They belong to the same order, Hymenoptera, but some folks insist that ants don't belong in your life.
Oh, but they do!
Find out why at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 21. The event, spotlighting ants, is free and family friendly. It will take place in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane.
Members of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will answer your questions, show live ants and specimens, and engage in one-on-one discussions.
In a video released by the Bohart Museum of Entomology during a campuswide Biodiversity Museum Day, Professor Ward related: "Ants have occupied almost all of the world's land surfaces, from deserts to rain forests. There's a few places they're absent. They're not in Antarctica, no surprise! They haven't colonized the Arctic and a few very high elevation tropical mountains, but apart from that, almost any place you go on land you'll see our friends, the ants. And they have assumed a quite a diverse array of ecological roles. Some of them are predators, others are scavengers, and some are seed collectors, and these habits vary tremendously among different species in different parts of the world."
Among the Ward lab personnel scheduled to participate are doctoral candidates Jill Oberski and Zach Griebenow (both are expected to receive their PhDs this year), and third-year doctoral student Ziv Lieberman. Griebenow and Oberski are veterans of UC Davis teams that won national championships in the Entomological Society of America's Entomology Games or "Bug Bowls." (See news story) UC Davis teams won national championships in 2022, 2018, 2016 and 2015.
Meanwhile, be sure to watch what Professor Ward says in the video posted on YouTube at https://youtu.be/d8eRNsD8dxo. He illustrated his talk with ant images taken by his former doctoral student Alex Wild (PhD from UC Davis in 2005), curator of entomology at the University of Texas, Austin, and a noted macro photographer, (http://www.alexanderwild.com).
How ancient are ants? Ants originated about 120 million years ago (early Cretaceous), evolving from "wasp-like creatures," Ward said. They are members of the order Hymenoptera, and their closest relatives include honey bees, cockroach wasp and the mud daubers.
How many species in California? California is home to some 300 species of ants, but thousands more live in the tropics. Globally, there may be as many as 40,000 to 50,000 species of ants, the professor estimated, but only about 14,000 are described.
How do they communicate? Ants communicate largely by chemical (pheromones) and tactile means, Ward said. Their vision is "not particularly acute." He pointed out that that they lay a trail pheromones from the source of food back to the nest. They have alarm pheromones, causing other workers to act defensively. Chemicals also help ants distinguish their nest mates.
What about those Argentine ants? Some ants, like the Argentine ants, are pests. These invaders from South America "form super colonies, which means different colonies don't fight each other; they're all cooperating. And the other downside of Argentine ants is that they tend to eliminate native ants. So over the years I've lived in Davis, I have certainly noticed that native ants have declined as the Argentine ants have expanded. And they expand not just in, say, urban areas, but along certain natural habitats and one that they really like is the riparian habitat. So if you look along rivers and streams that are near urban areas, they're getting invaded by Argentine ants. And when they do, most native ants just disappear. This is a very tough aggressive ant and the mellow California ants can't handle an aggressive invader from South America. So they just disappear."
Ward related that ants live in long-lived colonies with (1) cooperative brood care (2) overlapping generations and (3) reproductive division of labor, the hallmarks of eusocial behavior. He also pointed out:
- A typical ant colony contains a reproductive queen, numerous non-reproductive workers and brood (eggs, larvae, pupae)
- Colonies of ants can be thought of as superorganisms: tightly integrated and cooperative entities with complex systems of communication and division of labor (castes)
The Bohart Museum's arts-and-crafts activity will be to create paper ant headbands. "The current version has serrated mandibles, but people can go free form, too," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. "We're hoping for a colony of visitors with red headbands."
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus a petting zoo (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and a gift shop, stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, hoodies, jewelry, posters, books, and collecting equipment.
Founded in 1946, the Bohart is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m. More information is available on the Bohart website at https://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by emailing email@example.com.
Well, if you were high school student Ziya Akmal, he journeyed--by car--nearly 400 miles from his home in Los Angeles to attend the 12th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day on Saturday, Feb. 18 on the University of California, Davis, campus.
