When UC Davis emeriti professors of entomology Peter Cranston and Penny Gullan of Canberra, Australia, attended the International Conference on Natural Resources in the Tropics in late November in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) at Sibu and Kapit on the Rajang River, they weren't expecting to meet a UC Davis alumnus.
But they did.
They greeted mosquito expert/emeritus professor Abu Hassan Ahmad, who received his bachelor of science degree in entomology from UC Davis in spring 1977 and who then joined the School of Biological Sciences faculty at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang. He retired after 36 years of service, but continues to supervise mosquito research.
"He has wide experience in the Old World tropics, especially with mosquitoes in Malaysia,” Cranston noted.
When contacted by email, Professor Ahmad said: “UC Davis made me a good entomologist.” (The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is ranked as one of the top 10 entomology departments in the world, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.)
Ahmad especially remembers Professors Robert Washino and Robbin Thorp and Thorp's teaching assistant/graduate student Lynn Siri (now Professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology).
And they remember him.
“I do remember,” Kimsey said. “Boy, that was a long time ago.”
Said Washino: "This makes me feel old!"
The International Conference on Natural Resources in the Tropics took place at a city with a “transformed landscape of oil palm plantations (replacing a rain forest)," said Cranston, who in addition to being an emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis is an an honorary professor at Australian National University, Canberra. "Entomology was modestly represented at the meeting, although living palm weevil larvae were available in the local produce market--and soon to be available in Southern California farmers' markets?--as well as many indigenous fruits covered with mealybugs.”
The conference included a presentation on “the food of swiftlets that are the source of birds' nest soup” and then the conversation turned to entomologists. A question arose: "How many of you here are entomologists?"
One was Professor Abu Hassan Ahmad.
Over dinner, the Cranston/Gullan/Ahmad trio reminisced about UC Davis. Ahmad shared his memories of his UC Davis professors in the mid-1970s, recalling lectures by native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp and legendary mosquito expert Robert Washino, now emeritus professor and a longtime former chair of the department.
“Abu enthused about the dozen or more entomological courses he took, but knew that such a diverse range --and most of those who taught them--were no longer extant," Cranston related. “We heard also of the strength of a Davis Alumni chapter in Malaysia – the more than 70 members include two vice chancellors in agriculture-orientated national universities. Professor Ahmad has been responsible for training entomologists at undergraduate and graduate level across much of Asia and always uses a contemporary textbook from us.”
That textbook: The Insects: An Outline of Entomology.”
Cranston and Gullan, who retired from UC Davis in 2010, finished the fifth edition in 2014. It is considered the gold standard of textbooks.
Following their retirement, the couple returned home to Canberra, the capital city of Australia. "Actually we are back in the house we did not sell when we left for California,” Cranston said. "We purchased a rural place where we spend much time--natural vegetation and a small but productive vegetable patch.”
Another Davis connection at the meeting was retired professor and renowned Thysanoptera (thrips) expert Laurence Mound, who also lives in Canberra. “He encouraged the Borneans to study their thrips, in like manner to his advocacy in Davis some time ago,” Cranston related.
Mound worked as “keeper of entomology, deputy chief scientific officer,” at the Natural History Museum in London from 1981 to 1992 and then accepted a two-year research contract from the British Museum of Natural History on central American Thysanoptera. In 1994, he moved to Australia where he serves as Honorary Research Fellow, CSIRO Division of Entomology, Canberra.
Four renowned entomologists at the International Conference on Natural Resources in the Tropics with links to UC Davis! A veritable who's who of entomology: systematic entomologists Peter Cranston and Penny Gullan, mosquito expert Abu Hassan Ahmad and thrips authority Laurence Mound.
So you're walking through a sunflower field and you're seeing lots of honey bees foraging on the flowers.
But wait, look over there. Are those beetles?
Melyrid or blister beetles (Melyridae family) and spotted cucumber beetles (family Chrysomelidae) are frequently found on sunflowers.
The spotted cucumber beetle is known as a major agricultural pest, as it eats or damages the leaves of such crops as cucumbers, cotton, soybeans and beans.
Are the melyrid beetles pests of sunflowers? "Yes, in the sense that they are pollen eaters," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
However, beetles can also be pollinators. And there's a word for that.
Beetle pollination is called cantharophily. And cantharophily "may be the oldest form of insect pollination," say emeritus professors Penny Gullan and Peter Cranston of the Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, in their textbook, The Insects, an Outline of Entomology.
As they point out in their book: "Beetles mostly visit flowers for pollen, although nutritive tissue or easily accessible nectar may be utilized and the plant's ovaries usually are well-protected from the biting mouthparts of their pollinators." They mention several families of beetles that can be pollinators--among them Cantharidae (soldier beetles), Cerambycidae (longhorn beetles), and Cleridae (checkered beetles).
And they mention Melyridae, the soft-winged flower beetles, as being pollinators, too.
