Early in his career, the late heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) drew international headlines when he uttered that remark before his 1964 fight with then champion Sonny Liston.
It was all over by the seventh round when "The Greatest" emerged victorious. But his comment regarding butterfly and bee behavior lives on.
That begs the question--were any bug people ever champion boxers?
Yes, the late James H. Oliver Jr. (1931-2018) was a Golden Gloves champion.
Two years before Oliver died, entomologist Marlin Rice, a past president of the Entomological Society of America, interviewed him for American Entomologist (Volume 62, Issue 4, Winter 2016), pointing out: "James H. Oliver, Jr. is Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Biology Emeritus at Georgia Southern University and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Oliver is widely recognized as an international expert in medical entomology and acarology, especially the biology and cytogenetics of pathogen-transmitting ticks and parasitic mites."
And Oliver was a Golden Gloves state champion.
Rice asked him a series of questions, including:
"Were you a good student?"
Oliver: "No, not very. I was a good school athlete and party guy. [Laughs.]
You went into boxing at the University of Georgia? Were you a good boxer?
Oliver: "Yeah. I won the state championship in my weight—the Golden Gloves."
Did you ever get knocked out boxing?
Did you ever knock out an opponent?
Oliver: Yeah. [Laughs.]
What's the quickest round you ever won?
Oliver: "Probably second or third round. I was so good at it because I was in good physical condition—great physical condition. I had a coach that said the one's that's in the best physical condition and can keep his left jab going all the time and don't try for a knockout—just hammer him [would win]. It was very good advice, because after the second round my opponent would usually get arm weary and I'd block him by keeping my hands up. That's how I won most of my fights, out of pure physical condition, and I was coordinated and fast. So then I found what I wanted to do; I'm not going to be a veterinarian, I'm going to be a boxer—a professional boxer! Well, that wasn't well thought out. [Laughs.] My brother, and he was always a scholar, said, “My god, you can't do that. You're going to have a brain concussion!” “Yeah, but I'm quick.” I was finally talked into not doing that and leaving the University of Georgia. I went to Georgia Southern 'cause it was only 50 miles away from home and I liked teaching as well. So I'll become a high school biology teacher and coach. That was my goal for several years until I decided I don't want to do that." (Read the entire interview here.)
So, yes, at least one entomologist was a boxing champion. Another professional boxer went into pest control following his retirement. Mike "Irish Mike" Jameson fought the likes of Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Randall “Tex” Cobbs before fighting bugs, landing a job as a pest control inspector with Clark Pest Control, Lodi, Calif., according to a feature story on pctonline.com.)
Did they ever say "Float like Lepidoptera, sting like Hymenoptera?"
Well, maybe they said "flutter" instead of "float?"
Butterflies and moths totally fascinate entomologist Jeff Smith, the 32-year volunteer curator of the Bohart Museum of Entomology's Lepidoptera collection.
Smith loves talking about them, engaging folks face-to-face, and answering their questions. He is a fixture at the Bohart Museum open houses and other events, including the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day and the annual UC Davis Picnic Day.
But this year's Picnic Day, the 107th annual, went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to be deterred, Smith hosted a one-hour Zoom session. "Mimicry in the Butterflies and Moths with Jeff Smith," now available online on YouTube at https://youtu.be/8ZccezxhhK4.
Smith prefaced his talk by recommending the 375-page book, Insects and Other Arthropods of Tropical America by Paul E. Hanson and Kenji Nishida. "I didn't write it," he added, "and we (Bohart Museum) do not sell it (in the gift shop)." The book is an introduction to arthropods in North America--not just butterflies and moths but beetles, wasps, flies, true bugs and others.
"I've always been fascinated by the mimicry of butterflies and moths," said Smith, who won a 2015 Award of Distinction from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for his volunteer service (see news story). "I've had the opportunity to make 10 to 12 trips to South and Central America. What I found there are great examples of how they can mimic each other or other things in order to survive."
Smith defined mimicry as "the close resemblance of an animal to some other animal, some other a plant or some inanimate object." Müllerian mimicry, named for Johann Friedrich Theodor "Fritz" Müller, is "where two or more species have similar appearances as a shared protecting device," Smith told this audience. "Batesian mimicry, named for Henry Walter Bates, is the resemblance of an edible species to other species that are noxious and avoided by predators."
"The monarch and the viceroy are good Batesian mimics," Smith said, "because until recently, it was believed that the monarch is distasteful and slightly toxic and that the viceroy was an edible species but it looked so much like the monarch that it was protected as well. It turns out--I don't know if somebody ate it or if they just tested the chemicals in the insect--but it turns out the viceroy is also a distasteful and toxic butterfly so we've now switched this from Batesian and mimics to Müllerian mimics, but the fact is, that they they look very much alike. Predators may have tried one and didn't care for it so now they leave alone anything that kind of looks like that."
