Those were two of the questions asked of the three-member team from the Department of Entomology and Nematology, University of California, Davis, when they competed in the Linnaean Games at the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America's recent meeting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
They not only answered those questions correctly but went on to win the branch championship. The UC Davis team--comprised of captain Ralph Washington, Jr., and members Jéssica Gillung, and Brendon Boudinot-- will now compete in November at the national Linnaean Games hosted by the Entomological Society of America (ESA) in Minneapolis.
What's the answer to “What insect family can vector anthrax?” Tabanidae.
What caste of honey bee has the greatest number of ommatidia? The drone, the male honey bee. Ommatidia are the subunits of a compound eye.
The Linnaean Games, named for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the father of modern taxonomy, are college bowl-style competitions involving insect science, including entomological facts, insect trivia and noted entomologists. The lively question-and-answer competitions are “an important and entertaining component of the ESA annual meeting,” said Richard Levine, ESA communications program manager.
The university-sponsored student teams, comprised of graduate students and occasionally undergraduate students, challenge one another at the annual ESA branch meetings for the championship and bragging rights. Each ESA branch then funds the champion team to compete in the national Linnaean Games. The runner-up team from each branch also competes in the nationals.
At the Pacific Branch meeting, UC Davis defeated Washington State University (WSU), Pullman, Wash., 125-60 in the finals to win the championship. WSU earlier defeated Utah State University, 80-40, and UC Davis defeated USU 170-30.
As an undergraduate student, Ralph Washington Jr. helped anchor the UC Davis 2010 team that competed in the nationals in San Diego. UC Davis narrowly lost to Ohio State University, which advanced to the finals and then went on to win the championship.
Washington, Gillung and Boudinot are all systematists. Washington, whose major professor is nematologist Steve Nadler, studies mosquitoes; Boudinot studies ants with major professor Phil Ward, and Gillung studies flies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, who directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Gillung is co-advised by Shaun Winterton of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Washington, a first-year doctoral student from Sacramento, Calif., and the newly elected president of the UC Davis Graduate Student Association, focuses on how mosquitoes choose to lay their eggs, and how those choices affect their evolution.
Boudinot, a second-year doctoral student from Washington state, is known for his expertise on the morphology of male ants. He is also interested in the biogeography and evolutionary history of ants.
Jessica, a second-year doctoral student from Brazil, is a prominent taxonomist of Diptera (flies), with special emphasis on the diversity and evolution of spider flies, family Acroceridae. Some Acrocerid adults are specialized pollinators, while larvae are internal parasitoids of spiders.
The trio is eagerly looking forward to making the 1900-mile trip from Davis to Minneapolis. Theme of the meeting is “Synergy in Science: Partnering for Solutions.” It will take place Nov. 15-18.
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.
When the 101st annual Picnic Day at the University of California, Davis takes place campuswide on Saturday, April 18, visitors will see plenty of insects and other arthropods from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at two sites: Briggs Hall on Kleiber Hall Drive and the Bohart Museum of Entomology on Crocker Lane.
Ants? Yes. Bees? Sure. Other pollinators? Definitely. The focus is on pollinators.
Theme of the campuswide picnic is “The Heart of Our Community,” but over at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, the theme is “The Good, the Bad and the Bugly.” The museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, will feature pollinators. The museum houses nearly 8 million specimens. It also houses a live “petting zoo,” comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula named Peaches, a crowd favorite.
Favorite displays or activities returning are the “Bug Doctor” booth, where an entomologist "is in" and will answer questions about insects; American cockroach races, where visitors can cheer their favorite cockroach to victory; maggot art, where participants can dip a maggot into non-toxic water-based paint and let it crawl (or guide it), on a white piece of paper.
Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey will portray “Dr. Death,” showing methods used in forensic entomology. The Phil Ward lab will assemble a display on the incredible diversity of ants. The Sharon Lawler lab will display aquatic insects and answer any questions about them.
Medical entomology graduate students will set up displays about diseases vectored by mosquitoes and other insects. The Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District will provide an educational exhibit about mosquito abatement. Exhibits also will include such topics as fly fishing/fly-tying.
The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) will be giving away lady beetles, aka ladybugs, with the hope that the beneficial insects will land in someone's yard to gobble aphids and other soft-bodied insects. UC IPM also will display pest management control books.
Entomology Club members will offer face-painting. Another popular activity is posing as a bug or flower in a wood cutout.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, not only oversees a collection of nearly eight million insect specimens, but she collects something else—something that could appear in a national stand-up comedian act.
