Flies seem to be in the news a lot lately.
But have you ever looking closely at a common green bottle fly Lucilia sericata, also known as a blowfly?
Ever admired their brilliant metallic blue-green coloration? Ever thought about them as pollinators (they are sometimes!) but of course, that's not what they're known for.
They're known for their forensic, veterinary and medical importance. They are nature's recyclers when the females deposit their eggs in carrion.
But they're also beautiful.
We captured these photos of a green bottle fly on a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, in our garden. The red and yellow blossoms contrasted nicely with the stunning fly coloration. Nature's art.
Indeed, flies are an integral part of the annual UC Davis Picnic Day (cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and precautions). What's a picnic without flies?
Forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology always staffs a booth at Briggs Hall where he holds forth as "Dr. Death" with his microscope and specimens as he encourages--and fields--questions from the thousands of picnickers. (See Bugs at Briggs)
Also at Briggs Hall during the UC Davis Picnic Day, "Maggot Art," is extremely popular. The artists, mostly children and teens, dip a maggot into water-based, non-toxic paint and drop it onto a white piece of paper and let it crawl. The finished product often finds its way onto a refrigerator, inside a frame, or as as an unexpected gift to grandparents. Certainly it's a conversation piece.
Meanwhile, mark your calendar for April 17, 2021, the scheduled date of the next UC Davis Picnic Day.
Dr. Bob, the flies, and the maggots will be waiting.
So, folks, if you're in their migratory pathway and anticipate seeing them head toward their overwintering sites in coastal California, don't get your hopes up.
They're not coming. They are either non-existent or few and far between.
But we remember when they did.
Back on Labor Day, Sept. 5, 2016, a male monarch tagged "email@example.com A6093" fluttered into our pollinator garden in Vacaville. Washington State University entomologist David James traced it to citizen scientist Steve Johnson of Ashland, Ore., who had tagged and released it on Sunday, Aug. 28.
James calculated "No. A6093" flew 285 miles in seven days or about 40.7 miles per day to reach our Vacaville garden, which apparently is in a monarch migratory pathway. "Clearly this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!” he said at the time. (No sightings reported.)
Still, it was a very good year for monarchs in 2016, as compared to previous years. We reared more than 60 in 2016. We saw dozens of migrating monarchs fueling up on nectar from the Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifola) and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). They arrived tattered and torn, and some could barely fly.
But come they did.
Not this year.
"It's been a very poor year for monarchs in the Pacific Northwest," James said. "In Washington, we had just two confirmed sightings of monarchs! This is the worst showing since I started taking records in 1999. I thought 2019 was bad (eight monarchs) but 2020 beat it."
"There were a handful of sightings in central and northern Oregon but they largely failed to cross into Washington," the entomologist said. "This is simply a result I believe of a very small overwintering population that had difficulty populating California and southern Oregon let alone locations further north."
"If future overwintering populations do not exceed more than 30,000, then this is what we can expect for the future; the monarch to be a rarity in Washington and BC."
Johnson, who rears monarchs in a vineyard in Ashland, says it was "a very poor year in the vineyard. We have three chrysalids right now and that will probably be it for us in the vineyard this year. They come from three 'cats that we found on the same day. We have seen far fewer monarchs than in any of the past years. Overall, to my knowledge, it has been a grim year in Oregon except for some isolated pockets."
Southern Oregon seemed to fare a little better for monarchs in the Pacific Northwest this year, James said, but "as Steve said, it was still way less than recent years."
"Idaho had quite a few monarchs, maybe as many as southern Oregon, but these arrived and bred from--I believe-- migrants that came from Mexico," the WSU entomologist said. "Populations in Arizona and Utah were also reasonable this summer. 'Leakage' 'of northerly spring migrants from Mexico is the ‘saving grace' of monarch populations in the West and may be the reason why monarchs can persist long-term in the West. This was a theory expounded by the late Lincoln Brower and I believe it has a lot of merit."
Johnson noted that the air quality in Ashland "at the moment (this morning) is 415—very hazardous."
