Indeed, spiders rank high on Americans' phobia list, often fifth in line behind fear of snakes, public speaking, heights, and small space confinement (claustrophobia). While arachnophobians cringe at the very sight of a spider, these eight-legged critters excite, enthrall and engage Professor Bond, an international arachnid authority whose research spans nearly three decades.
“Spiders are an incredibly diverse group with more than 50,000 species described with probably another 200,000 remaining to yet be discovered,” said Bond, who joined the department in July from Auburn University, Alabama. “They are quite ancient, with fossils dating back well over 300 million year and are known to be exclusively predatory. In fact, based on a study published last year, spiders are estimated to consume somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 million tons of insect biomass.” Spiders are an incredibly diverse group with nearly 50,000 species described with probably another.
“To capture insects, and other prey item--sometimes even vertebrates-- most spiders employ silk and venom to snare and subdue their victims,” the arachnologist said. “Spider silk is an amazingly strong, proteinaceous material that is produced in many different forms; venoms are likewise complex, diverse proteins. All of this to say – what's not to like – spiders are a tremendously ecological important predatory group, that has persisted on the planet for 100s of millions of years and employ a remarkable suite of silks and venoms to make a living.”
Highly respected for his expertise on spiders, Bond served as the plenary keynote speaker at the 2016 International Arachnological Congress, and also keynoted the 2012 European Arachnological Congress.
Bond's other research interests include millipedes (diplopods) and darkling beetles (tenebrionids). He studies how the fog-basking tenebrionids (genus Onymacris) in the Republics of Namibia and Angola, collect water.
Jason Bond received his bachelor's degree in biological sciences, cum laude, in 1993 from Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, and his master's degree in biology in 1995 from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg. He earned his doctorate in evolutionary systematics and genetics in 1999 from Virginia Tech.
All three degrees focused on arachnids. His undergraduate thesis involved silk spigots; his master's degree, systematics of the spider genera Mallos and Mexitlia; and his doctoral dissertation covered “Systematics and Evolution of the Californian Trapdoor Spider Genus Aptostichus Simon (Araneae: Mygalomorphae: Cyrtaucheniidae).”
What drew him to arachnology? Spiders sparked his interest as an undergraduate researcher at Western Carolina University. “I had this amazing opportunity to work with two really well-respected arachnologists, Drs. Jackie Palmer and Fred Coyle,” Bond recalled. “My first research project was related to functional morphology (evolution of the spinning apparatus in more primitive spiders) but quickly shifted to systematics and taxonomy.”
“A real defining moment for me was a trapdoor spider project as part of a Costa Rica Organization for Tropical Studies field course,” he added. His relatively newfound interest in spider evolution and systematics coincided with the publication of E.O. Wilson's book, “The Diversity of Life.” Wilson's emphasis on the importance of biodiversity and the relevance of taxonomy and systematics “really influenced my career path--away from other options I was considering at the time like lipid biochemistry or bacteriology--bullets well-dodged!” he quipped.
“Although I have always worked on terrestrial arthropods--even as an undergraduate when I started working on spiders-- my education/experience has predominantly been in biology departments,” Bond said. “That said, I was hired in to my first position in 2002 at East Carolina University as an entomologist.”
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.
In fact, Bond named a species of trapdoor spider (Apomastus schlingeri Bond and Opell 2002) in Evert Schlinger's honor. “At the time it was the type species for a monotypic new California endemic genus of trapdoor spiders we described (Apomastus),” he said. The genus now includes another prominent species, Apomatus kristenae Bond 2004, which Bond named for his wife, Kristen.
“Third, much of my research over the years has been in the American Southwest, particularly California,” the new UC Davis faculty member related. “I am chomping at the bit to get the lab setup and everything settled at home so I can start spending time in the field studying and collecting California trapdoor spiders! And, finally, this was a mid-career opportunity to get back 100 percent to research and teaching.”
“Although I remain very fond of and grateful for my past few years at Auburn University, I was primarily in administrative roles there, first as museum director, and then department chair, and thus did not have near the time to devote to students and scholarly activities as I would like. The move to Davis really represents the first time in career when I will have the time to really focus on research and teaching in a truly meaningful and thoughtful way.”
It was at Auburn University where Bond and his colleagues discovered a new species of trapdoor spider that drew international attention and a news story in the Huffington Post. They named it Myrmekiaphilia tigris, or the Auburn Tiger Trapdoor Spider, in honor of the university's costumed tiger mascot, Aubie. The discovery was exciting but not “surprising,” Bond told the Huffington Post, pointing out that it took taxonomists about 250 years to describe about 1.8 million plants and animals, and that this scratches the surface of what scientists estimate to be between five and 30 million overall species on earth.
Although the noted arachnologist has no spiders named for him, one species of mites, Torrenticola bondi, bears his name.
At UC Davis, Bond will be re-establishing and teaching the insect systematics course, ENT 103.
