Backyard Orchard News
Kids love bugs.
And they love books on bugs.
One of the bug books we bought our son during his childhood was “Insect World: A Child’s First Library of Learning,” published by Time-Life Books.
It includes such chapters as:
Why Do Butterflies Love Flowers?
Why Are a Dragon Fly’s Eyes So Big?
Why Do Ladybugs Spit Yellow Liquid When They’re Caught?
Why Do Bees Sting?
How Do Grasshoppers Jump?
An illustration in the back of the book depicts insects doing the wrong things. Titled “What’s Going On?,” the drawing shows a butterfly eating an insect (Not! It drinks nectar); a praying mantis eating grass (Not! It eats other insects), a grasshopper drinking sap (Not! It does eat grass, though), a honey bee spinning a web (Not! But it does make a wax hive) and a cicada drinking nectar (Not! But it does drink sap).
The diversity of insects continues to amaze us--from the huge Madagascar hissing cockroach to the tiny walnut twig beetle. Check out the Bohart Museum of Entomology's seven million specimens on the UC Davis campus or take a look (below) of this partial collection of UC Davis evolutionary ecologist Andrew Forbes, a post-doctoral scholar in professor Jay Rosenheim's lab.
On Thursday, Feb. 12, the eyes of the world will be focused on biodiversity. That's the 200th anniversary of the birth of naturalist Charles Darwin. The New York Times just published an article on him, "Darwinism Must Die So Evolution May Live." The San Francisco Chronicle explored "Eric Simons: Frolicking in Darwin's Footsteps." The BBC says "Scotland 'Inspired' Darwin's Work."
And at the 2008 meeting of the Entomological Society of America, scientists devoted an entire seminar to Darwin's fascinating life and his contributions to science.
Fortunately, Darwin (1809-1882) neglected the medical studies his parents so desperately wanted him to pursue and instead explored his passion.
Diversity of Insects
UC Davis Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty for 32 years, says this looks like a challenging year for almond growers.
There's this water problem. Think "drought."
There's this honey bee crisis. Think "bee health" and "declining bee population."
Then there's these increased production costs. Think "tanked economy."
Christine Souza, assistant editor of Ag Alert, published by the California Farm Bureau Federation, wrote an excellent article in the Jan. 28th edition about the problems almond growers and beekeepers alike are facing.
Headlined "Challenges Face Almond Growers and Beekeepers," the article began:
A reduction in almond prices, limited water availability, increased production costs and the declining health of bees may all influence what happens during this year's almond bloom, impacting both almond growers and beekeepers.
Speaking at the Almond Board of California annual meeting last month, board member Dan Cummings warned his audience that this spring could be "dicey" for almond growers and beekeepers alike.
"Bees are competing for almond growers' money the same as water, fertilizer, fuel and all of our other inputs, at a time when the price of almonds has dropped. So we will be rationalizing where we go with our bees," said Cummings, who farms almonds in Chico and is co-owner of a full-service beekeeping operation. "We will be fallowing some other crops to direct water to almonds and perhaps abandoning almond orchards."
As a result, he said he believes many growers may reduce the amount of honeybee colonies that they place into the orchards for pollination during bloom, to save money.
And all this is happening right now. We saw the first almond blossoms this week in Yolo and Solano counties, a sure sign that spring can't be far behind.
Mussen told Souza that beekeepers are most concerned about the health of their bees, "whether they operate one colony in the backyard or thousands of colonies throughout the country."
"Money is important," Mussen told her, "because it costs nearly $150 to keep a commercial colony alive and productive over a year. Without that income the bees would be lost and the beekeeper would be out of business."
Get ready for the bumpy ride. Take a deep breath. And, as the bumpersticker says: Get in, sit down, and hold on tight.
This may be like Disneyland's Big Thunder rollercoaster that twists through mine shafts, bat caves and caverns.
And watch for the falling rocks.
Honey bee and almond blossom
Malaria is indeed a global terrorist.
The disease, caused by the parasite Plasmodium and transmitted by infected anopheline mosquitoes, strikes some 350 to 500 million people a year, killing more than a million individuals, primarily in Africa, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So, it's good news to hear that malaria researcher Win Surachetpong, a doctoral candidate in the Shirley Luckhart lab at UC Davis, is the 2009 winner of the William C. Reeves New Investigator Award, given to the best scientific paper presented at the annual Mosquito and Vector Control Association of California (MVCAC) meeting.
Surachetpong received $1000 and a plaque at the 77th annual MVCAC meeting, held in “Win is a very talented, dedicated student and I have been extremely fortunate to have him in my lab,” said Luckhart, a noted malaria researcher and an associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the UC Davis School of Medicine, and a faculty member of the Graduate Groups of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Microbiology; Immunology; and the Graduate Program in Entomology.
