The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a three-year collaborative research grant to five faculty members at Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas, and to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
All the tardigrades collected by Baker University's faculty and students will find a new home at the Bohart.
“Our part in all this is to act as a repository for all of the specimens collected,” Kimsey said. “We have one of the four largest collections of tardigrades in the world.”
The NSF awarded $256,849 for the project, titled “Cross Departmental Development of an Automated Species Identification System for the Phylum Tardigrada Found on Birds.” Collaborating with Kimsey are Baker University faculty members Scott Kimball, associate professor of biology; Randy Miller, director of research; Robert Schukei, assistant professor of computer science; Mahmoud Al-Kofahi, professor of physics; and Irene Unger, associate professor of biology and director of the Baker Wetlands.
"We thought we had a great project and were thrilled the award committee agreed to fund the full scope of our project," Kimball said in a press release. “Our group will engineer an automated process of preparing microscope slides of tardigrade specimens collected from any of several sources. The second objective is to design a species identification software application that will use computer learning processes to create efficiencies in the identification of specimens. All of this will be used to answer biological questions related to the geographic dispersion of tardigrades, specifically as it relates to the relationship between tardigrades and the birds in their environments that may serve to disperse them across the landscape."
The Bohart Museum's tardigrade current collection includes some 25,000 slide-mounted specimens. In a recent newsletter, Kimsey described the water bear as “one of the most peculiar and indestructible groups of animals known. The microscopic and nearly indestructible tardigrade can survive being heated to 304 degrees Fahrenheit or being chilled for days at -328 F. And, even if it's frozen for 30 years, it can still reproduce." See video on EurekAlert.
They belong to their own phyllum, the Tardigrada (meaning "slow steppers"), and to date there are some 1,500 described species throughout the world. "Tardigrades can survive high pressures of more than 1,200 atmospheres found in the bottom of the abyss," Kimsey says. "They can tolerate 1,000 times more ionizing radiation than other animals."
In appearance, the pudgy water bear seems as cuddly as a teddy bear. It has a barrel-shaped body and eight pudgy legs. The adults usually range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm in length. German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1731-1793) first described the critters in 1773, referring to them as "kleiner Wasserbär," or "little water bears."
They're easiest to find on lichens and mosses, Kimsey says, but they can also be found on beaches, in the subtidal zone, freshwater sediments, soil, hot springs and even on barnacles. They've been found "high in the Himalayas to down in the deep sea and even in the interior of Antarctica,” Kimsey said.
They mostly feed on plants or bacteria "but some are predators on smaller tardigrades," Kimsey related. “They use the stylets in their tubular mouth (snout) to pierce "individual plant or bacterial ells or small invertebrates."
Why is the water bear so indestructible? In research published in 2016, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo found that the water bear expresses a tardigrade-specific protein that binds itself to DNA. This acts like a "shield against x-ray radiation, preventing the DNA from snapping apart," according to an article published in Gizmodo.
Said Kimsey: "Tardigrades are awesome. They can dry out completely and then become immortal. In fact, SpaceIL may have left thousands of dried tardigrades on the moon when it crashed (in 2019)." (See news story.)
Plans call for a tardigrade sculpture to grace the entrance to the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. The artistic concrete sculpture will be about 4 feet by eight feet, about the size of a cow. A GoFundMe account, set up by the Bohart Museum Society, seeks $5000, and is at https://www.gofundme.com/f/waterbear-sculpture
"Tardigrades are really popular with kids in part because of their representation in the movies Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp, Star Trek and Family Guy," Kimsey noted.
The Bohart Museum will live-stream the free open house on Facebook. Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the 500,000 Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) collection, will show specimens and answer questions.
"We started holding a moth-themed open house near Mother's Day in May, because people who are enthusiasts for moths are called moth-ers,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum. “We then switched our programming to align with National Moth Week. This year's Moth Week is July 18-26. The annual event is celebrated throughout the world with private and public events.
Bohart Museum officials are preparing videos on black-lighting and how to spread and pin moths.
