You know those dratted aphids, those little pests that suck the very lifeblood out of your prized plants?
Well, have you ever watched them give birth?
They do, you know. Live births.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program says that "Aphids have many generations a year. Most aphids in California's mild climate reproduce asexually throughout most or all of the year with adult females giving birth to live offspring—often as many as 12 per day—without mating."
"Because each adult aphid can produce up to 80 offspring in a matter of a week, aphid populations can increase with great speed."
We've captured a few images of aphids giving birth in our Vacaville pollination garden...but only with the microscopic-like Canon MPE-65mm lens (mounted on an EOS 7D). If you think aphids are tiny, their babies are super tiny.
Videos, however, tell the story better. Check out the KQED Deep Look video Born Pregnant: Aphids Invade with an Onslaught of Clones.
As we mentioned in a previous Bug Squad blog, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, assisted with the KQED Deep Look video, which won a nature award equivalent to an Oscar.
Grettenberger provided his expertise--and some aphids--working with digital video producer Josh Cassidy, senior video producer for KQED Science and the lead producer and cinematographer for Deep Look, a short-form nature series that illuminates fascinating stories in the natural world. The video scored an international Jackson Wild Media Award, winning first place in the category, "Animal Behavior, Short Form video (17 minutes or less)."
The Deep Video points out that the aphids are highly skilled at "making babies."
Yes, they are.
Fortunately, we have lady beetles (aka ladybugs) and soldier beetles that are highly skilled at eating them!
UC Cooperative Extension specialist and agricultural entomologist Ian Grettenberger of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, assisted with the KQED Deep Look video, "Born Pregnant: Aphids Invade with an Onslaught of Clones," that won a nature award equivalent to an Oscar.
Grettenberger provided his expertise--and some aphids--working with digital video producer Josh Cassidy, senior video producer for KQED Science and the lead producer and cinematographer for Deep Look, a short-form nature series that illuminates fascinating stories in the natural world.
Cassidy's aphid video scored an international Jackson Wild Media Award, winning first place in the category, "Animal Behavior, Short Form video (17 minutes or less)."
In selecting it as the best film in its category, the judges related that it "most effectively explores animal behavior in an innovative and illuminating way."
The aphid video came about when Cassidy approached Grettenberger looking for researchers working on aphids. "I told him I wasn't working in the lab with aphids, but he could come check out my garden, which happened to be chock full of them," Grettenberger related.
"It was almost all shot at my house/garden," Grettenberger said. "With COVID being a thing, Josh got to sit in my garage and shoot aphid videos. I helped some to form the story, and the final shots of the developing larvae/parasitoid were some I took since Josh couldn't sit around waiting for the parasitoid larvae to develop." Grettenberger is pictured in one of the frames.
The video reveals that "female aphids are the matriarchs of a successful family operation--taking over your garden. But don't lose hope; these pests have some serious predators and creepy parasites looking to take them down."
Comments posted on YouTube include:
- "You guys are just nailing it with this production and sound effects. Amazing!!"
- "BRILLIANTLY DONE!! Makes you want to "love" aphids !!!"
- "One more amazing video from this amazing channel! You guys rock!"
- "Deep Look is a phenomenal YouTube channel. The videos are so beautiful. I can't believe how their team keeps making epic after epic biologically significant videos."
Cassidy, who holds a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology from Ohio University and pursued research on marine mammals, studied science and natural history filmmaking at San Francisco State University and Montana State University. A long-time member of the Deep Look team, he is known for his excellent work in creating innovative and fascinating videos. See some of his science videos here.
Grettenberger, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty in January, 2019, focuses his research on field and vegetable crops; integrated pest management; applied insect ecology, and biological control of pests. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Western Washington University and a doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University.
Grettenberger administers a YouTube channel on Pests and Natural Enemies. One of his most popular videos is his post on Lady Beetle Larvae and a Baby Aphid--Scoop, Scoop, Chomp Chomp: "A lady beetle larvae (Coccinella septempunctata--seven-spotted lady beetle) making short work of this baby aphid. You can see how they can eat *many* per day and help regulate aphid populations. (Predation part slowed down to 50%. They chow down more quickly). This is pea aphid, which can be a pest of alfalfa and other legume crops."
From KQED website: "KQED, a National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) affiliate in San Francisco, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, radio and web media. Funding for Deep Look is provided in part by PBS Digital Studios. Deep Look is a project of KQED Science, the largest science and environment reporting unit in California. KQED Science is supported by The National Science Foundation, the Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation, the Vadasz Family Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Campaign 21 and the members of KQED."
Head to the Bodega Bay in Sonoma County and you'll see little kids building sandcastles on the beaches.
But head to Bodega Head in the spring and summer, and if you're lucky, you'll see female digger bees—bumble bee mimics—creating their own versions of sandcastles. These bees, Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana, build their nests in the sandy cliffs.
Look for the evidence: nest holes and tiny turrets.
If you missed it, be sure to access KQED's Deep Look video on “This Bee Builds Sandcastles at the Beach” by Gabriela Quirós and crew. It's educational, informative and entertaining. The photography is superb.
