And well you should: honey bees are the global workhorses of the pollination community and pollinate about one-third of the food we eat, including fruits and vegetables and some nuts, primarily almonds (California's almond acreage exceeds 1.6 million.)
But to continue the alliteration--butterflies, bats, birds and beetles are pollinators, too.
That includes "the good guys and gals," the lady beetles, aka ladybugs, which devour aphids.
However, this is National Pollinator Week and a good time to reiterate that insects can be both pollinators and pests. Take the blister beetles (family Meloidae, which contains about 2500 species) are one color or striped. Blister beetles are a pest of alfalfa and many species secrete a poisonous chemical called cantharidin, which protects them from their predators but is quite toxic to livestock, especially horses.
According to the Alfalfa Pest Management Guidelines published by the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM): “Blister beetles do not cause widespread feeding damage to alfalfa; however, they contain a chemical, cantharidin, which is toxic to livestock. Cantharidin is contained in the hemolymph (blood) of the beetles, and can contaminate forage directly, when beetles killed during harvest are incorporated into baled hay, or indirectly, by transfer of the hemolymph from crushed beetles onto forage. Horses are particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of cantharidin. Consuming as few as six beetles can kill a horse.”
A 2020 news story out of the Midwest related that beetle-infested hay purchased at an auction in South Dakota led to the deaths of 16 horses at a riding stable in Mauston, Wisconsin. Reporter Carleen Wild wrote that even a small amount of the bug itself or cantharidin "can be toxic enough to kill a horse within 72 hours." The horse owners reported what looked like "blisters and holes down their esophagus and throughout their insides."
The odorless, colorless chemical also blisters the human skin; physicians use it to remove warts.
That's one powerful chemical.
But to entomologists, "The Beatles," means "The Beetles." You know, the ones with six legs and two antennae? A body comprised of a head, thorax, and abdomen?
We were delighted to see the National Public Radio (NPR) showcase insects on its Aug. 1st program, "Beetles Dominate As Scientists Discover New Animal Species."
"Beetles make up around 40% of all insect species ever described and around 25% of all animals," NPR teased. "Are there really that many different kinds of beetles, or do scientists have a strong pro-beetle bias?"
NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyd interviewed Rachel Smith, the undergraduate student at the University of Kansas who discovered 18 species of water beetles when she was handed 2000 specimens to sort.
Are there really more beetles (Order Coleoptera) than any other insects? Yes.
Greenfieldboyd interviewed Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and Nematology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, and UC Davis alumnus Andrew Forbes, now an associate professor at the University of Iowa. Kimsey specializes in the Order Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and sawflies) and Forbes specializes in parasitic wasps.
They both agreed that beetle outnumber all other insects on earth.
"Collecting beetles was a hobby in the 1800s," Forbes told Greenfieldboyce. "People would go out and collect as many beetles as they could and then, you know, get together and compare the size of their beetle collections."
"So you have to figure that for every species of beetle, there are probably at least one or two wasp parasites or parasitoids," Kimsey said.
Indeed, we live on the "Planet of Insects," as natural history expert Jules Howard says in his newly published Encylopedia of Insects (Wide Eyed Editions, with Illustrations by Miranda Zimmerman), aimed for children, but meant to enthrall all ages.
"If aliens were to visit our planet and make a list of all of Earth's animals, they would quickly see a pattern," Howard wrote. "Nearly every single one of this planet's creatures they would notice, are from one strange group that has six legs, three segments to their body, and often, a pair of wings. We call these organisms the insects. Because the insect group accounts for 90 percent of life forms on this plant, alien visitors would be correct in calling this Planet of Insects. Truly, this is an insect world. You and I just happen to live on it."
Howard wants to share his love of insects with his bug-o-pedia book. He wants to inspire you. "To come to know them. To know their names. To shout from the rooftops about how amazing they are."
His message is important. insects aren't "creepy crawlers" or something abominable, scary or freaky. This planet--the Planet of Insects--is theirs, as Howard says. "You and I just happen to live on it."
With The Beetles.
How about wearing a pollinator on your heart?
It's National Pollinator Week.
The UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA) offers a wealth of t-shirts as part of its year-around fundraising efforts. It's for a good cause. The EGSA, comprised of UC Davis graduate students who study insect systems, is an organization that "works to connect students from across disciplines, inform students of and provide opportunities for academic success, and to serve as a bridge between the students and administration," according to EGSA president Brendon Boudinot, an ant specialist/doctoral student in the Phil Ward lab.
