UC Davis doctoral candidate Ann Holmes has--and she's doing research on what's in their guano (feces).
Holmes will be among the six doctoral students showcasing their research at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house themed “Time Flies When You Are Studying Insects: Cutting Edge Student Research,” on Saturday, Jan. 18. The event, free and family friendly, will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
Holmes, affiliated with the Graduate Group in Ecology, Department of Animal Science, and the Genomic Variation Laboratory, says that "Insects in bat poop are hard to identify because they have been digested, but I can use DNA to determine which insects are there. We care about which insects bats eat because bats are natural pest controllers. With plenty of bats we can use less pesticide on farms and less mosquito repellent on ourselves."
She does not have any results yet (coming summer 2020), "but we expect to see some of the common agricultural pests such as corn earworm as well as mosquitoes and midges. Previous studies using microscopic examination are rarely able to ID the prey to species level, but DNA may be able to change that!"
The insects eat crops such as rice, so bats provide a valuable service to farmers, Holmes points out. "Hungry bats can eat as much as their own body weight in insects each night. Visitors can expect to learn how DNA is used to detect insects in bat guano."
Her research interests? In addition to bats, they include conservation genetics, environmental DNA (eDNA), molecular ecology, fish, crustaceans, plankton, aquatic food webs, and marine ecology.
And the bats? Every summer, some quarter-million migrating Mexican free-tailed bats nest in the Yolo Causeway's expansion joints where they give birth. They fly out at dusk to feast on insects.
The Bohart Museum open house will feature "a diversity of topics,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum. “I just love how this university excels at interdisciplinary research. We may be the Entomology and Nematology Department but we are connected to so many fields of research. “Our grads are our future's hope and here they are inspiring others."
Other doctoral students who will showcase their research are:
- Entomologist Yao Cai of the Joanna Chiu lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology,
- Entomologist Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies assassin flies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology
- Entomologist-ant specialist Zachary Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
- Forest entomologist Crystal Homicz who studies with Joanna Chiu and research forest entomologist Chris Fettig, Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Davis. (She formerly studied with the late Steve Seybold of USDA Forest Service and the Department of Entomology and Nematology.)
- Forensic entomologist Alexander Dedmon, who studies with Robert Kimsey, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Yao Cai, a fourth-year doctoral student, studies circadian clock in insects. “Using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) and Danaus plexippus (monarch butterfly), as models, we seek to understand how these insects receive environmental time cues and tell time, how they organize their daily rhythms in physiology and behavior, such as feeding, sleep and migration (in monarch butterfly),” Cai said.
“Since clock design is conserved from fly to human, understanding how fly clock works can be translated into knowledge and treatment for people who undergo clock disruption in their daily lives, such as jet lag, shift work,” Cai said.
Visitors will learn how fruit flies and monarch butterflies tell time, why the clock is important to them, and the tools scientists use to study circadian clock.
Zachary Griebenow, a third-year doctoral student, will be showcasing or discussing specimens of the ant subfamily Leptanillinae, most of them male.
“I will be showing specimens of the Leptanillinae under the microscope, emphasizing the great morphological diversity observed in males and talking about my systematic revision of the subfamily," he said. "In particular, I want to explain how the study of an extremely obscure group of ants can help us understand the process of evolution that has given rise to all organisms."
“Did you know that between 1987 and 2017 bark beetles were responsible for more tree death than wildfire?” asks Crystal Homicz, a first-year doctoral student. “Bark beetles are an incredibly important feature of forests, especially as disturbance agents. My research focuses on how bark beetles and fire interact, given that these are the two most important disturbance agents of the Sierra Nevada. At my table, I will discuss how the interaction between bark beetles and fire, why bark beetles and fire are important feature of our forest ecosystem, and I will discuss more generally the importance of bark beetles in many forest systems throughout North America.
“I will have several wood samples, insect specimens and photographs to display what bark beetle damage looks like, and the landscape level effects bark beetles have. I will also have samples of wood damage caused by other wood boring beetles and insects. My table will focus widely on the subject of forest entomology and extend beyond beetle-fire interactions.”
Visitors, she said, can expect to leave with a clear understanding of what bark beetles are and what they do, as well as a deeper understanding of the importance of disturbance ecology in our temperate forests.
Charlotte Alberts, a fifth-year doctoral candidate, will display assassin flies and their relatives, as well as examples of prey they eat and/or mimic. Visitors can expect to learn about basic assassin fly ecology and evolution.
