If you're the kin of Emily Bick, you take her to the Broadway stage musical, Beetlejuice, in New York City. They knew she'd be interested because (1) she's an entomologist (2) she enjoys entomology-themed shows and (3) she previously reviewed another play, “An Entomologist's Love Story,” which Entomological Society of America (ESA) published on its Entomology Today website. That piece drew rave reviews.
So, in keeping with her newly acquired “entomological theater critic credentials,” Bick reviewed Beetlejuice. Entomology Today published her piece today (Sept. 20.)
“I entered the experience knowing little about the shop but with high hopes for its entomological potential since its name appeared to reference Order Coleoptera's common name,” wrote Bick, an agricultural entomologist who will begin a postdoctoral position at the University of Copenhagen this fall.
She began with: “Like a caterpillar recently exposed to juvenile hormone, the insect-themed potential for the musical Beetlejuice was high but never quite metamorphosized.”
Bick noted there were several entomological references, including “two Scarabaeidae camouflaged within the black and white stripes” on the playbook cover.
“While writers opted for entomology appropriate spelling in both the title and song, the stage curtain listed the name as Betelgeuse,” she wrote. “This entomologically named character mentions a few throw away references to insects including describing his alarming goal of house haunting—by saying ‘frightened as a fly.'”
One character “was threatened with having teeth transformed into scorpions—an arthropod but not an insect,” Bick pointed out. “The demon-transformed house was decorated with chairs the spitting image of Tortoise beetle larvae (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae, tribe: Cassidini) and a statue that reminded me of many immature Lepidopterans.”
“However, insect references were always used to enhance the macabre theme, rather than as an independent topic. The musical was about death, a subject of which insects have a long association with. This association is likely due to the progression of insect colonization on an animal corpse—a process so predictable, forensic entomology is often used to determine the time of death of the recently deceased. Their correlation was expanded in the era of sideshows which featured insects as bizarre. I found myself wistfully thinking of all the places insects could be used (e.g., every reference to decomposing), rather than simply propping up the ghoulish atmosphere.”
Although the show lacked insect credibility, she found the show incredible. “It was hilarious, clever, attuned to the times, and visually stunning, and the ‘goth' character Lydia (played by 18-year-old Sophia Anne Caruso) completely stole the show. Yet, judged on entomological criterion, Beetlejuice fell short of its potential.”
The Broadway stage musical is based on the film, Beetlejuice, the 1988 American fantasy-comedy-horror film directed by Tim Burton (Pee Wee's Big Adventure). It is about "a deceased couple who try to haunt the new inhabitants of their former home and call for help from a devious bio-exorcist ghost named Betelgeuse (pronounced "Beetlejuice"), who is summoned by saying his name three times," according to Wikipedia.
Bick holds three degrees in entomology: a bachelor's degree from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and a master's degree and doctorate from UC Davis. She is a Board Certified Entomologist (with specialties in plant-insect and medical and veterinary entomology), awarded by ESA. While at UC Davis, she was active in the Linnaean Games and helped two teams win national championships. ESA describes the Linnaean Games as "a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams."
(Entomologist-theatre critic Bick may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
She studies with major professor Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Godwin delivered her presentation—her first ever at an ESA meeting--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.”
Godwin competed against nine other presenters in her category, "Graduate Student 10-Minute Presentations: Phylogenetics" (within the ESA Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section).
As a prize winner, she received a year's membership to ESA and a certificate. Overall, the ESA program drew 265 scientific sessions featuring 2,430 oral and 569 poster presentations with presenters from 68 different countries, according to Joe Rominiecki, ESA manager of communications. The submissions in the student competitions totaled 773, he said, adding “A student may enter both the Student 3-Minute Presentation Competition and the Student Poster Competition.”
Godwin's dissertation research deals generally with trapdoor spiders in the family Ctenizidae. “These spiders are distributed across the globe, on every continent but Antarctica,” she noted. “They create silk-lined burrows with cryptic trap doors in which they spend their entire lives. Broadly, I am studying the evolutionary history and phylogenetic relationships among the members of the Ctenizidae, and describing a large amount of previously undocumented diversity along the way. Specifically, my dissertation addresses the monophyly of the family, phylogeography of two genera, Hebestatis and Bothriocyrtum, which occur in the California Floristic Province, and a revision of the genus Ummidia in North and South America.”