An excerpt from the Deep Look video: “It might seem peculiar to see bees at the beach. But the bumblebee-mimic digger bee (Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana) makes its home at beaches in Northern California and Oregon. Once they've mated, the females spend the spring digging their nests into sandy cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”
“They find a nearby source of water like a stream and slurp water into a pouch in their abdomen called a crop. They can make 80 daily trips back and forth from the stream to a cliff onto which they spray the water to soften it up. This allows them to dig a series of holes into which they lay their eggs.”
This digger bee is sometimes called the “Stanford bumble bee digger,” because the subspecies name, “stanfordiana,” refers to the Stanford University collection from 1904.
What do they mimic? The yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, native to the West Coast of North America. But unlike the female bumble bees, female digger bees rarely sting and are not defensive.
The late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis studied these bees. Current researchers include community ecologist Rachel Vannette, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Thorp frequently pointed out that when most people think of bees, they think of honey bees. But there's a great diversity in bees, as he wrote in a paper, “Biodiversity and Pollination Biology of Bees in Coastal Nature Preserves,” that he and colleague Thomas Gordon presented at the Proceedings of the Symposium on Biodiversity of Northwestern California, held Oct. 28-30, 1991 in Santa Rosa. “The world bee fauna of bees (superfamily Apoidea) is estimated at 20,000 species,” they wrote. “Of these, about 10% are social, 75% are solitary, and 15 % are cuckoo parasites of other bees (Bohart, 1970).
“Bees are most diverse and abundant in arid warm temperate areas of the world, especially in the Mediterranean, California, and adjacent desert areas (Michener 1979),” they wrote. “With rare exceptions, bees rely on nectar and pollen as food resources: nectar primarily as energy for flight and other activities, pollen as nutrients for reproduction (ovarian and brood development). Most bees are generalists when foraging for nectar, restricted primarily by body or tongue size. Many bee species, however, exhibit host-specificity (oligolecty) in relation to pollen resources (Robertson, 1925; Linsley, 1958). Linsley and MacSwain (1958) define oligolecty as the collection of pollen from one or a few closely related plant species by all members of a bee species with use of alternative sources occurring only during stress periods when such pollen sources are locally (or temporarily) absent.”
“Bees are ‘keystone' species in most plant communities because of their importance as pollinators for the reproductive continuity of many flowering plants including rare and endangered species,” they related.
We've seen the digger bees at Bodega Bay foraging on wild radish and lupine in the spring and summer. And building sandcastles the ocean waves can't reach and people generally ignore.
Last week we saw a family checking out the holes in the sandy cliffs. “What are these?” they inquired.
“Digger bees, bumble-bee mimics,” I responded, mentioning the KQED “Deep Look” video.
They said they'd watch it.
We have a feeling they'll be back next year to watch the bees build their sandcastles.
It's good to see UC Davis mosquito researchers featured in the KQED's science program, "Deep Look."
KQED journalists recently traveled to the UC Davis campus to visit several mosquito labs. The end result: The KQED news article on “How Mosquitoes Use Six Needles to Suck Your Blood,” which includes an embedded video. The National Public Radio's health blog, “Shots,” includes a shorter version. You can also see the Deep Look video on YouTube (embedded below).
- Parasitologist and entomologist Shirley Luckhart, professor in the UC Davis School of Medicine's Department of Medical Microbiology and immunology and the Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Medical entomologist Gregory Lanzaro, professor, Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology (PMI), UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and an associate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Chemical ecologist Walter Leal, professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology
- Virologist Lark Coffey of PMI
- UC Davis post-doctoral researcher Young-Moo Choo of the Leal's lab who discovered a receptor by dissecting mosquitoes' mouthparts and genetically testing them.
“Mosquitoes don't find the blood vessel randomly," Leal said, pointing out that the receptors respond to chemicals in the blood.
The receptor that the Leal lab discovered is called 4EP, and may lead to drug companies developing new mosquito repellents. “First they'd need to find a repellent against the receptors," Choo told Quirós. "Then they'd treat people's skin with it. When the mosquito tried to penetrate the skin, it would taste or smell something repulsive and fly away.”
But back to the video. The narrator reveals the sophisticated tools that the mosquito uses to draw your blood.
- A protective sheath retracts: inside are six needles, and two of them have sharp, tiny teeth
- The mosquito uses the sharp, toothed needles to saw through your skin
- Other needles hold the tissues apart while she works
- Receptors on the tip of one of her needles guide her to your blood vessel.
- She uses the same needle like a straw to sip your blood
- She uses another needle to spit chemicals into you so your blood will flow easily. That's what gives you the itchy, scratch-me-now welts.
Of course, it's the viruses or parasites that the mosquito transmits that can sicken and kill us. Depending on the species, they give us such diseases as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, West Nile virus, Zika virus and elephantiasis.
As KQED says "This is the deadliest animal in the world. Mosquitoes kill hundreds of thousands of people each year...the most vulnerable people: children and pregnant women."
KQED performed an excellent public service in reporting and sharing this scientific information, gleaned from the UC Davis labs. The first day the video was posted, it drew nearly 400,000 views.
We worry about what mosquitoes do to us. If mosquitoes could talk--if they could communicate with us--they ought to be worried about what we're going to do to them.
(Access the American Mosquito Control Association website to learn the biology of mosquitoes.)