"It" is the three-cornered alfalfa hopper, Spissistilus festinus, a lear-winged, wedge-shaped (thus the name "three-cornered") insect that's about a quarter of an inch long. That's about the size of a pomegranate seed.
And the spotlight will shine on the hopper on Wednesday, Dec. 5 when Cindy Preto--who recently received her master's degree in entomology from the University of California, Davis, studying with major professor Frank Zalom--delivers a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar.
Preto's hourlong seminar, titled “Behavior and Biology of the Three-Cornered Alfalfa Hopper in Vineyards," begins at 4:10 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, located on Kleiber Hall Drive. Preto received her bachelor's degree in viticulture and enology, with an entomology minor in agricultural pest management, from UC Davis in 2014.
Zalom, a distinguished professor in the department, a former director of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM), and a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), will introduce her.
Back in October of 2016, UC Davis-based research on the three-cornered alfalfa hopper and the Grapevine Red Blotch Disease grabbed the headlines. It made the cover story of a special focus issue, "Disease Management in the Genomics Era," in the journal Phytopathology.
Zalom and research biologist Mysore "Sudhi" Sudarshana of the USDA's Agriculture Research Services (ARS), who is based in the UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology, led the research.
In 2015, the Zalom team hypothesized that the three-cornered alfalfa hopper could transmit the Grapevine Red Blotch-associated virus, GRBaV, "based in part on phylogeneic analysis of coat protein sequences of 23 geminiviruses that revealed that GRBaV-CP was most similar to that of another geminivirus that was transmitted by another treehopper," explained Zalom, a distinguished professor of entomology with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and a past president of the Entomological Society of America
Their research, published in the journal, confirms that the alfalfa hopper “was able to both acquire the virus from a grapevine infested with GRBaV and transmit the virus to healthy grapevines in the laboratory.”
“In commercial vineyards, lateral shoots of grapevines girdled due to feed injury by the adult three-cornered alfalfa hopper also tested positive for the virus using digital PCR,” the scientists noted in their abstract. “These findings represent an important step in understanding the biology of GRBaV and develop management guidelines.”
The disease, first noticed in 2008 and attributed to a newly identified virus in 2012, is present in many major grape production regions of the United States and Canada. It can reduce fruit quality and ripening. (See this UC IPM document, written by Zalom and his colleagues.)
The scientific name, Spissistilus festinus, sounds a little festive--especially when mentioned during the holiday season.
Names can be deceiving.
Insects are in. They're not only everywhere in nature (well, almost everywhere!), they've climbed, crawled, jumped, buzzed, fluttered, flew or otherwise positioned themselves on fashions, including the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA) t-shirts.
The EGSA, comprised of UC Davis graduate students who study insect systems, is an organization that "works to connect students from across disciplines, inform students of and provide opportunities for academic success, and to serve as a bridge between the students and administration," according to EGSA president Brendon Boudinot, an ant specialist/doctoral student in the Phil Ward lab.
As a year-around fundraising project, they sell t-shirts, which can be viewed and ordered online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/. Jill Oberski, a graduate student in the Phil Ward lab, serves as the t-shirt sales coordinator. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Oberski designed an award-winning onesie, “My Sister Loves Me." It's an adult ant, “loosely based on Ochetellus, a mostly-Australian genus.”
Boudinot's award-winning design is REPRESANT, with illustrations by colleague Eli Sarnat, an alumnus of the Ward lab.
One of the favorite bee t-shirts depicts a honey bee emerging from its iconic hexagonal cells. It's the 2014 winner by then doctoral student Danny Klittich, now a California central coast agronomist.
Another "fave" bee shirt--this one showing a bee barbecuing--is by doctoral student and nematologist Corwin Parker, who studies with Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was one of the 2018 winners. (See the three winners on this site.)
EGSA is heading for the Entomological Society of America annual meeting in November. In addition to their participation, the graduate students will be selling shirts at the meeting, appropriately themed "Sharing Insects Globally." It's set for Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C. The EGSA also sells its t-shirts at other events, including at Briggs Hall during the annual UC Davis Picnic Day.
Insects rock. But some climb, crawl, jump, flutter, buzz, fly or otherwise position themselves on EGSA t-shirts.
Just a hoax. A fear-mongering hoax.
A so-called Facebook "public service announcement" on Aug. 21 that warned of a “new deadly spider species” spreading across the United States went viral, but it was all fake news. The images that the South Carolina man posted are of a woodlouse spider, Dysderca crocata, and it's neither new nor deadly to humans.
Unfortunately, many gullible people--probably many who cringe at the very sight of a spider!--believed the hoax. And even more unfortunately, the post went viral.
The South Carolina resident posted the "public service announcement" in all caps:
“THE SPIDER FROM HELL. FIVE PEOPLE HAVE DIED THIS WEEK DUE TO THE BITE OF THIS DEADLY SPIDER .THIS SPIDER WAS FIRST SEEN IN SOUTH CAROLINA IN JULY SINCE THEN IT HAS CAUSED DEATHS IN WEST VIRGINIA ,TENNESSEE AND MISSISSIPPI. ONE BITE FROM THIS SPIDER IS DEADLY. US GOVERNMENT WORKING ON AN ANTI VENOM AT THIS TIME PLEASE MAKE YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS AWARE.”