How does all that poor air quality, all that smoke and ash from the wildfires raging across the West affect the migrating monarchs?
Thanks to James' tagging program and cooperators like Johnson, James now has "some limited data indicating monarchs do NOT have a problem migrating in very poor quality air. These data will appear in a publication I am preparing. Tagged monarchs released into poor quality air flew just as far and lived just as long as those that were released into good air."
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, who has monitored butterfly populations in Central California since 1972, has seen only six monarchs all year (the first one in Sacramento on Jan. 29) and "no eggs and no caterpillars at all." (See Bug Squad blog on his comments on "California monarchs on life support")
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, has seen only one monarch all year and it was a female laying an egg on his milkweed in Davis. He is in the process of rearing it from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult. It's a chrysalis now.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, and UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey have not seen any in their Davis garden.
This year our Garvey family has managed to collect dozens of eggs and 'cats from our garden and rear them in three different batches. First batch: 5. Second batch: 11. The third batch? As of Sept. 1, we've reared and released 37 monarchs, with one chrysalis remaining. No. 38 should eclose in a few days.
Incredibly, our Vacaville pollinator garden seems to some kind of monarch magnet.
"I think Kathy and one gardener in the East Bay who is having a similar experience have all the monarchs in the region in their yards," Shapiro commented. "Very bizarre."
Very bizarre, indeed.
If you're involved in the Animal Biology (ABI) major, an undergraduate program at the University of California, Davis--it's part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology--you know who's making a difference:
- Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, master advisor of ABI and an assistant adjunct professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and
- Staff member Elvira Galvan Hack, who serves as the academic advisor for the ABI students
And now for the news flash: Kimsey has just won a top international award from NACADA, the “global community for academic advising.” He is the winner of NACADA's Outstanding Advising Award, Faculty Academic Advising.
Hack received a certificate of merit in the highly competitive global category, Outstanding Advising Award, Primary Advising Role.
Both Kimsey and Hack shared the 2019 Eleanor and Harry Walker Advising Awards from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, for top faculty advisor and top staff advisor, respectively. The awards honor excellence and innovation in academic advising.
Highly honored by their peers and students, Kimsey and Hack earlier received awards in the NACADA Region 9 Excellence in Advising Awards. Kimsey this year won the UC Davis Outstanding Faculty Advising Award, and the Distinction in Student Mentoring Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America. Hack was honored at the 2019 Staff Assembly's Citation for Excellence Program, receiving an honorable mention and a cash award in the Individual Service Award category.
Established in 1983, the NACADA Global Awards Program for Academic Advising honors individuals and institutions making "significant impacts on academic advising." The organization, comprised of 13,000 members, “provides a network and professional identity for the thousands of faculty, full-time advisors, and administrators whose responsibilities include academic advising,” a spokesperson said. NACADA' s vision is to recognize that "effective academic advising is at the core of student success." Its mission: "to promote student success by advancing the field of academic advising globally."
Kimsey, master advisor for the ABI major since 2010 and an ABI lecturer since 2001, “excels at teaching, advising and mentoring,” wrote nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “He sincerely cares about each student, and incredibly, remembers their conversations and their interests.”
Kimsey, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, wrote in part about his philosophy of advising: "In a broad sense, advising at the undergraduate level requires a good and objective listener, broad experience in life, a source of diverse perspectives to tackle any potential problem, an ability to put oneself in the other person's place, and really caring about and enjoying other people."
Kimsey's teaching philosophy: "I think that humans learn best together, where one person demonstrates the process or disseminates the knowledge to solve a problem to another person, and then together they solve the problem. The problem may be proximal and practical or abstract and conceptual. Following instruction, the teacher may participate with groups of students to solve problems, and there exist many other variations on teaching that adhere to this simple theme. But the principal components remain the same: demonstration or dissemination of knowledge followed by cooperative application. This is likely the most ancient of teaching concepts, and to the extent recent innovations in teaching method return to this simple process and replace simple lecturing, it continues to be the most effective."