Entomological funnies. Bug stuff.
“College students—especially under the crunch of a deadline—can write the darndest things,” says Kimsey, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and an international authority on the taxonomy of bees and wasps and insect diversity.
Kimsey, known for her keen sense of humor, collects “the best of the best” sentences from the term papers she grades from her introductory entomology class. She began collecting the gems in 1998.
“Some of these sentences are priceless,” Kimsey said. “You couldn't intentionally write something this good or bad depending on how you look at it.”
Some students misplace their modifiers, add an adverb, or drop a crucial letter from a word, turning a “threat” into a “treat,” Kimsey said.
And some of the students' thinking—perhaps from sleep or coffee deprivation--can be as fuzzy as a caterpillar.
How do honey bees find their way home? “By navigating around the sun,” one student wrote.
Why are mosquitoes excellent vectors? “Because they can ingest and then infect viruses with ease through blood feeding,” penned another student.
What are pathogens? “Pathogens cause disease(s) like viruses and bacteria.”
What is biological control? “Nature has been executing biological control on all walks of life since it began on earth.”
And the definition of classical biological control? “Basically, classical biological control seeks to relieve pestering insects by establishing a predator in a new environment.”
Locusts drew two choice comments:
“Other countries will also face losses (due to locusts) although at a rate of loss much less due to exhaustion from travel.”
“Normally, locusts are introverted creatures; they do not socialize unless it is for reproduction.”
Those traveling dragonflies: “These dragonflies are able to use the best of Mother Nature to assist travel.”
Secrete themselves? “After arriving at the popular, the sexuparae aphids move towards the trunk of the tree where they secrete themselves in order to reproduce.”
Major pests on what? “There have been instances in the Southeastern United States where several species of mole crickets have been accidentally introduced and have become major pests on turd (sic) and pasture grasses.”
Fast forward to adults: “In late winter the overwintering adults come out of diapause and migrate back to their main host population where they lay the first generation of summer adults.”
Wild vertebrae? “People living in high endemic areas also tend to live in close proximity not only to the vector of the disease but to reservoir hosts like dog, cats, and other wild vertebrae.”
Outreach activities? “Since either traps or insecticides can get access to perfect, out-reach activities and novel ideas related to D. suzukii management always come out.”
Recommended fumigation? “Fumigation has proven to be highly effective however, time consuming and the recommended process is aerosol spraying avian vehicles.”
Honey bees, too, yield interesting comments, said Kimsey, who served as president of the International Society of Hymenopterists from 2002 to 2004 and kept bees in her backyard for 10 years.
On mating and semen storage: “This is the only time (honey bee) queens mate in their lifetime since the sperm can be stored longer than her lifetime.”
On the “beeping” industry: “This, similar bans, and a decrease in demand of packages and queens from the United States has hurt the commercial beeping industry.”
On the role of drones: “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.”
For the record, UC Extension apiculturist (emeritus) Eric Mussen, who just completed a 38-year career in June, explained that a honey bee queen usually takes a single mating flight during her lifetime and will mate with a dozen to twenty drones. “She stores the semen in her spermatheca and that's enough to last her entire lifetime, usually about two years. During the busy season, she will lay up to 2000 eggs a day.”
“If the drones don't mate, they will die of old age in about 35 days or they will get kicked out of the hive by their sisters in the fall,” Mussen said. “They are not needed when there are no virgin queens with which to mate and the drones are just extra mouths to feed.”
Other sentences in Kimsey's “best of the best” collection include:
- "For every problem, there is a pest.”
- "Damage ranges from minor weakened plants to serious plant death.”
- "The arousal of nest mates by booty-laden foragers has been attributed to a conspicuous mechanical action caused by antennae and forelegs and supported by the scent of the trail substance…”
- "Although caterpillars are vulnerable and young, their ability to protect against predators has helped them become successful predators.”
- "Humans have been using and digesting insects for centuries, despite the wide array of chemicals they produce.”
- "Another way of penetrating the navel orange worm is with biological control.”
- "The actions of these (reproductive) workers can be reprimanded if they are a treat to the others in the colony.”
- "(Fire ant) mounds that are near plants are usually uprooted and overturned by the ants as the mound grows.”
- "The most important upgrade that some insects have acquired is the co-evolution with angiosperms.”
- "The illness has come out of a twenty-five year remission and has begun to infect many tropical islands.”
Kimsey, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 1979 and joined the faculty in 1989, says there's “a possibility” she may write a book and include the classic answers.
“Maybe,” she said, “but I'm not sure where to go with these from here.”