During the Facebook Live program, viewers can type in their questions on moths.
Smith is expected to answer questions such as:
- What is the largest moth?
- How do butterflies and moths differ?
- What is so unique about moths?
- Why should we be concerned with moth diversity?
LynnKimsey, director oftheBohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, nominated Smith for the award. “You could not ask for a better friend than Jeff Smith,” she said, noting that he has “brought us international acclaim and saved us $160,000 through donations of specimens and materials, identification skills and his professional woodworking skills. This does not include the thousands of hours he has donated in outreach programs that draw attention to the museum, the college and the university.”
Kimsey, who has directed the museum since 1989, remembers when Smith joined the museum. “When Jeff was working for Univar Environmental Services, a 35-year career until his retirement in 2013, he would spend some of his vacation days at the museum. Over the years Jeff took over more and more of the curation of the butterfly and moth collection. He took home literally thousands of field pinned specimens and spread their wings at home, bringing them back to the museum perfectly mounted. To date he has spread the wings on more than 200,000 butterflies and moths. This translates into something like 33,000 hours of work!” The numbers have since increased.
“About a decade ago, Jeff began helping us by assembling specimen drawers from kits that we purchased,” Kimsey related. “This substantially lowered our curatorial costs, from $50/drawer to $16/drawer. We use several hundred drawers a year to accommodate donated specimens, research vouchers and specimens resulting from research grants and inventories. More recently, he's been accumulating scrap lumber and making the drawers from scratch at no cost to us. Overall, he has made more than 2000 drawers. Additionally, he makes smaller specimen boxes with the leftover scrap wood, which are used by students taking various field courses in the department. We simply could not curate the collection without his contributions.”
Kimsey praised Smith for completely reorganizing the butterfly and moth collection. “It's no small feat to rearrange this many specimens, housed in roughly one thousand drawers,” she said. “Many thousands of the specimens needed to be identified, and the taxonomy required extensive updating and reorganization.”
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
The Bohart Museum is the home of a “live” petting zoo featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas, and a gift shop stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
She probably eats a lot of mosquitoes.
After all, we just observed National Mosquito Control Awareness Week, June 21-27, didn't we?
We spotted this female widow skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) on Friday morning, June 26 in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden of the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. She flashed her steel-blue coloring and her black basal-banded wings as she zig-zagged from one perch to the other, catching and consuming flying insects.
Naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, identified the gender and confirmed the species. "I think this is a very good year for them," he told us. Last week he and a colleague observed many widow skimmers, both male and female, in West Davis.
"The species name means sorrowful or mournful, perhaps because the wings of both male and female seem to be draped in mourning crepe," according to BugGuide.Net. "Females and immature males have the same brown wing bands as the mature males, but not the whitish areas. Wings usually have a brown tip. A dorsal view of the abdomen shows a brown band at center with a yellow stripe running along each side."
Widow skimmers are found throughout the United States except for the Rocky Mountain region, says BugGuide.Net. Their range also includes southern Ontario and Quebec.
Locally, look for these dragonflies near Putah Creek, which flows through the 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum. These species are most commonly seen in the summer, and what a treat to see.
Mosquitoes might think otherwise, though.
It's a damsel, but not in distress.
It's a Familiar Bluett, but it's not all that familiar--unless you study Odonata.
Lately we've been seeing scores of damseflies zigzagging in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. Seven showed up at one time on our soon-to-bloom Mexican sunflower (genus Tithonia). They found some prey and decided to stay...for awhile.
Greg Karofelas, an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, identified the damselflies as the Familiar Bluett, (Enallagma civile), family Coenagrionidae. They are native to much of the United States and southern Canada.
"The name fits time of the year, and locality, males are light blue, females dark," Karofelas commented. "Enallagma is a genus with a bunch of very similar looking damselflies--they can be hard to identify, even under 10X magnification, in hand."
This species of damselfly belongs to the order Odonata (dragonflies and damselfies), suborder Zygoptera (damselflies), family Coenagrionidae (narrow-winged damselflies);genus Enallagma (American Bluets), and species
civile (Familiar Bluet).
