Well, ecologists Richard "Rick" Karban Mikaela Huntzinger of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology did.
For years, they've been observing meadow spittlebugs along the California coastline. Now they're "declining rapidly or vanishing from their previous habitats," the UC Davis ecologists wrote in newly published research in the journal Ecology.
Professor Karban, who has maintained a study site at Bodega Marine Reserve in central California since 1982, links the decrease to temperature.
“I've been surveying seaside daisies for spittlebugs at Bodega Bay every spring for the past 35 years and found that the number of these highly visible and previously widespread insects was related to temperature,” Karban said.
However, since the spring of 2006, the UC Davis researchers have found no spittle masses on the Bodega Bay Reserve's coastal prairie. Other researchers have also detailed how sensitive spittlebugs are to environmental conditions.
The meadow spittlebugs, Philaenus spumarius, thrive in cool, moist habitats and suck plant juices, feeding on xylem fluid and excreting most of it as a foamy white mass known as spittle. The mass protects them from desiccation, predation and parasitism. In past years, Karban and Huntzinger found an abundance of meadow spittlebugs feeding on seaside daisy (Erigeron glaucus) and the non-native ice plant (Carpobrotus edulus).
The Karban-Huntzinger research paper, “Decline of Meadow Spittlebugs, a Previously Abundant Insect, Along the California Coast,” is especially important in light of alarming research in Germany dubbed “Insect Armageddon.” In that research, published last October in the journal PLOS ONE, German scientists investigated aerial insect biomass across 96 protected preserves in the country. They found that three-quarters of flying insects had disappeared over the past 25 years.
In their Ecology article, the authors published a California coastline map detailing the changing spittlebug distribution and disappearance. In 2001, it appeared that their distribution was mainly shifting northward. By 2017 and 2018, it became clear that they were disappearing over large portions of their range.
The earth's climate is warming at a rate of 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade over the past 30 year, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. California's coast has also experienced climate change; the recent severely hot years in the state have also been severely dry. Models of future climates predict that the warming trend will continue and that variability in conditions, for example, droughts, also will increase in frequency and severity.
“Whether the altered climates we face globally will change our ecological communities will depend on how able individual species are to adapt to the new conditions,” the UC Davis researchers explained. “Since meadow spittlebugs were widespread and abundant, we might have assumed that they would not be threatened by climate change. What we have found is that even this species has not been able to adjust physiologically or ecologically. If the pattern they show is common, we may also see surprising changes in the abundance or distribution of other insects as well. These changes are likely to have dramatic and unexpected effects on the functioning of ecosystems.”
Interesting enough, the same week that the UC Davis researchers published their paper, UC Berkeley researchers published their work on the declining bird population in the desert along the Nevada-California border, and opined that climate change could be to blame.
Wrote reporter Henry Bream of the Las Vegas Review Journal in an Aug. 15tth piece titled "Nevada-California Desert ‘half empty' of Birds after Population Collapse":
"Bird populations have collapsed in the desert along the Nevada-California border, and climate change could be to blame, according to a new study by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley."
"Over the past century, the number of bird species has fallen by an average of 43 percent at survey sites across an area larger than New York state. Almost a third of species are less common and widespread now than they once were throughout the region."
The study's authors, professor Steven Beissinger and doctoral student Kelly Iknayan, pointed to less hospitable conditions in the Mojave as the probable cause, Bream wrote.
Iknayan related that “California deserts have already experienced quite a bit of drying and warming because of climate change, and this might be enough to push birds over the edge. It seems like we are losing part of the desert ecosystem.”
Climate change appears to be pushing a number of species "over the edge."
Tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 18) is National Honey Bee Day.
A small group of beekeepers originated the observance back in 2009 to spotlight bees and beekeeping. They petitioned and obtained a proclamation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which set aside the fourth Saturday of August to mark the occasion.
It's important to educate the public--especially children, our next generation--about the importance of honey bees and other pollinators.