“My understanding is that the course was intended to introduce students to systematic methods, classification, and phylogenetic--of course, with an emphasis on insects,” he noted. “I think this course would be a blast to teach--so much has changed in systematics over the past 5 to 10 years, particularly with the introduction of next generation sequencing technologies--phylogenomics. That said, the basics of classification and taxonomy remain as relevant today as in the past; thus I would anticipate the course also covering some historical and more traditional topics, as well.” He also hopes to launch an arachnology course at Davis with arachnologist Joel Ledford of the Department of Plant Biology.
In the meantime, the endowed chair is establishing his lab in the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. “The lab is going to get busy here pretty quickly,” he said, adding that his first postdoc, Vera Opatova and his second postdoc Jim Starrett from Auburn are here and will be joined soon by three graduate students making the move from Auburn --Rebecca Godwin, Xavier Xahnle, and Lacie Newton.
Bond considers his move to Davis as one of the highlights of his career or ”what I think will stand out as one of the big highlights of my career.”
“Strictly speaking scientifically, I would have to say that some of our recent discoveries with respect to spider evolution have been some of the more exciting highlights,” Bond said. “However, working with students in the lab and seeing them to go on and be successful also stands out as some of the biggest highlights along the way. Everybody knows it's a tough job market out there and I would guess that most Ph.D. advisors share some of the stress when their students are applying for jobs – having them get the jobs they want and be successful is always a highlight.”
Most recently, his former Ph.D. student “and good friend and colleague” Chris Hamilton landed an academic position in the University of Idaho's Department of Entomology “and I couldn't be happier for Chris. He's a remarkable biologist, teacher, husband, and dad, with an incredible storied life who is going to do great things; it's great to see him be successful and get the type of job that he wanted.”
Meanwhile, Jason and his wife, Kristen and daughter, Elisabeth are settling into their new Davis home. “We've traveled together a good bit in the United States--a recent trip cross country that also included our yellow lab Daisy-- but also in Africa,” he said. “I am an avid fly fisherman and motorcyclist--since moving to Davis, I have managed to sneak away a couple of times for rides up in the hills heading toward Napa and Saint Helena. At home, I really like to cook – Kristen and I like good food and very red wine.”
What do people NOT know about him? What would surprise them? “I guess a lot of folks would be surprised to learn that I have not always been an ‘academic,' Bond said. “I was an aircraft mechanic in my younger years. When I was in high school, I spent some time in Hamburg, West Germany--at the time East/West was still split--as an apprentice aircraft builder as part of a vocational student exchange between a number of companies in Hamburg and Winston-Salem.”
“After high school I went in to the U.S. Army where I served for a number of years as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crew chief. I learned from that experience that I would probably rather be doing other things so with money for college courtesy of the GI Bill, I got out and headed back to North Carolina to go to school. My choice of schools was naively based on a really attractive brochure showing a campus nestled in the mountains of North Carolina--relative to my current surroundings up on the DMZ in Korea--but nevertheless turned out to be a great choice.”
Spiders, too, turned out to be great choice--a bond, “a Jason Bond,” if you will, as strong as spider silk.
They are Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and a past president of the Entomological Society of America (ESA); Walter Leal, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a past chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology; and Joanna Chiu, associate professor and vice chair, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. More than 2000 attendees are registered.
On behalf of ESA, Zalom is co-organizing and co-chairing a joint conference with Antonio Panizzi, a past president and international delegate of the Entomological Society of Brazil. That event, to take place the day before the XXVII Congresso Brasileiro and X Congresso Latino-Americano meeting, will involve developing a “Grand Challenge Agenda for Entomology in South America.
Zalom will speak on “The American Experience with the Grand Challenge Agenda in Entomology.” In addition, ESA president Michael Parrella, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Idaho and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will provide an update on the 2018 ESA annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B. C. Speakers also will include the presidents of the entomological societies of Argentina, Peru and Brazil.
Leal, a native of Brazil, will present the opening lecture of the joint conference of the XXVII Brazilian Congress and X Latin American Congress of Entomology on “Insect Vectors: Science with Applications in Agriculture and Medicine,” on Sunday, Sept. 2. This will be his fourth opening lecture—a record—at the Brazilian Congresses of Entomology (2004 in Gramado; 2008 in Uberlandia; and 2014 in Goiania).
Both Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist, and Chiu, who specializes in molecular genetics of animal behavior, will speak on their research at the joint meeting. Zalom will deliver a plenary address on “Drosophila suzukii in the United States” on Sept. 5 and Chiu will keynote a symposium on Sept. 3; her lecture is titled “Circadian Clock Research Applied to Agriculture and Public Health.” She also will give a second lecture: "Drosophila as an Insect Model" on Sept. 3.
Bick is one of 19 recipients of this year's ESA's Professional and Student Awards, which recognize scientists, educators, and students who have distinguished themselves through their contributions to entomology.
The awardees will be honored at “Entomology 2018,” the joint meeting of the entomological societies of America, Canada and British Columbia, to take place Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C.