“His work,” she said, “has been the foundation of the development of a completely new area of work for us that will probably keep us busy for years to come." On a personal note, Win is a good friend to everyone in the lab and always ready with a quick smile and good word for the day."
The award memorializes William C. Reeves, a renowned entomologist and professor at UC Berkeley who was widely regarded as the world's foremost authority on the spread and control of mosquito-borne diseases. Reeves (1916-2004) was a frequent visitor to the UC Davis campus.
“Win is a very talented, dedicated student and I have been extremely fortunate to have him in my lab,” said Luckhart, a noted malaria researcher and an associate professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the UC Davis School of Medicine, and a faculty member of the Graduate Groups of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Microbiology; Immunology; and the Graduate Program in Entomology.
Surachetpong said that malaria “remains an enormous public health burden, especially in developing countries.”
“New strategies including integrated vector management in combination with current conventional malaria control efforts such as drug treatment and bednet usage could synergistically reduce malaria transmission,” Surachetpong said.
“However, our current knowledge of vector-host-parasite interactions is limited,” he noted. “For example, how mosquito innate immune responses control malaria parasite development and how blood-derived factors modulate mosquito biology remain interesting topics.”
“In this study, we reveal the role of MEK-ERK (mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase) signaling in regulation of malaria parasite development by an ingested blood-derived, mammalian cytokine in the mosquito host.”
The results, the researchers said, “provide new insights into the host-parasite-vector relationship that could be utilized as a foundation for new strategies to reduce malaria transmission.”
A native of
Last year Surachetpong was awarded a prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation health travel award to present his research at a Keystone Symposia conference in Bangkog, Thailand. The meeting focused on the pathogenesis and control of emerging infections and drug-resistant organisms.
Surachetpong received his doctorate of veterinary science at
Win Surachetpong and Shirley Luckhart
Biodiversity creates biodiversity.
That point comes through loud and clear when you read the scientific paper on the apple maggot/parasitic wasp research led by UC Davis evolutionary ecologist Andrew Forbes.
The news embargo lifted at 11 a.m. today and the research will be published Friday, Feb. 6 in the journal Science.
When the apple maggot shifted hosts from the hawthorn to the apple, that triggered a cascading effect on the ecosystem.
A parasitic wasp (Diachasma alloeum) that attacks the apple maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella) has “formed new incipient species as a result of specializing on diversifying fly hosts, including the recently derived apple-infesting race of R. pomonella,” Forbes said.
The apple maggot, native to
A host race is a group of organisms in the process of becoming a new species due to its close association with a particular host (plant or animal).
In this new study, Forbes and his co-authors showed that the wasp D. alloeum is undergoing the same evolutionary changes.
“The research shows the process of speciation in action and might tell us more about why certain groups of organisms are more diverse than others.” said Forbes, who received his doctorate from the University of Notre Dame and is now a postdoctoral researcher in professor
The research, titled “Sequential Sympatric Speciation Across Trophic Levels,” provides insight into what Forbes calls “the tangled bank of life.”
“As new species form, they create new opportunities for others to exploit which, in turn, begets ever more new species,” he said.
“And all this is happening right before our eyes in our own backyards.”
Forbes captured excellent images of the apple maggot fly and wasp. His image of a wasp emerging from an apple maggot pupa is particularly amazing./st1:personname>/st1:place>
Apple Maggot Fly
Vacaville resident James Moehrke was out geocaching last weekend in the Vaca Valley Parkway-East Monte Vista Avenue area of the city when he spotted some red-shouldered black bugs.
"There were many clusters, probably thousands of individuals, in the trees and a few on the ground," he recalled. Some were on deciduous trees and others on evergreen trees.
What were they?
At first glance, they looked like boxelder bugs.
We asked Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, to identify them.
"Soapberry bug or Jadera haematoloma," Heydon said.
They're a close relative of the boxelder bugs.
The soapberry bug is also known as "the red-shouldered bug" or the "golden raintree bug." It's mostly black except for the red eyes and red shoulders. The nympths are primarily red.
They're seed predators and often found on lychee, longan, maples and soapberry trees.
Biologist Scott Carroll, affiliated with the Sharon Lawler lab at the UC Davis Department of Entomology, researches the insects. He lectured on soapberry bugs at the 2007 meeting of the Entomological Society of America, describing them as "excellent organisms for studying responses to global change, evolution in action, ecological speciation, development and behavior."
Some of the fastest rates of evolution recorded are from this group as they have evolved new races on introduced host plants, Carroll told ESA.
The soapberry bugs fascinated Moehrke and his fellow geocaching players. He took time out to photograph them.
And yes, he found the treasure, the cache.
Along with lots of red-shouldered black bugs.