Tsetse fly expert Geoffrey Attardo, a medical entomologist and assistant professor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, drew the attention of Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer Natalie Angier who penned the article, "Everywhere in the Animal Kingdom, Followers of the Milky Way" (subhead: "As scientists learn more about milk's evolution and compositional variations, they are redefining what used to be a signature characteristic of mammals.")
Her lede: "Most female flies take a low-rent approach to parenthood, depositing scores of seed-sized eggs in the trash or on pet scat to hatch, leaving the larvae to fend for themselves."
"Not so the female tsetse fly. She gestates her young internally, one at a time, and gives birth to them live. When each extravagantly pampered offspring pulls free of her uterus after nine days, fly mother and child are pretty much the same size."
Then she quoted the UC Davis medical entomologist:
“It's the equivalent of giving birth to an 18-year-old,” said Geoffrey Attardo, an entomologist who studies tsetse flies at the University of California, Davis.
Attardo focuses his research on numerous aspects of the physiology of tsetse fly reproduction, with the goal to identify and understand key aspects of its reproductive biology. He joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2017 from tje Yale University School of Public Health, New Haven, Conn., where he researched tsetse flies in the lab of Serap Aksoy.
In terms of "fascinating physiological adaptations," Attardo considers the tsetse fly "one of the champions of the insect world!" As he explained to us in a 2017 news story: "In addition to being vectors of a deadly disease, Trypanosomiasis, these flies have undergone amazing alterations to their physiology relative to other insects. Some examples of this are their ability feed exclusively on blood, their obligate relationship with a bacterial symbiont, the fact that they lactate and that they give birth to fully developed larval offspring."
"The opportunity to study the adaptations these flies have made is like opening a toy chest for an insect physiologist. My work in tsetse has focused on the molecular biology underlying the adaptations associated with the development of lactation, symbiosis, male and female mating interactions/physiology and nutrient metabolism and mobilization.”
Attardo's published research is drawing national and international attention, as are his incredible images of tsetse flies. He won the 2010 Fogarty Grantee Photo Contest with an image of a tsetse fly. The Yale School of Public Health magazine featured his images on “An Eye for the Tsetse Fly.” The Los Angeles Times published his remarkable video (in 2014) of a tsetse fly giving birth. Also, see his portraits of the tsetse fly on Live Science, published in 2014.
In her New York Times article, Angier points out that "Only in the class Mammalia do all member species nurse their young, yet evolutionary biologists now believe that the roots of mammalian lactation date back more than 300 million years, a good 100 million years before the first mammals appeared."
And while on the subject of tsetse flies, be sure to read the September 2016 article, "Tsetse Flies Are Strange and Dangerous," by Kevin Fitzgerald in Entomology Today, a publication of the Entomological Society of America. Fitzgerald featured the work of Attardo and posted one of his photos.
He sounded the alarm.
“We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” said Mussen in a news release we posted Feb. 8 on the Department of Entomology website. “We need to bring in a million more colonies but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.”
Those winter losses--still being tabulated--and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers, he said.
He said 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.
“Last year was not a good year for honey production in the United States,” Mussen said, “and it could be one of the worst honey production years in the history of nation, although it’s been pretty rough in some of the previous years. Usually when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both. So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.”
The winter of 2012-2013, in general, was bad for bees. In fact, it's never been good since the winter of 2006 with the onset of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.
Bee scientists think CCD is caused by a multitude of factors, includes, pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress. On the average, beekeepers report they're losing one-third of their bees a year.
“We don’t know how many more bees will be lost over the winter,” Mussen told us on Feb. 8. “We consider the winter ending when the weather warms up and the pollen is being brought into the hives.”
“Many, many colonies are not going to make it through the winter. We won’t have as large a bee population as in the past.”
Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976, knows honey bees. He is a honey bee guru, a global expert on bees. "Have a question about bees? Ask Eric Mussen." This month, especially, he is in great demand as a news source.
The New York Times quoted Mussen in its March 28th article, "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms."
Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.
"Where do you start?" Dr. Mussen said. "When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal leel how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?"
Experts say nobody knows.
Meanwhile, Mussen spent much of the day today granting news media interviews. On Tuesday, April 2, it will be for Dan Rather Reports: Buzzkill.
It was not so long ago that honey bees drew little attention, despite the fact that they pollinate about one-third of the food we eat. A three-letter acronym, CCD, changed all that.
Rich Schubert, a beekeeper in the Winters/Vacaville area, said it best during a question-and-answer session at Mussen's UC Davis Distinguished Seminar on Oct. 9, 2007.
If 5600 dead cows were found in a pasture, instead of 5600 dead bees, people would start paying attention, Schubert told the crowd.
So true. And now they are.
