But to entomologists, "The Beatles," means "The Beetles." You know, the ones with six legs and two antennae? A body comprised of a head, thorax, and abdomen?
We were delighted to see the National Public Radio (NPR) showcase insects on its Aug. 1st program, "Beetles Dominate As Scientists Discover New Animal Species."
"Beetles make up around 40% of all insect species ever described and around 25% of all animals," NPR teased. "Are there really that many different kinds of beetles, or do scientists have a strong pro-beetle bias?"
NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyd interviewed Rachel Smith, the undergraduate student at the University of Kansas who discovered 18 species of water beetles when she was handed 2000 specimens to sort.
Are there really more beetles (Order Coleoptera) than any other insects? Yes.
Greenfieldboyd interviewed Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and Nematology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, and UC Davis alumnus Andrew Forbes, now an associate professor at the University of Iowa. Kimsey specializes in the Order Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and sawflies) and Forbes specializes in parasitic wasps.
They both agreed that beetle outnumber all other insects on earth.
"Collecting beetles was a hobby in the 1800s," Forbes told Greenfieldboyce. "People would go out and collect as many beetles as they could and then, you know, get together and compare the size of their beetle collections."
"So you have to figure that for every species of beetle, there are probably at least one or two wasp parasites or parasitoids," Kimsey said.
Indeed, we live on the "Planet of Insects," as natural history expert Jules Howard says in his newly published Encylopedia of Insects (Wide Eyed Editions, with Illustrations by Miranda Zimmerman), aimed for children, but meant to enthrall all ages.
"If aliens were to visit our planet and make a list of all of Earth's animals, they would quickly see a pattern," Howard wrote. "Nearly every single one of this planet's creatures they would notice, are from one strange group that has six legs, three segments to their body, and often, a pair of wings. We call these organisms the insects. Because the insect group accounts for 90 percent of life forms on this plant, alien visitors would be correct in calling this Planet of Insects. Truly, this is an insect world. You and I just happen to live on it."
Howard wants to share his love of insects with his bug-o-pedia book. He wants to inspire you. "To come to know them. To know their names. To shout from the rooftops about how amazing they are."
His message is important. insects aren't "creepy crawlers" or something abominable, scary or freaky. This planet--the Planet of Insects--is theirs, as Howard says. "You and I just happen to live on it."
With The Beetles.
"Bee" sure to tune in Science Friday, the National Public Radio program, tomorrow (May 24) at noon to hear the buzz about honey bees.
Guests will be Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, Professor Tom Seeley, bee scientist, researcher and author, of Cornell University, Ithaca; and New York city police officer and beekeeper Darren Mays, who keeps hives on the roof of the 104th precinct.
Ira Flatow hosts the popular program. Senior producer Christopher Intagliata said plans call for introducing Seeley at the top of the hour, and then bringing in Niño around 12:30. Officer Mays will be introduced at 12:40.
Elina Lastro Niño
Niño, who joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology in 2014 from Pennsylvania State University, researches honey bee biology, health, reproduction, pollination biology, insect ecology, evolution, genomics and chemical ecology, and genomics. She directs the California Master Beekeeper Program and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road.
Born and reared in Bosnia in Eastern Europe, Elina moved to the United States with plans to become a veterinarian. She obtained her bachelor's degree in animal science at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., but while there, enrolled in an entomology class on the recommendation of her adviser. “I was hooked,” she recalled.
Following her graduation from Cornell in 2003, she received her master's degree in entomology from North Carolina State University and her doctorate in entomology from Pennsylvania State University. She then served as a postdoctoral fellow in the honey bee lab of Christina Grozinger, who studies the genomics of chemical communication.
Seeley is the Horace White Professor in Biology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University. He joined the faculty of Cornell in 1986 and holds a doctorate in biology from Harvard.
A frequent speaker at UC Davis, keynoted the 2018 UC Davis Bee Symposium. In his address on "Darwinian Beekeeping," Seeley commented: "EVERYTHING that colonies do when they are living on their own (not being managed by beekeepers) is done to favor their survival and their reproduction, and thus their success is contribution to the next generation of colonies. And I mean everything."
Seeley says that is scientific work primarily focuses on "understanding the phenomenon of swarm intelligence (SI): the solving of cognitive problems by a group of individuals who pool their knowledge and process it through social interactions. It has long been recognized that a group of animals, relative to a solitary individual, can do such things as capture large prey more easily and counter predators more effectively. More recently it has been realized that a group of animals, with the right organization, can also solve cognitive problems with an ability that far exceeds the cognitive ability of any single animal. Thus SI is a means whereby a group can overcome some of the cognitive limitations of its members. SI is a rapidly developing topic that has been investigated mainly in social insects (ants, termites, social wasps, and social bees) but has relevance to other animals, including humans. Wherever there is collective decision-making—for example, in democratic elections, committee meetings, and prediction markets—there is a potential for SI."
