When Rebecca "RJ" Millena recently received her bachelor's degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis, it was the culmination of her kindergarten dream. At age 5, she wrote on her "About Me" poster in her Concord (Calif.) kindergarten class: "When I grow up, I want to be an entomologist."
And now she's 22 with a prized diploma in hand and an insect-themed graduation cap on her head.
The graduation cap, featuring the metamorphosis of a butterfly, is lettered with "When I grow up I want to be an entomologist."
The cap and net images are the work of Kalee Fagan, "the older sister of my best friend from high school," RJ related.
RJ's graduation cap is now entered in a UC Davis graduation cap design contest. Folks can vote for her design by simply liking this UC Davis Facebook page or making a comment by noon (Pacific Daylight Time) on June 23. The four winners receive gift cards: first-place, $300; second, $200; third, $100, and editor's choice, $100.
Her contest entry:
Minors: Nematology, and Ecology, Evolution, and Biodiversity
In kindergarten, I once wrote, “When I grow up, I want to be an Entomologist.” As I graduate and continue studying insect evolution in a PhD program, I celebrate the fulfillment of my childhood dream with my cap. It features the original marker phrase from my kindergarten poster. Additionally, my first college field project involved the California pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor)—here it represents my metamorphosis from a hopeful child to a fully-fledged entomologist.
In her dual roles as an independent student researcher in the laboratory of Jay Rosenheim, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomologist and a scholar with the Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program, RJ is now finishing a research paper on Strepsiptera endoparasites, which attack their hosts, the Ammophila (thread-waisted) wasps. UC LEADS is a two-year program that prepares promising students for advanced education in science, technology, mathematics and engineering (STEM).
As part of her UC LEADS project, RJ studied specimens at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. As larvae, members of the order Strepsiptera, known as “twisted wings,” enter their hosts, including wasps and bees, through joints or sutures. In its nearly 8 million insect collection, the Bohart houses “about 30,000 specimens of Ammophila from multiple continents,” says director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. Kimsey pointed out that global wasp authority Arnold Menke (a UC Davis alumnus who studied for his 1965 doctorate with Professor Richard Bohart) identified most of them. His publication, "The Ammophila of North and Central America (Hymenoptera, Sphecidae)” is considered the bible of Ammophila research.
What's ahead? RJ has just accepted a four-year, full-ride fellowship offer to a PhD program at the American Museum of Natural History to join the systematics laboratory of Dr. Jessica Ware.
(Editor's note: RJ Millena is one of six UC Davis entomology majors who filed to graduate in the spring or summer of 2021. The others are: Maxwell Koning, Spring 2021; Laura Rivera, Summer 2021; Misa Terrell, Summer 2021; Stephanie Tsai, Spring 2021; and Elizabeth Uemura, Summer 2021)
Let's hear it for the sweat bee.
It's one of the many tiny bees that ought to be honored and recognized during Pollination Week, June 21-27, but it's often overlooked.
We've been seeing many of this species, Halictus tripartitus, in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. It's also called the "Tripartite Sweat Bee."
Thomas "Tom" Zavortink, a research entomologist and associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, noted why this one is Halictus tripartitus. "The abdominal terga appear to have apical hair bands, suggesting Halictus, and the scutum appears to have a slight metallic coloration, which along with the small size suggests Halictus tripartitus." Zavortink focuses on the systematics and biology associated with mosquitoes and solitary bees.
Most Halictus are generalist foragers, according to the Great Sunflower Project. "They use all sorts of genera of plants from the Asteraceae to Scrophulariaceae. They are very common on composites (daisy-like disc and ray flowers) in summer and fall."
We've seen them on everything from mustard to milkweeds to catmint to rock purslane, from spring to fall. They also appear regularly on the tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii).
Let's hear it for the sweat bee, an overlooked and underloved little pollinator.
What's better than a mint on your pillow?
A mint moth in your garden!
We ran across this colorful mint moth, Pyrausta californicalis (as identified by UC Davis distinguished professor Art Shapiro) on May 20 in a Vacaville bed of tall lavender.
"Although native, it occurs almost exclusively in gardens, where it breeds on any species of Mentha (mint)," Shapiro says. "It has multiple broods, most of the year. When we grew mint we had it up the yazoo in our garden. Pretty little thing!"
Pretty? Yes, it is.
It's in the family Crambidae. We've never seen it feeding on Mentha species. We've seen it only on lavender, sharing nectar with buzzing honey bees.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis hosts an annual Moth Night (but hasn't during the pandemic due to restrictions).
National Moth Night will be observed July 17-25 this year. That's when entomologists and insect enthusiasts celebrate the beauty, life cycles and habitats of moths.
On the National Moth Night website, you'll learn
- Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
- Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
- Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.
- Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
- Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them.
Make mine mint...