Biodiversity Museum Day, billed as a Super Science Day, is an annual opportunity to meet the scientists, see their work, and ask questions. It's a great opportunity for students to gain career ideas, said Biodiversity Museum Day chair and co-founder Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
Akmal said he hopes to enroll in UC Davis, major in entomology, and study ants with Professor Phil Ward, an international authority on ant systematics. Akmal met with the professor in his Briggs Hall office, and talked to three Ward lab members--and one alumnus--at their table in the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
The Biodiversity Museum Day showcased 11 museums and collections, drawing almost 2000 visitors alone to the Academic Surge Building, where the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology provided displays. More displays lined the Academic Surge hallway: the Phil Ward lab (ants), the Jason Bond lab (spiders), and the Bohart Museum's separate petting zoos (Madagascar hissing cockroaches and stick insects). Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture and a regular volunteer at the Biodiversity Museum Day, delighted visitors with a scorpion that he fluoresced.
But across the hall from Hauser were "The Ant People" or "The Myrmecologists" from the Ward lab, who staffed a table and answered questions about not only ants, but a wide variety of arthropods. Doctoral candidates Jill Oberski and Zachary Griebenow and third-year doctoral student Ziv Lieberman were there, as was 2020 alumnus and ant researcher Brendon Boudinot, an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the Institute of Zoology and Evolutionary Research at Friedrich Schiller University Jena.
Those who listened to Professor Ward deliver a webinar on ants at the 10th annual Biodiversity Museum Day (during COVID-19 pandemic), remembered his presentation (see https://youtu.be/d8eRNsD8dxo.) Ants originated about 120 million years ago (early Cretaceous period), evolving from "wasp-like creatures," Ward said in his webinar. California has some 300 species of ants, but thousands more are in the tropics. Globally, "there may be as many as 40,000 to 50,000 species of ants," but only about 14,000 are described.
Boudinot, Griebenow and Oberski are veterans of UC Davis teams that won national championships in the Entomological Society of America's Entomology Games or "Bug Bowls." The Games, played between university-sponsored student teams, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts. To date, UC Davis teams have won four national championships: 2022, 2018, 2016 and 2015.
The UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day is traditionally held on Presidents' Day weekend. It's free and family friendly.
You know you want to!
Did you own--and treasure--an ant farm kit as a kid? Did you ever follow them as they hauled off crumbs from your picnic? Did you marvel at the load they could carry?
“Ants are amazing because they're way more diverse than most people realize,” says UC Davis entomology doctoral candidate Jill Oberski. “Some are huge, some are tiny, some are blue or green, and a lot of them have crazy spines. There are ants that run farms with crops and livestock, and ants that can build bridges and survive floods, and ants that live in the highest treetops and never touch the ground.”
That's just some of the information to be showcased at the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Month program on Saturday, Feb. 13 from 11 a.m. to noon when three doctoral students in the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, take the helm. Oberski, a fourth-year doctoral student, and Ziv Lieberman, a first-year doctoral student, will talk about the diversity of ants and field questions, followed by doctoral candidate Zach Griebenow's presentation on his research.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 11 a.m. to noon, Professor Phil Ward will host "All About Ants," billed as a "fun and lively question and answer session." The programs are free and family friendly. See http://biodiversitymuseumday.ucdavis.edu/live-programs.html for the Zoom links.
Griebenow grew up in rural Kentucky and received his bachelor's degree in entomology in 2017 from The Ohio State University, undertaking undergraduate research with distinction on species boundaries in the Puerto Rican fauna of the subterranean termite Heterotermes (Griebenow et al. 2017).
"As so everyone in the Ward lab, I study how different groups of ants are related to one another, and why they look and behave the way that they do," he said. "Specifically I study an obscure group called the Leptanillinae, which have no common name. As ants go, they are strange, and we know very little about them. So far, I have confidently teased out the major evolutionary relationships among leptanilline ants (Griebenow 2020; Griebenow, in press), but there is a lot more work to be done, particularly in comprehending the often bizarre structural modifications seen in the male Leptanillinae (legs that look like toothbrushes, etc.)."
Lieberman, born and raised in California, studied at the College of Marin before transferring to UC Davis to major in evolution, ecology and biodiversity, with a minor in insect evolution and ecology. "Prior to UC Davis, I spent several years working abroad for the California Academy of Science documenting historical ant specimens," Lieberman said. "At the end of my undergrad, I published my first paper, a revision of the poorly-understood (and very cute) African species of the ant genus Discothyrea."
