Backyard Orchard News
Martha Stewart apparently does.
And the folks at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, couldn't be happier.
See, the editors of Martha Stewart Living listed the Bohart insect collection kit as one of the top three gifts for the young naturalist.
How cool is that! Or, how buggy is that!
The Martha Stewart folks wrote on their website: “Here is a handful of gifts for the pint-size wildlife expert. If your child loves being outdoors and inspecting all things creepy-crawly, read on to find the perfect present."
They cautioned: "Just be sure to enforce a strict no-centipedes-indoors rule" before they head out with their "eco-cool contraptions!”
Museum director Lynn Kimsey (top), professor and former interim chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, has long known how fascinating bugs are--and now Martha apparently agrees.
Fact is, the Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, is home to more than seven million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks); and a gift shop.
The gift shop is like an entomological candy shop. There you can buy bug-related posters, note cards, t-shirts, sweatshirts, jewelry, magnets, scorpion-encased lollipops....and yes...insect collection kits.
So if someone is bugging you about a holiday gift, check out the Bohart, either online or in person. To accommodate families who work during the week, the Bohart has scheduled a special weekend opening on Saturday, Dec. 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. The Bohart is traditionally open on weekdays, year around, from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
We stopped at the Bohart Museum this morning and met a future entomologist who--yes--in his childhood owned an insect collection kit. Joel Hernandez, a UC Davis entomology major and a student assistant at the Bohart, acquired his kit at age 7. What first sparked his interest in entomology? An Animal Planet episode featuring the insects of Madagascar.
Hernandez later joined the Loma Vista 4-H Club, Ventura, and enrolled in an entomology project. His display of insects won "best of division" and "best of class" awards in the Ventura County Fair.
Hernandez now has five display cases of insects, including two cases of butterflies, one case of beetles and miscellaneous insects.
His ambition? To become an entomology professor.
Just think--somewhere out there is another "Joel" who will be getting his very own insect collection kit during the holidays--thanks to Martha.
Martha & Friends may now want to see the UC Davis Department of Entomology's video clips on "How to Make an Insect Collection." Professor James R. Carey taught the class last spring to undergraduates and graduate students. Their work can be viewed online.
Peter F. Billingsley (right), senior director of Entomology and Quality Systems at Sanaria Inc., Rockville, Md., will speak on "Development of a Mosquito-Derived, Attenuated Whole Parasite Vaccine against Malaria" on Friday, Dec. 3.
His talk--from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in the UC Davis Genome Center Auditorium, 1005 Genome and Biological Sciences Facility, 451 Health Sciences Drive--is part of the UC Davis Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology Seminar Series, "Emerging Challenges in Microbiology and Immunology." It's also affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology fall seminar series.
Host is Shirley Luckhart, associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology, who studies the malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. Luckhart's many roles include serving as a graduate student advisor in the Department of Entomology.
Sanaria? It's a self-described "biotechnology company dedicated to the production of a vaccine protective against malaria caused by the pathogen Plasmodium falciparum."
Billingsley has more than 20 years experience in medical entomology and malaria transmission research. He directed research teams at Imperial College, London, and the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, examining diverse aspects of insect biology related to disease transmission, especially midgut and salivary gland biology, and more recently the molecular physiology of aging in mosquitoes.
Billinglsey, who earned his doctorate at Queen’s University in Canada, is a former head (chair) of zoology in the School of Biological Sciences, Aberdeen University.
Since 2006, he has devoted his broad expertise to the unique challenges of developing and deploying a live attenuated Plasmodium falciparum sporozoite vaccine at Sanaria Inc.
Billingsley's talk is generating a lot of interest, as well it should.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), malaria kills more than a million people a year: "In 2008, an estimated 190 - 311 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 708,000 - 1,003,000 people died, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa."
"He is slim and intense, with graying hair and clipped sentences jagged with inflections from his years in Brazil and Japan. And he does not, perhaps cannot, quit."
So wrote freelance journalist Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, formerly with the Sacramento Bee, in her excellent profile of chemical ecologist Walter Leal, published today on the American Association for the Advancement of Science website.
Leal, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, "tries to understand at the molecular level exactly what an insect is smelling, and how it relies on scent to interact with the world," she wrote.
Her article included a great quote from Leal's colleague, John Hildebrand, a neurobiology professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
“He’s one of the most dynamic people in the field. He’s a remarkably energetic and passionate person about his work … and notorious almost for the rapid fire way he speaks. He loves to joke that he can say twice as much in a lecture as anyone else because he only says half of each word.”
It was the Leal lab that discovered the secret mode of DEET. The groundbreaking research proved that “DEET doesn’t mask the smell of the host or jam the insect’s senses," Leal said in a UC Davis Department of Entomology news story. "Mosquitoes don’t like it because it smells bad to them.”
DEET’s mode of action or how it works puzzled scientists for more than 50 years. The chemical insect repellent, developed by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and patented by the U.S. Army in 1946, is considered the "gold standard" of insect repellents worldwide. Worldwide, more than 200 million use DEET to ward off vectorborne diseases.
Scientists long surmised, incorrectly, that DEET masks the smell of the host, or jams or corrupts the insect’s senses, interfering with its ability to locate a host. Mosquitoes and other blood-feeding insects find their hosts by body heat, skin odors, carbon dioxide (breath), or visual stimuli. Females need a blood meal to develop their eggs.
