There's more to Sonoma County's Bodega Head than the stunning views, crashing waves, nesting seabirds, and bursts of flora and fauna.
The sand cliffs are also the home of a digger bee, a bumble bee mimic known as Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana.
"The species name indicates that it is a bumble bee mimic," the late Robbin Thorp, a global authority on bumble bees and a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, told us several years ago. "These bees need a source of fresh water nearby. Females suck up water, regurgitate it on the sandstone bank surface, then dig away at the soft mud. They use some of the mud to build entrance turrets, presumably to help them locate their nests within the aggregation of nests."
"The female," Thorp said, "sucks up fresh water from nearby, stores it in her crop (like honey bees store nectar) for transport to the nest. She regurgitates it on the sandstone, and excavates the moistened soil. She carries out the mud and makes the entrance turret with it."
On multiple trips to Bodega Bay over the years, we watch in fascination as the bees excavate their homes, zip in and out of their turrets, and nectar on nearby flowers.
This time (June 24) we photographed an ant and bee encounter on a turret. The ant? Formica transmontanis, according to ant specialists Phil Ward, professor of entomology at UC Davis, and UC Davis alumnus Brendon Boudinot, who recently received his doctorate from UC Davis, studying with Ward.
"The species nests on the bluffs," Ward told us.
And about that bee-ant encounter? Commented Boudinot: "I suspect the little lady was alarmed by the big bee. These ants and their relatives are rather passive scavengers except during the brooding season, when fresh meat is an order. Most entomeat for Formica tend to be free-walking insects than barricaded larvae, as probably for the bee. For these reasons I think that the encounter may be coincidental!"
Scores of UC Davis entomologists have engaged in research at Bodega Bay. Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is currently researching Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana and its nests as part of a National Science Foundation grant. Her project on solitary bee provision microbiome includes investigating the diverse community of bacteria and fungi in the provisions and brood cells.
While COVID-19 mandates and precautions hamper her research team's efforts (she's done some preliminary sampling this year and the entire team is planning to do research next year), the digger bees of Bodega Head keep digging, crafting turrets, nectaring on the nearby flora--and encountering ants.
They're all in this together.
How do you keep ants off your hummingbird feeders?
That was a question a Bug Squad reader asked: "I was wondering if you had any tips on how to keep ants off and out of the hummingbird feeder? I've put Vaseline on the line it hangs from, and that helped for a long time. But now I have a different type of and, similar to a big red and who is not deterred, they just walk right over the Vaseline. I've even freshened it up. Any ideas?"
We asked "Ant Man" Brendon Boudinot, an authority on ants--and who just received his doctorate in entomology, studying with major professor Phil Ward of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Boudinot's response: "Teflon. In the ant research community, this is one of our favorite surface protectors against ants, as they cannot get a grip. Alternatively, Tanglefoot would work, but may also be dangerous for the birds if they come into contact with it. Teflon will need to be reapplied after there is evidence that its efficiency is being reduced, often due to exposure to water or extended humidity. The easiest thing to do will be to find the trail and give the surface a good wash, as the chemical trail will be removed. Ants are not able to remember the location of food sources without their trails. They will have to be lucky to rediscover the feeder."
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) offers information on ants in its Pest Notes section, "How to Manage Pests, Pests of Homes, Structures, People, and Pets."
"Ant management requires diligent efforts and the combined use of mechanical, cultural, sanitation, and often chemical control methods. It is unrealistic and impractical to attempt to totally eliminate ants from an outdoor area. Focus your management efforts on excluding ants from buildings or valuable plants and eliminating their food and water sources. Reducing outdoor sources of ants near buildings will reduce the likelihood of ants coming indoors."
"Remember that ants often play a beneficial role in the garden. Become aware of the seasonal cycle of ants in your area and be prepared for annual invasions by caulking and baiting before the influx. Different species of ants respond to management practices differently. For management information specific to a particular species, see the Key to Identifying Common Household Ants. See also the videos related to ant management in the home." (See more information on management of ants.)
On another note, we recently received a curious email about ants that began with: "I hope this mail finds you and your family well and healthy regarding the current pandemic situation. I am sending you this email regarding the OUTRAGEOUS ASSUMPTION THAT YOU IMPLY THAT ANTS MIGHT HAVE A REMOTE RESEMBLANCE TO FEELINGS."
Who me? I rarely write about ants or photograph them (they seem to avoid me and my camera). To my knowledge, I've never thought, written or implied that ants "have a remote resemblance to feelings."
"Ants may not be sentimental," Boudinot told us, "but they sure respond to noxious stimuli in ways which indicate that their little neural systems communicate something which would roughly correspond to the sensation of pain. Indeed, there may be some basic inherited molecular link between ant, human, and earthworm aversive feelings."
Meanwhile, I'm heading back out to the family pollinator garden to fill our empty hummingbird feeders. Neither a hummer nor ant in sight...and no remote resemblance to feelings, either....
When doctoral candidate and entomologist extraordinaire Brendon Boudinot delivered his exit seminar on ants to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, he drew acclaim, admiration and applause.
Boudinot, whose peers marvel at his expertise on all-things-ants and, indeed, all-things-entomological, greeted a standing-room only crowd in Room 122 of Briggs Hall.
If any ants had been in the room, they would have stood at attention, too.
Major professor Phil Ward praised Boudinot's intellectual curiosity, his contributions to science and his service to the department and campus. "He is an incredible fireball of energy, enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity," Ward said. "He will be sorely missed."
Boudinot, who excels in academics, leadership, public service activities, professional activities, and scientific publications, won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). The Comstock award is PBESA's highest graduate student award in a region that encompasses 11 states, U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Just a few of Boudinot's accomplishments:
- Published several landmark papers on insect systematics, including research in the journal Arthropod Structure and Development (in which he presented a comprehensive theory of genital homologies across all Hexapoda). Scientists describe the work as "classic."
