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!
If not, you're probably in the wrong state. Or not there at the right time.
Brood X is appearing in 15 eastern-central states of our nation (Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.) These periodical circadas have spent the last 17 years underground feeding on sap and underground roots. They emerge when the soil temperatures reach about 64 degrees.
Once they emerge, they spend two to four weeks "courting, mating, flying, driving people crazy, being eaten by everything," Michael Raupp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of Maryland told USA Today in a May 18th news story.
So we asked UC Davis alumnus Kelly Hamby if she could send us a few photos of Brood X for a brief Bug Squad blog.
Hamby, an associate professor/Extension specialist in the University of Maryland's Department of Entomology, captured these images of Brood X in Maryland in mid-May. She photographed two aggregations at the Patuxtent Research Reserve, Laurel, and an individual one at the Horsepen Branch Park, Bowie.
Hamby, who studied for her doctorate with major professor Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and a former president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), received her PhD from UC Davis in 2014. Her dissertation on "Biology and Pesticide Resistance Management of Drosophila suzukii in Coastal California Berries" covered monitoring, yeast associations, chronobiology,chronotoxicity of insecticides, and the implications of this work to managing a recent invader, the spotted wing drosophila. An excellent scholar and entomologist, Hamby received the 2014 John Henry Comstock Award, the highest graduate student honor in the Pacific Branch of ESA, which covers 11 western states, parts of Canada and Mexico, and seven U.S. territories.
If you've been following the news, you know that there are three species of these 17-year Brood X cicadas: Magicicada septendecim, M. cassinii and M. septendecula. You also know the cicada is considered one of the world's loudest insects; that males calling for mates are unaware of any noise ordinance violations or human sleeping preferences.
Lewis will cover the life and legacy of African-American entomologist and civil rights advocate Margaret Collins (1922-1996) at his presentation on Tuesday morning, Nov. 2. The long-awaited conference will be hybrid, that is, both virtual and in-person.
Collins will be "the fourth woman and second Black entomologist to be the subject of the Founders' Memorial lecture in the award's 64-year history," according to an ESA news release. (See list of previous recipients.)
'The Termite Man'
Vernard Lewis, who holds a doctorate in entomology (1989) from UC Berkeley, is a recognized national and international authority on drywood termites. He is known for his pioneering research on detection innovations and nonchemical methods of control. Lewis joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1990 and was the university's first African-American faculty-member hired in the 150-year history of the Rausser College of Natural Resources. He retired July 1, 2017 from a 35-year career as an urban entomologist, the last 26 years as a Cooperative Extension specialist. As Lynn Kimsey, director of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology told us in a Bug Squad blog in July 2017: "He was the best; knowledgeable, personable and engaged. I'm really annoyed that he retired."
"He was always the go-to person in Extension when it came to termites, and he had that special personality which enabled him to immediately engage with people," related UC Davis distinguished professor Frank Zalom, a past president of the 7000-member ESA. "I always got the feeling that he genuinely liked what he did, and it showed."
During his career, Lewis focused his research on a variety of urban pests, including not only termites, but ants, bed bugs, cockroaches and wood-boring insects. He authored more than 150 refereed and trade magazine articles and book chapters on termites and other household insect pests. He delivered more than 700 presentations to widespread audiences. Lewis was inducted into the National Pest Management Association Hall of Fame in 2016. Since achieving emeritus, he has been spending his time on university and industry committees and public boards dedicated to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion for underrepresented minorities and women into STEM careers.
In June 2020, Brite Energy Innovators paid tribute to Lewis as one of the world's Amazing Black Scientists. An excerpt: "At UC Berkeley, Lewis famously constructed a 400-square-foot (37-square-meter) wooden building near the campus for investigating pest insect detection and control; The structure was affectionately known as 'Villa Termiti.' Built in 1993, the building temporarily housed rotating communities of bedbugs, termites, beetles and ants, while Lewis and other scientists studied the insects' habits and tested their resistance to different methods of extermination. These included exposure to X-rays, microwaves, liquid nitrogen and fumigation, according to UC Berkeley."