“If you were an aphid on a head of lettuce, a hoverfly larva would be a nightmare. They are voracious eaters of aphids. One larva per plant will control the aphids.”
That's what organic researcher Eric Brennan of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture, told reporter Jim Robbins in a recently published New York Times article.
Headlined "Farmers Find Organic Arsenal to Wage Wars on Pests," the news story drew attention to why natural enemies are "key to the organic approach."
Brennan is based in Salinas Valley, known as "The Salad Bowl of America." It's reportedly where 80 percent of Americans get their greens.
And it's where the lettuce aphid gets its lettuce.
To help resolve the problem, organic farmers are planting alyssum in their lettuce beds. Hover flies "live in the alyssum and need a source of aphids to feed their young, so they lay their eggs in the lettuce," Robbins wrote. "When they hatch, the larvae start preying on the aphids."
Could be that the "salad days" are over for the aphids--thanks to Brennan, alyssum and hover flies.
Great article in the Tuesday, April 28 edition of The New York Times on "Let's Hear It for the Bees."
And did I mention that the photo accompanying the article is one I shot last year on a Yolo County farm tour? The bee is nectaring a button willow (Cephalanthus occidentalis).
In The Times' article, Leon Kreitzman writes about the rhythmic opening and closing of blossoms. "Flowers of a given species all produce nectar at about the same time each day, as this increases the chances of cross-pollination. The trick works because pollinators, which in most cases means the honeybee, concentrate foraging on a particular species into a narrow time-window. In effect the honeybee has a daily diary that can include as many as nine appointments--say 10:00 a.m., lilac; 11:30 a.m., peonies; and so on. The bees' time-keeping is accurate to about 20 minutes."
That's fascinating stuff. Kreitzman is so right when he calls honey bees "nature's little treasures." He points out that "They are a centimeter or so long, their brains are tiny, and a small set of simple rules can explain the sophisticated social behavior that produces the coordinated activity of a hive. They live by sets of instructions that are familiar to computer programmers as subroutines--do this until the stop code, then into the next subroutine, and so on."
Kreitzman's new book on seasonal rhythms will be published in May. He earlier penned Rhythms of Life with neuroscientist Russell Foster of Oxford.
If we all paid more attention to the honey bees, we'd appreciate all the work they do and maybe we'd try to protect them more.
Yes, let's hear it for the bees!
UC Davis medical entomologist Thomas Scott is mentioned in "The War on Dengue Fever," a news article published Nov. 3, 2008 in the New York Times.
Scott is a leading expert on dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease transmitted by Aeges egypti.
Reporter Thomas Fuller began his story:
BANGKOK — There was little that doctors could do for a 3-year-old boy brought to Bangkok’s main children’s hospital two weeks ago with dengue fever. Like thousands before him, he had reached the most dangerous phase of the disease, dengue shock syndrome, and he died of internal bleeding and organ failure three days after being admitted.
The U.S. Army maintains a medical research laboratory in Bangkok, where military scientists study tropical diseases. One of their goals: to develop a vaccine for dengue.
Here's where Scott comes in:
"The mosquito can breed in something as small as a soda bottle, but its ideal breeding conditions are large containers common in many parts of Southeast Asia to store drinking water," Fuller wrote. "(Unlike other mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti prefers clean water, according to Thomas W. Scott, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who is a leading expert on the species.)"
We wrote about researcher Scott's work in July: On the Trail of Dengue: A Disease with No Vaccine, No Cure.
Scott's goal is to save lives through research, surveillance and implementation of disease prevention strategies. He maintains field stations in Peru, Mexico and Thailand.
He's studying "the patterns of human infection with dengue virus, doing detailed studies of mosquito populations and disease in humans in order to predict which prevention strategies work the best."
Basically, Scott assesses risks, develops computer models and implements disease prevention strategies.
The culprit: Aedes egypti, or the yellow-fever mosquito, that transmits dengue virus to people.
The disease: Dengue, caused by any one of four serotypes or closely related viruses known as DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3, or DEN-4. Nicknamed “break bone fever,” classic dengue is characterized by high fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting and a rash.
The prevalence: Some 50 to 100 million annual cases of debilitating dengue fever. The most severe form of the disease, dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), strikes half a million a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 5 percent with DHF die.
The CDC says dengue outbreaks occur in most tropical urban areas of the world where the Aedes egypti lives.
In the United States, dengue is rare. Occasionally travelers to infected areas return with the disease.
Now the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences, Bangkok, is attempting to develop a vaccine for dengue. As New York Times reporter Thomas Fuller wrote, quoting Col. James Boles, the laboratory commander: "There's no dengue in Kansas. No malaria, either. That's why we are here."
And that's why medical entomologists like Thomas Scott are here, too.