While touring the Bohart Museum, "Bob," as he prefers to be called, took a special interest in the Magdalena alpine butterfly collection. It's an all-black alpine butterfly considered "the most elusive of several rare and beautiful species found on the (Magdalena) mountain" in west-central New Mexico. He featured the butterfly in his book, "Magdalena Mountain: A Novel."
This week Pyle figuratively ascended another summit when the Entomological Society of America (ESA) selected him as one of the 10 recipients of its 2021 Fellow award.
Those selected as ESA Fellows "have outstanding contributions to entomology— via research, teaching, extension, administration, military service, and public engagement and science policy," ESA says. Their career accomplishments "serve to inspire all entomologists."
Dr. Robert Michael Pyle, independent scholar, writer, biologist, and educator, is internationally honored for his devotion to insect conservation (particularly as founder of the Xerces Society), promoting public awareness and enjoyment of butterflies, and contributions to natural history and place-based literature," according to an ESA news release. (Read how and why he founded Xerces.)
Born July 19, 1947 in Denver, Colo., Bob remembers chasing butterflies in his youth, and meeting Charles Remington, Paul Ehrlich and John A. Comstock and other prominent lepidopterists.
Pyle holds two degrees from the University of Washington, Seattle: a bachelor's degree (nature perception and protection, 1969) and a master's degree, nature interpretation, 1973). He went on to receive his doctorate in 1976 from Yale University, where he wrote his dissertation on the "Eco-Geography of Lepidoptera Conservation."
Now a resident of the Columbia River-tributary town of Grays River in southwest Washington, and a 62-member of the Lepodopterists Society, Pyle is best known for his 1971 founding of the Xerces Society. He helped initiate the annual butterfly counts at their overwintering sites along the California coast. "He was the first to attempt to follow the monarch migration, reported in Chasing Monarchs and papers with Lincoln Brower, demonstrating a new model for the migration," ESA wrote in a press release on its website. "Pyle's several hundred publications include 27 refereed papers and major reports and two Annual Review articles. His 25 books include Wintergreen, The Thunder Tree, Mariposa Road, Nature Matrix (finalist for the 2021 PEN America Award for the Art of the Essay); five collections of poetry; the novel Magdalena Mountain; and Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest."
"Pyle's Watching Washington Butterflies and Handbook for Butterfly Watchers were the first American books promoting butterfly watching alongside collecting, an activity now developed far beyond his dreams," according to the ESA news release. "His Audubon Society Field Guide to the Butterflies of North America, still in print and widely used after 40 years, was the first to cover the entire fauna and to use photographs from life." The 2020 film The Dark Divide, showcases his life story; he is portrayed by actor David Cross.
Pyle's many other awards include Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Burroughs Medal, two National Outdoor Book Awards, and a Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Conservation Biology. He has described nine new taxa of butterflies and has one patronym, a myriapod.
Robert Michael Pyle is indeed the face of insect conservation, and a welcome addition to the growing list of ESA Fellows.
If you walk over the Ulatis Creek Bridge, Vacaville, to enter Andrews Park for the Fourth of July celebration on Sunday, you may be surprised.
There's a 12-inch sticker of a carpenter ant at the end of the bridge.
"Pretty cute, says the entomologist," quipped entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology and distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Noted "Ant Man" Brendon Boudinot recognized it immediately as a carpenter ant, of course. He knows his ants, inside and out.
Boudinot, who holds a doctorate in entomology (2020) from UC Davis, studying ants with major professor Phil Ward, is in Jena, Germany for a two-year Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship to research evolutionary and comparative anatomy.
"Haha awesome!" he wrote in an email. "Technically, I would consider this imperfectly identifiable because it lacks sufficient detail."
"However, using my sense of ant gestalt and the local fauna, I would say this is a Formica. The mandibles are quite chunky for the genus, so it might be a new species!"
