And this one, too.
And that one over there!
When UC Davis employees and their offspring visited the Bohart Museum of Entomology during the recent "Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work" Day, reactions ranged from awe to "wow!"
They held walking sticks (stick insects), Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tomato hornworms. Two youngsters held tarantulas. And all checked out the butterfly and beetle specimens.
One little girl, Olivia Bingen, 4, who was there with her father, Steve Bingen of the UC Davis Department of Music, was dressed in pink and asked the Bohart scientists if they had any pink butterflies.
"She likes pink," her father said. She also likes to play the violin.
The museum, founded in 1946 by the late Richard M. Bohart and now directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, except on holidays. Admission is free.
Special weekend events, free and family friendly, are held throughout the year. The next weekend event is Moth Night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3. Blacklighting will take place just outside the museum. Inside, the attendees will visit the museum's displays and, outside, they will see what insects are attracted to the black-lighted white sheets.
Among those scheduled to host Moth Night are John "Moth Man" DeBenedictis; senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepitopdera (butterflies and moths) section of the Bohart; and Greg Kareofelas, Bohart associate and naturalist.
Gillung, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University and a UC Davis alumnus, is the recipient of the prestigious Marsh Award for Early Career Entomologist, sponsored by the Royal Entomological Society.
She is the first UC Davis-affiliated scientist to win the award. She will receive a certificate, 1250 pounds ($1,624) and an expense-paid trip to London to receive the award at the Ento 19 conference, set Aug. 20-22 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Royal Entomological Society, an international organization devoted to the study of insects, was founded in 1833 as the Entomological Society of London. Its mission is to disseminate information about insects and improve communication between entomologists.
Gillung's work on spider flies, involving genomics, phylogenetics, systematics, and comparative analyses, “has increased our understanding of the biological patterns and processes that have shaped our planet's biodiversity,” wrote her major professor and award nominator Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Gillung received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in December 2018, studying with Kimsey and mentor Shaun Winterton, insect biosystematist, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and a member of the Royal Entomological Society. Gillung also collaborated with ant specialist and taxonomist Phil Ward, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Gillung is now a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University in the Bryan Danforth lab, where she is researching Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.
Her dissertation, “Systematics and Phylogenomics of Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae),” focused on the evolution, conservation, biology, and taxonomy of spider flies, a group of spider natural enemies,
Gillung's taxonomic work on spider flies, described as landmark, included identification keys and morphology-based diagnoses of species using modern techniques of cybertaxonomy—the application of the internet, digital technologies, and computer resources to increase and speed up the discovery and cataloging of new species, Kimsey wrote. “Using cybertaxonomic tools, Jessica described 25 new spider fly species herself, and in collaboration with fellow entomologists, three fossil species from Baltic amber, described in her first dissertation chapter. Cybertaxonomy is a powerful tool that allows researchers and citizen scientists to collaborate in real time and across great distances to increase the speed and efficiency of biodiversity discovery.”
“Jessica unraveled the functional and ecological implications of key morphological traits, as well as their distribution across the Tree of Life,” Kimsey said. “In her doctoral dissertation, she established new homologies for the wing venation of spider flies and conducted detailed and assiduous dissections of male reproductive structures (i.e., genitalia) to understand homologies, demonstrating that morphological traits are dynamically evolving systems useful for both classification and inference of evolutionary history.”
Since many insect species are threatened, geographically restricted, or relatively rare in nature, Gillung performed non-destructive DNA extraction of specimens housed in entomological collections, including the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Gillung collected molecular data from decades-old insects without damaging the specimens.
Gillung's multifaceted research on genomics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics, plant-pollinator interactions, and biodiversity discovery drew more $120,000 in grants and awards while at UC Davis.
The UC Davis alumnus is known for her “phenomenal leadership activities, her nearly straight-A academic record (3.91 grade point average), her excellence as an entomologist and teacher, her public service and outreach programs (from 2013 to 2018, she reached more than 20,000 people at UC Davis-based events) and her incredible publication record, Kimsey said. “She published 11 refereed publications related to her thesis in very strong journals. Most entomologists do not publish nearly that much, even as a postdoctoral scholar or a junior faculty member.”