In her article, Peyton Dahlberg said Leal is trying to find something better than DEET.
Wrote Peyton Dahlberg: "DEET is a flawed tool, a chemical that needs to be used at high doses, can affect human biology, and isn’t recommended for very young infants, according to Leal and others who have studied it. The point is finding something better than DEET, something more targeted to the most problematic insects and less dangerous for everything else, including people."
Leal told her that that to search for safer alternatives to DEET and other insecticides, researchers need to better understand the mechanisms of scent detection and chemical communication.
Leal indeed has a "nose for insects' sense of smell," as the AAAS headline pointed out.
They're here. They're there.
The Western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) likes to hang around bee hives.
If you're a beekeeper, you've probably seen them nesting in a rodent burrow or hollow log near your hives.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, yellowjackets currently occupy two rodent holes a few feet from the hives. To mark the spot, beekeeper and research associate Elizabeth Frost placed a brick over each nest (see photo below).
The yellowjackets are not welcome.
Members of the Vespula genus are "the most abundant and troublesome wasps in California," according to scientists Jerry A. Powell and the late Charles L. Hogue in their book, California Insects, published by the University of California Press.
"The voracious workers attack everything in the vicinity, from resting insects to pieces of hamburgers on the picnic table," they noted, and "the colonies may become very large by late summer or fall."
Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who divides her time between UC Davis and Washington State University, agrees that yellowjackets "can be a big problem. I've seen them kill hives."
Cobey says she's fighting them now in Island County, Washington. "I have only 10 colonies, but these are special--the imports (for bee research). The wasps are always hanging around the entrance harassing the bees."
"I've had to move hives at times because the invasion was decimating the bee population," she said. "They go for the thorax (meat). They especially like the drones being kicked out of the hives in the fall--big and juicy. This is an easy dinner so then they start going in the hives and taking workers."
One way to counter the yellowjacket invasions is to "reduce the size of the entrance so the bees can protect themselves." Also, beekeepers must "keep the hives strong and healthy--yellowjackets pick on the weak."
To decrease the yellowjacket population, beekeepers bait traps in the summer "as the reproductives come out," Cobey says.
Since yellowjackets are meat eaters and honey bees are not--you can use cat food with the bait.
"But the bait must be protected from other critters," Cobey cautions. "You can put in it an empty beehive with a very small entrance."
(Note: Postdoctoral scholar Erin Wilson of the Louie Yang lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology, will speak from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 1 in 122 Briggs on how yellowjackets are wreaking havoc in Hawaii. Listen live at http://uc-d.na4.acrobat.com/ucsn1/. The seminar later will be archived.)
Emerging from Hole
They probably annoy you when they invite themselves to your barbecue to partake of your hamburger and other protein-rich foods. They're persistent predators.
But, do you know that they often build their nests near bee hives? "It's one-stop shopping," says postdoctoral scholar Erin Wilson (right) of the Louie Yang lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Yellowjackets prey on honey bees. They raid the hives (killing the adults and brood, and stealing honey) and take the food back to their young.
Wilson, who does research on the Western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica), is the lead author of a research article published in the Nov. 11 edition of Ecology.
On Wednesday, Dec. 1, she'll discuss "Yellowjacket Life History Shifts Modify Invasion Impacts in Hawaiian Ecosystems" at a UC Davis Department of Entomology seminar, set from 12:10 to 1 p.m., in 122 Briggs Hall. The talk, open to the public, also will be webcast live at http://uc-d.na4.acrobat.com/ucsn1/ and then archived on the entomology website.
The Western yellowjacket is an introduced, invasive species in Hawaii. Native to the western United States, it was first discovered in Hawaii in 1977. It's like a "vaccuum cleaner," Wilson says, and is clearly a threat to native species in Hawaii.
“The introduction of non-native organisms is a leading cause of imperilment of native species,” says Wilson, who since 2004 has studied the social wasps at two sites: the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the island of Hawaii and the Haleakala National Park on Maui.
The yellowjacket “may seriously threaten endemic invertebrates that evolved in the absence of these social insects," she says. "Invasive predators affect native species directly and indirectly, and the magnitude of these effects is highly dependent on the history of the recipient community. Furthermore, the impact of this social wasp may be magnified by apparent shifts in colony structure in the introduced range."
Scientists have found that the incidence of perennial or overwintering colonies is higher in Hawaii than in the native range of V. pensylvanica.
Compared to annual colonies, overwintering perennial colonies can collect twice as many prey items and produce 10 times the worker force, Wilson says. Some perennial colonies were huge, the size linked to Hawaii’s mild climate and the ability of the yellowjackets to establish perennial colonies. One Maui colony included as many as 600,000 individuals.
Yes, that's 600,000 wasps! In its native range, the typical size is less than a few thousand wasps.
Check out Wilson's research article, yellowjacket photos and her website and then listen to her seminar on Dec. 1:
- Multiple Mechanisms Underlie Displacement of Solitary Hawaiian Hymenoptera by an Invasive Social Wasp (E. E. Wilson and D. A. Holway, Ecology journal)
- Photos from her research and UC San Diego news story
- Erin Wilson's website, Vespularesearch.com