The abstract of her ESA presentation:
“The mygalomorph family Ctenizidae previously had a world-wide distribution and contained nine genera and 135 species. However, the monophyly of this group had long been questioned on both morphological and molecular grounds. We use Anchored Hybrid Enrichment (AHE) to gather hundreds of loci from across the genome for reconstructing the phylogenetic relationships among the nine genera and test the monophyly of the family. We also reconstruct the possible ancestral ranges of the most inclusive clade recovered.”
“Using AHE, we generate a supermatrix of 565 loci and 115,209 bp for 27 individuals. For the first time, analyses using all nine genera produce results definitively establishing the non-monophyly of Ctenizidae. A lineage formed exclusively by representatives of South African Stasimopus was placed as the sister group to the remaining taxa in the tree, and the Mediterranean Cteniza and Cyrtocarenum were recovered with high support as sister to exemplars of Euctenizidae, Migidae, and Idiopidae. All the remaining genera—Bothriocyrtum, Conothele, Cyclocosmia, Hebestatis, Latouchia, and Ummidia—share a common ancestor. Based on these results, we elevated this clade to the level of family. Our results definitively establish both the non-monophyly of the Ctenizidae and non-validity of the subfamilies Ummidiinae and Ctenizinae. We formally described the family Halonoproctidae Pocock 1901 and infer that the family's most recent common ancestor was likely distributed in western North America and Asia.”
Godwin holds a bachelor of science degree in zoology (2004) and a master's degree in wetland biology (2011) from Auburn (Ala.) University. She joined the doctoral program at Auburn University in 2016 and transferred to UC Davis this year, joining her major professor Jason Bond, a seven-year Auburn faculty member who chaired the Department of Biological Sciences, and curated arachnids and myriapods at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History.
Godwin will be among those participating in the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house on "Eight-Legged Wonders" on Saturday, March 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. The Bohart is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. She was featured in a recent article in the Savannah Morning News, Georgia, on trapdoor spiders.
This was the inaugural meeting of the Grand Challenges in Entomology Initiative. ESA is committed to thinking and acting more globally, enhancing its influence by establishing a science policy program, identifying attainable challenges for entomology that could lead to sustainable solutions for some of the world's important insect-based problems, and more effectively communicating what entomologists do to improve the human condition. At the invitation-only Summit, the participants explored “three broad issues of major global importance to which entomology can make a unique and powerful contribution”:
- Sustainable agriculture – global hunger, food security, and natural resources preservation
- Public health related to vector-borne diseases
- Invasive insect species – global trade, biodiversity, and climate change
ESA president May Berenbaum, professor and department head, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Zalom welcomed the crowd.
Zalom co-chaired the Summit with
- Silvia Dorn, professor of applied entomology, ETH Zurich; past president of the Swiss Society of Phytomedicine; and fellow of the ESA, Royal Entomological Society, and International Society of Horticultural Sciences.
- Le Kang, director of the Institute of Zoology and president of Beijing Institutes of Life Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences; current president of the Entomological Society of China; and fellow of ESA and TWAS (formerly Third World Academy of Sciences)
- Antônio R. Panizzi, senior scientist, Embrapa and professor, Federal University at Curitiba; and former president of the Entomological Society of Brazil
- John Pickett, Michael Elliott Distinguished Research Fellow at Rothamsted Research; immediate past president of the Royal Entomological Society; and fellow of ESA and Royal Entomological Society
Introductory comments on behalf of the co-chairs emphasized that “leadership meetings such as this one provide an opportunity for connectivity among the world's entomology societies."
This was the very first International Entomology Leadership Summit at an ICE meeting. It was aimed at connecting leaders from the entomological community worldwide and discussing how entomologists "can make unique and powerful contributions toward solving some of the world's insect-based problems, a goal that can be achieved only through collaborative, international efforts," officials said. The last ICE meeting held in the United States (Washngton, D.C.) took place 40 years ago.
Chemical ecologist Walter Leal, distinguished professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, co-chaired ICE 2016 with Alvin Simmons, research entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS), U.S. Vegetable Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina.
Leal said that 6,682 delegates from 102 countries attended the historical ICE 2016 meeting in Orlando. “Alvin and I were very glad to hear about the level of satisfaction: 87 percent,” Leal said, adding that "we worked very hard to prepare for the Congress and promised it would be a historic event: mission accomplished!”
Doctoral candidate Roberta Tognon, who studied with integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, distinguished professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will present a research paper from the Zalom lab at the Brazilian Entomological Society meeting March 16.
Tognon's presentation is on “Learning and Memory of Telemonus podisi Ashmead (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) to Chemical Compounds from Halyomorpha halys Stal (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) eggs. She studies with major professor Josue Sant'Ana of the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul.
