- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
And “millipede patrol.” And “powderpost beetle patrol.”
Kimsey, whose fly research on the island led to his nickname, “The Fly Man of Alcatraz,” will be leading 16 club members Saturday on an overnight insect/arthropod collecting tour, deploying insect light traps. They also will be surveying the rat population that threatens the bird sanctuaries on the island.
The project encompasses all of Saturday and part of Sunday. “Some in our group want to get back early so as not to miss the game,” said Kimsey, a faculty member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the club’s advisor.
Kimsey knows that the Seattle team’s bird moniker is “Seahawks,” but he’s more interested in other birds--the birds in the island’s rookeries and the “The Bird Man of Alcatraz” (Robert Stroud)-- than in who’s throwing the pigskin.
“I’m not a football fan,” Kimsey acknowledged.
A UC Davis “rat patrol” in February of 2012 led to the discovery of a fluorescent millipede, a common arthropod but previously unknown to exist on the island. After National Park Service employees fed rats a bait laced with fluorescent, non-toxic dye, Kimsey and the club members began searching for fluorescent rat feces.
Had it consumed some of the rat bait? No. An experiment at the Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus showed that these millipedes (Xystocheir dissecta (Wood) glow under ultraviolet or black lights, just like scorpions.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, suspects that the millipedes on Alcatraz Island originated from soil transported over from the nearby Angel Island when “The Rock” was just that—rock with little or no soil.
The species is relatively abundant in the Bay Area. “This particular species of millipedes glowed all along, but nobody was paying any attention to it,” she said.
Nguyen is now doing research in the Bruce Hammock lab on the florescent millipedes. He wants to know what compound makes the millipede fluoresce under a UV light.
This will be Nguyen’s fourth overnight trip to The Rock. “I’m very excited to return,” he said.
The former maximum-security federal penitentiary once housed some of the country's most notorious inmates including not only “The Bird Man of Alcatraz” but Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and Arthur “Doc” Barker.
Robert Kimsey does research on the nuisance flies that plague staff and tourists on Alcatraz. He became involved in the fly project in July 2007 when he received a call about the annoying flies from entomologist Bruce Badzik, integrated pest management coordinator with the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Since then, they have worked on a number of projects involving UC Davis Entomology Club members.
So while the 49’ers and Seahawks collect first downs, touchdowns and field goals, entomologists Robert Kimsey and Bruce Badzik and the UC Davis students will be collecting millipedes, beetles and other arthropods.
And doing “rat patrol.”