Alberts studies the evolution of assassin flies (Diptera: Asilidae) and their relatives. “Assassin flies are voracious predators on other insects and are able to overcome prey much larger than themselves,” she said. “Both adult and larval assassin flies are venomous. Their venom consists of neurotoxins that paralyze their prey, and digestive enzymes that allow assassin flies to consume their prey in a liquid form. These flies are incredibly diverse, ranging in size from 5-60mm, and can be found all over the world! With over 7,500 species, Asilidae is the third most specious family of flies. Despite assassin flies being very common, most people do not even know of their existence. This may be due to their impressive ability to mimic other insects, mainly wasps, and bees.”
For her thesis, she is trying to resolve the phylogenetic relationships of Asiloidea (Asilidae and their relatives) using Ultra Conserved Elements (UCEs), and morphology. "I am also interested in evolutionary trends of prey specificity within Asilidae, which may be one of the major driving forces leading to this family's diversity."
Forensic entomologist Alex Dedmon, a sixth-year doctoral student, will display tools and text and explain what forensic entomology is all about. "My research focuses on insect succession. In forensic entomology, succession uses the patterns of insects that come and go from a body. These patterns help us estimate how long a person has been dead. Visitors can expect to learn about the many different ways insects can be used as evidence, and what that evidence tells us."
Dedmon recently won first place in a contest at the Entomological Society of America meeting in St. Louis. As he explained in a Facebook post: "Trécé, Inc. is a company that creates olfactory baits and traps for insects. They had a contest at their booth looking for ideas to expand their research and product line. Most of this sort of thing is generally used for surveillance of insect pests, which I don't do much work in. Still, I figured I had nothing to lose by at least trying. So, I pointed out that forensic entomologists often have to sample blowfly populations from the region in order to establish species presence for future casework"
"To sample those flies, we usually use a carrion source like a dead pig. Unfortunately, carrion tends to be surprisingly expensive. Also, we have to usually place it in a remote location (the general public doesn't care much for seeing rotting pigs)."
"However, we know that blowflies mainly orient themselves off of smell. In other words, they are attracted by the aromatic compounds emitted as part of the decomposition process. It's these compounds that make the pigs "stink." Many of them have been identified, and have wonderfully illustrative names like 'cadaverine.' So, if those compounds were applied to a sticky trap, you'd (hypothetically) have a cheaper, less unsightly method for sampling blowflies."
"Not bad for improvising an idea on the spot," he quipped.
Other Activities at the Open House
The family craft activity will be painting rocks, which can be taken home or hidden around campus. "Hopefully some kind words on rocks found by random strangers can also make for a kinder better future,” Yang said.
In addition to meeting and chatting with the researchers, visitors can see insect specimens (including butterflies and moths), meet the critters in the live “petting zoo” (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and browse the gift shop, containing books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum, founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), 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 insect biodiversity.
The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yolo County Farm Advisor and children's book author Rachael Freeman Long remembers telling her son stories about an adventuresome, kind-hearted, wildlife-loving boy named Jack and three of his friends--a bat named Pinta, a coyote named Sonny and a crow named Midas.
Eugene was only two years old when his mother began weaving the stories about nine-year-old Jack: his deep friendship with the three animals, his love of wildlife, his exhilarating adventures, and the unexpected dangers that threatened him in his search for gold near his parents' cabin in the Black Rock Desert. The dangers? Among them, an international network of poachers and a hungry pack of wolves.
Eugene is 19 now and off to college this fall, but the stories she told him live on. They are chronicled in her newly completed Black Rock Desert Trilogy (three books): “Gold Fever,” “Valley of Fire” and now “River of No Return,” works published by Tate Publishing and Enterprises, Mustang, Okla.
Long will discuss “River of No Return” at a book-signing at 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 20 at the Avid Reader, located at 617 Second St., Davis. The event is free and open to the public. Live bats and/or specimens are expected to be part of the presentation.
Long dedicated the book to Eugene ("he heard the stories first") and her husband, David ("for always being there").
Long, who as a scientist and Yolo County farm advisor researches the benefits of bats in agriculture, thoroughly engages the readers (the book is aimed for the age group 8-12, but is also for adults) with information about the pallid bat, Pinta. Throughout the book, Long dispels many myths of bats that give them "a bad rap."
In real life, Long works with farmers to ensure that bats are protected. "We are studying the impact of bats on the key codling moth pest in walnut orchards," Long related. "Preliminary data from 2008 documented that 5% of a colony of 3,000 bats on a walnut farm in the Central Valley fed on this pest, showing an economic benefit, which we are in the process of quantifying. Other agricultural pests detected in the guano samples included Lygus bugs and armyworms. Outreaching information on the benefits of bats to agencies such as the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, will help protect bats on farms."