And that's just what the UC Davis Pollination Education Program is doing, thanks to California State Extension apiculturist and faculty member Elina Lastro Niño of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“This program was developed to ensure that our young scientists and future voters are aware of the importance of pollinators to our food production and ecosystems," Niño related. "We are also very excited to partner with programs across the university to recruit and support UC Davis students in becoming interns and mentors for the program. This program has already generated so much excitement with the kids and we want to provide this opportunity to as many schools as possible.”
We recently watched a group of third graders from Amador County learn about honey bees and other pollinators when Nino and her colleagues hosted the youngsters in the Department of Entomology and Nematology's bee garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. A half-acre public garden installed in 2009 on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, it provided the perfect place for the five interactive learning stations.
Postdoctoral scholar Laura Brutscher of the Niño lab kneels by an educational beekeeping display: a beehive, a smoker, a hive tool and beekeeper protective gear. She discusses the residents of the hive: the queen, worker bees (females) and drones (males). The third-graders, sitting, standing or kneeling in the garden, listen to her wide-eyed.
“Who knows what the job of a drone is?” Brutscher asks.
A hand shoots up. “The drones protect the queen!” a boy declares.
The students learn that the honey bee colony is a matriarchal society. The females do all the work, performing specific tasks with job titles such as nurse maids, nannies, royal attendants, builders, architects, foragers, dancers, honey tenders, pollen packers, propolis or "glue" specialists, air conditioning and heating technicians, guards, and undertakers. The queen can lay up to 2000 eggs a day during peak season.
The third graders then suit up, donning assorted beekeeper protective gear. They pose gleefully in oversized suits while adults on the tour--teachers, parents and mentors--photograph them.
Elina Lastro Niño
Niño, who also directs the highly successful California Master Beekeeper Program, explains pollination and how honey bees differ from such generalists as bumble bees and such specialists as squash bees. She invites the students to build their own bee, using pipe cleaners of various lengths to mimic how they are able to pollinate flowers. The youngsters also taste apples, blueberries and almonds. Honey bees, she tells them, pollinate one third of the food we eat.
Charley Nye, beekeeper and manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, zeroes in on the products of the hive. “When we see bees flying around, what are they doing there?” he asks.
“They're out gathering nectar and pollen,” responds one youngster.
“That's right,” Nye says. He then introduces them to five varietals of honey: almond, coffee, cotton, blackberry, meadowfoam.
The students and adults like the meadowfoam the best. “It tastes like cotton candy!” one girl says, slowly savoring the flavor she found reminiscent of a county fair.
Wendy Mather, California Master Beekeeper Program manager, shows the youngsters a bee vacuum device and how to catch and release bees. They examine them close-up. Others at her interactive learning station craft seed cookies, decorated pots, and planted seeds for pollinators. They also view the bee and syrphid (hover) fly specimens loaned by pollination ecologist Neal Williams, UC Davis professor of entomology. The hover fly, sometimes called a flower fly, is a major pollinator.
Another station focuses on solitary bees: leafcutter bees and blue orchard bees. The students paint nest boxes and learn how the native bees differ from honey bees. Honey bees are not natives of America; European colonists brought them to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1622. Honey bees did not arrive in California until 1853, the year a beekeeper installed colonies near San Jose.
Marcel Ramos, lab assistant in the Elina Niño lab, opens a hive inside a netted enclosure and showed the students the queen bee, workers and drones and pulled out frames of honey.
It was indeed, a honey of a day, and the youngsters learned a lot about bees.
The event received financial support from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Programmatic Initiative Grant, the Scott and Liberty Munson Family, and matching funds from Microsoft.
Ron Antone, chair of the Farms of Amador and an Amador County Master Gardener, coordinated the Amador County visit, which drew third-graders from four schools: 67 from Plymouth and Sutter Creek elementary and "about the same number" from Pioneer and Pine Grove elementary. “The tour was coordinated and funded by Farms of Amador,” he said. “We are also associated with the Amador County Farmers Market Association."