Renowned wasp expert Marius Wasbauer (1928-2021) studied them for about six decades. When he died this spring in Brookings, Ore., his family donated his collection of specimens to the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology.
It's a massive collection of more than 50,000 aculeate (stinging) wasp specimens, primarily spider wasps.
Wasbauer, a retired senior scientist/systematist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in a career spanning 34 years, was a global expert on spider wasps and a scientific collaborator with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. He was a member of the Bohart Museum Society and a strong supporter of the museum.
Spider wasps, also known as spider-hunting wasps or pompilid wasps, belong to the family Pompilidae. The worldwide family is comprised of some 5,000 described species in six subfamilies.
“A U-Haul was needed to transport the collection from Brookings to Davis last weekend,” Kimsey said. “The donation consists of a diversity of aculeate wasps but 95 percent are spider wasps (Pompilidae), an estimated 50,000 specimens from all over the world, in 180 drawers, in 13 24-drawer cabinets,” Kimsey said. “This is material he had been accumulating since the 1960s.”
Wasbauer studied entomology and biosystematics at UC Berkeley, where he received his bachelor's degree and doctorate (1958). “Like many entomologists of his generations,” Kimsey said, “Marius was an instructor in preventive medicine in the U.S. 7th Army Medical Service at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.” He joined the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as a systematist in September 1958.
“He published nearly 50 papers in wasp taxonomy and the biology of a diversity of insects,” Kimsey noted. “His taxonomic research focused on several groups of aculeate wasps, including Pomplidae, nocturnal Tiphiidae and myromosid wasps. Other studies included walnut serpentine leaf miners, tephritid fruit flies, bumble bees and even crane flies.”
Wasbauer was a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences; president and secretary of the Pacific Coast Entomological Society; research associate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), a member of Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society; a member of the Biosystematists Society; and a research associate at UC Davis.
“He was generous with his time, and worked with many scientists and students around the world,” Kimsey said. “However, aside from his family and wasps, his other greatest love was fishing.”
Marius and his wife, Joanne, longtime supporters of the Bohart Museum, frequently offered annual challenge grants of $5000, matching donations of other donors up to $5000. They hoped to inspire others to give.
The Wasbauers participated in a Bohart Museum Bioblitz to Belize in 2017, a trip led by entomologists David Wyatt, a professor at Sacramento City College, and Fran Keller, now a professor at Folsom Lake College. Keller, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, is a Bohart Museum research associate.
A trio of entomologists—Lynn Kimsey and her husband, forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology; and Bohart Museum research associate Brennen Dyer—prepared a space in the Bohart for the large donation. They unloaded the truck with Kimsey friends, retired Placer County Sheriff Mike Whitney and his wife, Becky.
The Bohart Museum, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a live “petting zoo” comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. The Bohart Museum also inclues a year-around gift shop stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, books, jewelry and insect-collecting equipment.
Temporarily closed due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions, the Bohart is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
This male made its appearance in our Vacaville pollinator garden on May 17, and hung around long enough for me to capture several images.
Like a lens to a flame...
When folks talk about seeing "a red dragonfly," they might not know the species, but they do know it's firecracker red.
"It was red! Firecracker red!"
Ten fast facts about dragonflies, as provided by the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis:
- Dragonflies date back before the dinosaur age.
- The largest known prehistoric species of dragonfly, living 300 million years ago, was the Meganeura monyi. Its wingspan measured more than two feet long.
- The largest species today is a South American dragonfly with a wingspan of 7.5 inches. The smallest modern species is an east Asian dragonfly, the libellulid dragonfly, Nannophya pygmaea, with a wingspan of about 3/4 of an inch.
- California is home to approximately 108 species. More than 5000 species are found worldwide.
- Dragonflies help control pests such as mosquitoes, midges and flies, but will also dine on honey bees and butterflies.
- The adults feed by hawking their prey. They dart off a perch to catch prey and often return to the perch to eat.
- Most dragonflies live around lakes, ponds, streams, and marshes; their larvae, known as “nymphs,” are aquatic. Some dragonfly larvae live in bromeliad flowers.
- Dragonflies usually do not bite or sting humans, but if grasped by the abdomen, they may bite to escape.
- The dragonfly is thought to have better eyesight than any other insect. Its compound eyes take up much of the insect's head. Each compound eye has up to 30,000 facets or sensor modules, arranged to provide nearly a 360-degree field of vision. That's why it's difficult to sneak up on them.
- Dragonflies are a common motif in Native American art, displayed on Zuni pottery, Hopi rock art and on Pueblo necklaces. In Japan, they are considered symbols of courage, strength and happiness.
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, is celebrating its 75th anniversary. It's the home of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects (aka "walking sticks"), and tarantulas; and an online gift shop stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, jewelry, books, posters, collecting equipment and the like.
It's temporarily closed due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. But just you wait...good things are going to happen!