You know you want to!
Did you own--and treasure--an ant farm kit as a kid? Did you ever follow them as they hauled off crumbs from your picnic? Did you marvel at the load they could carry?
“Ants are amazing because they're way more diverse than most people realize,” says UC Davis entomology doctoral candidate Jill Oberski. “Some are huge, some are tiny, some are blue or green, and a lot of them have crazy spines. There are ants that run farms with crops and livestock, and ants that can build bridges and survive floods, and ants that live in the highest treetops and never touch the ground.”
That's just some of the information to be showcased at the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Month program on Saturday, Feb. 13 from 11 a.m. to noon when three doctoral students in the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, take the helm. Oberski, a fourth-year doctoral student, and Ziv Lieberman, a first-year doctoral student, will talk about the diversity of ants and field questions, followed by doctoral candidate Zach Griebenow's presentation on his research.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 11 a.m. to noon, Professor Phil Ward will host "All About Ants," billed as a "fun and lively question and answer session." The programs are free and family friendly. See http://biodiversitymuseumday.ucdavis.edu/live-programs.html for the Zoom links.
Griebenow grew up in rural Kentucky and received his bachelor's degree in entomology in 2017 from The Ohio State University, undertaking undergraduate research with distinction on species boundaries in the Puerto Rican fauna of the subterranean termite Heterotermes (Griebenow et al. 2017).
"As so everyone in the Ward lab, I study how different groups of ants are related to one another, and why they look and behave the way that they do," he said. "Specifically I study an obscure group called the Leptanillinae, which have no common name. As ants go, they are strange, and we know very little about them. So far, I have confidently teased out the major evolutionary relationships among leptanilline ants (Griebenow 2020; Griebenow, in press), but there is a lot more work to be done, particularly in comprehending the often bizarre structural modifications seen in the male Leptanillinae (legs that look like toothbrushes, etc.)."
Lieberman, born and raised in California, studied at the College of Marin before transferring to UC Davis to major in evolution, ecology and biodiversity, with a minor in insect evolution and ecology. "Prior to UC Davis, I spent several years working abroad for the California Academy of Science documenting historical ant specimens," Lieberman said. "At the end of my undergrad, I published my first paper, a revision of the poorly-understood (and very cute) African species of the ant genus Discothyrea."
In the Ward lab, Lieberman studies "ant evolution, specifically focusing on connecting evolutionary relationships (the ant 'family tree') with anatomy, using a combination of next-generation imaging techniques and large-scale genetic analyses. In particular, I am interested in describing and comparing internal anatomical features which are usually ignored, and understanding how these traits contribute to biodiversity."
Oberski grew up in Minnesota. "I was fascinated by insects from a very young age," she said. "I attended Macalester College, spent a few confused years on a pre-med track, and ultimately discovered a career in entomology was feasible and worth pursuing. This has led me to Phil Ward's ant systematics lab at UC Davis, where I'm now a PhD candidate."
"My research centers on the ant genus Dorymyrmex, which is commonly found all over the Americas," she said. "Even though they're extremely common (Davis itself is home to two species!), we have no idea how many species there really are. In addition to discovering and naming these species, I'm really interested in biogeography and ancient history: Where did Dorymyrmex originate? How are the North American species related to the South American species? And how did they disperse before the isthmus of Panama was connected?"
Professor Phil Ward
Professor Ward teaches California insect diversity, insect taxonomy and field ecology, and introductory biology (the tree of life). His research interests include systematics, biogeography and evolution of ants; ant-plant mutualisms; phylogeny and speciation. He holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Queens University, Canada (1973) and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Sydney, Australia (1979).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 10th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum program is all virtual this year via webinars and pre-recorded presentations, and takes place throughout the month of February. The science-based event traditionally occurs on only one day--the Saturday of Presidents' Weekend, when families and friends gather on campus to learn first-hand about the UC Davis museums and collections.