A recipient of numerous other awards, Gillung won the prestigious international award for “Best Student Presentation Award” at the ninth annual International Congress of Dipterology, held in 2018 in Windhoek, Namibia. She also won the 2019 Early Career Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) and the 2018 PBESA Student Leadership Award. PBESA encompasses 11 western states, U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Gillung was a key member of the 2015 PBESA championship Linnaean Team that went on to win the ESA national championship. The Linnaean Games are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
Gillung also collaborated on a project aimed at encouraging students to attend and participate in the Orlando, Fla., meeting of the International Congress of Entomology. She and several colleagues published a paper entitled “From the Students to the Students: Why YOU need to Attend ICE 2016.”
The Royal Entomological Society will publish her biography and photo in its Antenna magazine, on the society website, and in the Marsh Christian Trust Award brochure./span>
Bugs from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, grabbed the interest of fairgoers at the 144th annual Dixon May Fair, held May 9 through May 12.
Entomologists Jeff Smith and Alexander "Alex" Dedmon kept busy answering questions on Saturday in the "Oh My" insect display area of the Floriculture Building, as fairgoers learned about bees, butterflies, beetles, praying mantids, and flies, plus aquatic insects, camouflaged insects, and more.
Smith curates the Lepitopdera (moths and butterflies) section at the Bohart Museum, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The insect museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Dedmon is a forensic entomologist and a doctoral student of professor Robert Kimsey. He volunteers at many of the Bohart events.
"Jeff was absolutely the star," Dedmon said. "He handled everything wonderfully."
"It was excellent on Saturday, and I stayed from 11 a.m. until nearly 6 p.m., due to a never-ending flow of people," Smith commented. "Relatively few people had questions in advance, but I always engaged them and got them into conversations, generally with my warning that once they allow me to start they won't get me to shut up. Lots of fun and worth going to each year. Never a time with no one at our booth, and many times with 15 plus people moving past the displays."
"My one big regret is that I did not have any corn dogs," Smith quipped.
Founded in 1946 by UC Davis entomologist Richard “Doc” Bohart (1913-2007), the Bohart Museum is open to the general public Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., plus occasional, weekend open houses. Admission is free.
The next weekend event at the Bohart Museum will be "Moth Night" on Saturday, Aug. 3 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Attendees will see moths drawn to blacklighted white sheets just outside the museum. The event is free, open to the public, and family friendly. Further information is available on the Bohart Museum website or contact (530) 753-0493.
Entomologists at the University of California, Davis, will share their love of insects with fairgoers at the 144th annual Dixon May Fair, which opened today (Thursday, May 9) and continues through Sunday, May 12.
Have a question about insects?
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepitopdera (butterfly and moth) section at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, and Alex Dedmon, a forensic entomologist and doctoral student at UC Davis, will be showing bee, butterfly, dragonfly and other specimens, and live insects from the "petting zoo," including walking sticks and Madagascar hissing cockroaches. Fairgoers are encouraged to hold them, photograph them and ask questions.
Smith and Dedmon will be at the fair on Saturday, May 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Floriculture Building. Smith was honored in 2015 as a "Friend of the College," a coveted award presented by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He saved the museum some $160,000 over a 27-year period through his volunteer service (See news story.)
Dedmon studies with forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, an adjunct professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Neamtology.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology, is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a year-around gift shop and a petting zoo. The gift shop is stocked with books, jewelry, t-shirts, insect-collecting equipment, insect-themed candy, and stuffed animals.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 by UC Davis entomologist Richard “Doc” Bohart (1913-2007), is open to the general public Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., plus occasional, weekend open houses. Admission is free. The next weekend event will be "Moth Night" on Saturday, Aug. 3 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Further information is available on the Bohart Museum website or contact (530) 753-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's World Robber Fly Day!
Question is, how are you celebrating it?
April 30 is both a momentous and delightful occasion for Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies robber flies. A fourth-year doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, she works with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The working title of her thesis? "Phylogeny, Diversification, and Evolution of Asiloidea (Diptera: Brachycera)."
These flies fascinate her. And she's elated that they have their special day. Here's why:
"A day celebrating a family of flies can seem silly to some, but to me, they are my passion and my way of protecting the world I love," Charlotte says. "I work every day to learn more about this family and other related families with describing new species, figuring out their evolutionary relationships, and observing what insects they eat and why. I hope that if we take a moment and celebrate the little things like assassin flies, more people will find their niche in helping save this beautiful planet we depend on to live."