If you ever want to talk ants, Boudinot is your man, the ant man. He wrote his dissertation on "Systematic and Evolutionary Morphology: Case Studies on Formicidae, Mesozoic Aculeata, and Hexapodan Genitalia" and received the coveted 2020 Robert E. Snodgrass Memorial Research Award from the Entomological Society of America (ESA), an award recognizing outstanding research by a PhD student who has completed a research thesis or dissertation in arthropod morphology, systematics, taxonomy, or evolution. (Nominees are scored on honors, awards, achievements and recognition; recommendations of professors and advisors; grantsmanship, publications, creativity and innovation of thesis or dissertation; and contribution to morphology.) Boudinot also drew widespread recognition when he won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award, the top graduate student award given by ESA's Pacific Branch. The branch encompasses 11 Western states, U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
But back to the Art of the Ant.
Who did it? And why? A myrmecologist or an ant enthusiast or a future entomologist?
Maybe someone who read the April 5, 2021 feature, "Let Us Now Praise Tiny Ants," in the New York Times?
"We share our world with at least 15,000 unique species of ants — although this is surely an underestimate, as we have no way to count the number of species still unknown to science," wrote journalist Brooke Jarvis. "It is hard to express how ubiquitous they are. If you were to put all the animal life in a Brazilian rainforest on a scale, more than one-quarter of the weight would come just from ants. Even the sidewalks of New York City — where pedestrians walk unknowingly above armies of pavement ants that undertake huge, deadly turf wars each spring, dismembering each other in epic battles for territory — are teeming. One study found an average of 2.3 ant species on a given city median, doing the invisible work of making fallen potato chips and hot dogs disappear by the pound. Even in our densest habitations, there are orders of magnitude more of them than there are of us."
So during the Fourth of July celebration in Andrews Park, when fireworks explode and people applaud and cheer, will they remember that ants are all around them? Probably not. Still, as Jarvis wrote there are "more of them than there are of us."
Including one "permanent resident" on the bridge. Yes!
"A worker honey bee has how many pairs of wax glands on its abdomen?"
That would be four, answered the UC Davis Entomology Team did at the Entomological Society of America's Virtual Entomology Games, a college-bowl type of competition formerly known as the Linnaean Games.
Doctoral students Jill Oberski, Zachary Griebenow and Hannah Kahl of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology teamed to compete in Games, a fun and lively event but this year it went virtual due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions.
Oberski and Griebenow are both fourth-year doctoral students in the Phil Ward lab, while Kahl, a member of the Jay Rosenheim lab, is currently a third-year doctoral student who will begin her fourth year in January.
The UC Davis team won its preliminary round and then entered the highly competitive finals, placing 11th. Alabama's Auburn University edged the Boiler Bugs of Purdue to win the championship.
The champions, from Auburn University's Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, answered 27 of the 40 questions correctly, tying with the Boiler Bugs of Purdue, “but Auburn had the closest answer for the tiebreaker question,” Rominiecki said.
In the Entomology Games, teams of two to four students test their entomological knowledge by answering questions drawn from all disciplines of insect science: behavior and ecology, biological control, entomology in culture, integrated pest management (IPM) and insect/plant interactions, medical and veterinary entomology, biochemistry and toxicology economic entomology, history of entomology, morphology and physiology, and systematics and evolution.
ESA did not record the Games this year, as the event itself “was mostly just a recitation of the questions, without the more lively 'buzzing in' format of the live event,” Rominiecki related.
“All in all, we were pleased with how the Entomology Games went this year, in an entirely new format," he said. "Our organizers worked hard in just a few short months to create a virtual version of the Games, and it was great to have teams from all over the country participating as usual, despite the new circumstances. We look forward to returning to an in-person event in the future, of course, but the 2020 virtual edition will be a memorable one. Congratulations to Auburn on their victory, and kudos to all the teams who participated!”
- Keye Luke, Jay Chou, and Bruce Lee have all portrayed Kato, the crimefighting partner of what fictional vigilante?
- What is the full scientific name (genus and species) of the bacterium classified by IRAC as a microbial disruptor of insect midgut membranes?
