- Shouldn't we be paying more attention to the undiscovered life on this planet while we're exploring other planets for signs of life?
- Shouldn't taxonomy be more valued, appreciated and funded? Shouldn't we be offering more encouragement and training to our students?
Yes, says Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Bond, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2018 from Auburn University, Alabama, where he directed the Auburn University Museum of Natural History and chaired the Department of Biological Sciences, focuses his research “primarily on the discovery, conservation, and investigation of the pattern and processes responsible for the diversity of life.”
“My research program has been principally aimed to 1) document biodiversity by discovering and describing new species (and higher taxa, genera and families), 2) identify various dimensions of diversity and those underlying evolutionary processes that generate it, and 3) use these findings to identify threatened or endangered populations and taxa,” he writes on his website. “My organismal expertise centers on terrestrial arthropods (spiders, millipedes, and tenebrionid beetles). Current research projects focus on spider and beetle speciation pattern and process, higher level phylogenomics of millipedes and spiders, and understanding broad-scale patterns of biodiversity and relationship to biogeography, habitat destruction, and climate (contemporary and historical).”
“Typically I think the traditional definition of taxonomy is ‘the science of describing and classifying species,'” Bond told us following the podcast. “I think this definition typically misrepresents taxonomy as a purely descriptive science, which it is not. I think taxonomy might be better defined as ‘the science of species delimitation and classification.' Modern taxonomic species are the outcome of an experiment that tests integrative (i.e., using morphological, genetic, ecological, physiological, etc. ) hypotheses of homology, variation and evolutionary relatedness. These species are serve as hypotheses subject to further testing and refinement as more data (e.g., specimens, genomic, etc.) become available.”
Patrick launched the podcast by describing Bond as “one of my hero arachnologists.”
Bond began by calling attention to the “massive number” of undescribed species in the world. For example, there are about 50,000 described species of spiders, he said, but there are “probably 10 times more than that.” Scores of undescribed species are shelved in insect museums.
When Patrick asked him why there's a taxonomic impediment, Bond commented that “most fundamentally, it's hard work,” and that “very few people are being trained as taxonomists” and very few are hiring them. “If you're a taxonomist working on an obscure group,” you may be the first to be cut from your position, he said.
Bond declared there's a big difference between “identifying arthropods and the science of taxonomy. Someone did the underlying science to allow a person to make that identification.”
“What we're talking about is evolutionary biology,” Bond explained. “We seldom see ads at big universities advertising for a spider taxonomist or a mayfly taxonomist. They want evolutionary biologists. As we train students, we should train them as taxonomists who can clearly sell themselves as evolutionary biologists.”
The National Science Foundation (NSF) used to train students in taxonomy in its PEET (Partnerships for Enhancing Expertise in Taxonomy) program. But PEET is now longer accepting grant proposals.
“If we visited another planet,” Bond said, “and discovered new forms of life, it would be nearly impossible to apply DNA barcoding…there is no silver magic bullet out there to automate species discovery and classification.”
When asked how he would resolve taxonomic impediment, Bond related that more exposure and more funding would certainly help. “We spent $2.9 billion on the Perseverance Mars probe,” Bond said, but in comparison, the annual budget of the NSF's Division of Environmental Biology (which includes grants for taxonomists) amounts to about $155 million. “We spend massive amounts of money exploring other planets than the planet we are on.”
“We're ignoring species extinctions in our own back yard,” Patrick added.
Bond agreed. “While we're trying to find intelligent life on other planets, we are destroying some of the life on our own,” the UC Davis professor said, adding that the next frontier--space exploration—always seems to be more exciting than what we have here.
Bond, who has described more than 100 new taxa--families, genera, species of spiders and millipedes--advocates more attention to taxonomy to “generate the enthusiasm that's out there. We need a hero.”
