It's early morning and the spider is hungry.
It snares a honey bee foraging for pollen and nectar in a patch of Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) in a Vacaville pollinator garden.
The spider slides down the sticky web, kills its prey with a venomous bite, and begins to eat.
The spider is not alone. It soon has unexpected dining partners: tiny freeloader flies (family Milichiidae) who did no work but insist on their share of the free food.
Indeed, orbweavers are artists. Wrote Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) in her poem, "The Spider as an Artist":
The spider as an artist
Has never been employed
Though his surpassing merit
Is freely certified.
Today was a good day for an unemployed artist, freely certified, too--and a good day for the freeloaders, certified hungry.
Emily Dickinson? She wrote many poems with references to such arthropods as bees, spiders, butterflies, flies and gnats,
Emily Dickinson's Arthropods
So begins Marlin Rice, author and a past president of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), in his wonderful and comprehensive piece in the current edition of ESA's American Entomologist about the legendary Bruce Hammock.
His story begins in Arkansas.
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Bruce received his bachelor's degree in entomology (with minors in zoology and chemistry) magna cum laude from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1969. He received his doctorate in entomology-toxicology from UC Berkeley in 1973 with John Casida at UC Berkeley. Hammock served as a public health medical officer with the U.S. Army Academy of Health Science, San Antonio, and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, Department of Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
The headline says it well: "Bruce D. Hammock: Science Should Be Fun."
Hammock describes his Tom Sawyer-like childhood in Little Rock, where he wandered the woods and collected animals.
Rice asked him: "What was your favorite thing to collect?"
"I just liked interested creatures," Hammock told him. "I had a pet 'coon, pet deer, pet 'possums named Sears and Roebuck. The two 'possums had stolen some hot dogs at a Boy Scout jamboree and were trying to make their escape. This guy was going to kill them, so I took them home."
"I found Willy—his mom had been killed by hunters—in a tree stump and bottle-raised him with an old toothless bulldog, and he would ride around on her back. Raccoons and dogs are natural enemies. If an [unfamiliar] dog would growl at him, Willy would try to kill it, so he was not popular."
Young Tom went on to become an Eagle Scout and graduate from Louisiana State University. "I liked football, but I was not good at it," he recalled. "But I was upset with the football craziness in Arkansas, so I thought I could go to LSU and get away from it, but I ended up living underneath the football stadium."
In the Army, he served as a medical officer at Fort Sam, Houston, and what he saw--severely burned people in terrible pain--made a lasting impression on him. Today he's deeply involved in his research at UC Davis and the company he founded, EicOsis, in 2011 to alleviate pain in humans and companion animals.
Of EicOsis, he told Rice: "It's actually three companies: human health, equine health, and companion animal health. The human health goal is moving the drug into the clinic to treat human neuropathic pain. In dogs and cats and horses, it turns out that non-steroidals, like aspirin, are so much more toxic. If you give your dog some non-steroidals, you're saying you want your dog to be pain-free for a year, but you know you're killing it. Some non-steroidals are so toxic to non-primates that there's a real opportunity to get epoxide hydrolase to the clinic."
Excerpts from the article:
- Little did we know: While in Warsaw to attend a scientific meeting, Professor Hammock was arrested in Poland on suspicion of being a spy and spent six hours in jail.
- What does he look for in researchers hoping to join his lab? "Curiosity. And then there's this: If science is not fun, then it shouldn't be done. And if they enjoy science then they probably will be successful."
- Why did he leave UC Riverside for UC Davis? "Smog. [But] I absolutely loved Riverside. At the time, it was the largest entomology department in the world. It was just wonderful. And it was in the desert and I loved the desert. And I like rattlesnakes, and there is no shortage of rattlesnakes. They're not very pettable, but they're interesting. I've been bitten a lot of times by non-poisonous snakes. I thought I was fast, but snakes were faster. So I never kept a rattlesnake more than a few hours."
- His parents? His father was a postal worker and his mother sold World Book encyclopedias "and was convinced that if you bought World Book, you would be brilliant."
Indeed, Bruce Hammock's career is incredible--incredibly focused, superlative and kind. But he also has a finely honed sense of humor. Who else would launch an annual water balloon battle? He started it in 1980 on the Briggs Hall lawn, just outside his office. It's now called the Bruce Hammock Lab Water Balloon Battle or "Bruce's Big Balloon Battle at Briggs."
