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.
The UC Davis winners are Erin Taylor Kelly of the Geoffrey Attardo lab, Hyoseok Lee of the Christian Nansen lab, Jill Oberski of the Phil Ward lab, Lacie Newton of the Jason Bond lab, and Clara Stuligross of the Neal Williams lab.
- Kelly won first place for her poster, “Metabolic Snapshot: Using Metabolomics to Compare Near-Wild and Colonized Aedes aegypti,” in the Physiology, Biochemistry and Ecology Section.
- Lee won first place for his entry, “Predicting Spring Migration of Beet Leafhoppers, Circulifer tenellus (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae) from Natural Overwintering Sites into Tomato fields in California" in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category of the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Behavioral Ecology Section
- Oberski won first place for her entry, “Why Do Museum Collections Matter?” in the Graduate Infographics category, Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section.
- Newton won second place for her entry, “Integrative Species Delimitation Reveals Cryptic Diversity in the Southern Appalachian Antrodiaetus unicolor (Araneae: Antrodiaetidae) Species Complex,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section, Genomics.
- Stuligross won second place for her entry, "Larval Pesticide Exposure Reduces Adult Wild Bee Reproduction,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Pollinators 2 Section.
The first-place winners received a $75 cash prize, a one-year membership in ESA and a certificate, while the second-place winners won a year's membership and a certificate.
One that is drawing a lot of attention--and rightfully so--is the Oberski poster, "Why Do Museum Collections Matter?" (See below.) The Bohart Museum of Entomology, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is one of the many outstanding insect museums in the world. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor and former department chair, the Bohart houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens.
As Oberski writes: "Cabinets of curiosity and natural history museums are the original basis of our knowledge of global biodiversity. Such collections, however, are more than just well-organized dead organisms. Museums are enormous libraries of identified species, localities, and dates, constantly updated and reorganized based on the best new information. These data inform countless fields of research, and can even answer future questions no one has yet thought to ask. Most importantly, they preserve irreplaceable type specimens, which are a crucial part of species description. Now that many of these insect collections are being digitized and accessed from around the globe, why is it necessary to maintain them as physical materials? While many datasets do lend themselves well to digitization, insect specimens experience significant data loss. Most commonly, photographs are taken of the specimens, but photos are usually inadequate for discerning taxonomic features. Even high-resolution 3D scans are no substitute for direct observations. Finally, museums are centers of education and public outreach. Through collections, biology students and communities can physically experience global insect biodiversity they might not otherwise see, regardless of location or mobility. The “wow” factor of magnificent specimens is most powerful in person. As our lives become increasingly computer-oriented, we must recognize that to enjoy and study nature, no digital replacement will suffice."
Oberski, who joined the Ward lab in 2017, holds a bachelor of arts degree, cum laude, from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., where she majored in biology and German studies.
The Entomological Society of America, headquartered in Annapolis, Md., and founded in 1889, is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. They include educators, extension personnel, consultants, students, researchers, and scientists from agricultural departments, health agencies, private industries, colleges and universities, and state and federal governments. It is a scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics. For more information, visit www.entsoc.org.
(See in-depth piece on the four other UC Davis recipients on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)
If you're a graduate student in entomology and competing with your team in the Entomology Games, a college-bowl type trivia game hosted by the Entomological Society of America, it's not only good to know your insects but you ought to have an interest in sports, crime-fighting insect figures, and cartoons.
Take this year's Virtual Entomology Games, won by Alabama's Auburn University, with Purdue's Boiler Bugs scoring second. A tiebreaker question determined the winner.
Tiebreaker 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?
The correct answer: 359 comics. Auburn guessed 650, but the Boiler Bugs responded with a whopping 1477. Locally, the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology team answered with a more conservative 500. (See Bug Squad blog about the UC Davis team.)
A Quarterback, a Vigilante and a Paranormal
- "Even though this new wasp species is distinctly not fossorial, LSU grad student Ilgoo Kang elected to name it after what Heisman-winning quarterback?" The answer: Joe Burrow.
- Keye Luke, Jay Chou, and Bruce Lee have all portrayed Kato, the crimefighting partner of what fictional vigilante? The answer: The Green Hornet
- 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? Answer: Mothman
Just who is the Mothman? According to Wikipedia, it's part of West Virginia folklore. Mothman is "a creature reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 15, 1966, to December 15, 1967. The first newspaper report was published in the Point Pleasant Register dated November 16, 1966, titled "Couples See Man-Sized Bird ... Creature ... Something." The national press soon picked up the reports and helped spread the story across the United States."
So, according to Wikipedia, the "Mothman was introduced to a wider audience by Gray Barker in 1970 and was later popularized by John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, claiming that there were supernatural events related to the sightings, and a connection to the collapse of the Silver Bridge."
Of course, you need to keep up with entomology meetings and legendary entomologists as well to compete in the Entomology Games. Some of this year's questions:
- What four-word phrase is the theme of next year's International Congress of Entomology? Answer: "Entomology for Our Planet"
- What taxonomist was named an ESA Fellow in 1924 in honor of her numerous contributions to the classification of Microlepidoptera? Answer: Annette Frances Braun
- Thaddeus Harris is often called the "father of economic entomology" in the US. What other 19th century entomologist is known as the "father of economic entomology" in Canada? Answer: James Fletcher
- What Harvard professor wrote the 1795 book "The Description and Life History of the Cankerworm" and is sometimes referred to as the first American entomologist? Answer: William D. Peck
"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.