“If I were independently wealthy, I'd establish a taxonomic foundation or institute where we hire taxonomists to work in-residence,” Bond said, adding that to move science forward, we should bring them in from all over world to work on their regional fauna; and give them the training they need--“at least five years to really work and develop a team.”
As director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology (which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year), Kimsey identifies about 2000 insect specimens a year for colleagues, students, the museum and other museums. The Bohart curates some 30,000 new specimens to the museum annually.
A UC Davis alumnus (bachelor's degree and doctorate), Kimsey joined the entomology faculty in 1989. Since 1990, she has administered the Bohart Museum, which now houses some eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest university insect museum in North America.
Her areas of expertise? 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).
Last year her peers selected her for the 2020 C. W. Woodworth Award, the highest honor given by the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America.
Take her page on Urban Myths on the Bohart Museum website where she dispels bizarre myths with a succinct dose of humor.
Such as the urban myth, "Female mantids always eat males they mate with." Her response: "Only if the male isn't fast enough!"
Urban myth: "Camel spiders scream like babies, inject toxins and prey on GI's in Iraq."
Kimsey reality: "Not true at any level."
Urban myth: "Twenty-five percent of the protein in our diet is from swallowing spiders that crawl in our mouth at night."
Kimsey reality: "This never happens."
Urban myth: "Love bugs that plague the southeastern U.S. are the result of government experiments."
Kimsey reality: "No, Mother Nature came up with those beauties."
Urban myth: "Ultrasonic devices help keep pests out of your kitchen."
Kimsey reality: "False, few insects can hear, certainly not cockroaches."
Urban myth: "Earwigs will crawl in your ear and lay eggs in your brain."
Kimsey reality: "They sometimes do crawl in ears by accident, but do not lay eggs."
Urban myth: "Bedbugs bore, burrow, dig and fly."
Kimsey reality: "No, they can only walk or scurry."
Urban myth: "Butterflies and moths can't fly if you rub the scales off their wings."
Kimsey reality: "Not true, they can fly."
The Bohart director also fields questions about spiders, including the urban myth that brown recluse spiders are "common in California." No, she says, "they are not found anywhere near California."
No doubt that Kimsey, known as "The Wasp Woman" for her expertise in Hymenoptera, soon will be targeting myths about those Asian giant hornets, aka "murder hornets," that are supposedly mass-targeting 328 million people in the United States.
“You're never too far away from a spider; a spider is always watching you," said Bond, who is the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "They are always there. There are lots of them on the planet. They're absolutely everywhere."
Yes, spiders are everywhere and there's even a spider-themed pencil case to be available soon in the Bohart Museum's online gift shop. Dozens of insect- and spider-themed gifts are already available, proceeds of which benefit the scientific and educational activities of the Bohart Museum.
The Bohart, home of a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity of the state's deserts, mountains, coast, and the Great Central Valley. It maintains one of the world's largest collections of tardigrades. (See Bug Squad blog.)
It also provides a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas (in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus), but you can't see them now because of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The Bohart masks both feature the California state insect, the dogface butterfly. "There is a white one with the stylized, yellow dogface logo and then a dark blue with a logo in golden yellow (UC Davis colors)," Professor Keller said. The pencil cases also will be arriving soon, she added.
Said Professor Kimsey: “Your support enables us to fulfill our mission of documenting and supporting research in biodiversity, educating and inspiring others about insects, and providing state-of-the-art information to the community."
The Bohart officials have compiled gift ideas for all ages:
- Bohart t-shirts starting at size 2T
- Stuffed animals (the arthropod kind)
- Tardigrade backpack clip toy
- Toys from Insect Lore
- Insect net
- Edible insect snacks and candy
Gift ideas for tweens/teens:
- Hoodie with the California flag re-envisioned with a "water bear" (Tardigrade)
- Bohart T-shirts
- Beetle wing earrings
- Temporary tattoos
- Bohart sticker for water bottle/lap top/bike
- Collecting equipment
- Information on Bio Boot Camps, our summer camps for middle and high schoolers
Gift ideas for teachers:
- Mug with CA state insect
- Clever, instructional sticker for in-class spider removal
- Insect Lore models of life cycles
- Posters of California insects (dragonflies, State insects, Central Valley butterflies)
- Bohart book : The Story of the Dogface Butterfly (includes life cycle info and a civic-minded 4th grade class!)