In the Ward lab, Lieberman studies "ant evolution, specifically focusing on connecting evolutionary relationships (the ant 'family tree') with anatomy, using a combination of next-generation imaging techniques and large-scale genetic analyses. In particular, I am interested in describing and comparing internal anatomical features which are usually ignored, and understanding how these traits contribute to biodiversity."
Oberski grew up in Minnesota. "I was fascinated by insects from a very young age," she said. "I attended Macalester College, spent a few confused years on a pre-med track, and ultimately discovered a career in entomology was feasible and worth pursuing. This has led me to Phil Ward's ant systematics lab at UC Davis, where I'm now a PhD candidate."
"My research centers on the ant genus Dorymyrmex, which is commonly found all over the Americas," she said. "Even though they're extremely common (Davis itself is home to two species!), we have no idea how many species there really are. In addition to discovering and naming these species, I'm really interested in biogeography and ancient history: Where did Dorymyrmex originate? How are the North American species related to the South American species? And how did they disperse before the isthmus of Panama was connected?"
Professor Phil Ward
Professor Ward teaches California insect diversity, insect taxonomy and field ecology, and introductory biology (the tree of life). His research interests include systematics, biogeography and evolution of ants; ant-plant mutualisms; phylogeny and speciation. He holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Queens University, Canada (1973) and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Sydney, Australia (1979).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 10th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum program is all virtual this year via webinars and pre-recorded presentations, and takes place throughout the month of February. The science-based event traditionally occurs on only one day--the Saturday of Presidents' Weekend, when families and friends gather on campus to learn first-hand about the UC Davis museums and collections.
This year's biodiversity event is showcasing 12 museums or collections:
- Anthropology Museum
- Arboretum and Public Garden
- Bohart Museum of Entomology
- Botanical Conservatory
- California Raptor Center
- Center for Plant Diversity
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
- Nematode Collection
- Marine Invertebrate Collection
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
- Paleontology Collection
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection
For more information and the schedule, access these two formats on the UC Davis Biodiversity program website: (1) live talks and demonstrations and (2) pre-recorded talks and activities. Information on the biodiversity museum events also appear on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, @BioDivDay.
To help support the Biodiversity Museum event, contributions are being accepted through a month-long crowdfunding campaign program at https://crowdfund.ucdavis.edu/project/24310.
"A worker honey bee has how many pairs of wax glands on its abdomen?"
That would be four, answered the UC Davis Entomology Team did at the Entomological Society of America's Virtual Entomology Games, a college-bowl type of competition formerly known as the Linnaean Games.
Doctoral students Jill Oberski, Zachary Griebenow and Hannah Kahl of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology teamed to compete in Games, a fun and lively event but this year it went virtual due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions.
Oberski and Griebenow are both fourth-year doctoral students in the Phil Ward lab, while Kahl, a member of the Jay Rosenheim lab, is currently a third-year doctoral student who will begin her fourth year in January.
The UC Davis team won its preliminary round and then entered the highly competitive finals, placing 11th. Alabama's Auburn University edged the Boiler Bugs of Purdue to win the championship.
The champions, from Auburn University's Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, answered 27 of the 40 questions correctly, tying with the Boiler Bugs of Purdue, “but Auburn had the closest answer for the tiebreaker question,” Rominiecki said.
In the Entomology Games, teams of two to four students test their entomological knowledge by answering questions drawn from all disciplines of insect science: behavior and ecology, biological control, entomology in culture, integrated pest management (IPM) and insect/plant interactions, medical and veterinary entomology, biochemistry and toxicology economic entomology, history of entomology, morphology and physiology, and systematics and evolution.
ESA did not record the Games this year, as the event itself “was mostly just a recitation of the questions, without the more lively 'buzzing in' format of the live event,” Rominiecki related.
“All in all, we were pleased with how the Entomology Games went this year, in an entirely new format," he said. "Our organizers worked hard in just a few short months to create a virtual version of the Games, and it was great to have teams from all over the country participating as usual, despite the new circumstances. We look forward to returning to an in-person event in the future, of course, but the 2020 virtual edition will be a memorable one. Congratulations to Auburn on their victory, and kudos to all the teams who participated!”