“This beast, Dysderca crocata, has been in most of North America for decades,” Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, told us. “That includes California. It occurs mostly around buildings, especially if there is a mulched garden where its primary prey, isopods (rolypolies, pillbugs), live. I've had it at my place for years, but the number of pillbugs went way down during the drought and I haven't seen the spider lately."
“Needless to say, its bite is not lethal," Shapiro pointed out. "It has very large chelicerae and displays them menacingly if annoyed. According to the literature, bites (really rare) cause brief pain and occasionally local dermatitis, nothing more.”
Snopes.com, the fact-checking site, declared it a hoax on Aug. 21, a day later, but not before the damage was done. Today the Entomological Society of America (ESA) tweeted “FACT CHECK: Did a 'New Deadly Spider' Species Kill Several People in the U.S. in the Summer of 2018?” ESA answered the question succinctly: “Spoiler alert: No, it did not.”
No. It. Did. Not.
Snopes wrote: “Invasive and exotic animals have long been common subjects of scarelore, and messages alerting readers to the supposed threat posed by some new or previously unheard-of species often spread like wildfire across message boards, social networks and email inboxes. These posts typically take the form of a 'public service announcement' and are shared in good faith, and without hesitation, by people who sincerely wish to alert their friends and loved ones to an unfamiliar threat. For these reasons, the 'dangerous animal alert' is also a frequent source of misinformation, deliberate scare-mongering, or even downright trolling.”
It's a good idea to question these kinds of Facebook posts (note: where are you, Facebook monitors?)
Wikipedia informs us that "The woodlouse spider, Dysdera crocata, is a species of spider that preys primarily upon woodlice. Other common names refer to variations on the common name of its prey, including woodlouse hunter, sowbug hunter, sowbug killer, pillbug hunter and slater spider."
"Female specimens are 11–15 mm (0.43–0.59 in) long, while males are 9–10 mm (0.35–0.39 in).They have six eyes, a dark-red cephalothorax and legs, and a shiny (sometimes very shiny) yellow-brown abdomen. Notably, they have disproportionately large chelicerae for a spider of this size."
Native to the Mediterranean area, the woodlouse spider is found throughout much of the world, including North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It's found "under logs, rocks, bricks, and in leaf litter in warm places, often close to woodlice," Wikipedia relates. "They have also been found in houses. They spend the day in a silken retreat made to enclose crevices in, generally, partially decayed wood, but sometimes construct tent-like structures in indents of various large rocks. Woodlouse spiders hunt at night and do not spin webs."
There. You. Have. It.
"Too weird," commented Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, who fields lots of questions about insects and arachnids. "Funny that they picked this spider. Its ferocious looking but tiny and probably couldn't bite you even if it wanted to."
Sadly, Arachnophobia, or the extreme or rational fear of spiders, is very real--unlike the disturbing hoaxes that keep popping up on the Internet.
Which team--the UC Berkeley-UC Davis team or the Washington State University team--would win?
That was the white-knuckle scene at the Linnaean Games competition hosted by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) at its meeting June 10-13 in Reno. The 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. Per the rules, they often try to answer the question before it is completed.
Was the answer Dutch scientist Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek? Or not?
After hearing a portion of the question, WSU rapidly--and incorrectly--buzzed in the answer, Leeuwenhoek.
It was actually Jan Swammerdam.
The UC Berkeley-UC Davis Team emerged victorious. The team, captained by Ralph Washington Jr., a graduate student in public policy at UC Berkeley, (formerly a graduate student at UC Davis), included UC Davis doctoral students Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab, and Emily Bick of the Christian Nansen lab.
“Davis vs WSU was the final game of the night,” related Boudinot. “This went into Sudden Death as the teams were tied 90-90 after several UC Davis interrupts reduced their point total. We came back from DOWN to tie at about 15th question, and the sudden death question was specifically selected to be challenging. The key details were ‘Dutch ... microscopist from the 17th century.' WSU buzzed in on the interrupt and stated 'Leeuwenhoek,' which was incorrect, leading to their elimination. The correct answer was Swammerdam."
The complete question: What Dutch scientist, a microscopist, was the first to observe and describe red blood cells? As part of his anatomical research, Swammerdam (1637-1680) "carried out experiments on muscle contraction," according to Wikipedia. "In 1658, he was the first to observe and describe red blood cells. He was one of the first people to use the microscope in dissections, and his techniques remained useful for hundreds of years."
What a close competition! Congratulations to both teams!
PBESA will sponsor the UC Berkeley-UC Davis team at the National Linnaean Games at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14, in Vancouver, Canada. Runner-up WSU (my alma mater!) also will compete.
Some of the questions asked at this year's PBESA Linnaean Games, as related by Ralph Washington Jr.:
Question: Name the fungal agent that grows naturally in soils throughout the world and causes white muscardine disease and is commercially packaged as a biological insecticide for the control of termites, whiteflies, and other insect pests?