In her trilogy, a 10-year project, Long makes Pinta quite lovable, describing her as having a "cute little Chihuahua face" and making sure readers knows she's a pollinator (just like honey bees, bumble bees and butterflies) and that she consumes pest insects.
Pinta tells Jack she turns yellow when she eats what she calls "the yummy pollen and nectar" of cactus flowers. She also talks about other topics.
"Jack knew all about bat migration and their use of stars, landscapes, and even the earth's magnetic field to find their way home. But he knew nothing about their lives. 'How many pups do bats have a year?' he asked.
Pinta replied: "Generally one, but sometimes we have twins."
When Jack asked Pinta how long the mother bat cares for them, Pinta replied: "Sometimes up to a year...They're so helpless when they're born, bald as an egg and can't fly. We wean them after about eight weeks when they start flying and catching their own insect prey."
Pinta also related that she can eat "almost" her full weight in insects every night. Jack is amazed. "Wow, that's like me eating ninety pounds of pizza every night!" he exclaims.
"The River of No Return" is a page-turner. It's interesting, exciting, and suspenseful. You eagerly want to know if the poachers who are capturing and caging wild animals will go through with their plans to sell them to international zoos. The leader, Sarge, is a mean-spirited military veteran who hopes to make a million from the illegal operation and buy the Last Chance Ranch near the cabin of Jack's parents. Why? It has an undisclosed copper mine on the property. Sarge brags to his fellow poachers about how rich he will become.
Meanwhile, a starving wolf pack blames Jack for decimating the wildlife population and targets him. What happens next? You'll have to read it and see.
Bottom line: "The River of No Return" is about camaraderie, communication (Yes, Pinta, Sonny, Midas and Jack communicate with one another), survival, kindness, cruelty, greed and justice.
And bats, too. After reading the "Black Rock Desert Trilogy," you'll come away with a newfound appreciation for those insect-eating bats.
It doesn't get more real.
They go together like honey bees on bee balm and bumble bees on tomatoes.
When you attend the 102nd annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 16, be sure to head over to Briggs Hall, Kleiber Hall Drive, to see the Pollinator Pavilion, which will emphasize the importance of pollinators in both natural environments and food production.
"It is often said that one in every three bites of food we take is dependent on animal pollination," said Pavilion Pollinator coordinator Margaret "Rei" Scampavia, a doctoral candidate in entomology. "While there are some foods that do not rely on animal pollination, many of the tastiest and most nutritious food does. To this end, we have a series of posters demonstrating what a meal might look like with and without foods that benefit from animal pollination."
"We are going to have a series of exhibits showcasing pollinator diversity, demonstrating their importance in natural ecosystems and food production, and providing information on what members of the general public can do to help native pollinators," Scampavia said.
"We will have information on a wide variety of animal pollinators, including butterflies, flies, wasps, birds, and even bats. But the majority of the exhibit will focus on the most abundant pollinators: native bees."
The highlight is the walk-in Pollinator Pavillion, an enclosure where visitors can "safely view live pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and flies, up close and in person," the entomologist said. "Younger guests can practice scientific observation by filling out specially provided data sheets. Some of the species present will include: blue orchard bees, Monarch butterflies, Red Admiral butterflies, and Painted Lady butterflies."
Scampavia points out that the European honey bee "is the first thing many people think of when they hear the word pollinator. But in reality, this species is only one of tens of thousands of pollinator species; there are more than 20,000 species of bee besides the honeybee, for example. We hope that visitors to this exhibit will leave with a greater appreciation of the amazingly diverse animals that pollinate flowers."
Last year scores of enthusiastic visitors packed the Pollinator Pavilion. It proved to be one of the most popular, well-crafted, well-designed Picnic Day displays. Another eagerly anticipated event awaits Saturday.
And now there's an urgency.
"Many pollinator species are experiencing alarming declines," Scampavia said. "Monarch butterflies, for example, have declined by over 90 percent in the past ten years. To promote awareness of the plight of the Monarch, we have a series of exhibits with live caterpillars, chrysalises, and adults, which also contain important information about this species and what we can do to prevent further losses. There will also be information about ways to enhance outdoor spaces to promote and sustain healthy wild, native pollinators."
Beetles do it. Birds do it.
Bats do it.
Do what, you ask? They pollinate!
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, will greet visitors on Saturday, March 14 at its open house, themed "Pollinator Nation."
To be held from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, it promises to be both fun and educational.
