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.)
So begins an article in the current edition of the American Entomologist by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Kimsey details how teaching a course in general entomology can be both eye-opening and entertaining. Some of the sentences that the students wrote on their papers appear in the Bohart Museum's 2019 calendar, complete with illustrations by graphic artist and undergraduate entomology student, Karissa Merritt.
For the article, Kimsey divides choice sentences into categories, including social insects, agricultural pests, mosquitoes and medical entomology, aquatic insects, butterflies and "sundry."
A few examples:
- Honeybees were able to find their way home by navigating around the sun.
- Because the males in the Hymenoptera social structure do no work, they are considered a waste of the colony's energy, and as such, they are only laid when the colony can stand the strain.
- Normally, locusts are introverted creatures; they do not socialize unless it is for reproduction
- 300,000 to 500,000 new cases [of malaria] occur annually, of which 2.7 million are fatal.
- Aerial spraying should be done as a last resort since this leads to mosquito resistance, affects American lobsters and human health.
- The infected fleas can harbor rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, and occasionally, even house cats.
- Water bodies are usually slow moving and narrow so that they may burrow, crawl along the bottom and climb vegetation.
- Although caterpillars are vulnerable and young, their ability to protect against predators has helped them become successful predators.
- However, at the end of the day, a pit-building antlion is a fat sack of poop that lies motionless at the bottom of a hole waiting for food to fall directly into its jaws, and that's a lifestyle I fully endorse.
- Some West African tribes are known to be very fond of certain insects, although sometimes more with the children.
Kimsey concluded: "I can't wait for next year to learn more about new things that insects do and how they do them. Through all of this, I'm hoping to create the next generation of entomologists, while teaching them how to write and continuing to collect more wonderful sentences."
The American Entomologist is a publication of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), the world's largest entomological organization serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and others in related disciplines.
Kimsey, who received both her undergraduate degree (1975) and her doctorate (1979) from UC Davis, joined the entomology faculty in 1989. The director of the Bohart Museum and executive director of the Bohart Museum Society since 1990, she has also served as interim chair and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Kimsey won the UC Davis Academic Senate's Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award in 2016. The annual award recognizes a faculty member's significant public service contributions that benefit the local, regional, national, and/or international community.
She twice served as president of the International Society of Hymenopterists, and is a former board member of the Natural Science Collections Alliance. She is active in ESA and the Washington Entomological Society. The Pacific Branch of ESA (PBESA) honored her and colleagues Eric Mussen, Robbin Thorp, Neal Williams and Brian Johnson—“the UC Davis Bee Team”--with the outstanding team award in 2013. Kimsey also received the PBESA Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Award in 2014.
It is the highest graduate student award given by PBSA, which encompasses 11 Western states, U.S. territories, and parts of Canada and Mexico. Its parent organization, the Entomological Society of America (ESA), will honor the six Comstock award winners--one from each branch--at its Nov. 17-20 meeting in St. Louis.
UC Davis recipients of the PBESA awards:
2019: Brendon Boudinot (major professor Phil Ward)
2015: Mohammad-Amir Aghaee (major professor the late Larry Godfrey)
2014: Kelly Hamby (major professor Frank Zalom)
2013: Matan Shelomi (major professor Lynn Kimsey)
2008: Christopher Barker (major professor William Reisen)
1983: Elaine Backus (major professor the late Donald McLean)
Boudinot, who specializes in ants, was praised for his academic record, leadership, public service activities, participation in professional activities, and his publications. “A highly respected scientist, teacher and leader with a keen intellect, unbridled enthusiasm, and an incredible penchant for public service, Brendon maintains a 4.00 grade point average; has published 12 outstanding publications on insect systematics (some are landmarks or ground-breaking publications); and engages in exceptional academic, student and professional activities,” wrote nominator Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Ward said that Boudinot, despite being at an early stage of his academic career, has already published several landmark papers on insect systematics. "This includes a remarkable article, just published in Arthropod Structure & Development, in which Brendon presents a comprehensive theory of genital homologies across all Hexapoda (Boudinot 2018). Based on careful comparative morphological study and conducted within a phylogenetic framework, this paper is a major contribution to the field and is destined to become a “classic." This could have been a decade-long study by any investigator, and yet it is just one chapter of Brendon's thesis!"
Active in PBESA and ESA, Boudinot received multiple “President's Prize” awards for his research presentations at national ESA meetings. He organized the ESA symposium, “Evolutionary and Phylogenetic Morphology,” at the 2018 meeting in Vancouver, B.C. , and delivered a presentation on “Male Ants: Past, Present and Prospects” at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Boudinot served on—and anchored—three of the UC Davis Linnaean Games teams that won national or international ESA championships. The Linnaean Games are a lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
Boudinot has served as president of the UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association since 2006, and is active in the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day; he has co-chaired the department's Picnic Day Committee since 2017.
Where are the previous UC Davis recipients of the Comstock award?
- Mohammad-Amir Aghaee is a research entomologist with Bayer Crop Science, Union City, Tenn.
- Kelly Hamby is an assistant professor of entomology and extension specialist at the University of Maryland, College Park
- Matan Shelomi is an assistant professor at the National Taiwan University, Tapei
- Christopher Barker is an associate professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
- Elaine Backus is a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Parlier
The 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).
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 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.