The Bug Doctor, that is.
If you attended the 105th annual UC Davis Picnic Day and headed for Briggs Hall, home of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, you encountered a booth lettered with "Bug Doctor" and a sign that read: “Ask Me About Insects.”
The annual Picnic Day booth is traditionally staffed by graduate students in the department.
Have you ever wondered what folks are asking them? Here's a sampling.
Bug Doctor Miles Dakin
Miles Dakin, a doctoral student in the lab of agricultural entomologist Christian Nansen lab, said:
“I got a few about what my favorite bug was, which I, of course, responded Phaneausvindex, and continued to talk about how cool dung beetles are.”
“A few questions were about pest insects. One person brought in what she thought was a fruit fly but was, in fact, a thrip, although I am unsure of the species.”
“I think the best sequence of questions were from two siblings who were very interested in mosquitos. Gives me hope that we may have a few more entomologists in the future.”
Bug Doctor Zachary Griebenow
Doctoral student Zachary Griebenow, who studies with major professor Phil Ward of the ant lab, said:
“Four different people asked me what my favorite bug was. I told them that this was a difficult question to answer, if not impossible. Questions of more real substance included whether we should be concerned about bees (I took care to draw a distinction between Apismellifera and our native bee fauna).
“Two people came with specimens of insects that they wanted identified: one person brought an early-instar cockroach nymph; the other, a leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) that I could not identify to species.
“Another person brought photographs of what I immediately recognized as Tropidischia xanthostoma, an exceedingly large cave cricket (Rhaphidophoridae) restricted to the Pacific Northwest.
Bug Doctor Brendon Boudinot
Brendon Boudinot, doctoral candidate in the Phil Ward lab and president of the Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA), kept busy during Picnic Day. He co-chaired the UC Davis Picnic Day activities at Briggs Hall (with forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the faculty), coordinating all the activities in the building. He also found time to serve as Bug Doctor.
How was it?
"Bug Doctor was awesome!" Boudinot said. "For the majority of the time, I was just talking with people without getting too many direct questions. When I was the Bug Doctor, I was talking for about four hours straight with only a few moments of break! I talked with people about how insects work, how they sense and interact with the environment, about their evolution, the history of life on Earth, particularly the major extinction events (Cryogenian, before the Cambrian explosion; the Permian-Triassic extinction event, the origin of stinging wasps in the Cretaceous, and the faunal turnover of the end-Cretaceous extinction, and finally, the current major extinction event which geologists are calling the Anthropocene). Because I had so few moments to pause and reflect, I can't honestly think of any particular question! I just enjoyed the enrapturment of the folks I was speaking to. One person, however, did ask me how she could get involved in professional entomology. She already has her higher education degree, and I gave her the best answer I could think of."
Boudinot and Griebenow are accustomed to answering questions about insects. They are members of the national championship UC Linnaean Games Team that will defend its title at the Entomological Society of America competition in November in St. Louis, Mo. The Linnaean Games are lively question-and-answer, college-bowl style competitions on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams. The UC Linnaean Games Team is captained by Ralph Washington Jr. , a graduate student at UC Berkeley who received his bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis.
Boudinot will be honored at the ESA meeting as a winner of the John Henry Comstock Award, the organization's highest graduate student honor. Each ESA branch selects a recipient. Boudinot won the award from the Pacific Branch, which is comprised of 11 western states, U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico. (See Bug Squad blog)
Meanwhile, save the date! The 2020 UC Davis Picnic Day is April 18.
Yes, the doctor (Bug Doctor) will be in!
And attendees did. They asked questions, expressed concerns, and offered comments.
Members of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Students' Association, headed by president Brendon Boudinot, fielded scores of questions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
"Bug Doctor" Boudinot, a doctoral candidate who studies ants in the Phil Ward lab and who co-chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Picnic Day Committee, remembers that a little girl asked him "Do bugs get ear infections?"
That was Lilliana Phillips, 5, of Carmichael, who stood in line with her father, William Phillips, a UC Davis alumnus (bachelor's degree in environmental toxicology and master's degree in pharmacology toxicology.
"Good question," Boudinot told her as the crowd smiled.
"I had to think about that one for a while," Boudinot later related. "My best answer is that perhaps mantises, grasshoppers, and cicadas do, as they all have 'ears' (tympana), albeit in different places on their bodies!"
Other questions zeroed in on evolution, insect control, mosquito hawks and butterflies.
"I had a long conversation with an undergraduate about the evolutionary descent of insects and their arthropod kin," Boudinot said. "We discussed the origin of the Arthropoda, the reason why Paleozoic insects were so large, and a number of other topics."
Another undergraduate, a math and economics major, asked Boudinot about the use of differential calculus in his research.
"A number of people asked about insect control, and some even asked plant control questions," Boudinot said. "One woman and her family asked me about 'mosquito hawks.' I informed her that these large flies are not predatory, and have grub-like larvae which feed on decaying material, among other aspects of their natural history."
