Backyard Orchard News
Surprise: it's in the antennae!
Neurobiologists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have long wondered how monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) can migrate from across eastern North America to a specific grove of fir trees in Mexico.
That's 2000 miles, as a crow flies--or as a monarch flies.
The scientists figured that the key mechanism that steers the monarchs is in the brain.
Nope. It's in the antennae. The antennae aren't just "noses" or "odor detectors."
"We've known that the insect antenna is a remarkable organ, responsible for sensing not only olfactory cues but wind directions and even sound vibration." said Steven Reppert, professor and chair of neurobiology and senior author of the study, published today (Sept. 25) in the journal Science.
"But its role in precise orientation over the course of butterfly migration is an intriguing new discovery, one that may spark a new line of investigation into neural connections between the antennae and the sun compass, and navigation mechanisms in other insects," he said in press release.
For those of us who are navigationally challenged and have long admired how insects migrate from Point A to Point B, this is amazing. There are circadian clocks in the antennae.This study makes us look at monarch butterflies in an entirely different light.
Like the monarchs we spotted nectaring last weekend on the grounds of the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, Santa Rosa.
Their antennal circadian clocks coordinate sun-compass orientation.
Or, in other words, those antennae are necessary for sun-related orientation.
It's in the Antennae
Two highly talented and enthusiastic university students from Brazil have joined the Walter Leal lab in the Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, as part of a unique and growing international agricultural exchange program.
The program is known as SUSPROT.
SUSPROT? That's the Sustainable Crop Protection in Agriculture Program, a federally funded program designed to promote scientific cooperation and collaborative education between academic and professional communities in Europe (Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands) and the United States.
And now Brazil.
Aline Guidolin (top right) and Diogo Vidal (bottom left) arrived Sept. 14 to work three months with Leal, a noted chemical ecologist and professor of entomology, and with several other researchers in the lab.
Vidal is working with pheromone binding proteins and isolation and identification of pheromones, and Guidolin, gene silencing of pheromone-binding proteins.
“This year we’ve been able to extend SUSPROT into Brazil,” said Brazilian-born Leal, who serves as the UC Davis coordinator of SUSPROT. The organization is headquartered at Pennsylvania State University.
All universities participating in SUSPROT were selected for their strong agricultural programs. “It’s a global agricultural industry now, and we need to know how to research the problems and how to solve them,” Leal said. “We need to learn from one another.”The Brazilian students, both pursuing their bachelor of science degrees, will receive university credit for their work here. Vidal, 22, is majoring in chemistry at the Universidade Federal do Paraná, Curitiba, and Guidolin, 23, is majoring in biological sciences at the University of Sao Paulo, Piracicaba. “They are very enthusiastic,” said Leal. “In fact, the same day they arrived, Aline wanted to start the experiments. And when I left the lab Wednesday night (Sept. 16), I thought I was the last one to leave the lab. I was wrong. They were both still here.”
The two young scientists will join the Leal family for Thanksgiving dinner. You can bet that the turkey will be just one of the main attractions. Expect lively conversations on pheromone-binding proteins and gene silencing.
In multiple languages.
Leal and his wife Beatrix were both born in Brazil and lived in Japan before relocating to Davis. They speak Portuguese, English and Japanese. Their children are also multilingual. Sons Augusto, 18 (now studying at Princeton) and Gabriel, 12, were both in Japan, and daughter Helena, 9, in the United States.
Meanwhile, Walter Leal is gearing up for the SUSPROT exchange trip to Brazil next July. He will accompany a group of UC Davis and Penn State students.
The team “will be exposed to the agricultural or entomology side, the industrial side and the production side,” said Leal. “We can learn a lot from Brazil. Brazil is known for its ethanol production and is the world’s biofuel industry leader, while the U.S. is still in its infancy. Brazil is the leading soybean producer."
As Leal said, it's "a global agricultural industry now, and we need to know how to research the problems and how to solve them.”
Cooperation, collaboration and commitment.
In the Leal Lab
Sage advice: If you're thinking of planting a bee friendly garden, think sage.
Also commonly known as salvia, this bee friendly plant belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae. The Salvia genus includes some 900 species, so your choices are good.
Red, pink, blue and purple are common; yellow and white, less common. Carpenter bees and bumble bees like to pierce the tubular calyx for the sweet nectar. Sage is also a favorite of honey bees, hover flies and hummingbirds.
For a really stunning sage, check out the sapphire-blue Salvia guaranitica, native to southeastern Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina.
You'll see the intense blue flowers long before you notice the honey bees.
Bluest of the Blue
What's not to love about a baby bee?
At one day old, the worker (female) bees are exquisite little creatures. Helpless, really. They can neither flee nor fight; they cannot fly and they cannot sting.
No venom. That will come later.
They're all big eyes, fluffy hair and downy softness.
As worker bees, they will live a busy life. First they wiil become house bees, serving as the builders, the architects, the guards, the royal attendants, the coolers and the heaters, the nurse maids, the nannies and the undertakers.
Then they'll turn into field bees, leaving the hive to forage for nectar, pollen, water and propolis. They'll live only four to six weeks in the peak season.
"They're worked to death," entomologists are fond of saying.
That they are.
But on Day One, they rank so high on the cuteness scale that it needs to be recalibrated.
If there's one plant in our yard that the honey bees don't like, it's the begonia.
Lavender, sage, catmint and sedum? Bring 'em on.
Sunflowers, citrus and pomegranate? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Rock purslane? Like rock candy.
Oh, how about a little begonia, Ms. Honey Bee?
Sorry, not interested.
So were we ever surprised last weekend to see a honey bee foraging on our pink begonia.
See, the begonia isn't exactly a bee friendly plant. It's not like the dearly beloved sage, lavender and catmint.
We told Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a noted authority on honey bees and bee behavior--and a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty--of the bee-begonia encounter. "Bet she didn't come back," he said.
"Actually, she foraged for about five minutes," I said.
I imagine, though, that when our confused little bee returned to the hive, her sisters met her at the hive entrance and said (in bee language): "You collected WHAT? You foraged in the BEGONIAS? When there was LAVENDER, SAGE AND CATMINT?"
Update: No bees have returned to the begonias.
Probably won't, either.
Honey Bee and Begonia
Foraging on Begonia