“It will be about bees, bees, bees!” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. "Also, we are borrowing specimens of pollinating birds, bats and lemurs from the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology to cover non-insect pollinators, which should be fun."
Lots of animals are pollinators. It's not just bees, bats, butterflies. bats and birds. Pollinators can be ants, flies, moths, wasps and the like.
You'll see many of them at the open house. Staff research associate Billy Synk of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, will provide a bee observation hive. That's a glassed-in hive filled with a bee colony. You'll be able to see the queen bee, worker bees and drones.
The event is free and open to the public. Family activities are also planned.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas
The Bohart Museum 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.
The museum is open to the public four days a week, Monday through Thursday, but special weekend open houses are held throughout the academic year
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The insect museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
More information is available by accessing the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/; telephoning (530) 752-9493; or emailing email@example.com.
Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Freeman Long, who has been researching and writing about bats for 20 years, has two colonies of bats at her ranch in Woodland. The bats eat moths, cucumber beetles, leafhoppers, mosquitoes, midges and water boatmen--when they disperse from the water.
Long is finishing the third book of her children's trilogy, The Black Rose Desert, which stars a boy named Jack, a pallid bat named Pinta and a coyote named Sonny. She'll be talking about bats and signing her books, "Gold Fever" and the newly published "Valley of Fire" on Saturday, Dec. 13 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. in the Common Grounds Coffee shop, 729 Main St., Woodland. She plans to showcase museum specimens, in lieu of live bats.
At a recent educational program in the Avid Reader, Davis, Long and her friend Corky Quirk of Nor Cal Bats, an organization dedicated to research, rehabilitation and release of bats throughout Northern California, entertained the crowd with information about bats. Quirk displayed live bats: two pallid bats, a big brown-bat and a Mexican free-tailed bat, the latter found beneath the Yolo Causeway.
“Pallid bats are native to the western North America,” Long said. “They're unusual in that in addition to catching prey in flight, they will also hunt on the ground for prey, such as crickets, grasshoppers and scorpions. Pallid bats have huge ears and have amazing hearing—they can pick up the sound of a cricket walking on the ground. They are quite agile on the ground.”
“Some migrate, but it's unclear how far they go,” Long said. “In my story they go long distances. Our neighbor regularly gets colonies of pallid bats in the fall in his barn that then move on somewhere else.”
Long, known for her research and scientific publications about bats and bat houses, said her interest “in writing this trilogy is science literacy for kids to teach them about the natural history of bats and the incredible importance of bats in our world for pollination and pest control benefits. Bats are major pollinators of many plants; without bats we wouldn't have tequila as they are the main pollinators of the agave plant from which tequila is made!"
"In my stories,” Long said, “we learn all kinds of wonderful tidbits about bats, including echolocation, migration, that they feed on insects and that 'blind as a bat' is a total myth.”
Long's avid interest in the ecosystem services of bats revolves around how bats can help with pest control in agricultural crops. "For example, we just determined that in walnuts, each bat provides about $6 in pest control services for codling moth control, a major pest in this crop.
Long recalls telling bat stories to her young son “on our long drives into town from our ranch. He loved them so much that one day I finally decided to write them down to share with other children--and adults too!"
Long's trilogy focuses on a cave-exploring boy named Jack, who is 9 years old that summer when his family heads to their Black Rock Range property to search for gold. Jack, wandering off, falls into a cave and gets lost. His new friends, Pinta, the pallid bat, and a coyote named Sonny help him find his way out but then they all find themselves in danger. Other characters in the book include Jack's parents, uncle, and “the bad guys,” a ring of international poachers. One of the poachers is a newly escaped prison inmate roaming Black Rock Range.
What are some generally unknown facts about pallid bats? “They emit a skunk-like smell when disturbed; it's a predator defense,” Long said. “Their wing membranes are like skin; incredibly sensitive.”
Pallid bats usually have one or two bat pups, once per year, and they can live for more than 20 years, Long said. “These bats glean the tastiest parts of insects and leave other pieces behind --legs, wings, heads-- so you can always tell if you have a pallid bat colony. We find them in our bat houses that are up and around Yolo County.”
Long's efforts to educate young children about bats resulted in praised from science journalist Jim Robbins of the New York Times: “Bats play a little known, but vital role in the world.”
Long's books, published by Tate Publishing Co., Mustang, Okla., introduce “young readers to their world in an engaging and entertaining way,” Robbins wrote.
The general public--children and adults alike--can learn a lot about bats in her books. One of her favorite books on bats is "Bats in Question: The Smithsonian Answer Book" by Don Wilson.