Another student quizzed him about his knowledge of the color blue in the insect world. "We talked about structural colors. I was unaware that there is a genus of butterfly, Nessaea (Nymphalidae), which has true blue pigmentation--an extreme rarity in the natural world!" (According to Wikipedia, unlike virtually all other butterflies with blue coloration, the blue colors in this genus are due to pigmentation rather than iridescence--for example, Morpho species.)
One young boy asked if mosquitoes will ever go extinct. "I told him that mosquitoes will certainly not go extinct in our lifetime. However, there are many many species of mosquitoes which do not bite people, and if he wanted to learn more about them, he could ask the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District folks (in the nearby booth).
"The final, long conversation I had was with an engineer who was fascinated by insect anatomy and physiology. The conversation started with the mechanism for insect breathing, led through heart and gut anatomy." Boudinot then headed to Briggs 158 to use the chalkboard to explain how the insect cuticle has a machine function.
The next "Bug Doctor" in the rotation was Zachary Griebenow, a first-year Ph.D. candidate in the Phil Ward lab.
The little girl who asked the "Do bugs have ear infections?" also asked him for his take.
"I said that I doubted it," Griebenow related, "as the auditory organs insects have are chordotonal: essentially, they consist of a scolopidiform sensillum attached to cuticle at both ends. Therefore, as there is no fluid involved, the idea of an infection attacking such a structure seemed unlikely to me."
"Another individual asked me to explain the distinction between arachnids and insects, which I did as one might expect (differences in tagmosis, appendages, etc.)"
Lastly, Griebenow was asked whether insects "answered to the same God as we do." He responded that he did not have the authority or knowledge to answer the question.
UC Davis entomology graduate students, including Boudinot, are accustomed to answering entomological questions. Boudinot served as a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Linnaean Games Team that won the Entomological Society of America's national championship twice: in 2015 and 2016. The ESA Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions.
Some of the questions the UC Davis team, captained by Ralph Washington Jr., successfully answered in the 2016 competition:
- Question: “You have just moved into an apartment that has been vacant for weeks but whose prior owners had several cats and dogs. A very few days after you move in you are bitten by a huge number of cat fleas that seem to have appeared out of nowhere. What characteristic behavior of cat fleas biology is probably responsible for this?” Answer: “Cat flea pupae eclose in response to the presence of a host.”
- Question: Insects inhabiting a very thin water film such as splash zones marginal to streams are called what?
- Question: The insect order Notoptera unites what two former insect orders?
Answer: Notoptera unites Mantophasmatodea and Grylloblattodea
- Question: What are the two obvious clinical symptoms that someone is suffering from onchocerciasis?
Answer: Blindness and hanging tissue around lymph nodes, often times the scrotum.
- Question: What is the common name for the zygentoman pest that thrives in high humidity and high temperatures and is often found in boiler rooms?
Answer: The firebrat, Thermobia domestica.
- Question: Projection neurons travel across what two major regions of the insect brain?
Answer: The protocerebrum and the deutocerebrum
Click on the YouTube video to see the champion round of the 2016 Linnaean Games.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology's newly published newsletter, written by Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum and a professor of entomology at UC Davis, reveals the answers. She gleaned much of the information from the University of Florida's Book of Insect Records.
So, what is the heaviest insect? "We used to think that several large beetles, including the Goliath beetle and the titan long-horned beetle were the heaviest," Kimsey said. "But now the giant weta, Deinacrida heteracantha White of New Zealand is unquestionably the winner."
It weighs 2.5 ounces, or "more than a mouse," Kimsey said. "OK, so it's not even one pound, but that's still really heavy for an insect."
Indeed it is.
The longest? A walking stick, Pharnacia kirbyl, found in Malaysia and measuring 22 inches from front leg tip to hind leg tip.
The fastest runner? That would be the Australian tiger beetle, Cicindela eburneola, recorded running at 5.5 miles per hour.
The fastest flying insect? The male horsefly, Hybomitra hinei Johnson, which reached 89 miles per hour chasing an air rifle pellet.
The loudest? The North American cicada, Tibicen walkeri Metcalf, which can reach 108 decimels--"about as loud as a rock concert or power saw," Kimsey says.
The greatest wingspan? The Central American moth, Thysania agrippina Cramer (Noctuidae), also known as the white witch. Its wingspan measures up to 11 inches long.
The smallest adult? The mymarid fairy wasp, Dicopomorpha echmeptrygis Mockford. The males are 139 microns or 0.005 inches.
And if you think rabbits are highly productive, think again. Aphids win for the shortest generation time. "Female aphids are essentially born pregnant," Kimsey says. "Cotton aphids and corn aphids can complete a generation in five days at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that one female and all her offspring could produce more than 1 trillion offspring in a season. That is as many aphids as there are stars in five average-sized galaxies."
We need more ladybugs and soldier beetles!
(P.S. If you have an insect question, want an identification or want to become a member of the Bohart Museum Society, contact the Bohart Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org)