Bick focuses her career on leveraging entomological knowledge to best serve people. Her career includes working in industry to develop practical solutions for invasion biology of urban forests. For her master's degree, she researched an invasive aquatic weed, the water hyacinth, and its insect biological control agent, Neochetina bruchi.
For her doctorate, she is behaviorally manipulating a pesticide-resistant insect (Lygus spp.) away from high-value horticultural crops using a push-pull strategy. “I use simulation models of ecosystems to optimize integrated pest management strategies, a technique I learned while on an American Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship working with Dr. Niels Holst out of Aarhus University in Denmark,” she said.
A native of New York City, Bick received her bachelor's degree in entomology from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and her master's degree in entomology from UC Davis. She is a Board-Certified Entomologist, specializing in medical and plant entomology.
Bick credits a high school research program with inspiring her to study entomology. “I was in a high school science research program and chose to work on an insect repellent because I did not like mosquitoes,” Bick said. “Four years later, I was majoring in entomology at Cornell.”
The UC Davis doctoral student was a member of the 2016 UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the ESA national championship for expertise in answering questions about insects and entomologists. Now she has an opportunity to win another national championship: she is a member of the 2018 UC Berkeley-UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that will compete for national honors at the November ESA meeting. Ralph Washington Jr., a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a former graduate student at UC Davis, captains the team, which also is comprised of Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab.
Bick recently drew praise for her review of the San Francisco Playhouse production, "An Entomologist's Love Story," published in the ESA blog, Entomology Today.
The 7000-member ESA, founded in 1889 and headquartered in Annapolis, Md., is the world's largest organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Its members are affiliated educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government.
Professor Karban of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, 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 onseaside 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.
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.”
The public event, to take place from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane, is free and family friendly.
“There are a number of species that are specifically attracted by smoke to damaged trees,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. “Wildland fire fighters hate them because some of the beetles fly at them, crawling into their turnouts and biting them. Fire insects include jewel beetles, some horntail wasps and a few others."
In addition to fire insects, Kimsey said that the Bohart open house will cover other insects adapted to extremes:
- Ice: ice crickets and ice flies, both native to California
- Extreme acid: midges that live only in highly acidic mine run-off
- Hot water: midges found in hot springs just below the boiling point
- Salt: the brine flies of Mono Lake.
- Desert: sand wasps
Regarding the beetles that attack the firefighters, these are “The flatheaded borers (Buprestidae) and they will actually nip the firefighters as they land,” said chemical ecologist Steve Seybold with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Davis, and a lecturer/researcher with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Insects that like ethanol/burned phloem include the red turpentine beetle, the ambrosia beetles, the "sour cambium" beetles, and some of the larger woodborers, Seybold said. “These are the 'undertakers' of the trees, if you will. Certain bark and ambrosia beetles specialize in colonizing burned tissue that gives off ethanol as a sign of fermentation. These insects wait until things have cooled off a bit before they bore into the trees."
"Often when you visit a burned area," Seybold said, "you'll see piles of white dust coming out of the trees that have blackened bark. This dust is made by ambrosia beetles--and other larger woodborers--that can make use of the carbon that is still present in these moribund trees. Ambrosia beetles 'consume' this carbon indirectly by farming fungi in their galleries. The fungus serves as a conduit for the nutrients in the wood. Some of the larger woodboring insects have other adaptations like specialized enzymes that degrade cellulose or hemicellulose."
Seybold called attention to an article titled “Attraction of Melanophila Beetles by Fire and Smoke,” authored by noted beetle expert E. Gorton Linsley (1910-2000) and published in April of 1943 in Scientific Notes, the Journal of Economic Entomology. Linsley, who received his doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1938, wrote that cigarette smokers at the UC Berkeley football games complained of beetles swarming into the stadium and biting their hands and necks.
"It is possible that in this case, the beetles are attracted by the smoke from some 20,000 (more or less) cigarettes, which on still days sometimes hangs like a haze over the stadium during a ‘big' game," wrote Linsley, identifying the beetles as Melanophila consputa Lec. and M. acuminata (family Buprestidae). M. consputa is commonly called “the charcoal beetle.”
Linsley also reported receiving "complaints from sawmill operators, fire fighters and smelter plant workers regarding annoyance by buprestid beetles of the genus Melanophila. These beetles appear to be greatly stimulated by heat and attracted by smoke. They normally breed in fire-scarred pines and under ordinary conditions, they are rarely encountered in nature. However, on hot days during the dry season, especially in late summer and fall, they sometimes fly in unbelievable numbers to forest fires, burning refuse dumps, refineries, smelter plants, etc.”
Wildfires continue to rage in California. As of Aug. 13, the 5,255 California wildfires this year have burned 958,812 acres, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center. To date, the still-active Mendocine Complex fire, the largest wildfire in California history, has charred more than 344,000 acres.
The Bohart Museum open house also will include a family craft activity involving extreme insects. The museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens and is the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. It also houses a live "petting zoo" of Madagasar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids, and a year-around gift shop, 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. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org