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 email@example.com.)
Her topic: "Evaluating the Relative Importance of Mechanisms for Diverse Plant Use in Agroecosystem Herbivore Mitigation: an Example in California Strawberries."
"As pest management strategies shift away from agrochemical use, practitioners aim to implement more ecologically friendly practices," Bick writes in her abstract. "One such practice uses diverse crops placed in an agroecosystem to mitigate pest damage. There are many possible mechanisms which facilitate this phenomenon. Knowing a diverse plant's mechanism(s) allows for more efficient field implementation."
"This presentation will evaluate the mechanism of the economic benefit of planting alfalfa in a California strawberry monoculture. Using a novel CO2 based sampling method, spatially explicit samples were taken at three sites over two years. We found that alfalfa did not act, as previously identified, a trap crop, but rather its presence actually increased natural enemies. This work serves as a framework for evaluation of the mechanism for use of diverse plants in agricultural landscapes."
Bick, who has accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Copenhagen, specializes in integrated pest management (IPM). She received her bachelor's degree in entomology in 2013 from Cornell University, and her master's degree in entomology in 2017 from UC Davis.
Bick served as an emergency medical technician from 2008 to 2017 and gained her pesticide applicator's license in 2013. She was singled out to receive the Student Certification Award at the Entomological Society of America (ESA) meeting in 2018. In 2014, she was named a Board-Certified Entomologist, a honor bestowed on her at the ESA meeting.
Bick helped anchor the UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship at the ESA meeting in 2016, and the UC (UC Davis and UC Berkeley) Linnaean Games Team that won the national championship again in 2018. She is the former vice president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA).
This makes the third year that a UC Davis-based team has won the national championship.
"In the final, UC defeated Texas A&M (graduate students), 140-20," said Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications for the Entomological Society of America (ESA). "UC defeated the University of Florida 110-100 in the semifinal round. In the preliminary round, UC defeated the Texas A&M undergrad team."
The Linnaean Games, launched in 1983, are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competitions on entomological facts and played by winners of the ESA branch competitions. The teams score points by correctly answering random questions.
"Before us, there was a sudden death double overtime game (Texas A&M grads vs University of Delaware) which was really exciting," Boudinot said.
Griebenow recalled that among the questions the UC team correctly answered in the championship round:
Question: The Passandridae are a family of beetles. What is unusual about their larvae?
Answer: The larvae are ectoparasitoids of wood-boring insects.
Each ESA branch hosts a Linnaean game competition at its annual meeting. The winning team and the runner-up both advance to the national competition. The national preliminaries took place Sunday, Nov. 11 while the finals got underway at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
Members of the winning team will each receive a gold medal and and a plaque for the team's department.
To get to the national finals, the UC team won the regional championship hosted by the Pacific Branch of ESA at its meeting June 10-13 in Reno. They defeated Washington State University in a sudden death overtime to win the title.
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.
Entomologist Emily Bick, a doctoral candidate in the Christian Nansen lab, University of California, Davis, recently attended a world premiere showing and penned a review published by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in its Entomology Today.
Her review is drawing high praise. San Francisco Playhouse tweeted: “Quite possibly the coolest review we've ever received.”
Bick, who holds a bachelor of science degree from Cornell University and a master's degree from UC Davis, is a board-certified entomologist and 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. Bick also will compete in the 2018 national championships, scheduled in November in Vancouver, B.C., as a member of the UC Berkeley-UC Davis Linnaean Games Team.
In her review, Bick wrote that the play “shows that life imitates art and art imitates life, with insect mating rituals serving as a proxy for human dating behavior.”
“The well-known antagonistic insect mating behavior of bed bugs' traumatic insemination, praying mantids' sexual cannibalism, and honey bees' mating plugs are all accurately described and then used to represent adversarial (human) dating behavior. Fireflies' bioluminescence, meanwhile, is cast in a romantic light.”
“The play brims with entomological humor, from anthropomorphizing bed bugs to a running joke that sometimes volunteers actually make life harder for researchers,” Bick noted. “While the public will be entertained by the gross descriptions of entomological behavior (pun intended), only we insect scientists will know that the “Lou” the protagonists keep referring to is actually Dr. Louis Sorkin of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (and that, yes, he does keep a bed bug colony there). Or, for those of us who have been lucky enough to take a tour, you know the Museum's offices really are that difficult to get to.”
The production team consulted with entomologists at the American Museum of Natural History and the California Academy of Sciences.
“Overall, An Entomologist's Love Story,” Bick wrote, “juxtaposes a range of complex human dating behaviors with a humorous yet biologically accurate description of example insect species' mating behavior. From an entomologist's perspective, I highly recommend seeing An Entomologist's Love Story if you are or will be in the San Francisco area before June 23.”
Bick, who is delighted that Entomology Today published her piece, says she can now list “published theater critic” to her resume.
(Editor's Note: Bick will compete in the Linnaean Games National Championships with the UC Berkeley-UC Team team at the Entomological Society of America's annual meeting, set Nov. 11-14 in Vancouver, B.C. The UC Berkeley-UC Davis team is captained by Ralph Washington Jr., a graduate student at UC Berkeley and a former graduate student at UC Davis. Other members are Brendon Boudinot, Zachary Griebenow and Jill Oberski, all of the Phil Ward lab. The UC Berkeley-UC Davis team won the Linnaean Games hosted in mid-June by the Pacific Branch, ESA. For a look at the kinds of questions asked, watch the 2016 National Linnaean Games Championship Round (won by UC Davis), posted on YouTube.)