- Keye Luke, Jay Chou, and Bruce Lee have all portrayed Kato, the crimefighting partner of what fictional vigilante?
- What is the full scientific name (genus and species) of the bacterium classified by IRAC as a microbial disruptor of insect midgut membranes?
- "Yoke-winged" is the literal translation of the name of what insect suborder, which can be distinguished from other members of its order by the presence of caudal gills on the aquatic immatures?
- Although this year's festivities were postponed due to COVID-19, the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, normally hosts an annual festival that commemorates the 1966 sightings of what paranormal figure?
- A widely-publicized 2017 study reported a 75 percent decline in insect biomass over the past 27 years. This study was conducted across 63 protected natural areas in what European country?
- What striking form of structural coloration involves color changes based on the angle of the observer, and was recently shown to help jewel beetles camouflage in order to avoid bird predation?
- These specialty loaves of bread are labeled "kuwagata," which is a Japanese word that refers to insects in what family?
- "Stimulo-deterrent diversion" was one of the earlier names for what IPM strategy that uses volatile cues from both repellent and attractant plants to reduce damage from insect pests?
- The megalopteran family Corydalidae is divided into two clades: Corydalinae (aka dobsonflies) and what other subfamily, whose members are commonly known as fishflies?
- Bombykol and bombykal are components of a sex pheromone emitted by certain females in what insect order?
- What term refers to a parasitoid that halts the development of its host shortly after the initial parasitization?
- Paederus dermatitis, also known as whiplash dermatitis, is a type of skin irritation caused by contact with the hemolymph of certain species in what insect family?
- What type of semiochemical benefits the receiver and harms the emitter?
- What sixteen-letter adjective is most commonly used to describe fungi and nematodes that can potentially act as biological control agents of insect pests?
- Of the three types of lobes typically found in an insect brain, which lobe innervates the labrum and foregut?
- A 2020 Ig Nobel Prize was awarded to Richard Vetter for collecting evidence that many entomologists exhibit what psychological condition? This condition is also the title of a movie that won the 1990 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film.
- What twelve-letter term was coined by entomologist Willi Hennig to refer to a derived character that is shared between multiple species and their most recent common ancestor?
- The first sighting of emerald ash borer in North America occurred in 2002, when it was discovered attacking ash trees in Ontario, Canada and what U.S. state?
- Green Hornet
- Bacillus thuringiensis
- Push pull
The tiebreaker question? It dealt with the number of Far Side comics referencing insects. The question: "Gary Larson is known for using insects as a source of humor in his acclaimed comic strip 'The Far Side.' A survey of 4,300 'Far Side' comics revealed that exactly how many contained some sort of entomological reference?" Answer: 359.
Over the last few years, UC Davis teams have won the national championship three times in the fun and lively competitions. (See Bug Squad blog)
"Hopefully, we can be back onstage in person next year," said Oberski.
The UC team, which swept the national championship last year, just won the regional competition Monday night at the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) meeting in San Diego. The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively, college-bowl style competitions on entomological facts, including questions on insects and entomologists.
The UC team is comprised of UC Davis and UC Berkeley graduate students: captain Ralph Washington Jr., who received his bachelor of science degree at UC Davis and is now a graduate student at UC Berkeley; doctoral candidate Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis; and graduate student Zach Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab.
At the PBESA meeting, UC Riverside took second, and Washington State University, third.
The UC Team will now defend its championship at the ESA meeting , set Nov. 17-20 in St. Louis, Mo. Both the first and second-place teams from each of the ESA's six branches are eligible to compete.
Question: The Passandridae are a family of beetles. What is unusual about their larvae?
Answer: The larvae are ectoparasitoids of wood-boring insects
Both Boudinot and Washington have received major accolades at the ESA and PBESA meetings. Boudinot, who researches ants, won the 2019 John Henry Comstock Award, the highest graduate student award presented by PBESA. He delivered a presentation on his research at the San Diego meeting. He next will be honored as one of the six Comstock award winners (one from each ESA branch) at the national meeting.
Washington, who at UC Davis studied with major professors Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and assistant professor Brian Johnson, won PBESA's 2017 Student Leadership Award.
PBESA encompasses 11 Western states, plus U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico. ESA, the world's largest entomological society, is comprised of 7000 members.