Both of the professors are attending the meeting.
Chemical ecologist Jeff Aldrich, an adjunct faculty member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology (now retired from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service lab at Beltsville, MD.), is also a co-author on her paper.
Zalom traveled to Brazil to attend the Zika summit, which just ended. He was on stage at the Brazilian Entomological Society opening session to present a major award, as he did two years ago. Zalom is a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA).
Canada's CDC covered the Zika summit and issued this report, headlined "Entomologists Bather in Brazil to Stop Zika Mosquito." Grayson Brown of the University of Kentucky, also an ESA past president and an organizer of the event, is quoted in the news story.
This is the third consecutive year that a UC Davis graduate student has won the prestigious award, the highest student award given by PBESA. Kelly Hamby of the Frank Zalom lab, won it in 2013; and Matan Shelomi, a graduate student in the Lynn Kimsey lab, Bohart Museum of Entomology, won it in 2012.
Aghaee, a fifth year Ph.D. candidate working on rice water weevil management in California rice, will receive the award at PBESA's 99th annual meeting, set April 12-15 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and will present a talk on the rice water weevil, Lissorhoptrus oryzophilus. He will be among the six Comstock recipients, all winners from their individual branches, honored at the national ESA meeting, Nov. 15-18, 2015 in Minneapolis, Minn.
The Pacific Branch of ESA encompasses 11 U.S. states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming); several U.S. territories, including American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands; and parts of Canada and Mexico.
“Mohammad took on a very difficult project for his dissertation research,” said Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey, who nominated Aghaee for the award. “His project deals with the most important invertebrate pest of rice in California, the rice water weevil. The challenges arose not only from working in the rice system--wading through mud for hours--but also from working with this insect that cannot be reared in the laboratory and which has one generation per year. Therefore, all the field studies had to be conducted within the short window of time each year.”
Aghaee received his bachelor's degree in environmental sciences, genetics and plant biology in 2010 from UC Berkeley, with high distinction. He obtained his master's degree in entomology from UC Davis in 2012, and expects to receive his doctorate in December 2015.
Aghaee fostered his interest in entomology through his employment as an undergraduate research assistant at UC Berkeley in the lab of aquatic entomologist Vincent Resh. Aghaee also traces his interest in entomology and pest management to his family's large garden, where they grew vegetables and fruits.
When he joined the Godfrey lab, Aghaee was awarded the competitive UC Davis Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship. His other honors include the William and Kathleen Golden International Agriculture Fellowship, and vegetation management award and a field studies scholarship. He teaches or serves as a teaching assistant for entomology classes and is a past president of the Entomology Graduate Student Association.
“Mohammad has a passion for public speaking and debating stemming from his involvement in the Berkeley Model Nations Alumni Association, starting in 2006, which organized crisis simulations for high school students around important political events,” Godfrey said.
Aghaee and Godfrey recently published an open-access article appearing in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management that discusses the rice water weevil's life history and invasion biology, as well as management strategies and future directions of research. They told the story of the weevil since it was first identified as a pest in 1881 by C. V. Riley and L. O. Howard. They then discussed reasons why it has been able to spread so rapidly — up to 36 kilometers per year in some cases — which is partly because of its ability to reproduce asexually.
“This invasive ability is aided by a particular and peculiar aspect of this weevil's biology, the fact that a small percentage of the population in its native range reproduces by parthenogenesis,” they wrote.
The most harmful insect pest of rice in the United States, it causes yield losses of up to 25 percent. Adults inflict damage by consuming leaf tissue, and the larvae feed on the roots of rice plants. A native of the southeastern U.S., the rice water weevil invaded Japan in 1976, Korea in 1980, China in 1988, and Italy in 2004.
Aghaee maintains secondary interests in post-Renaissance European history and contemporary Middle Eastern politics. He explores some of these themes in his freshman seminar titled "Bugs, Germs, and Steel: A History of Entomology in Warfare" where he and his colleagues teach students how basic scientific research and ecology has influenced human conflicts and technological progress. Outside of entomology, his leisure activities include oil painting, language acquisition, and culinary specialization in Persian and Indo-Pakistani cuisines.
The Comstock award memorializes John Henry Comstock (1849-1931), an American entomologist, researcher and educator known for his studies of scale insects and butterflies and moths, which provided the basis for systematic classification. Comstock was a member of the faculty of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., for most of his career, except for his service as a chief entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1879-81).
Zeroing in on the Rice Water Weevil
UC Davis Debate Team Wins ESA Championship