Whiteman, UC Berkeley professor of genetics, genomics, evolution and development, and director of the Essig Museum of Entomology, writes with a passion bestowed on him by his late father, a naturalist. “....he was a used car salesman, and later, a furniture salesman, but in his heart, he was a naturalist.”
The 336-page book is captivating, transparent, and fascinating--an “I-didn't-know-that-tell-me-more!” read.
Whiteman recalls a scene from his childhood. He and his father are in a patch of milkweed. His father tears a leaf in half. As "white latex" drips from the leaf, his father tells him: "That's why they call it milkweed. Don't ever eat it. Heart poisons are in that sap.”
The toxins are terpenoids called cardiac glycosides. “One of the principal toxins in the common milkweeds that my dad and I encountered is aspecioside,” Whiteman wrote. "The monarchs obtained these heart poisons during their caterpillar stage. But the caterpillars did something even more extraordinary—they concentrated the toxin to levels even high than those found in the milkweed itself.”
“The butterflies were poisonous, my dad explained, because as caterpillars, they had eaten toxins from the milkweed leaves. The insects then stored the toxins in their bodies all the way through metamorphosis, from a zebra-striped caterpillar to a chrysalis encircled at the top by a golden diadem, to the familiar brightly colored butterfly.”
Whiteman points out that monarch butterflies "evolved to become brightly colored to warn predatory birds and other predators of the bitter and emetic cardiac glycosides within." When a bird eats a monarch, it vomits, associating "the butterfly with danger, just as Pavlov's dogs learned to associate the ring of a bell with food.”
That led Whiteman to the question “How do animals that sequester these toxins, as the monarch does, resist them?”
Whiteman researched cardiac glycosides with evolutionary ecologist Anurag Agrawal of Cornell University, who received his doctorate in population biology in 1999 from UC Davis, studying with major professor Richard "Rick" Karban, Department of Entomology and Nematology.
You'll have to read Chapter 4, "Dogbane and Digitalis," to learn what Whiteman, Agrawal and their colleagues discovered.
All 13 chapters of “Most Delicious Poison” are deliciously intriguing and inviting, from “Deadly Daisies,” “Hijacked Hormones,” “Caffeine and Nicotine” to “Devil's Breath and Silent Death” to “Opicoid Overloads” to “The Spice of Life.” And more.
His father's death in 2017 from a substance use disorder (alcohol) pushed him to write the book. "His long struggle with nature's toxins came to a head just as my collaborators and I uncovered how the monarch butterfly caterpillar resists the deadly toxins made by the milkweed host plant.”
Toxins are why the monarch can migrate thousands of miles to overwintering spots without getting eaten by predatory birds.
Nature's chemicals are not a side show, as Whiteside emphasizes. They're "the main event."
(Editor's Note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, displayed Whiteman's book at its Nov. 4th open house on monarchs. Whiteman plans to deliver a presentation on the UC Davis campus sometime next spring.)
With the Entomological Society of America (ESA), however, being framed is a good thing. No, a great thing!
ESA honors its President's Prize winners (aka first-place winners) in the student research competitions by asking them to step behind a cardboard cut-out and smile for the camera. Voila! Suitable for framing!
Joe Rominiecki, ESA manager of communications, just announced that the images are now available and we have permission to share them.
We earlier wrote that doctoral candidates Danielle Rutkowski and Zachary Griebenow of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology each won the President's Prize for their individual research presentations at the 2022 Joint Meeting of the Entomological Societies of America, Canada, and British Columbia, held Nov. 13-16 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
And now, we have the images.
Background: At the annual ESA meetings, students are offered the opportunity to present their research and win prizes. They can compete in 10-minute papers (oral), posters, or infographics. The President's Prize winners receive a one-year paid membership in ESA, a $75 cash prize, and a certificate. Second-winners score a one-year free membership in ESA and a certificate.
Rutkowski, who studies with community ecologists Rachel Vannette, associate professor, and distinguished professor Richard “Rick” Karban, spoke on “The Mechanism Behind Beneficial Effects of Bee-Associated Fungi on Bumble Bee Health,” at her presentation in the category, Graduate School Plant-Insect Ecosytems: Pollinators.
Her abstract: "Bees often interact with fungi, including at flowers and within bee nests. We have previously found that supplementing bumble bee colonies with these bee-associated fungi improves bee survival and increases reproductive output, but the mechanisms behind these effects are unclear. This research aimed to determine the mechanisms underlying positive impacts of fungal supplementation in the bumble bee, Bombus impatiens. We tested two hypotheses regarding possible nutritional benefits provided by bee-associated fungi. These included the role of fungi as a direct food source to bees, and the production of nutritionally important metabolites by fungi. To test these mechanisms, we created microcolonies bumble bees and exposed each microcolony to one of four treatment groups. These four treatments were created based on the presence of fungal cells and the presence of fungal metabolites. We found that bee survival and reproduction were unaffected by treatment, with trends of decreased survival and reproduction when fungi were present. This contradicts previous results we've found using this bumble bee species, where fungi had a positive impact. It is possible that this disparity in results is due to differences in pathogen pressure between the two experiments, as bees in the first experiment were exposed to large amounts of pathogen through provided pollen, including Ascosphaera and Aspergillus. This pollen was sterilized for subsequent experiments, reducing pathogen load. Therefore, it is possible that bee-associated fungi benefit bees through pathogen inhibition, and future work exploring this hypothesis is necessary to fully understand the role of these fungi in bumble bee health."