- "Yoke-winged" is the literal translation of the name of what insect suborder, which can be distinguished from other members of its order by the presence of caudal gills on the aquatic immatures?
- Although this year's festivities were postponed due to COVID-19, the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, normally hosts an annual festival that commemorates the 1966 sightings of what paranormal figure?
- A widely-publicized 2017 study reported a 75 percent decline in insect biomass over the past 27 years. This study was conducted across 63 protected natural areas in what European country?
- What striking form of structural coloration involves color changes based on the angle of the observer, and was recently shown to help jewel beetles camouflage in order to avoid bird predation?
- These specialty loaves of bread are labeled "kuwagata," which is a Japanese word that refers to insects in what family?
- "Stimulo-deterrent diversion" was one of the earlier names for what IPM strategy that uses volatile cues from both repellent and attractant plants to reduce damage from insect pests?
- The megalopteran family Corydalidae is divided into two clades: Corydalinae (aka dobsonflies) and what other subfamily, whose members are commonly known as fishflies?
- Bombykol and bombykal are components of a sex pheromone emitted by certain females in what insect order?
- What term refers to a parasitoid that halts the development of its host shortly after the initial parasitization?
- Paederus dermatitis, also known as whiplash dermatitis, is a type of skin irritation caused by contact with the hemolymph of certain species in what insect family?
- What type of semiochemical benefits the receiver and harms the emitter?
- What sixteen-letter adjective is most commonly used to describe fungi and nematodes that can potentially act as biological control agents of insect pests?
- Of the three types of lobes typically found in an insect brain, which lobe innervates the labrum and foregut?
- A 2020 Ig Nobel Prize was awarded to Richard Vetter for collecting evidence that many entomologists exhibit what psychological condition? This condition is also the title of a movie that won the 1990 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.
- What twelve-letter term was coined by entomologist Willi Hennig to refer to a derived character that is shared between multiple species and their most recent common ancestor?
- The first sighting of emerald ash borer in North America occurred in 2002, when it was discovered attacking ash trees in Ontario, Canada and what U.S. state?
- Green Hornet
- Bacillus thuringiensis
- Push pull
The tiebreaker question? It dealt with the number of Far Side comics referencing insects. The question: "Gary Larson is known for using insects as a source of humor in his acclaimed comic strip 'The Far Side.' A survey of 4,300 'Far Side' comics revealed that exactly how many contained some sort of entomological reference?" Answer: 359.
Over the last few years, UC Davis teams have won the national championship three times in the fun and lively competitions. (See Bug Squad blog)
"Hopefully, we can be back onstage in person next year," said Oberski.
So begins Marlin Rice, author and a past president of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), in his wonderful and comprehensive piece in the current edition of ESA's American Entomologist about the legendary Bruce Hammock.
His story begins in Arkansas.
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Bruce received his bachelor's degree in entomology (with minors in zoology and chemistry) magna cum laude from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1969. He received his doctorate in entomology-toxicology from UC Berkeley in 1973 with John Casida at UC Berkeley. Hammock served as a public health medical officer with the U.S. Army Academy of Health Science, San Antonio, and as a postdoctoral fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, Department of Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
The headline says it well: "Bruce D. Hammock: Science Should Be Fun."
Hammock describes his Tom Sawyer-like childhood in Little Rock, where he wandered the woods and collected animals.
Rice asked him: "What was your favorite thing to collect?"
"I just liked interested creatures," Hammock told him. "I had a pet 'coon, pet deer, pet 'possums named Sears and Roebuck. The two 'possums had stolen some hot dogs at a Boy Scout jamboree and were trying to make their escape. This guy was going to kill them, so I took them home."
"I found Willy—his mom had been killed by hunters—in a tree stump and bottle-raised him with an old toothless bulldog, and he would ride around on her back. Raccoons and dogs are natural enemies. If an [unfamiliar] dog would growl at him, Willy would try to kill it, so he was not popular."