"A few years ago, we had the management officer in biochemistry upset because she thought it was unseemly for the university," Hammock told Rice. "Last year, somebody called the police on us, and the police came, and the guy took off his gun belt and joined us. [Laughs.] That was fun!"
So is science. Or it ought to be.
Some Related Links:
- Bruce Hammock and EicOsis, Innovator of the Year
- Bruce Hammock Receives $6 Million Grant
- Bruce Hammock Water Balloon Battle: 15 Minutes of Aim
- Research Could Lead to Drug to Prevent or Reduce Autism, Schizophrenia
- Hammock Lab Union Draws 100 Scientists from 10 Countries
- Bruce Hammock: Scientist Extraordinaire
Well, many funny things.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, teaches a course on general entomology and you ought to read some of the "facts" that students write about insects.
Now you can.
Kimsey just authored an article, "Entomological Musings in the Classroom," in the current edition of American Entomologist that details the unusual, puzzling and entertaining things students have penned about insects.
"One of the outcomes of teaching a general entomology course to undergraduates for many, many years is that I have taken on a new appreciation for science fiction and fantasy," Kimsey begins. "This happens, in part, because every year, a student makes some new scientific discovery about an insect that causes me to slap my forehead and say 'They do what!?' The other part is how little students (or the public in general) know about insects, in contrast to how much they think they know. Most of my students are not entomology majors, and many aren't even majors in the biological sciences, so there are a lot of misconceptions. Nonetheless, there is huge entertainment in enlightenment."
For the article, Kimsey divides choice sentences into categories, including social insects, agricultural pests, mosquitoes and medical entomology, aquatic insects, butterflies and "sundry."
A few examples:
- Honeybees were able to find their way home by navigating around the sun.
- Because the males in the Hymenoptera social structure do no work, they are considered a waste of the colony's energy, and as such, they are only laid when the colony can stand the strain.
- Normally, locusts are introverted creatures; they do not socialize unless it is for reproduction.
Mosquitoes and Medical Entomology:
- 300,000 to 500,000 new cases [of malaria] occur annually, of which 2.7 million are fatal.
- Aerial spraying should be done as a last resort since this leads to mosquito resistance, affects American lobsters and human health.
- The infected fleas can harbor rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, and occasionally, even house cats.
- Water bodies are usually slow moving and narrow so that they may burrow, crawl along the bottom and climb vegetation.
- Although caterpillars are vulnerable and young, their ability to protect against predators has helped them become successful predators.
- Fleas do not “jump” like mammals do; fleas charge their elasticated legs with tensity, like a drawn bowstring, then shoot themselves through air.
- Some West African tribes are known to be very fond of certain insects, although sometimes more with the children.
Kimsey concluded: "I can't wait for next year to learn more about new things that insects do and how they do them. Through all of this, I'm hoping to create the next generation of entomologists, while teaching them how to write and continuing to collect more wonderful sentences."
Some of the statements found their way into the 2019 Bohart Museum of Entomology calendar, illustrated by talented graphic artist and undergraduate entomology student, Karissa Merritt.
As for the American Entomologist, it's a publication of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), the world's largest entomological organization.
Kimsey, who received both her undergraduate degree (1975) and her doctorate (1979) from UC Davis, joined the entomology faculty in 1989. The director of the Bohart Museum and executive director of the Bohart Museum Society since 1990, she has also served as interim chair and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Kimsey won the UC Davis Academic Senate's Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award in 2016. The annual award recognizes a faculty member's significant public service contributions that benefit the local, regional, national, and/or international community. She twice served as president of the International Society of Hymenopterists, and is a former board member of the Natural Science Collections Alliance. She is active in ESA and the Washington Entomological Society. The Pacific Branch of ESA (PBESA) honored her and colleagues Eric Mussen, Robbin Thorp, Neal Williams and Brian Johnson—“the UC Davis Bee Team”--with the outstanding team award in 2013. Kimsey also received the PBESA Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Award in 2014.
Meanwhile, read the American Entomologist article.
However, at the end of the day, a pit-building antlion is a fat sack of poop that lies motionless at the bottom of a hole waiting for food to fall directly into its jaws, and that's a lifestyle I fully endorse.
It does WHAT?