Zachary Griebenow. Griebenow, who studies with major professor and ant specialist Phil Ward, (Griebenow also captained the UC Davis Entomology Games Team in its national championship win at the Entomology Games or Bug Bowl) explained “Systematic Revision of the Obscure Ant Subfamily Leptanillinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), Reciprocally Informed by Phylogenomic Inference and Morphological Data.” His category: Graduate School Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity: Evolution 1.
His abstract: "Ants belonging to the subfamily Leptanillinae (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) are sister to nearly all other extant ants. Miniscule and subterranean, little is known of their behavior. Contrary to the collecting bias observed in most ants, male leptanilline specimens are acquired more easily than workers or queens. The sexes are almost never collected in association, and many subclades within the Leptanillinae are known from male specimens only. Our comprehension of evolutionary relationships among the Leptanillinae is further obstructed by oft-bizarre derivation in male phenotypes that are too disparate for phylogeny to be intuited from morphology alone. These restrictions plague our understanding of the Leptanillinae with probable taxonomic redundancy. My thesis aims at leptanilline taxonomy that reflects phylogeny, inferred from both genotype and phenotype, and integrates morphological data from both sexes. Here I present the results of (1) phylogenomic inference from ultra-conserved elements (UCEs), compensating for potential systematic biases in these data, representing 63 terminals; and (2) Bayesian total-evidence inferences from a handful of loci, jointly with discrete male morphological characters coded in binary non-additive or multistate fashion. Notably, these analyses identify worker specimens belonging to the genera Noonilla and Yavnella, which were heretofore known only from males. Given such discoveries across the Leptanillinae, the number of valid leptanilline genera is reduced from seven to three in order to create a genus-level classification that upholds monophyly along with diagnostic utility."
We also salute our second-place winners (see previous news story:
- Lindsey Mack, who studies with medical entomologist-geneticist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, covered “Three Dimensional Analysis of Vitellogenesis in Aedes aegypi Using Synchrotron X-Ray MicroCT” in the category, Graduate School Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology: Physiology
- Addie Abrams, who studies with Extension agricultural entomologist and assistant professor Ian Grettenberger, titled her research, “Hitting the Mark: Precision Pesticide Applications for the Control of Aphids in California Lettuce" in the category, Graduate School Physiology, Biochemistry and Toxicology: Integrated Pest Management
Congrats, all! They do our department and our university proud!
(The 7000-member ESA, founded in 1889, is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. Its members, affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government, are researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, students, pest management professionals, and hobbyists.)
Senior researcher Xoaquín Moreira of the Biological Mission of Galicia, Pontevedra, Spain, an international leader in plant-insect interactions, will present a Zoom seminar, "Insularity Effects on Plant-Herbivore Interactions: Searching for Biotic and Abiotic Explanatory Variables to Promote Insular Biodiversity Conservation," at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 9. The Zoom link:
UC Davis distinguished professor Richard "Rick" Karban, an international authority on plant-insect communications, will introduce him.
"For more than six decades, ecologists have hypothesized that insular plant taxa suffer lower levels of
herbivory by insects and mammals, and consequently they have evolved lower defenses or even lost them completely," Moreira says in his abstract. "Although initially this theory was unanimously accepted, recent island-mainland comparisons have shed mixed findings, causing a current vivid debate about insularity effects on plant-herbivore interactions. Inconsistency in patterns reported thus far is basically because studies remain limited in scope both geographically and taxonomically and do not usually consider the multi-trophic context in which plant-herbivore interactions are immersed."
"In this seminar, I will talk about the knowledge gaps and research opportunities on this topic. In particular, further studies should include (1) a broader geographical extent of island-mainland comparisons with site replication within each system and multiple systems (at both regional and global scales), (2) a more comprehensive and integrative assessment of plant defensive phenotypes (multiple traits and their co-expression patterns), (3) measurements ofherbivory by vertebrate and invertebrate herbivores species and guilds, and (4) a consideration of multi-trophic context in which plant-herbivore interactions are embedded, namely how predators and parasitoids respond to insularity and their relative influence on mainland vs. island herbivory and plant defenses." (See more information on his website at https://plantherbivory.weebly.com.)
"Dr. Moreira has done work on various aspects of plant defenses against herbivores," Karban said. "He is best known for papers about the costs of defense, the effects of variable host plants on herbivores and their natural enemies, elevational and latitudinal variation in herbivory, and plant communication that affects herbivory."
Moreira holds a bachelor's degree (2005) in forestry from the University of Santiago and received both his master's degree (2007) and doctorate (2010) from the University of Vigo, Spain. Moreira, who joined the Biological Mission of Galicia in 2015, has served as a senior researcher there since 2021. He was a Fulbright postdoctoral researcher from 2012 to 2014 in the UC Irvine Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
Emily Meineke, assistant professor of urban landscape entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, coordinates the department's seminars for the 2022-23 academic year. All 11 seminars will take place both person and virtually at 4:10 p.m. on Wednesdays in Room 122 of Briggs Hall except for the Nov. 9th and Dec. 7th seminars, which will be virtual only, she said. (See list of seminars)
For further information on the seminars or to resolve any technical difficulties with Zoom, contact Meineke at email@example.com.