This year's biodiversity event is showcasing 12 museums or collections:
- Anthropology Museum
- Arboretum and Public Garden
- Bohart Museum of Entomology
- Botanical Conservatory
- California Raptor Center
- Center for Plant Diversity
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Nematode Collection
- Marine Invertebrate Collection
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
- Paleontology Collection
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection
For more information and the schedule, access these two formats on the UC Davis Biodiversity program website: (1) live talks and demonstrations and (2) pre-recorded talks and activities. Information on the biodiversity museum events also appear on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, @BioDivDay.
To help support the Biodiversity Museum event, contributions are being accepted through a month-long crowdfunding campaign program at https://crowdfund.ucdavis.edu/project/24310.
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)
"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.
When the 105th annual UC Davis Picnic Day takes place Saturday, April 13, thousands of visitors will explore the campus. It promises to be informative, educational and entertaining.
But over at Briggs Hall, home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nermatology, “special guests” will include bugs.
There will not only be cockroach races, maggot art, and displays of bees, ants, aquatic insects—and more!—but huge images of vectors, the incredible macro photography of medical entomologist/geneticist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Virtual Reality Bugs
Attardo will be demonstrating “Virtual Reality Bugs” where youths and adults can watch 40-foot tall, three-dimensional insects and spiders. And in his medical entomology display, he will be exhibiting metal prints of vectors, including a tsetse fly, kissing bug, deer tick, mosquito, stable fly, cat flea and bed bug.
You wouldn't want to encounter a bed bug in your bed, or a flea or tick on your dog, or a mosquito on your arm. You may not even know what they look like up close. But with these images, you can see what's bugging you or your pets.
And with the Virtual Reality Bugs, participants can select what they want to see--or what's towering over them. The list includes a black widow spider, ant, beetle, grasshopper, damsel fly, cicada, cockroach, and a tsetse fly. Each person will be limited to about 30 seconds to accommodate the crowd.
The Briggs Hall activities run from 9 a.m. to about 4:30, while activities at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, will be offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
TheBohart Museum will focus on the theme, "Will Travel for Bugs: TheBohart Museum of Entomology's Collections from Around the World." It's nominated for a people's choice award, as is the honey tasting exhibit at Briggs Hall. Participants will sample meadowfoam, sage, cotton and buckwheat. QR codes will be at each site. (See news story about the activities at both sites.)
But back to the vectors. Did you know that the Bohart Museum provides information or fact sheets on its website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/insect-info-sheets.html?
You can learn about some of the vectors that will dwarf you when you visit Briggs Hall.
For example, ticks!
"Ticks are blood-feeding external parasites of mammals, birds, and reptiles throughout the world," writes Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology. "They are not insects rather they are arachnids, the same group that includes spiders and scorpions. There are two different groups of ticks, the hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae). Both are important vectors of pathogens to humans and animals throughout the world. Some diseases of current interest in the United States caused by tick-borne pathogens include Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tick-borne Relapsing Fever (soft ticks)
"Many ticks seek hosts by 'questing.' Questing ticks crawl up the stems of grass or perch on the edges of leaves in a typical posture with the front legs extended. Certain chemicals, such as CO2, as well as heat and movement cause questing behavior. Ticks climb onto a potential host that brushes against their extended front legs. Once on a host hard ticks may feed for several days to several weeks.
"Fleas are bloodsucking parasites of humans, livestock and pets," Kimsey writes. "Only adult fleas feed on blood, which they obtain with their piercing/sucking mouthparts. Adult fleas blood feed on birds and mammals.Adult fleas are laterally flattened, wingless insects. They have a small eye spot on the side of the head, and a row of stout spines along the side of the head and the back of the thorax. Adult fleas travel rapidly by jumping, using their legs and a spring-like mechanism in the body. They are capable of spectacular leaps, covering distances up to one hundred times their body length
"The most common flea found on household pets, such as cats and dogs, is the cat flea, Xenopsylla cheopis."