"In order for mimicry to work," Smith pointed out, "the two different species need to be living in the same general habitat as each other. So if the monarch lived in Asia and the viceroy lived in North America, predators would never learn to associate these things with each other, and with that bad experience of trying to eat them."
"It's also important, I think, for us to understand that everything about every insect, in particular every butterfly and moth, that every pattern, every color, and every shape is meant to protect it. These things have evolved over many millions of years and that's what's worked for them."
Smith also drew attention to predator avoidance of butterflies with eye spots, such as the buckeye butterfly, Junonia coenia, and the owl butterflies, Caligo. Some bumble bees have beetle and fly mimics, including the longhorned wood-boring beetles and robber flies. "They look like something that could sting and they get protection from that."
Smith estimated that of the 17,500 described species of butterflies in the world, about 750 of those occur in North America. "However, in North America there's 160,000, easily, species of moths. Moths are far more numerous than butterflies, and in particular, with the little tiny moths, it's estimated by experts in those groups, that at least 90 percent of the species still have not been described. They are sitting waiting for someone to identify them and give a name to them. So if anybody is interested in insects and wondering if there's still something left to do, the answer is absolutely yes."
The Lepidoptera curator also discussed host plants: how milkweed offers toxicity to monarch caterpillars, and how passionflower offers toxicity to Gulf Fritillaries. "And they sequester it. They use it for their own defenses. It's kind of curious that in the monarch butterflies, the male may pass on some of those toxic chemicals to the female when they mate, and the female then stores those chemicals into the eggs, and gives the eggs some level of protection once they're placed on a plant. So they call it a nuptial gift."
Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator, helped field the questions. Smith said Lawrence Allen's book, Butterflies of the Western States, available in the Bohart Museum's online gift shop, is a good resource.
When asked his favorite butterfly, Smith acknowledged that "it's kind of hard to pick a favorite butterfly. It may very well be, I mean as far as the thing that gets me the most excited, the big Morphos, the big blue Morpho butterflies that you find in tropical America. There are about 30 different species. They're almost all brilliant metallic blue on top, with wing spans of four to six inches across, and brown on the underside so they're camouflaged when they're landing with those wings closed. But when you see one of those fly by you, and when you're walking around in a trail in the rain forest in Central or South America, it's pretty exciting. Once in a while, it'll even land on your arm and sip the the sweat."
Many people don't want to know this, Smith said, but butterflies also feed on the nutrients in "rotten bananas, dead animals, and urine and feces." That includes human waste.
Lamenting the plunging population of monarchs, Smith advocated that folks plant milkweed and nectar sources in their gardens. Urbanization is one of the causes of the decline, he said.
The Bohart Museum, which is marking its 75th anniversary this year, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, but is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, it houses nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect museum in North America. In addition to its online gift shop, the Bohart Museum maintains a live "petting zoo" comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas.
In 2019, UC Davis hosted the international Lepidopterists' Society's 65th annual conference. The scientists visited the Bohart Museum twice. Kimsey participated with senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; and Bohart associates retired research entomologist John De Benedictus, naturalist Greg Kareofelas, and Smith. (See Bug Squad blog)
If so, then when the 107th annual UC Davis Picnic Day, themed "Discovering Silver Linings," takes place virtually on Saturday, April 17, better wear your sunglasses with all that silver blasting at you.
A silver lining is a sign of hope in a negative situation, like the COVID-19 pandemic. So positivity blocks such negativity as "every rose has its thorn" or "there's a fly in every ointment" or "all that glitters is not gold."
All that glitters is silver now.
On April 17, you can discover scores of silver linings at this "all virtual" family-oriented event, which promises to be informative, educational and entertaining.
Picnic Day officials have released the schedule of events and they include entomological exhibits and talks. Think UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, Bohart Museum of Entomology and the UC Davis Graduate Student Association. (See yesterday's Bug Squad blog)
Don't miss the pre-recorded talk on the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, by Greg Kareofelas, Bohart Museum associate and naturalist. These orange-reddish butterflies, with their silver-spangled underwings, are glorious. (See what UC Davis butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says about them on his website.) Kareofelas will showcase them and show you how to rear them, which is what he did last year during the pandemic.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, the volunteer curator of the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart, will present a live Zoom event from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday on mimicry in Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). "I will briefly mention camouflage," Smith says, "and spend most of the time on mimicry for defense--mimics of toxic or distasteful species, mimicry using odors or sounds, mimics of snakes or spiders, and mimics of non-food materials such as bird feces."