Another excerpt from Amazing Black Scientists: "Lewis also worked to promote diversity in entomology, and participated in outreach programs to introduce underserved youth to life sciences, insects and biodiversity." He was one of 20 researchers featured in ESA's 2015 book “Memoirs of Black Entomologists,” designed to encourage minority students to pursue careers in science.
Margaret James Strickland Collins was known as "The Termite Lady" during her entomological career that spanned five decades. She engaged in extensive research on termites that included identifying a new species, Neotermes luykxi. "Her pioneering studies on the mechanism and evolution of termite desiccation resistance across various habitats provided foundational knowledge for generations of entomologists, field biologists, and ecologists," said Lewis, who wrote about her in a piece published June 1, 2016 in BioOne journal.
His abstract: "Often legends go unrecognized for their achievements in science and the betterment of society. In the case of Margaret Collins, it has been almost 20 years since her passing, and except for appreciation by a small cadre of termite experts, her contributions to entomology have received scant notice. However, her work and legacy have stood the test of time, and even today, she is considered, and often cited as, the definitive source for differences in toleration and resistance to drying among species of termites. At her core, Margaret was a field biologist, and she demonstrated it through her travels and termite collection trips to a dozen countries. Her long and illustrious career included publishing of scientific papers, tenured faculty positions, and service as a curator of the termite collection at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, District of Columbia. Margaret achieved many firsts during her life. She was the first African American female to be awarded a Ph.D. involving entomology at a major university. In addition, she was the first woman graduate student for the legendary isopterist and Professor of Zoology, Alfred E. Emerson. Her passion for termites remains highly visible in her published works. Her passion for her family and her strong support of civil rights for women and African Americans were less visible except to those she knew personally."'
Born in Institute, W.Va., on Sept. 4, 1922, Margaret was recognized as a child prodigy at age 6, "as evidenced by her being awarded the privilege to check out books at the West Virginia State College Library," Lewis wrote in the journal article. Following her high school graduation at age 14, she went on to receive her bachelor's degree in biology from West Virginia State College in 1943, and her doctorate in zoology in 1949 from the University of Chicago. Her thesis: Differences in Toleration of Drying among Species of Termites (Reticulitermes).
Collins was one of the first African-American women to receive an advanced degree related to zoology/entomology. "Those of us with collegiate degrees are well aware of the challenges and obstacles that can drain enthusiasm and delay completion, which include lack of funding, being away from home, and difficult and demanding courses and class loads," Lewis wrote. "Margaret had all of these, plus more."
"Upon receiving her Ph.D. in 1950 at the University of Chicago, Collins became the first African-American female entomologist," Lewis noted. "In the mid-'50s while on the faculty of Florida A&M, her invitation to speak at a local predominantly white university on biology and equity was cancelled due to a bomb threat. During the Florida A&M Student Council bus boycott of 1955 to protest racial inequality, Dr. Collins volunteered to drive people to work. These activities led to her being closely watched by the police and FBI."
In 1979, Collins coordinated an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium on "Science and the Question of Human Equality," and later that year, published a book with the same title. The book is "an interdisciplinary look at racism and science, investigating the biological and social realities of individual and group differences," according to the publisher.
Love of Science
Just like Margaret Collins, Lewis shares a love of termites, a love of science, and a love of public service. In the ESA news release, ESA President Michelle S. Smith praised Lewis for his "remarkable career in both research and extension" and as "a role model for current and future generations of insect scientists. His pioneering spirit echoes that of Dr. Margaret Collins, and her story of determination, curiosity, and perseverance will be a perfect complement to our annual meeting showcasing adaptation and transformation in insect science."
The ESA meeting is appropriately themed "Adapt. Advance. Transform."
Yes! "Adapt. Advance. Transform." And let's add one more: "Recognize!"
We're delighted to see this much deserved recognition for two legendary entomologists.
No? Probably can't due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but at least we can honor them every March 19 on Taxonomists' Appreciation Day.
Basically, taxonomy is the science of describing, naming, defining and classifying organisms, both alive and extinct. Each species is part of the tree of life.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, is among those celebrating this special day.
"Basically we have eight taxonomists, all working on different groups of wasps, bees, flies, moths and beetles," said Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey, a UC Davis professor of entomology who identifies thousands of insects for scientists and the public alike. Plus, spiders, ants and millipedes!