Read the Bohart fact sheets and then check out Attardo's images.
If you'd rather wear your bug on your shirt, the Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA) can oblige. They have scores of insect-themed t-shirts, ranging from beetles and honey bees to wanna bees. The newest t-shirts in the line-up include two designed by talented doctoral student/ant specialist Jill Oberski of the Phil Ward lab. One is a take-off of American Gothic, the 1930 painting by Grant Wood, except with entomologists holding a net in front of Briggs Hall, UC Davis campus, instead of the farmers holding a pitchfork in front of their farmhouse. The other Oberski t-shirt celebrates the 45th anniversary of UC Davis Picnic Day cockroach races. Roaches rock! Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, co-chair of the department's displays at Picnic Day, rears cockroaches in his lab, but on Picnic Day, they're ready to race! Doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot, EGSA president and co-chair of the department's displays, says the roaches will race on a new racetrack.
Doctoral student/nematologist Corwin Parker of the lab of Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, also came up with a clever idea for a t-shirt. You know how cicadas can be REALLY loud? He drew one plugged into an amp. Now, that's REALLY loud! You can buy EGSA t-shirts at Briggs Hall on Picnic Day or order them online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/ after Picnic Day.
The incredible University of California Linnaean Games Team, comprised of graduate students from UC Davis and UC Berkeley, won the national championship at the popular and highly competitive Linnaean Games hosted this week at the Entomological Society of America's meeting in Vancouver, B.C.
This makes the third year that a UC Davis-based team has won the national championship.
"In the final, UC defeated Texas A&M (graduate students), 140-20," said Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications for the Entomological Society of America (ESA). "UC defeated the University of Florida 110-100 in the semifinal round. In the preliminary round, UC defeated the Texas A&M undergrad team."
The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts and played by winners of the ESA branch competitions. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions.
The UC team is comprised of captain Ralph Washington Jr., a UC Davis entomology graduate who is studying public policy at UC Berkeley; UC Davis doctoral students Brendon Boudinot, Jill Oberski and Zachary Griebenow, all of Phil Ward lab, specializing in ants; and UC Davis doctoral student Emily Bick of the Christian Nansen lab, a lab that specializes in insect ecology, integrated pest management and remote sensing.
In the first round, the UC team defeated the Texas A&M undergrads, the defending champions, by 120 to 0. "In the second round, we played Florida (including doctoral candidate David Plotkin, who specializes in the systematics and morphology of emerald moths), and won it in a nail-biting competition down to the last question!" said Boudinot. "Our final round was against the Texas A&M grads."
"Before us, there was a sudden death double overtime game (Texas A&M grads vs University of Delaware) which was really exciting," Boudinot said.
Griebenow recalled that among the questions the UC team correctly answered in the championship round:
Question: The longest-lived lepidopteran is a wooly-bear moth in the Arctiidae. In what habitat would you find these?
Answer: Arctic tundra
Question: The Passandridae are a family of beetles. What is unusual about their larvae?
Answer: The larvae are e ectoparasitoids of wood-boring insects.
The UC Davis Linnaean Games Team, captained by Washington, won the national championship twice, defeating the University of Georgia in 2016 and the University of Florida in 2015. Boudinot served on both championship teams, and Bick, the 2016 team. Last year UC Davis did not compete. Texas A&M won the national championship, with Ohio State University finishing second.
Each ESA branch hosts a Linnaean game competition at its annual meeting. The winning team and the runner-up both advance to the national competition. The national preliminaries took place Sunday, Nov. 11 while the finals got underway at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
Members of the winning team will each receive a gold medal and and a plaque for the team's department.
To get to the national finals, the UC team won the regional championship hosted by the Pacific Branch of ESA at its meeting June 10-13 in Reno. They defeated Washington State University in a sudden death overtime to win the title.
Congrats, UC Linnaean Team!
(Editor's Note: More information and photos are pending.)