To connect, access https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/92841203978?pwd=ay91SUpFZnl5MEdnVmlzOUxmMFFZQT09
Zoom Meeting ID: 928 4120 3978
Zoom Passcode: 160485
"People who want to submit their questions to Jeff or request to see certain species from the collection can email their requests to firstname.lastname@example.org with Picnic Day in the subject," says Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. "We won't have the time or capacity to access the collection during the event for any requests. Instead, we will pull the items that are requested or relevant to the talk and have those prepared to show. Of course we may not be able to honor everyone's request, but we will do our best."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane (the museum is closed now due to the pandemic), is directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology. It houses nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a year-around gift shop and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas.
The Bohart Museum will live-stream the free open house on Facebook. Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the 500,000 Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) collection, will show specimens and answer questions.
"We started holding a moth-themed open house near Mother's Day in May, because people who are enthusiasts for moths are called moth-ers,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum. “We then switched our programming to align with National Moth Week. This year's Moth Week is July 18-26. The annual event is celebrated throughout the world with private and public events.
Bohart Museum officials are preparing videos on black-lighting and how to spread and pin moths.
During the Facebook Live program, viewers can type in their questions on moths.
Smith is expected to answer questions such as:
- What is the largest moth?
- How do butterflies and moths differ?
- What is so unique about moths?
- Why should we be concerned with moth diversity?
LynnKimsey, director oftheBohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, nominated Smith for the award. “You could not ask for a better friend than Jeff Smith,” she said, noting that he has “brought us international acclaim and saved us $160,000 through donations of specimens and materials, identification skills and his professional woodworking skills. This does not include the thousands of hours he has donated in outreach programs that draw attention to the museum, the college and the university.”
Kimsey, who has directed the museum since 1989, remembers when Smith joined the museum. “When Jeff was working for Univar Environmental Services, a 35-year career until his retirement in 2013, he would spend some of his vacation days at the museum. Over the years Jeff took over more and more of the curation of the butterfly and moth collection. He took home literally thousands of field pinned specimens and spread their wings at home, bringing them back to the museum perfectly mounted. To date he has spread the wings on more than 200,000 butterflies and moths. This translates into something like 33,000 hours of work!” The numbers have since increased.
“About a decade ago, Jeff began helping us by assembling specimen drawers from kits that we purchased,” Kimsey related. “This substantially lowered our curatorial costs, from $50/drawer to $16/drawer. We use several hundred drawers a year to accommodate donated specimens, research vouchers and specimens resulting from research grants and inventories. More recently, he's been accumulating scrap lumber and making the drawers from scratch at no cost to us. Overall, he has made more than 2000 drawers. Additionally, he makes smaller specimen boxes with the leftover scrap wood, which are used by students taking various field courses in the department. We simply could not curate the collection without his contributions.”
Kimsey praised Smith for completely reorganizing the butterfly and moth collection. “It's no small feat to rearrange this many specimens, housed in roughly one thousand drawers,” she said. “Many thousands of the specimens needed to be identified, and the taxonomy required extensive updating and reorganization.”
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
The Bohart Museum is the home of a “live” petting zoo featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas, and a gift shop stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
When you're 5 years old, the world is full of wonders.
Especially when your mother takes you to the Bohart Museum of Entomology to see the butterfly specimens.
Such was the case when Cash Belden, 5, and his mother, Michelle Belden (she's the coordinator of the campus Aggie Surplus, formerly the Bargain Barn) attended the Bohart Museum open house during the eighth annual campuswide UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.
Little Cash especially liked the monarchs and the blue morphos.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly/moth section at the Bohart, showed them around. He estimates the Bohart has half a million Lepidoptera in the collection, about 60 percent moths and 40 percent butterflies.
He mentioned the "defensive strategies these insects use for survival, such as camouflage, warning coloration, mimicry of other species."
"We love to teach about the importance of Lepidoptera in the environment, either to their habitat directly or possibly as an indicator of the health of their habitat."
And, of course, there's the beauty of the insects.
Next time it's spiders!
The next open house, themed "Eight-Legged Wonders" and featuring spiders, is set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 9. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It's free and family friendly. Professor Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will host a slide show at 1 p.m. Visitors will see specimens and can engage in interactive activities and family arts and crafts.
The Bohart Museum, home of a global collection nearly eight million specimens, is directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold the insects and photograph them. The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free. Open houses, focusing on specific themes, are held on weekends throughout the academic year. More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or Tabatha Yang, education and public outreach coordinator at email@example.com.