Seeley is the author of numerous books, including Honeybee Ecology: A Study of Adaptation in Social Life, Princeton University Press; The Wisdom of the Hive: The Social Physiology of Honeybee Colonies. Harvard University Press; Honeybee Democracy. Princeton University Press, Following the Wild Bees: The Craft and Science of Bee Hunting. Princeton University Press; and The Lives of the Bees: The Untold Story of Honey Bees in the Wild, Princeton University Press.
Mays is a well-known rooftop beekeeper. According to a 2018 article in the Business Insider, he "gained temporary fame this summer when he vacuumed up a migrating swarm of bees that perched atop a hot dog cart umbrella in Times Square." At night, he patrols the streets of Queens, and by day, he keeps the bees.
"Mays and another officer, Michael Lauriano, are responsible for responding to any issue a New Yorker calls in with that involves a 'stinging insect.' He said he responds to about a dozen calls during a typical summer, as people request help with bee swarms, wasps nests, and more. Before Mays and Lauriano, an officer named Anthony 'Tony Bees' Planakis served as the NYPD's first bee 911 responder."
So begins National Public Radio science journalist Richard Harris in his chapter, “Broken Culture," in his newly published book, Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope and Wastes Billions.
Darwin was driven by curiosity; he didn't start out with a “coherent hypothesis,” Harris says. Plus, Darwin "had no need to hustle for money,” and "he was in no hurry to publish his discoveries.”
Today the “high pressure of competition can tempt even the best scientists into dangerous territory,” Harris warns in his 278-page book.
You can hear what Harris says about sloppy science/faulty research when he travels from his home in Washington, D.C. to the University of California, Davis, campus to deliver a Storer Lecture.
Harris will speak on “Common Errors that Bedevil Biomedical Research and How to Fix Them,” from 4:10 to 5 p.m., on Wednesday, Oct. 25 in the UC Davis Student Community Center. The event is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow the lecture.
The lectureship, established in 1960, is funded through a gift from Professor Tracy I. Storer and Dr. Ruth Risdon Storer to bring eminent biologists to the UC Davis campus. Speakers have included Nobel laureates, members of the National Academy of Science and acclaimed authors in the life sciences and medicine.
“Richard Harris has written a very important and unsettling book based on his careful investigation of the biomedical research enterprise,” said Mark Winey, distinguished professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and dean of the College of Biological Sciences, UC Davis, who is hosting the journalist. “We can expect an intriguing and thought provoking lecture.”
In his book, Harris relates that American taxpayers spend $30 billion annually funding biomedical research. “We all rely on biomedical research for new treatments and cures,” Harris points out. “But this critical enterprise is not in the best of health itself. Most experimental treatments fail. One reason is that the underlying research does not hold up to scrutiny. Scientists find that far too often that they are unable to repeat experiments that other researchers have carried out.”
By some estimates, half of the results from these studies can't be replicated elsewhere—the science is simply wrong, Harris asserts.
The national award-winning science journalist, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, has covered science, medicine and the environment for NPR Radio since 1986. A graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor's degree in biology, he began his journalism career as a reporter for the Livermore (Calif.) Tri-Valley Herald. He later joined the San Francisco Examiner as a science writer. He is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers and the Northern California Science Writers' Association.
We just finished reading Rigor Mortis today. It's not only an eye opener, but a call to action. It's as easy to read as a well-documented and detailed newspaper investigative piece, complete with patient and researcher interviews and anecdotes. It zeroes in on “the constant scramble for research dollars” and the fact that scientists' “promotions and tenure depend on their making splashy discoveries.” Sadly, it's often quantity over quality in the "publish-or-perish" world of academia.
Harris writes about egregious research, targeting cancer, heart disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, diabetes, and other diseases--diseases that can and do affect us all, either through taxpayer funding or personal/family/friend experiences.
Charles Darwin was in no hurry to publish his discoveries. Neither should today's researchers. We can and must do better.
(Editor's Note: The presentation will be recorded for later viewing. Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is coordinating the Storer Lectureships in Life Sciences for the academic year. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
That's way we were excited to see National Public Radio's Nell Greenfieldboyce generate a recent piece on "Bugs Abound: If You Think the Skies Are Crowded, You Have No Idea."
She touched on a newly published study in the journal Science, which found that more than 3 trillion migrating insects fly over south-central England each year.
More than 3 trillion!
Dingle, author of the popular textbook, Animal Migration: the Biology of Life on the Move (Oxford University Press), is one of the world's experts on animal migration. National Geographic featured Dingle in its cover story on Great Migrations in November 2010. LiveScience interviewed him for its November 2010 piece on Why Do Animals Migrate?
Dingle agrees that many migrating insects receive little attention. "Certain insects like locusts and the monarch butterfly, have gotten a great deal of attention," he told Greenfieldboyce. "But perhaps because of all that attention on these big charismatic insects, the huge migrations that occur in lots and lots of other insects, all the way down to tiny aphids, are certainly not as well known by the public, and may not even be as well known by scientists."