- A one-hour, in-class insect presentation or an educational material loan (contact firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about this- some restrictions may apply)
Gift ideas for adults:
- Hand-turned, lathed pens
- Books (used and new)
- Note cards
- A net to catch insects
- Clever, instructional sticker for in-home spider removal
Gift ideas for college students:
- Hoodie with the California flag re-envisioned with a "water bear" (Tardigrade)
- Bohart sticker for water bottle/lap top/bike
- Insect collecting equipment
- Jewelry (everything from $1 to $36)
Folks can also donate to the effort of raising funds to purchase a large tardigarde (waterbear) sculpture in front of the museum. "This sculpture will advance the museum's educational role and will increase the museum's visibility," Kimsey said. See https://uk.gofundme.com/f/waterbear-sculpture.
If you engage in social media, you've probably seen a "what-is-this" query about a spider that some unsuspecting person discovered quite unexpectedly in a garden, bedroom, bathroom or garage. Triple exclamation points usually accompany "Yecch!!!" (Expletives usually require quadruple exclamation points.)
For a good general view of spiders, check out the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program's newly revised "Spiders" Pest Note.
"Many people fear or dislike spiders," according to the site, but "for the most part, spiders are beneficial because of their role as predators of insects and other arthropods, and most cannot harm people. Spiders that might injure people—for example, black widows—generally spend most of their time hidden outside homes in woodpiles or in clutter in the garage. The spiders commonly seen out in the open during the day are unlikely to bite people."
Spiders, which are arachnids, differ from insects in that they have eight legs (not six) and have no wings or antennae.
UC IPM offers information on black widow spiders, yellow sac spiders and recluse spiders (which, contrary to popular opinion, are NOT found in California). The website also touches on jumping spiders, hobo spiders, common house spiders, and tarantulas. A table, illustrated with photos, lists the common spider families in North America, including:
- Agelenidae, funnel weavers or grass spiders
- Araneidae, orb weavers or garden spiders
- Clubionidae (including Corinnidae), sac spiders or twoclawed hunting spiders
- Linyphiidae (=Microphantidae), dwarf spiders
- Lycosidae, wolf spiders
- Oxyopidae, lynx spiders
- Salticidae, jumping spiders
- Theridiidae, cobweb, cobweb weaver, or combfooted spiders
- Thomisidae, crab spiders or flower spiders
What about spider bites? "Unlike mosquitoes, spiders do not seek people in order to bite them," UC IPM says, tongue in cheek. "Generally, a spider doesn't try to bite a person unless it has been squeezed, lain on, or similarly provoked to defend itself. Moreover, the jaws of most spiders are so small that the fangs cannot penetrate the skin of an adult person. Sometimes when a spider is disturbed in its web, it may bite instinctively because it mistakenly senses that an insect has been caught."
If you've got a hankering to see a live tarantula (who doesn't?), you can do so when the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis opens its doors again to the public. The Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million insect specimens, a gift shop (now online), and a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and taranatulas) is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. UC Davis spider expert Professor Jason Bond and his lab usually present a program there at least once a year or engage with folks at the open houses. Bond serves as the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. (See his lab website)
As an aside, Professor Bond "bonds" with spiders. Yes, he does. And he's never met a spider he didn't like.
Two doctoral students from the Jason Bond laboratory, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, won first- and second-place awards in the student research competitions at the recent meeting of the American Arachnological Society, held at Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Va.
Rebecca Godwin won first in the poster competition for her research on trapdoor spiders and Lacie Newton won second for her oral presentation on species delimitation.