What are robber flies?
Robber flies, also known as assassin flies (Diptera: Asilidae) are predatory and venomous flies. "Despite being the third most speciose family of flies with more than 7,500 species found worldwide, and still many more being discovered; this family is still relatively unknown by the general public," Charlotte points out. "When I mention that I study flies and bring up assassin flies, most of the time people have no idea what they are or have never heard/seen of them. This anonymity is probably due to a variety of reasons. Many people call them assassin flies because of their tendency to look like other insects. In particular, wasps or bumble bees. They are also territorial, so you will only ever find one or two individuals in a given area. It can take a while to find your first robber fly, but once you do, you will start to see them all over the place!
How can you find an assassin fly?
"Go into the woods and look for sunny spots with areas for the flies to perch on," Charlotte says. "They mostly perch on the flat surface of a leaf in the sun, or at the very tip of a pointy twig. From their perch, they can hunt for insect prey in flight. Once they spot prey, the assassin fly quickly intercepts it in flight and immediately pierces it with its hypodermic needle-like mouthparts to inject a paralytic neurotoxin to subdue it. Pre-digestive enzymes are also inserted to reduce the innards into a smoothie-like concoction, which the assassin fly feeds on through the needle-like hypopharynx."
"Despite being venomous and highly voracious predators, assassin flies are no danger to us! I caught my first assassin fly in the palm of my hand! Because they are top predators in their world, they are not very fearful of people. I routinely have had them perch on me to hunt prey. But be careful, some of the larger assassin flies can pierce the skin with a defensive bite if they are aggravated enough. Their bites have been compared to a honey bee sting."
Why should you care about assassin flies?
"All insects play essential ecosystem roles that directly or indirectly affect our daily lives, whether through pollination, population control of pests, decomposition, product production, and more," says Charlotte, who is also a talented artist who sketches robber flies and other insects, and creates T-shirts for the Bohart Museum. "Insects, and especially flies, face a stigma that is difficult to overcome. Assassin flies are a fantastic, charismatic example of a family of flies that are generally unknown by the public and yet is one of the most speciose and helpful in pest population control. I have regularly played with the idea of keeping a couple as house pets to control the other unwanted flying insects that make it into our house." Her husband, George, probably wouldn't mind at all. He shares her interest in insects.
Meanwhile, scientists are troubled about the worldwide declining population of insects, tabbed "Insect Apocalypse." While some folks are debating its validity, "what is undeniably true is that we are destroying the habitat of poorly researched areas, and in turn bringing on the extinction of species that we have not given names, or even seen," Charlotte says. "Extinction is a terrifying reality because each species plays a vital part in keeping the ecosystem balanced and healthy. Without them, ecosystems collapse, and we will feel the ramifications whether it's immediately or a few years later."
What sparked Charlotte's interest in entomology? Think Charlotte's Web!
"When I was around 5 years old, my Mom read Charlotte's Web to me. Having the same name as Charlotte gave me a strong connection to the spider. I couldn't understand why people hated spiders and insects so much. I grew up on a farm in New Hampshire and constantly collected spiders and insects I found around the property. When handled gently and with love, they never bit or hurt me so I saw no reason to be scared of them. To the best of my understanding, they were just misunderstood. I distinctly remember a couple of times where either my family members or teachers saw me rescue a fly, and questioned my actions. Sometimes I would be made fun of, or told not to worry about them, that they were only going to die anyway...but it broke my heart that no one cared, and sometimes people would go out of their way to kill flies, spiders, or other arthropods that were not hurting them in any way."
"So, even though my interest in insects alienated me a little from my peers, it felt important to me stand up for them. In fifth grade, I proudly stood up at graduation and told everyone I was going to be an arachnologist when I grew up! The more I read about spiders and insects the more my passion grew. However, in middle school, peer impressions started to push me toward a more conventional career."
In college, Charlotte rediscovered her passion for insects. She assisted with a couple of native bee projects. "After starting an entomology-based research project for a class, my advisor saw my passion, very apparent, and wanted to add fuel to that passion. He was the person who introduced me to assassin flies! After a summer working on a research fellowship studying them in northern New York, I was sold! The rest is pretty much history."
History...and history in the making! Even on Twitter! Check out the hashtag, #WorldRobberFlyDay.
Because it is! Happy World Robber Fly Day!