Wikipedia describes damselflies as "an ancient group," insects that have existed since at least the lower Permian. "All damselflies are predatory; both nymphs and adults eat other insects. The nymphs are aquatic, with different species living in a variety of freshwater habitats including acid bogs, ponds, lakes and rivers."
Watch for them! They're the insect version of the flying needles, and their fabric is our landscapes./span>
He received more than 200 suggestions.
Bond, a noted spider authority and the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, accepted suggestions from mid-May until 5 p.m., June 1.
His colleague, Joel Ledford, assistant professor of teaching, UC Davis Department of Plant Biology--his research interests include spider systematics and biology education--interviewed Bond May 18 for his Tree of Life-UC Davis YouTube channel. See the episode online.
Bond discovered the new genus of trapdoor spiders on a sandy beach at Moss Landing State Park, Monterey County. Bond proposes to name the genus, Cryptocteniza, part of which means “hidden or secret.”
"There were a few distinct categories of name suggestions," said Bond, who received most through his email but some posted on the YouTube Channel. The categories:
- Native American groups and Native American terms
- Moss Landing derivative names – nouns in apposition associated with the type locality
- Names for celebrities or film characters – a modicum of Harry Potter suggestions as well
- Folks wanting me to name the spider after myself or some other association with the Bond name, related to No. 3
- Most recently names related to George Floyd or other associations with the Black Lives Matter movement.
A virtual open house on spiders, hosted by the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, will be broadcast on FacebookLive sometime soon, said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. It was initially scheduled for June 8 but postponed.
When it is rescheduled, Bond will discuss spiders, field questions about spiders, and list the top suggestions--perhaps several--for the species. When the final decision is made, the person who named it will be included in Bond's upcoming manuscript on the new genus. Ledford is a co-author.
Trapdoor spiders are so named because they construct their burrows with a corklike or wafer trap door made of soil, vegetation and silk.
Bond discovered the female spider in 1997 on the sandy beach, and figured at the time it might be a new genus. But despite repeated trips to the site, he could not find a male for 22 years. The male proved elusive until pitfall trap sampling in the fall of 2019.
“I have only one male specimen,” Bond told Ledford. He said he will be “relieved” when it is described and finds a home in the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. (It is temporarily closed due the coronavirus pandemic precautions.)
“This genus meets the criteria of an endangered living fossil,” Bond said, “and is consequently of grave conservation concern.” He believes the genus is found only in that area, but thinks it may be closely related to a genus found in New Mexico and Arizona. “It is quite plausible that this genus was once likely far more widespread across California and the American Southwest, with potentially greater past species diversity throughout its larger hypothetical ancestral range,” he said.
Of the genus name, Cryptocteniza, Bond says that the adjective “hidden or secret” is prefixed to Cteniza, the Greek feminine noun “comb.” The latter refers to the comb-like rastellum (row of stiff spines on the chelicera) common in taxa and formerly assigned to the spider family Ctenizidae (e.g., Eucteniza). The prefix refers to both the diminutive form of the rastellum and the seemingly “hidden in plain sight” nature of the genus, he says.
It is rare to find a genus in the field, the professor said. The usual place is in museum collections.
The trapdoor spider family Euctenizidae is comprised of some 76 described species in seven genera widely distributed throughout the United States, although a few species are known from Mexico.
Some of the suggestions posted on YouTube:
- Cryptocteniza 007 since it is hidden in plain sight and your name is Bond.
- Cryptoctenzia quartertine: a combination of “quarter” and “quarantine,” since it took you a quarter of a century to find a male specimen, and because of our current Covid experience!
- Cryptoceniza nutella (for the rich dark brown color)
- Cryptocteniza steinbeckii (for one of Monterey County's most famous residents, though apparently John Steinbeck already has a fish named after him)
- Cryptoceniza pairspinster (paired spinster since the male was found after so many years)
- Cryptoceniza Spidey McSpiderface