Congratulations to these dedicated doctoral students!
Godwin titled her work, “Revision of New World Ummidia (Mygalomorphae, Halonoproctidae)”: Her abstract: “Ummidia is a historically taxonomically difficult group of spiders belonging to the infraorder Mygalomorphae, one of the three main lineages recognized within spiders. Mygalomorph life history and their incredibly cryptic appearance make them difficult to identify, as a result they are frequently overlooked by spider systematists. Ummidia Thorell 1875 is a wide-ranging genus of trapdoor spider found both in the Mediterranean region of the Old World and in the New World from the eastern United States south to Brazil. Taxonomic work on New World Ummidia is sparse outside of original descriptions, the most recent of which are over half a century old."
Lacie titled her work, “Species Delimitation of the Antrodiaetus Unicolor Species Complex Using a 3RAD Approach.” Her abstract: “Although species delimitation can be highly contentious, the development of reliable methods to accurately ascertain species boundaries is a fundamental and necessary step in cataloguing and describing Earth's quickly disappearing biodiversity. Species delimitation in spider taxa has historically been based on morphological characters; however, certain mygalomorphs are morphologically indistinguishable from each other yet have considerable molecular divergence."
"Previous research by Hendrixson and Bond (2005) described a new sympatric species Antrodiaetus microunicolor in the A. unicolor species complex using morphological criteria (i.e. size and setal character differences) and behavioral criteria (non-overlapping mating seasons). Subsequently, they used two molecular markers COI and 28S and discovered that A. unicolor is paraphyletic with respect to A. microunicolor. To further delineate this species complex, we implement the cohesion species concept and employ multiple lines of evidence for testing genetic exchangeability and ecological interchangeability. Our integrative approach includes extensively sampling homologous loci across the genome using a version of RADseq called 3RAD, assessing population structure across their geographic range, and evaluating ecological similarity by niche-based distribution modeling. Based on our analyses, we conclude that this species complex has two or three species in addition to A. microunicolor.”
Godwin holds two degrees from Auburn University: her bachelor's degree in zoology in 2004, and her master's degree in wetland biology in 2011. She began her doctoral studies at Auburn University in 2014, and transferred to UC Davis when Bond accepted the UC Davis position in 2018.
Godwin won the Auburn University's Department of Biological Science's Outstanding Service Award in 2016. She is the lead author of research published in 2018 in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution on “Phylogeny of a Cosmopolitan Family of Morphologically Conserved Trapdoor spiders (Mygalomorphae, Ctenizidae) Using Anchored Hybrid Enrichment, with a Description of the Family, Halonoproctidae Pocock 1901.” She currently serves as a graduate teaching assistant in the course, "Biology 2C," at UC Davis.
Godwin's research interests include taxonomy, systematics, and phylogreography of trapdoor spiders, as well as effective science communication and increasing general science literacy.
Newton received her bachelor of science degree from Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss., in 2016, and then joined the Auburn University doctoral program. Like Godwin, she transferred to UC Davis with her major professor in 2018. Newton served as an undergraduate teaching assistant at Millsaps College for “Introduction to Cell Biology” and “General Zoology,” and as a graduate teaching assistant in “Introduction to Biology” at Auburn University.
Newton now serves as a graduate teaching assistant at UC Davis for “Introduction to Biology: Biodiversity and the Tree of Life.” She won the 2019-2020 George H. Vansell Scholarship, UC Davis. Her research interests include systematics, species delimitation, and phylogeography of spiders; phylogenetics; comparative transcriptomics of troglophilic and troglobitic spiders; cave biology and conservation.
Both Godwin and Newton volunteer at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's programs on spiders and at the campuswide UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.
Bond joined the UC Davis faculty after a seven-year academic career at Auburn University, Ala. He served as professor of biology and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences from January 2016 to July 2018, and as curator of arachnids and myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, and related animals) at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, from August 2011 to July 2018.