“The program presented by Elina and the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven team was an incredible experience for all involved: students, parents, teachers and mentors from Farms of Amador and Amador County Master Gardeners," Antone said. “I could not have imagined a more successful trip."
UC Davis Resources:
Celebrate bees on Saturday, Aug. 18: The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's bee garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, has scheduled an open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 18. Saturday is National Honey Bee Day. The event is free and family friendly. The garden is located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
Activities, according to academic program manager Christine Casey, will include:
- Learn about how to grow healthy fruits and vegetables at home and how to encourage pollinators in the garden for best yield
- See the bees in action in our demonstration garden
- Cooking demonstration and recipe ideas
- Bee and plant experts to answer your questions
Sometimes they barely notice you.
Such was the case of a yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, spotted on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a bee worth?
If you want to learn more about bumble bees, be sure to check out the landmark book, Bumble Bees of North America, an Identification Guide, co-authored by our own Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. It's the first comprehensive guide to North American bumble bees to be published in more than a century.
Thorp is one of the veteran instructors at The Bee Course, held annually at the Southwestern Research Station in Portal, Ariz. This year's course is Aug. 20-30. (The deadline to apply was March 1.) It's a nine-day intensive workshop offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists "who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees."
Mark your calendar!
You won't want to miss the summer weekend open houses at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Both are free, open to the public and family friendly.
The first one is themed "Fire and Ice: Extreme California Insects" and will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19. "We will be exploring extreme insects from the deserts and the mountains of California," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
The last one of summer is "Crafty Insects," from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22. "We will be having a two-way museum,
Yang said. "We will be displaying crafty--think cunning--insects and we are going to ask people to bring insect crafts that they have made, so all those folks who do felted, knitted, carved, sculpted crafters can share. Any and all hand-made, flea-shaped tea cozies are welcomed!"
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, 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. In addition to the petting zoo, the museum features a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with 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. It is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
The UC Davis event took place from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, July 21 in celebration of National Moth Week, July 21-29, which celebrated the beauty, life cycles and habitats of moths.
Entomologists use the blacklight to collect or view night-flying insects attracted to ultraviolet light. The Bohart associates set up two displays near the Bohart, but the one set up along a UC Davis Arboretum path drew the most moths--and the most spectators.
Blacklighting is basically comprised of a hanging white sheet, illuminated by ultraviolet (UV) light and powered by a generator.
More than 140 spectators attended Moth Night, held both inside the museum (located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane) and outside on the campus grounds.
The scarab beetles or what some folks often call by the common name "June bugs" (referring to certain species of scarabs) showed up first, followed by assorted moths.
Beetle expert Fran Keller, assistant professor at Folsom Lake College who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, identified it as a Polyphylla sp. or lined June beetle. "I think it was a female because the antennae were reduced."
Bohart associate and "Moth Man" John De Benedictis listed the species sighted at Moth Night by family. Among them:
NOCTUIDAE: Spodoptera exigua (Beet Armyworm Moth), Proxenus sp. (probably P. mindara)
GEOMETRIDAE: Prochoerodes truxaliata
PYRALIDAE: Ehestiodes gilvescentella
TORTRICIDAE: Cydia latiferreana (Filbertworm Moth), Grapholita prunivora (Lesser Appleworm Moth)
GELECHIIDAE: Leucogniella sp. (probably L. distincta)
TINEDAE: Oinophila v-flava
ACROLOPHIDAE: Amydria sp. (cannot tell genus or species without dissecting. Likely Pseudopsalta confusella.)
De Benedictis said a young girl collected the Prochoerodes truxaliata, a moth that feeds on coyote bush as a caterpillar.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, 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. It maintains a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas, and praying mantids. 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. It is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Editor's Note: Stay tuned for photos of the inside activities on Moth Night.)