Answer: Beauveria bassiana
Question: Name the process through which spiders use silk to fly and disperse.
Question: Where are you most likely to encounter a rheophilic insect?
Answer: In moving streams.
UC Davis has done well in the Linnaean Games over the years. It won national championships in both 2015 and 2016; Washington captained both teams. Boudinot was a member of both teams, and Bick, the 2016 team.
Think you can answer some of the questions?
- Watch the 2016 National Linnaean Games Championship Round (won by UC Davis), posted on YouTube
- Watch the 2015 National Linnaean Games Championship Round (won by UC Davis), posted on YouTube
The list of national champions over the last five years:
1st Place: Texas A&M
2nd Place: The Ohio State University
1st Place: University of California, Davis
2nd Place: University of Georgia
1st Place: University of California, Davis
2nd Place: University of Florida
1st Place: North Carolina State University
2nd Place: University of Florida
1st Place: University of California- Riverside
2nd Place: Mississippi State University
The Pacific Branch of ESA is comprised of 11 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawai'i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), plus U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico.
As for the parent organization, ESA, it was funded in 1889 and is the largest organization in the world, serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. Its some 7000 members are affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, pest management professionals, and hobbyists.
But the Linnaean Games are also a force to be reckoned with-- for those who study insect science or who want to study insect science.
The Entomological Society of America (ESA) today posted the video of the 2015 Championship Linnaean Games on YouTube. Access it at https://youtu.be/_hA05K0NET4 to see the lively competition between the University of California, Davis and the University of Florida. UC Davis won the championship for the first time in the 32-year history of the ESA's Linnaean Games.
The UC Davis championship team was comprised of Ralph Washington Jr. and members Jessica Gillung, Brendon Boudinot and Ziad Khouri. All are graduate students in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. They earlier won the Linnaean Games competition at the regional level: the Pacific Branch of ESA.
Washington is studying for his doctorate with major professors Steve Nadler and Brian Johnson, who respectively specialize in systematics and evolutionary biology of nematodes and the evolution, behavior, genetics, and health of honeybees; Boudinot with major professor Phil Ward, systematics and evolutionary biology of ants; and Jessica Gillung and Ziad Khouri with major professor Lynn Kimsey, who specializes in the biology and evolution of insects. Kimsey directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Two members of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty--Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey and Extension apiculturist Elina Niño--served as the team's advisors.
Here are some of the questions that the UC Davis team correctly answered:
Toss-Up Question: What is the smallest insect that is not a parasite or parasitoid?
Answer: Beetles in the family Ptiliidae.
Bonus Question: Some species of mosquitoes lay eggs that can undergo diapause or aestivation. Give at least three cues that trigger the aquatic eggs to hatch.
Answer: Temperature, immersion in water, concentration of ions or dissolved solutes.
Toss-Up Question: Chikungunya is an emerging vector-borne disease in the Americas. Chikungunya is derived from the African Language Makonde. What means Chikungunya in Makonde?
Answer: Bending up.
Toss-Up Question: A Gilson's gland can be found in what insect order?
Toss-Up Question: Certain Chrysomelid larvae carry their feces as a defensive shield. To what subfamily do these beetles belong?
Bonus Question: The first lepidopteran sex pheromone identified was bombykol. What was the first dipteran sex pheromone identified? Give the trade or chemical name.
Answer: Muscalure, Z-9-Tricosene. It is also one of the chemicals released by bees during the waggle dance.
Toss-Up Question: What famous recessive gene was the first sex-linked mutation demonstrated in Drosophila by T.H. Morgan?
Bonus Question: Cecidomyiidae are known as the gall flies. What is unique about the species Mayetiola destructor, and what is its common name?
Answer: Mayetiola destructor is the Hessian Fly, a tremendous pest of wheat. It does not form galls.
Toss-Up Question: Nicrophorus americanus is listed under what legislative act?
Answer: The Endangered Species Act
Toss-Up Question: In what insect order would you find hemelytra?
Answer: The order Hemiptera.
Toss-Up Question: The subimago stage is characteristic of what insect order?
Answer: The order Ephemeroptera
Bonus Question: A 2006 Science article by Glenner et al. on the origin of insects summarized evidence that Hexapods are nothing more than land-dwelling crustaceans, which is to say that the former group Crustacea is paraphyletic with respect to the Hexapoda. What hierarchical name has been used to refer to this clade?
Toss-Up Question: What are the three primary conditions that define eusociality?
Answer: Cooperative brood care, overlapping generations, and reproductive division of labor
A total of 10 teams competed in the 2015 Linnaean Games:
- Eastern Branch: Virginia Tech University and University of Maryland
- North Central Branch: Michigan State University and Purdue University
- Pacific Branch: UC Davis and Washington State University
- Southeastern Branch: University of Georgia and University of Florida
- Southwestern Branch: Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M
The UC Davis Linnaean Games Team won the championship--they're the stars--but congratulations to all! It's a honor to be selected on a team and an honor to win a spot at the regionals and advance to the nationals.