Cantharophily in the sunflower field.
So you want to capture an image of a praying mantis.
You have to find one first.
Sometimes it's a case of hide 'n seek--it hides, you seek.
Mantises, or mantids, are camouflaged. Many camouflaged (cryptic) insects are "sit-and-wait predators," write emeritus professors Penny Gullan and Peter Cranston of the University of California, Davis, in the fourth edition of their popular textbook, The Insects, An Outline of Entomology, published by Wiley-Blackwell.
"(Crypyic insects)...may be defensive, being directed against highly visual predators such as birds, rather than evolved to mislead invertebrate prey," they write. "Cryptic predators modeled on a feature that is of no interest to the prey (such as tree bark, lichen, a twig or even a stone) can be distinguished from those that model on a feature of some significance to prey, such as a flower that acts as an insect attractant."
But we inadvertently discovered there's at least one good way to flush out a praying mantis--water your garden. It will hurriedly emerge.
This praying mantis (below), lurking on a tomato plant, apparently didn't like the burst of water that disturbed its stakeout.
It licked the water droplets from its forelegs--legs specialized to seize prey--and then flew to a nearby tree.
"The gold standard of entomology textbooks" will be available in the United States beginning in early March but publisher Wiley-Blackwell has already released it in the United Kingdom.
The 584-page textbook offers a comprehensive insight into the wonderful world of insects. Well, some are wonderful! Your favorites--honey bees and ladybugs--are in there, along with the nasty pests such as those blood-sucking mosquitoes and sand flies, insects that transmit diseases.
"Much of the book is organized around major biological themes - living on the ground, in water, on plants, in colonies, and as predators, parasites/parasitoids and prey,” the publisher says.Gullan and Cranston, both systematic entomologists, teach and research insect identification, distribution, evolution and ecology.
(How do you say "bug" in Italian? In Mandarin Chinese? In Portuguese?)
Since the third edition came out five years ago, the authors have been busily updating it. In keeping with today's technology, they've added an accompanying Web site with downloadable illustrations and links to video clips.
Updates include the Africanized honey bee and colony collapse disorder in the sphere of the apiary; the use of bed nets and the resurgence of bed bugs; dengue fever and West Nile virus in relation to human health; and case studies in emergent plant pests, including the emerald ash borer that is destroying North American landscape trees. Artist Karina H. McInnes has added new drawings.
Writer Abigail Tucker mentioned the Gullan-Cranston textbook in her "Bugs, Brains and Trivia" article in the Smithsonian (Nov. 17, 2008), featuring the Linnaean Games, a national insect trivia contest conducted at the Entomological Society of America meeting. In the Linnaean Games, teams of entomology students vie for top honors in a college-bowl-like competition.
It's much more popular in the scientific community than the TV show, "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader."It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the Linnaean Games, just as it is easy to be fascinated by the millions of insects that are all around us.
Blue merle mini-Australian shepherds have one.
So do honey bees.
What? A tongue.
For a puppy, the tongue can symbolize pure happiness. For a worker honey bee: a solid work ethic.
It's easy to take a photo of a happy puppy with her tongue hanging out, but not so easy to capture an image of a honey bee nectaring a flower--unless you have a macro lens, a quick trigger finger and a state of endurance called patience.
To be technically correct, entomologists refer to the honey bee "tongue" as "mouthparts." That would be the tubelike organ that enables them to nectar flowers and serve as nursemaids and undertakers and the like.
"The mouthparts of bees are of a chewing and lapping type," they write. 'Lapping is a mode of feeding in which liquid or semi-liquid food adhering to a protrusible organ, or 'tongue,' is transferred from substrate to mouth. in the honey bee, Apis mellifera (Hymenoptera Apidae), the elongate and fused labial glossae form a hairy tongue, which is surrounded by the maxillary galeae and the labial palps to form a tubular proboscis containing a food canal. In feeding, the tongue is dipped into the nectar or honey, which adheres to the hairs, and then is retracted so that adhering liquid is carried into the space between the galeae and labial palps. This back-and-forth glossal movement occurs repeatedly. Movement of liquid to the mouth apparently results from the action of the cibarial pump, facilitated by each retraction of the tongue pushing liquid up the food canal."
Wait! There's more.
"The maxillary laciniae and palps are rudimentary and the paraglossae embrace the base of the tongue, directing salvia from the dorsal salivary orifice around into a ventral channel from whence it is transported to the flabellum, a small lobe at the glossal tip; saliva may dissolve solid or semi-solid sugar. The sclerotized, spoon-shaped mandibles lie at the base of the proboscis and have a variety of functions, including the manipulation of wax and plant resins for nest construction, the feeding of larvae and the queen, grooming, fighting and the removal of nest debris including dead bees.
And you thought the mouthparts of a bee were simple? Not at all.
Be sure to read this again. There will be a test tomorrow.