Known for expertly guiding students toward career paths, and helping them meet challenges and overcome obstacles, Kimsey draws such unsolicited accolades on Rate My Professors as:
- “Dr. Kimsey is by far one of the best professors at UC Davis. His class never fails to entertain! You do need to put in the work to do well but it is very worth it! Dr. Kimsey truly cares about his students and wants to see them succeed and find a path that best suits them. Strongly recommend!”
- "This was the best class I've taken at UC Davis. You can tell that Dr. Kimsey really cares, and puts a lot of effort into his class.”
Elvira Galvan Hack
Hack, a UC Davis employee since 2011, has served in her position as student academic advisor for undergraduates in the Animal Biology program for 12 years. She is passionate about helping her students succeed professionally, socially and developmentally.
The students seek such careers as physicians, veterinarians, wildlife scientists or researchers. They are diverse: they range from first-generation college students to undocumented immigrants, and they span all socioeconomic levels.
"Elvira is likely the best academic advisor ever,” Kimsey wrote in the application. “Not only is she completely conversant with all the rules and regulations of the major, but understands the latitude of flexibility built into their application in a very human way. She is connected with all the administrative functionaries necessary to efficiently accomplish any task in a timely manner. For the confused or troubled student, she is the first and last resort for the solution of problems not only of an academic or administrative kind but those of a deeply personal nature as well. She keeps them on track, outlining their options, helping them decide on their future professions, and the direction their life should take. She has been invaluable to me as the master advisor. She really does care about a student's fate. Moreover we have had great fun doing these tasks together.”
Elvira, born in Arizona and raised in Dixon, Calif., was the seventh of eight children born to farmworkers. Her parents successfully ensured that their children grew up happy and healthy and in a loving home filled with family traditions.
Hack credits a UC Davis professor's assistance in helping her attend business school (he loaned her funds to purchase an electric typewriter) that led to her vow "to pay it forward" and "to make a difference."
Hack's philosophy of advising:"My overall philosophy is that students should feel welcome, respected and treasured. I ensure that my advising office is a warm, friendly, and an inviting place, an all-inclusive place where students can feel both comfortable and safe. They can trust me: they can trust me to listen, they can trust me to be heard, and they can trust me that they will be understood, supported and valued. I maintain an open door policy. I am here to provide them with advice, assistance and tools at a time when they need it the most. If they are experiencing a problem, I make time for them immediately, no matter the hour. I assure them that it is better for them to seek assistance now, than for them to head home and worry about it for hours or days. I emphasize how important self-care is because, frankly, they can be so hard on themselves. In the classroom, they may struggle with the instructor, content, assignments, grades and peers, but in my office, it's a positive experience. I assure them that they belong here, that they are appreciated, and that they are celebrated like family. My students know that I care. For example, I know that many students develop food insecurities due to monetary or time restraints. Thus, I stock a table with healthy snacks and encourage them to “drop in and grab a quick snack” in between classes or when they are working on research projects in their lab."
Students highly praise her work, dedication and kindness. “During my first quarter as a transfer student, I went through some extreme life changes and emotional roller coasters,” one student said. “I would end up in her office crying my eyes out and in distraught, but she always calmed me down and helped me reach out for other help to get me through my rough patch.”
Another student described Elvira “as by far the most helpful, kind and encouraging adviser I have met at UC Davis. Being a first-generation college student, I require extra help in understanding and executing graduation requirements and other criteria for my future career goals.”
- Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, recipient of the PBESA's highest honor, the C. W. Woodworth Award
- Robert Kimsey, forensic entomologist and associate adjunct professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, recipient of the Distinction in Student Mentoring Award
- Walter Leal, chemical ecologist and distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now Department of Entomology and Nematology), recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 104th annual meeting will be a virtual meeting held Monday, April 20, announced PBESA president Elizabeth "Betsy" Beers of Washington State University. It was initially set April 19-22 in Spokane. PBESA encompasses 11 western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming), U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Capsule information on the recipients:
Lynn Kimsey, C. W. Woodworth Award
Lynn Kimsey was singled out for her 31 years of outstanding accomplishments in research, teaching, education, outreach and public service. "She is an immense credit to the field of entomology; in fact, we rarely see anyone of her caliber come forth, and do as much as she does," wrote nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
An alumnus of UC Davis, Lynn received her undergraduate degree in 1975 and doctorate in 1979. She joined the UC Davis faculty in 1989. Since 1990, she has administered the world-renowned Bohart Museum of Entomology, which houses eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest university insect museum in North America.
Richard M. Bohart, for whom the insect museum is named, served as her major professor and she was his last student. Kimsey's areas of expertise include insect biodiversity, systematics and biogeography of parasitic wasps, urban entomology, civil forensic entomology, and arthropod-related industrial hygiene. She has served in numerous leadership roles at the international, national and local level, including two terms as president of the International Hymenopterists, board member of the Natural Science Collections Alliance, and interim chair and vice chair (twice) of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology).
Professor Kimsey is a recognized global authority on the systematics, biogeography and biology of the wasp families, Tiphiidae and Chrysididae: the author of 127 peer-reviewed publications; and has described more than 270 news species. She is the author of The Chrysidid Wasps of the World(Oxford, co-authored by Richard Bohart), California Cuckoo Wasps in the Family Chrysididae, and Systematics of Bees of the Genus Eufriesea, among others.
She earlier received two other PBESA awards: the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Award in 2014, and shared the Team Award in 2013 with colleagues Eric Mussen, Robbin Thorp, Neal Williams and Brian Johnson, who were recognized for their collaborative work specializing in honey bees, wild bees and pollination issues through research, education and outreach. (Their service to UC Davis at the time spanned 116 years.) Kimsey won the highly competitive UC Davis Academic Senate Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award in 2016.
The Woodworth award memorializes eminent entomologist Charles William Woodworth (1865-1940), who founded the UC Berkeley Department of Entomology. He excelled in research, teaching and public service. (See previous Woodworth Award recipients.)
Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty for three decades, has served as an associate adjunct professor and lecturer since 1990. He holds two degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor of science degree in 1977 and a doctorate in 1984. He is described as a "trusted advisor, mentor, teacher, friend and confidant--has served above and beyond what is expected."
"His dedication to graduate and undergraduate students as a mentor, advisor and teacher, all intertwined, is beyond exemplary; it is colossal," wrote nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the department. Since 1990, Kimsey has taught and interacted with some 7000 students, including entomology, biology and animal biology majors.
Kimsey, known as “Dr. Bob,” shares with his students his many and varied research interests: public health entomology; arthropods of medical importance; zoonotic disease; biology and ecology of tick-borne pathogens; tick-feeding behavior and biochemistry. He has served as the master advisor for the Animal Biology (ABI) major since 2010 and an ABI lecturer since 2001. He has taught ABI 50A for 20 years, giving lectures and instructing labs to a total of 900 students per year. He has taught ABI 187 for 12 years, presenting material to a total of 450 students.
A U.S. Army veteran, Kimsey served as an instructor of medical entomology, epidemiology and preventive medicine in the Academy of Health Sciences from 1971-1974. He is a past president of the North American Forensic Association (2014-2016). He is the director of the Forensic Sciences and instructor for the San Luis Obispo Fire Death Investigation Strike Team (since 2011) and an instructor and member of the Glen Craig Institute Advisory Committee (since 2012). He is married to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology (see above).
The recipient of seven outstanding teaching or mentoring awards, Robert Kimsey was named the 2019 UC Davis Outstanding Faculty Advisor of the Year; 2019 Eleanor and Harry Walker Faculty Advising Award from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; and a regional faculty advisor award from NACADA, the Global Community for Academic Advising.