"Clearly we don't really need any taxonomists for things with backbones and maybe not leaves, but invertebrates are so diverse and mostly so small you can't sight ID them; not even with a microscope. In addition, perhaps as much as 50 percent of the invertebrates are undescribed and a much higher percentage, like 99 percent, have never been sequenced. So we do DNA."
The Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million insect specimens collected from around the world, is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It was founded by noted entomologist and UC Davis professor Richard "Doc" Bohart (1913-2017). Bohart was Kimsey's major professor.
Want to know the common and scientific names of insects? The Entomological Society of America maintains a Common Names of Insect Database, described as "an essential reference for anyone who works with insects. It includes more than 2,000 common names and is searchable by common name, scientific name, author, order, family, genus, and species."
For instance, type in "bumble bee" (it's two words) and you'll get the order Hymenoptera, family Apidae, and the genus Bombus, among other information. Search for "California bumble bee" and you'll get "Bombus californicus." By the way, search for "bumblebee" and "honeybee" and you'll get "cannot be found in the database." That's because they are two words: "bumble bee" and "honey bee."
The ESA database is a great scientific database and one that we should celebrate today--and every day--just like the dedicated taxonomists who pore over the organisms, describing, naming, defining and classifying them.
Happy Taxonomists' Appreciation Day!
Fortunately for the entomological world, he switched majors shortly after he enrolled in an insect science course.
As we mentioned in a piece posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website, Jay was a third-year physics major in 1981 when—“on a lark”--he enrolled in Professor Harry Kaya's Entomology 100 course.
The professor inspired him, the class enthralled him, and insects captivated him.
In mid-term, Jay changed his major to entomology, and went on to earn two degrees in entomology (bachelor's degree from UC Davis in 1983, and doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1987); join the UC Davis faculty in 1990; and become a UC Davis distinguished professor in 2018.
The former UC Davis physics major is now a newly inducted Fellow of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), a global honor accorded to only 10 persons annually.
Marshall Johnson, a 2006 ESA Fellow and an emeritus Cooperative Extension specialist and researcher at UC Riverside, nominated Rosenheim for the award. “Jay was my postdoc at the University of Hawaii,” Johnson said. “He did a great job and I have kept my eye on his career ever since."
“I would say that Jay is the most astounding entomologist that I know, given his broad interests and creative manner in studying biological/ecological questions,” Johnson said. “He is also an excellent human being.”
And it all began four decades ago in a UC Davis classroom. This is what occurred.
“About a month or so before the course was to be taught, I received a call from this physics student, Jay Rosenheim, who wanted to take Entomology 100,” recalled Kaya, now an emeritus professor and himself an ESA Fellow (2007) for his international contributions to insect pathology and nematology. “I asked a few questions on why he wanted to take the course. He said he always loved insects but he said he did not have the prerequisites for the class--no college biology-- but he was keenly interested in insects and really wanted to take the class.”
Kaya was actually teaching the class for Professor Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a bee specialist on sabbatical. “At the time, I had a 25 percent teaching appointment in entomology and a 75 percent research appointment in nematology,” Kaya said. “When Martin Birch, the department chair, asked me to teach the course, I told him that I hoped he could find someone else, but he came back and said I would be the best to teach it.” Birch assigned two of Thorp's graduate students, Evan Sugden and John Skinner, as teaching assistants for the twice-a-week entomology lab.
“Jay also worked briefly in my lab as an undergraduate as well,” Kaya related. “I should add other superlatives as outstanding and world-renowned entomologist. In my view, it did not matter who taught the ENT 100 course. Jay is simply an outstanding individual and has contributed so much on his own merit. Plus, he has a great personality.”
A native of Yorktown, N.Y, young Jay developed an interest in biology while exploring the vernal pools behind his Hudson River Valley home.
His insect interests not only led to his being elected an ESA Fellow but a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; recipient of teaching awards from the Associated Students of UC Davis and the UC Davis Academic Senate; and the Distinguished Student Mentoring Award from ESA's Pacific Branch. He has authored more than 160 peer-reviewed publications, and mentored nearly 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, now in the private sector, conservation nonprofits, journalism, or academia.
And it all began when a physics major named Jay Rosenheim asked to enroll in Professor Harry Kaya's entomology class.