- Received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
- Served on three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
- Served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association from 2016 to 2019.
- Co-chaired the department's Picnic Day activities (part of the annual campuswide Picnic Day celebration) with forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey for several years. Boudinot also did double duty as "The Bug Doctor," fielding questions from the general public.
Boudinot titled his exit seminar, "Abdomens and Ants: Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology of the Insects." The title prompted Ward to quip "Here's Brendon talking about ants, abdomens and the meaning of life."
Boudinot divided his talk into two parts: (1) from the ocean onto land, from the land into the sky, and (2) from the sky back to the land (ants).
"Between about 410 to 480 million years ago, there was an event where the ancestor of the insects that we think of as insects today, not only had moved onto land, but gained numerous adaptations for land," Boudinot began. "So this first part of this talk is going to be a comparison of these wingless insects."
Pointing out that insects have a head, a thorax, and abdomen, Boudinot asked: "Why do we care about the abdomen? Okay, we don't maybe generally care about the abdomen and maybe we don't care that much about insect genitalia, but I care about insect genitalia and a lot of insects do, too."
The crowd, knowing Boudinot's interest in ant genitalia research and knowing insects' interest in reproduction, erupted into laughter.
That's what doctoral candidate and ant specialist Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will do when he presents his exit seminar, "Abdomens and Ants: Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology of the Insects" from 4:10 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 4 in 122 Briggs Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive, UC Davis campus.
Boudinot, who won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award, the highest graduate student award given by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), joined the UC Davis entomology graduate school program in 2014.
Abstract of his talk: "It is widely yet loosely agreed that the study of morphology--body form, structure and function--is undergoing a post-genomic revival, cautiously labeled 'phenomics' among active practitioners. I argue that the full reality of phenomics has yet to be realized, and that functional anatomy is the linchpin for the meaningful use of morphological data to understand evolution."
"In this seminar, I will present two case studies from my dissertation. The first will focus on reproductive anatomy in the context of the major transitions of insects from a marine, crustacean ancestor to the epically abundant diversity of wing-bearing species. The second and ongoing study combines more than 300,000 point-observations of morphology for 431 extinct and extant species with genomic sequence data to reconstruct the sequence of evolution leading to the living ants. I will introduce the audience to several extinct lineages of ants, including a new family of wasp-ant intermediates, and present functional morphological reconstructions of the ancestors of all ants, living and extinct."
In nominating Boudinot for the Comstock award, Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, wrote: “A highly respected scientist, teacher and leader with a keen intellect, unbridled enthusiasm, and an incredible penchant for public service, Brendon maintains a 4.00 grade point average; has published 12 outstanding publications on insect systematics (some are landmarks or ground-breaking publications); and engages in exceptional academic, student and professional activities."
Active in PBESA and the Entomological Society of America (ESA), Boudinot received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at national ESA meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Boudinot served on—and anchored—three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams. He has served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association since 2006, and is active in the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day; he has co-chaired the department's Picnic Day Committee since 2017.
Boudinot will be among the speakers at an innovative UC Davis symposium on Saving a Bug's Life: Legal Solutions to Combat Insect Biodiversity Decline and the Sixth Mass Extinction, set from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 6 in Room 1001 of the School of Law, Mrak Hall. The event, sponsored by UC Davis Environmental Law Society (ELS), will bring together law and science to address insect biodiversity decline. It is free and open to the public. See official program. (RSVP here or on this Facebook page.)
At the March 6 symposium, Boudinot will be part of a three-member panel from 9:50 to 10:55 a.m. on "The Science of Biodiversity Decline." He will be joined by Angela Laws, endangered species conservation biologist, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; butterfly specialist Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology; and Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and director of the Center for Biosystematics.
The event, sponsored by UC Davis Environmental Law Society (ELS) and scheduled from 8:30 to 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 6 in Room 1001 of the School of Law, 400 Mrak Ave., is free and open to the public. It will include lunch and an evening cocktail reception. Registration is under way on this Facebook page.
Four UC Davis entomologists will be among the speakers. They are:
- Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, whose expertise includes wasps. Kimsey is the "go-to" person in the department when the public requests general insect information.
- Neal Williams, professor and pollination ecologist, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who focuses on native bees.
- Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, who has been monitoring the butterfly population of central California since 1972; and
- Brendon Boudinot, doctoral candidate and ant specialist, Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Experts in the field of entomology and agricultural sciences will converse with leaders in government, legal scholars and practitioners about the current threat to insect populations "and how we can use legal tools, policy and management practices to combat the sixth mass extinction," according to co-chairs Kelly Beskin (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Peter Jansen (email@example.com).
Four separate panels will center on protecting insects and biodiversity. Some of the major topics will be about "listing insects under the Endangered Species Act and the tensions within agriculture between the need for pollinators and pesticide use," Beskin said.
- Franklin's bumble bee, Bombus franklini
- Suckley cuckoo bumble bee, Bombus suckleyi
- Western bumble bee, Bombus occidentalis
- Crotch bumble bee, Bombus crotchi
An insect fair will take place during lunch time. The Bohart Museum of Entomology will showcase insect specimens as well as a live "petting zoo," including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, and tarantulas. Graduate students will display their research projects, and the Entomology Graduate Student Association will be offering insect-themed t-shirts for sale. Cricket protein bars will be handed out to all those interested. Also planned is honey tasting from the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.
"It should be a lot of fun for everybody," Beskin said.
Sponsors, in addition to ELS, include the California Environmental Law and Policy Center; UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment and the UC Davis School of Law.
See agenda on the Facebook page.