And scores of butterfly enthusiasts flock there, too, to admire, photograph and monitor them. It's good to see the increasing human population banding together to help save the declining monarch population.
As for the NPR piece, Greenfieldboyce gave a little press to one of the least publicized insects, the marmalade hoverfly, which she described as a "a small, insignificant-looking creature."
But don't consider the hoverfly "inconsequential." It's not only a long-range migrant that travels at great speeds and for hundreds of kilometers in a single flight, but it's a beneficial bug: it eats aphids and pollinates crops as well as wildflowers. It winters in the Mediterranean but returns to England in the spring.
Check out the paper in Science, "Mass Seasonal Bioflows of High-Flying Insect Migrants," for more information on migrating insects and you'll see why the NPR headlined its piece "Bugs Abound: If You Think the Skies Are Crowded, You Have No Idea."
The researchers' 10-year project of monitoring the migration of large and small insects over the southern United Kingdom yields incredible information. That's why we now know what they know--that 3 trillion of these migrating insects fly the friendly--and not so friendly skies--every year.
It's getting pretty crowded there.
It all started in mid-to-late November when 12 caterpillars surfaced in our pollinator garden in Vacaville. What! What are you doing here? Didn't you get the memo?
We'd just reared and released 54 monarchs. We'd just winterized the garden, pruning back the plants except for one flowering tropical milkweed. We'd leave that for the pollinators, and then, it, too, would freeze.
Well, so would the 12 monarch caterpillars.
Twelve! A dozen hungry, hunkered-down striped ‘cats. Talk about challenges! Too cold, too rainy, too little food and too many predators to survive.
Without a second thought, we brought them inside, tucked them into two zippered, meshed butterfly habitats (from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis) and fed them milkweed. There they munched away, at times appearing to “sway” to soft classical music or “shake” to the harsh political news on National Public Radio. Friends and relatives came and went, glancing quizzically at us and the 'cats. “What are you going to do with them?”
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
“She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can't save all these starfish. You can't begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
Could these monarchs be starfish?
It was the holiday season and it was beginning to look a lot like chrysalids. The ‘cats, all 12 of them, each formed a “J.” Then came the chrysalids, those gorgeous gold-studded jadelike jewels--Mother Nature's magic, Father Time's gift, and humanity's treasure. The chrysalids held their own, in belligerent testimony to the monarch butterflies that didn't get the memo: “Reproduction is over!”
Despite the severity of the season outside, the monarchs thrived on the care and warmth inside. They fluttered around, dined on raspberries, orange juice and sugar-water, and roosted on the sides and ceiling of the butterfly habitat while National Public Radio “entertained” them.
What to do? Consider them “starfish” and drive “The Monarch Eight” to an overwintering spot along coastal California? (We'd just been to Santa Cruz, a 226-mile round trip, on Nov. 14.) Release them in Vacaville on a wing and a prayer? Or transport them to the Bohart Museum for “bed and breakfast” and public observation?
A friend who's an educator, a naturalist, a photographer, and an insect and gardening enthusiast came up with the ahh-so-perfect plan. Rita LeRoy, the 26-year “farm keeper” at the Vallejo City Unified School District's Loma Vista Farm, (a 5-acre outdoor classroom that provides hands-on educational activities involving plants and animals for children of all ages and abilities), told us of her pending trip to the monarch overwintering sites in Santa Cruz and said she'd be delighted to take them there.
So off the Vacaville-bred and reared monarchs went on Wednesday morning, Dec. 28 with the Good Monarcharians from Vallejo. Unlike Rita and Walter, however, the monarchs didn't know where they were going. One minute they're listening to NPR on a kitchen counter in Vacaville, and the next thing they know, an hour-and-a-half later, they're joining their buddies in Santa Cruz. Whoa! How did that happen? How'd we migrate that fast?
Rita LeRoy, known as "Farmer Rita" at Loma Vista Farm, released them, one by one, starting at 1 p.m. at the Lighthouse Field State Park. Flight! Freedom! Friends! One monarch lingered on her finger--probably the one that had eclosed the day before. The others did not linger. “The rest flew away to meet their new friends,” she related.
The overwintering site proved breathtaking, with the sun showcasing the hundreds of the iconic orange, black and white butterflies dancing in the warm breeze. “There were so many butterflies,” she marveled. “It was amazing.”
What a happy ending to a story about a small-scale conservation project that began in Vacaville and took flight in Santa Cruz. First we humans gave them roots; then we gave them wings.
Now this story has legs. “I enjoy learning about the interconnections in nature so I can share this information with the students,” said Rita-the-teacher (and a 25-year 4-H leader). “Monarchs are excellent example of the interconnection between plants and animals and the need for people to assist with the conservation of this beautiful creature.”
Yes, monarchs can be starfish, too.