His students are highly successful. Under his guidance, they have established careers as professor of microbiology at Cal Poly; campus veterinarian at UC San Diego; Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Sergeant in Molecular Biology for Contra Costa County Sheriff; CSI Sergeant in Trace Evidence, Ballistics and Tool Marks for Contra Costa County Sheriff; CSI for Sacramento City Police, CSI in the Santa Rosa CA Department of Justice (DOJ) Laboratory, DOJ laboratory manager for the Central Region, Rippon, CA; and laboratory manager in the Jan Bashenski DOJ DNA Laboratory. Many others are serving as laboratory technicians in local police and sheriff's units.
Since 1998, Kimsey has co-chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Picnic Day activities. (This year's event is canceled due to coronavirus pandemic precautions.)
Walter Leal is a distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. A member of the UC Davis faculty since 2000, he has taught insect physiology for 13 years and biochemistry for six years.
In his classrooms, Leal employs the strategic use of digital technology in truly innovative ways to generate animated eReviews, eClarifications, and eSolutions. He teaches, motivates, and inspires. His motto: “I don't teach because I have to; I teach because it is a joy to light the way and to spark the fire of knowledge."
Leal received the 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award for Undergraduate Teaching from the UC Davis Academic Senate. He is a fellow of four organizations: Entomological Society of America (ESA), National Academy of Inventors, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the California Academy of Sciences. He also received the Gakkaisho (fellow equivalent) from the Japanese Society of Applied Entomology and Zoology.
Leal was the first non-Japanese scientist to earn tenure in the Japan Ministry of Agriculture. His other honors include Technology Prize, Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology and Agrochemistry, Japan; ESA's Nan Yao Su Award for Innovation and Creativity; Silver Medal, International Society of Chemical Ecology; Medal of Achievement, Entomological Society of Brazil; and Corresponding Member, Brazilian Academy of Sciences. Leal co-chaired the 2016 International Congress of Entomology and delivered ESA's 2019 Founders' Memorial Lecture in honor of Tom Eisner, father of chemical ecology.
Wrote nominator James R. Carey, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology: "One of the most astonishing responses to a professional talk I have ever witnessed in my entire career—and that is saying something—is the 5-minute standing ovation given to Walter after the 50-minute presentation (“Tom Eisner—An Incorrigible Entomophile and Innovator Par Excellence”) he gave to the over 1,000 attendees at the Founder's Memorial Awards program on the morning of November 19th at the national ESA meetings in St Louis."
"Walter designs and delivers his lectures to engage, encourage and inspire students, prompting them to think, ask questions, and resolve problems," wrote Carey, who received the PBESA teaching award in 2014 and went on to win the national ESA teaching award. "His students appreciate his state-of-the-art technology, dedication, kindness, and enthusiasm, coupled with his finely honed sense of humor."
To register for the virtual meeting, click here./span>
Sometimes you just have to display your sense of humor.
Take the case of a huge praying mantis sculpture that anchors the Davis, Calif., front yard of entomologists Robert and Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
It's a coronoavirus-equipped mantis, complete with gloves and a face mask.
Yes, it's well protected. Yes, it's staying home. And yes, it's keeping a safe distance and not touching its eyes, nose or mouth as it searches for prey.
The score, so far:
Praying mantis: 0; Prey, 0.
The story behind the story: Their nephew found it at a garage sale in West Sacramento last year and during the holiday season, gifted it to Bob Kimsey, a forensic entomologist and adjunct professor.
What to do with a five-foot-long, three-foot-high praying mantis?
"We dressed it up," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology.
"By next week it's going to have bunny ears and we've decided to put an empty 6-pack of Corona bottles underneath it," she said.
It resembles the praying mantis, Mantis religiosa, that we photographed at noon, Sept. 2, 2018 in the Kate Frey Pollinator Garden at the Sonoma Cornerstone, Sonoma.
We spent half an hour watching Ms. Mantis praying but not "preying" as honey bees buzzed her head.
Her appetite apparently satiated by multiple bee breakfasts consumed earlier that morning, she seemed quite content just to watch. Or maybe she was counting?
Praying Mantis: 0; Prey: 0.