It was the early 1980s. The invasive insect, better known as the medfly (Ceratitis capitata), threatened the state's multi-billion-dollar fruit and vegetable industry, leading to widespread detection, eradication and quarantine attempts. Aerial spraying of Malathion drew widespread protests.
Entomologist James R. Carey of the University of California, Davis, stepped forward to launch an informed, concerted and widespread effort to reveal the science about the invaders. His well-documented research in basic and applied aspects of invasion biology shows that these pests are established and cannot be eradicated.
Fast forward to today.
Carey, a distinguished professor of entomology with UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and an internationally recognized leader and distinguished scholar in invasion biology, will appear in a 32-minute interview on the nationally televised Through the Decades program on Monday, July 3.
Through the Decades, based in Chicago, is known for covering high-profile or important historical events. It is hosted by Bill Kurtis of National Public Radio's "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me."
The interviewer "asked about the medfly program back in 80s, my involvement, and I talked a lot about how medfly really has never gone away," Carey related.
Tune in on Monday to hear the interview. Link to http://decades.com/wheretowatch/ to find the local program. In California, the show will be broadcast on KFAZ Fresno, KCBS Los Angeles, KOVR Sacramento and KPIX San Francisco. Through the Decades airs daily at 7 a.m., 1 p.m., 7 p.m. and 1 a.m., Eastern Time, or 4 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m., and 10 p.m., Pacific Time.
As one of the five members of the state's Medfly Science Advisory Panel, Carey testified in 1989 before the California State Assembly, which later convened as a “committee of the whole” (a high profile public hearing examining the handling of the eradication program) that the pest is established in California and eradication efforts are futile. Carey subsequently wrote two news and review pieces in Science, plus an article on its establishment. The New York Times' Retro Reports profiled him and his involvement in the medfly issue.
The American Entomologist journal, in its "Issues in Entomology," has just published a piece by Carey and colleagues Nikolas Papadopoulos and Richard Plant on "The 30-Year Debate on a Multi-Billion-Dollar Threat: Tephritid Fruit Fly Establishment in California." It begins with: "It is virtually impossible to overstate the seriousness of the tephritid fruit fly threat to the $25 billion California fruit and vegetable industry constituting over half of the overall $47 billion agriculture economy of the state. Consider these facts: a total of 17 different species of fruit flies have been detected in California, several of which are detected every few years and one of which is detected every year (Papadopoulos et al. 2013). More than 350 California cities have experienced fruit fly outbreaks, seven cities (e.g., Fresno, Bakersfield) of which are located in one of the world's most productive agricultural regions—the Central Valley."
It's been dubbed "The Manhattan Project of Entomology."
And it may have "the potential to revolutionize the way we think about insects," says Richard Levine, communications program manager of the Entomological Society of America (ESA).
Call it "The Manhattan Project of Entomology." Call it "The i5k Initiative." Call it "The 5,000 Insect Genome Project." They're one and the same and will involve entomologists worldwide sequencing the genomes of 5,000 insects and other arthropods over the next five years.
The goal, as the article in the current edition of American Entomologist states, is “to improve our lives by contributing to a better understanding of insect biology and transforming our ability to manage arthropods that threaten our health, food supply, and economic security."
"We hope that generating this data will lead to better models for insecticide resistance, better models for developing new pesticides, better models for understanding transmission of disease, or for control of agricultural pests," Daniel Lawson, a coordinator at the European Bioinformatics Institute, told Levine. "Moving into the genetics era revolutionizes what you can do, what you can try to assay in your species, what you can infer from your experiments."
Professor Gene E. Robinson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pointed out: "This will provide information that breeders would need to look for ways of dealing with insect resistance to pesticides. It would also provide geneticists with information on what might be vulnerable points in an insect's makeup, which could be used for novel control strategies."
The first step? Entomologists will sign up to create wiki pages.
"We're trying to find out who's working on what insects, and if they feel that having genomic information about their insects would help," professor Susan J. Brown of Kansas State University told Levine. "Quite a few researchers are probably working on transcriptomics, looking at the genes that are transcribed under certain contexts, environmental conditions or life stages. Looking at the whole genome will help us understand these comparatively and not just in one organism."
This is an exciting project with entomologists networking on a project that will benefit us all. We're especially interested in insects of agricultural and medical importance.
Read Richard Levine's piece in American Entomologist at http://entsoc.org/PDF/2011/AE-15k.pdf.