Young Tom went on to become an Eagle Scout and graduate from Louisiana State University. "I liked football, but I was not good at it," he recalled. "But I was upset with the football craziness in Arkansas, so I thought I could go to LSU and get away from it, but I ended up living underneath the football stadium."
In the Army, he served as a medical officer at Fort Sam, Houston, and what he saw--severely burned people in terrible pain--made a lasting impression on him. Today he's deeply involved in his research at UC Davis and the company he founded, EicOsis, in 2011 to alleviate pain in humans and companion animals.
Of EicOsis, he told Rice: "It's actually three companies: human health, equine health, and companion animal health. The human health goal is moving the drug into the clinic to treat human neuropathic pain. In dogs and cats and horses, it turns out that non-steroidals, like aspirin, are so much more toxic. If you give your dog some non-steroidals, you're saying you want your dog to be pain-free for a year, but you know you're killing it. Some non-steroidals are so toxic to non-primates that there's a real opportunity to get epoxide hydrolase to the clinic."
Excerpts from the article:
- Little did we know: While in Warsaw to attend a scientific meeting, Professor Hammock was arrested in Poland on suspicion of being a spy and spent six hours in jail.
- What does he look for in researchers hoping to join his lab? "Curiosity. And then there's this: If science is not fun, then it shouldn't be done. And if they enjoy science then they probably will be successful."
- Why did he leave UC Riverside for UC Davis? "Smog. [But] I absolutely loved Riverside. At the time, it was the largest entomology department in the world. It was just wonderful. And it was in the desert and I loved the desert. And I like rattlesnakes, and there is no shortage of rattlesnakes. They're not very pettable, but they're interesting. I've been bitten a lot of times by non-poisonous snakes. I thought I was fast, but snakes were faster. So I never kept a rattlesnake more than a few hours."
- His parents? His father was a postal worker and his mother sold World Book encyclopedias "and was convinced that if you bought World Book, you would be brilliant."
Indeed, Bruce Hammock's career is incredible--incredibly focused, superlative and kind. But he also has a finely honed sense of humor. Who else would launch an annual water balloon battle? He started it in 1980 on the Briggs Hall lawn, just outside his office. It's now called the Bruce Hammock Lab Water Balloon Battle or "Bruce's Big Balloon Battle at Briggs."
"A few years ago, we had the management officer in biochemistry upset because she thought it was unseemly for the university," Hammock told Rice. "Last year, somebody called the police on us, and the police came, and the guy took off his gun belt and joined us. [Laughs.] That was fun!"
So is science. Or it ought to be.
Some Related Links:
- Bruce Hammock and EicOsis, Innovator of the Year
- Bruce Hammock Receives $6 Million Grant
- Bruce Hammock Water Balloon Battle: 15 Minutes of Aim
- Research Could Lead to Drug to Prevent or Reduce Autism, Schizophrenia
- Hammock Lab Union Draws 100 Scientists from 10 Countries
- Bruce Hammock: Scientist Extraordinaire
A year-long project on "Current Techniques in Morphology" was posted online today (Nov. 12).
Doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, edited the special collection of articles for the Entomological Society of America journal, Insect Systematics and Diversity (ISD). The work is publicized on EurekAlert! and the entire project can be accessed free online.
Boudinot co-led the development of the collection with István Mikó, collections manager at the University of New Hampshire Department of Biological Sciences.
For the year-long project. Boudinot and Mikó gathered articles illustrating cutting-edge research techniques in insect morphology and phylogenetics, including videos, interactive 3D images, and augmented reality.
"The increasing availability of advanced technologies, such as micro-computed tomography and confocal laser scanning microscopy, are allowing researchers to generate models of morphology in three and four dimensions based on physical data,” Boudinot wrote in the foreword. “These models not only allow for detailed and quantitative study of anatomical systems and their biomechanical properties, but they also allow end-users to experience the richness of morphology in virtual reality, which is incredible."
Boudinot marvels at the 3D models “which open new pathways of research and which you can manipulate on your computer, and another which can project your model in virtual reality on your phone or tablet.”
