogs on the company's site.
Back to the ladybug. It's not really a bug. It's a beetle. That's why scientists want us to call it "lady beetle." You can read all about the lady beetle in UC IPM's Natural Enemies Gallery. UC IPM defines natural enemies as "organisms that kill, decrease the reproductive potential of, or otherwise reduce the numbers of another organism. Natural enemies that limit pests are key components of integrated pest management programs. Important natural enemies of insect and mite pests include predators, parasites, and pathogens."
Sometimes it's good to have an enemy, a natural enemy.
Goodbye, 2013. Hello, 2014.
If you're a beginning driver--or you remember being a beginning driver--your instructor may have admonished: "Look where you're going; not where you've been."
But sometimes, especially at the end of a year, it's good to know where you've been.
Or, in the case of arthropod photography, where the insects and spiders hung out.
If you're like me, you like to prowl their habitats. Sometimes I walk softly and carry a big stick (tripod) but most of the time, I just walk softly.
I focus on their eyes. Their eyes. Their eyes look back at me. Predator or prey? Ignore or confront? Fight or flee?
Not to worry. I am a visitor in their home. I don't poke 'em, prod 'em or pin 'em.
Thankfully, our bee friendly garden in our backyard is not only friendly to bees, but flies, such as robber flies, bee flies and syrphids. The bees? Honey bees, carpenter bees, leafcutting bees, blue orchard bees, sweat bees and European wool carder bees. We see scores of other insects, too, including lady beetles, butterflies, dragonflies, praying mantids, lacewings, and the like. We also welcome arachnids, such as crab spiders, cellar spiders and jumping spiders. We all live together, sometimes not so peacefully. Sometimes not at all. Nature is what it is. And we are what we are. (See some of Bug Squad's favorite images of 2013.)
If you love insect photography, you'll love entomologist/insect photographer Alex Wild's blog, Compound Eye, on scientificamerican.com. (Every time I think of Scientific American, my mind fades back to my high school science project selected for the Pacific Northwest Science Fair at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It won a year's subscription to the magazine. Memories...)
We at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology know Alex Wild as not only an amazing photographer, specializing in ants, but an alumnus. He received his doctorate here, studying with Professor Phil Ward, a noted ant specialist.
The Compound Eye blog describes him this way: "Alex Wild is an Illinois-based biologist who studies insect evolution. He picked up photography a decade ago to better illustrate his technical presentations, and shortly thereafter found himself running a business supplying books, magazines, and museum exhibits with close-up images of insects and other micro-wildlife. Alex holds a Ph.D. in entomology from the University of California at Davis and currently teaches and conducts research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His scientific work includes descriptions of new insect species, annotations of insect genomes, and monographs on the evolution of various groups of wasps, beetles, and ants. Compound Eye is Alex's exploration of science photography's challenges and the role images play in science communication. Alex's galleries are available at http://www.alexanderwild.com." (He also writes the Myrmecos blog and co-teaches the BugShot photography workshops.)
Wild's Compound Eye blog today (Dec. 31) showcases some of the work of noted nature and science photographers. He asked them for links to their "best Nature & Science images from the past year, and wow--you did not disappoint!"
While you're toasting the New Year, offer a toast to these images!
You will be awestruck! Best of all, maybe you'll pick up a camera and start photographing insects, too...