The t-shirts can be ordered online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/, according to medical entomologist and EGSA treasurer Olivia Winokur, a doctoral student in the Christopher Barker lab. She serves as the t-shirt sales coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com.
One of the favorite bee t-shirts depicts a honey bee emerging from its iconic hexagonal cells. It's the 2014 winner of then graduate student Danny Klittich, who recently received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and now works as a California central coast agronomist.
Another "fave" bee shirt--this one showing a bee barbecuing--is by doctoral student and nematologist Corwin Parker, who studies with Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was one of the 2018 winners. (See the three winners on this site.)
Pollinators also include butterflies, birds and beetles.
"The Beetles" t-shirt is EGSA's all-time best seller. Instead of the English rock band John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Star crossing Abbey Road in single file (that's the iconic image on the cover of their album, Abbey Road), think of The Beetles (four insects) crossing Abbey Road in single file. Beneath the images of the beetles are their family names: Phengogidae, Curculionidae, Cerambycidae and Scarabaeidae. Think glowworm, snout, long-horned, and scarab beetles.
One thing's for certain: Pollinators matter. Not just during National Pollinator Week but every day of the year.
Who wouldn't, when you get an opportunity to pet a rose-haired tarantula named Snuggles, guide walking sticks "strolling" on your arm, or cradle a Madagascar hissing cockroach? Or marvel at the display of Platypsyllus castoris, an ectoparasite of beavers?
That's what awaited the 2000 visitors at the Bohart Museum of Entomology during the 104th annual UC Davis Picnic Day last Saturday, April 18.
Although the theme of the campuswide Picnic Day spanned "Where the Sun Shines," Bohart Museum officials focused on "Where the Sun Doesn't Shine." They highlighted nocturnal insects, cave-dwelling insects, and parasites, including a beetle, Platypsyllus castoris, found on the south end of a beaver.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart and professor of entomology at UC Davis, kept busy answering questions about the beaver display--a pelt, and a graphic of the beetle.
As Bohart Museum associate and undergraduate entomology student Wade Spencer said: "These beetles look like they are to fleas what halibut are to other fishes. Instead of the lateral compression fleas exhibit, Platyspyllus castoris are dorso-ventrally flattened, which only adds to their alien appearance. Their unique feeding and lodging preferences have given us so many good laughs, we wanted to make them the star of this year's picnic day event at the Bohart."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth collection at the Bohart, kept busy encouraging visitors to get acquainted with Snuggles. They held him, petted him and photographed him. Little Teddy Owens, 2 of Davis, held by his mother, Dina, high-fived Snuggles.
Another display featured scorpions: graduate student Charlotte Herbert shone a black light on them to illustrate how they glow in the dark. All scorpions fluoresce in ultraviolet light.
Visitors also learned about bees in a display featuring sweat bees, leaf-cutting bees, mason bees, bumble bees, honey bees, sunflower bees, and carpenter bees, as well as Andrena and Melissodes anthophora.
The Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids and tarantulas. The museum's gift shop, open year around, offers T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum is open to the public 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 by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or Tabatha Yang at email@example.com.
It's buggin' ya.
No worries. The UC Davis Entomology Graduate Students' Association (EGSA) to the rescue. Every year EGSA conducts a t-shirt contest and the faculty, staff and students pick the winner. The t-shirts--past, present, and most popular--are for sale, with proceeds going to support the many activities of EGSA.
EGSA treasurer and graduate student Cindy Preto of the Frank Zalom lab is coordinating the t-shirt sales. The themes include honey bees, beetles, a wasp, a moth, weevils (“See No Weevil, Hear No Weevil and Speak No Weevil") and “Entomology's Most Wanted” (malaria mosquito, red-imported fire ant, bed bug and house fly). One of the best sellers is “The Beetles,” mimicking The Beatles' album cover, “Abbey Road.”
EGSA, Preto said, is "run by and for graduate students who study insect systems. Our objectives are to connect students from across disciplines, inform students of and provide opportunities for academic success, and to serve as a bridge between the students and administration. We also plan social and academic events for students, faculty, and staff to enhance social and intellectual cohesion and to connect our department with the community at large."