Boudinot also wrote an editorial on the future of morphology titled Toward Phylomics in Entomology: Current Systematic and Evolutionary Morphology.
Articles in the collection include:
- A Systematist's Guide to Estimating Bayesian Phylogenies From Morphological Data
- PARAMO: A Pipeline for Reconstructing Ancestral Anatomies Using Ontologies and Stochastic Mapping
- From Spinning Silk to Spreading Saliva: Mouthpart Remodeling in Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae)
- Jumping and Grasping: Universal Locking Mechanisms in Insect Legs
- Revision of the Highly Specialized Ant Genus Discothyrea (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Afrotropics with X-Ray Microtomography and 3D Cybertaxonomy
- Ready Species One: Exploring the Use of Augmented Reality to Enhance Systematic Biology with a Revision of Fijian Strumigenys (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
“Morphology, encompassing the study of phenotypic form and function, is one of the ancient branches of human knowledge and is foundational for organismal classification,” Boudinot wrote in his editorial. “Two decades into the current century, the specialized biological knowledge of the history and pattern of evolution has been revolutionized by genome-scale sequencing technologies, and cryptic variation within and among species is quantifiable even with a few genetic markers. The application of statistical phylogenetic models of nucleotide and amino acid substitution to sequence data has enabled revised interpretations of morphological identities—be they population-level generalizations, such as species diagnoses, or the definition and homology of specific anatomical entities—and evolutionary transformation across the tree of life (e.g., insect genitalia, ancestral morphology of Polyneoptera). These models are also being adapted for phylogenetic analysis of morphological data, allowing explicit incorporation of fossil terminals and their stratigraphic information.”
Boudinot coined the word, “Phylomics,” which he said “can be defined as the inference of organismal evolution at the molecular and morphological scale, through the use of genomic and phenomic data (the ‘phenome' being a physical model of the phenotype of an organism, such as seen in the ISD special collection). The idea ultimately is to model the morphology of organisms across the phylogeny, through time, literally depicting ancestors and seeing the transformation from ancestor to descendant across the tree of life.”
UC Davis undergraduate student Ziv Lieberman of the Phil Ward lab (he's a senior majoring in evolution and ecology), and Francisco Hita-Garcia of Okinawa (of the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit and Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University), served as the lead authors of “Revision of the Highly Specialized Ant Genus Discothyrea (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Afrotropics with X-Ray Microtomography and 3D Cybertaxonomy.”
Lieberman and Hita-Garcia and three other co-authors described 15 new species in the genus, which is poorly represented in museum collections. Due to its “cryptic lifestyle, Discothyrea are poorly represented in museum collections and their taxonomy has been severely neglected,” they wrote. “We perform the first comprehensive revision of Discothyrea in the Afrotropical region through a combination of traditional and three-dimensional (3D) cybertaxonomy based on microtomography (micro-CT). Species diagnostics and morphological character evaluations are based on examinations of all physical specimens and virtual analyses of 3D surface models generated from micro-CT data.” These models can be seen for free in their article and online at https://sketchfab.com/arilab/collections/discothyrea.
Additionally, they applied “virtual dissections for detailed examinations of cephalic structures to establish terminology based on homology for the first time in Discothyrea. The complete datasets comprising micro-CT data, 3D surface models and videos, still images of volume renderings, and colored stacked images are available online as cybertype datasets (Hita Garcia et al. 2019, http://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.3qm4183).”
The journal, Insect Systematics and Diversity, launched by ESA in 2017, publishes research on systematics, evolution, and biodiversity of insects and related arthropods, including comparative and developmental morphology, conservation, behavior, taxonomy, molecular phylogenetics, paleobiology, natural history, and phylogeography.
The journal set out to host articles that utilize novel technologies or data types or describe emerging methods of research, ESA spokesperson Lisa Junker said. The new special collection on current techniques in morphology, she said, highlights how Insect Systematics and Diversity has become a premier outlet for integrative research combining multiple subdisciplines within the field.