You gotta love those woolly bear caterpillars.
Richard "Rick" Karban, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, studies them. The rest of us admire them.
We usually see them in the spring along the cliffs of Bodega Head on the Sonoma coast. They're reddish brown in the center and black on both ends.
Some folks say they're winter weather predictors. Not! We do, however, see them curl into a bristly ball when they sense danger.
The National Weather Service (NWS) says: "According to folklore, the amount of black on the woolly bear in autumn varies proportionately with the severity of the coming winter in the locality where the caterpillar is found. The longer the woolly bear's black bands, the longer, colder, snowier, and more severe the winter will be. Similarly, the wider the middle brown band is associated with a milder upcoming winter. The position of the longest dark bands supposedly indicates which part of winter will be coldest or hardest. If the head end of the caterpillar is dark, the beginning of winter will be severe. If the tail end is dark, the end of winter will be cold. In addition, the woolly bear caterpillar has 13 segments to its body, which traditional forecasters say correspond to the 13 weeks of winter."
"As with most folklore, there are 2 other versions to this story," NWS acknowledges. "The first one says that the woolly bear caterpillar's coat will indicate the upcoming winter's severity. So, if its coat is very woolly, it will be a cold winter. The final version deals with the woolly bear caterpillar's direction of travel of the worms. It is said that woolly bear's crawling in a southerly direction are trying to escape the cold winter conditions of the north. On the other hand, woolly bear's crawling on a northward path would indicate a mild winter."
If you attend the Bohart Museum of Entomology Moth Night at UC Davis, you'll see specimens of the adults--the tiger moths, Platyprepia virginalis. They're sometimes called the "Ranchman's Tiger Moth." They are boldly marked, like a tiger. (Who says moths are drab-looking?)
The Bohart is celebrating National Moth Night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 30: both (1) indoors in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, and (2) outdoors, by the blacklighting display, within a short walking distance.
Indoors you'll see the Bohart's global collection of moths, and outside, you'll see moths and other insects hanging on a white sheet in the blacklighting display. They are drawn there by an ultraviolet (UV) light.
The open house is free, family friendly and open to the public. A craft activity is planned and refreshments (hot cocoa and cookies) will be served, says Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, houses a worldwide collection of eight million insects. It also houses a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and an insect-themed gift shop.
We missed it, too. So did the ants and other insects.
The Department of Entomology and Nematology annually hosts dozens of popular Picnic Day events at Briggs Hall and at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. But this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, “closed” was the word of the day.
"Closed." It's not a popular word when you're craving to show your audience the wonderful world of insects.
However, this year the campuswide Picnic Day Committee hosted a virtual tour of some of the planned events, and posted this link: https://picnicday.ucdavis.edu/virtual/
The spotlight paused on the Bohart Museum, which houses nearly eight million insect specimens; the seventh largest insect collection in North America; the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity; and a live “petting zoo” comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and the like. It also is the home of a gift shop, stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
Directed by UC Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey for 30 years, the museum is named for noted entomologist Richard Bohart (1913-2007). The Bohart team includes senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator; and entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths section).
If you browse the Bohart Museum site, you'll find fact sheets about insects, written by Professor Kimsey.
But if you want to see the Bohart Museum's virtual tours, be sure to watch these videos:
- Director Lynn Kimsey giving a Bohart Museum introduction
- Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, presenting an arthropod virtual tour
- Diane Ullman, professor of entomology and former chair of the department, presenting a view of the Lepidodpera section.
Also on the UC Davis Virtual Picnic Day site, you'll learn “How to Make an Insect Collection," thanks to project coordinator James R. Carey, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and "Can Plants Talk to Each Other?" a TED-Ed Talk featuring the work of ecologist Rick Karban, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Other research work that draws widespread attention at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day is the work of UC Davis medical entomologist-geneticist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor of entomology. A global authority on tsetse flies, he specializes in reproductive physiology and molecular biology, in addition to medical entomology and genetics.
"Female tsetse flies carry their young in an adapted uterus for the entirety of their immature development and provide their complete nutritional requirements via the synthesis and secretion of a milk like substance," he says. PBS featured his work in its Deep Look video, “A Tsetse Fly Births One Enormous Milk-Fed Baby,” released Jan. 28, 2020. (See its accompanying news story.)
PBS also collaborated with the Attardo lab and the Chris Barker lab, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, for a PBS Deep Look video on Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue fever and Zika. The eggs are hardy; "they can dry out, but remain alive for months, waiting for a little water so they can hatch into squiggly larvae," according to the introduction. Watch the video, "This Dangerous Mosquito Lays Her Armored Eggs--in Your House."
In the meantime, the UC Davis Picnic Day leaders are gearing up for the 106th annual, set for April 17, 2021. What's a picnic without insects?