Backyard Orchard News
Chemical ecologists at the University of California, Davis, are changing their navel-orangeworm research direction after an elementary school student’s science project found that the major agricultural pest prefers pistachios over almonds and walnuts.
Gabriel Leal, 11, a sixth grader at Willet Elementary School, Davis, prefers pistachios over all other nuts so he figured that the navel orangeworm (NOW) would, too.
“Pistachios taste better,” reasoned Gabriel, whose family says he can eat an entire bag of pistachios at one sitting. Pistachios have long been his favorite nut, so why wouldn’t the navel orangeworm prefer pistachios over almonds and walnuts, too?
So the sixth grader hypothesized that the insect would lay more eggs in pistachios than in almonds and walnuts, contrary to widely published research that indicates an almond preference.
“Everybody knows that navel orangeworms prefer almonds,” said his father, Walter Leal, a chemical ecologist and professor of entomology at UC Davis. Research published recently in the California Agriculture journal also indicates the preference.
“But in science,” Leal said, “we should believe what we see, not what others tell us. I know that Gabriel prefers pistachios, but I assumed the navel orangeworm’s taste receptors were different.”
Wrong. Gabriel’s research showed that the insects preferred pistachios, just like him.
The findings led to a report at the Almond Board of California’s 32nd Almond Industry Conference, held Dec. 1-2 in Modesto, and launched a new direction of navel orangeworm chemical ecology research at UC Davis
Gabriel performed his research in his father’s UC Davis lab, under the volunteer supervision and mentoring of chemical ecologist Zain Syed.
“It was a ‘choice’ experiment where Gabriel placed mated and gravid (egg-filled) females in a cage,” Syed said. “He used four commercially available navel orangeworm traps (Ovitraps). One trap was filled with 50 grams of shelled pistachios, another with 50 grams of almonds, and the third with 50 grams of walnuts. The empty trap served as the control to check if the trap itself had any effects on attracting egg-laying moths. The eggs laid in the ovitraps were counted for two consecutive nights.”
Said Leal: "Gabriel got enough replicates to demonstrate that female orange navelworms do prefer pistachios over walnuts and almonds. We are very excited with our little scientist’s discovery. I reported ‘our’ findings at the state almond industry conference in Modesto. And these findings changed our research direction, because we are now interested in determining what chemistry in pistachios attracts female navel orangeworms.”
“Oviposition (egg-laying) attractants derived from almond oil are used to monitor female populations in the field,” Leal explained, “but during hull split, the chemical from the natural source (crop) competes with the synthetic material in traps. If we use pistachio-derived attractants in the almond field there will be no competition throughout the flight season.”
So how significant a pest is the navel orangeworm?
According to research entomologist Brian Higbee of Paramount Farming, Bakersfield, "it is the primary and most destructive pest on almonds and pistachios." California has some 152,000 acres planted in pistachios, while the state's almond acreage totals more than 700,000.
"The economic impact of NOW damage varies from year to year, but it can easily reach $10-15 million for our company and much higher statewide," Higbee said.
The take-home message? "Well, in science we should never underestimate anyone's idea,” Leal said. “That's why the academic environment is so enriching: students come with new ideas, but I never imagined we would benefit so much from a science project for elementary school."
For more, see news story on the UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site.
Young scientist Gabriel Leal
Twenty-nine days to go.
If you love bees and know how to design a bee friendly garden, remember Jan. 30.
Jan. 30 is the deadline to submit your design for the half-acre bee friendly garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. The nationwide competition is funded by Häagen-Dazs.
This will be a pollinator paradise that will meet the nutritional needs of honey bees and serve as a living laboratory.
"It will provide a much needed, year-around food source for our bees," said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. "We anticipate it also will be a gathering place to inform and educate the public about bees."
The UC Davis Department of Entomology Web site lists the rules, the prizes, and provides a list of bee-favorite flowering plants. Plans call for "something" to be blooming throughout the year.
The long list of flowering plants includes sages, toyon, catmint and lavender.
To that I'd add the rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora). In our own bee friendly garden, that's a favorite of the bees. And guess what? It's blooming right now, in the dead of winter. Ray Lopez, owner of El Rancho Nursery, Vacaville (where we bought the plant), says it blooms throughout the year in California.
We haven't seen the bees lately, but the rock purslane is waiting for them.
Close-up of Bee
For my New Year's resolution, I resolve to turn over a new leaf.
Oh, sure, most folks resolve to eat less, exercise more, drink less, read more, stress less, save more, gripe less, and volunteer more.
I'm turning over a new leaf.
You never know what kind of insect you'll find there or what kind of insect will "pose" for you.
Happy New Year! (And may one of your resolutions involve "turning over a new leaf.")
Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun compared the butterfly to a flying flower:
The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.
At the recent Entomological Society of America meeting in Reno, a blue butterfly drew the attention of lepidopterists and photographers alike. It was one of dozens showcased in the live butterfly display at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
And if you took a few steps inside the nearby exhibit hall, where vendors sold their wares, you saw butterfly-shaped jewelry. Was life imitating art or was art imitating life?
Right out of Champaign, Ill., comes a research story about honey bees on coke.
University of Illinois entomology and neuroscience professor Gene Robinson and his colleagues have found that honey bees on cocaine dance more.
"In a study that challenges current ideas about the insect brain, researchers have found that honey bees on cocaine tend to exaggerate," wrote Diana Yates, life sciences writer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in a Dec. 23 press release.
"Normally, foraging honey bees alert their comrades to potential food sources only when they've found high quality nectar or pollen, and only when the hive is in need," she wrote. "They do this by performing a dance, called a 'round' or 'waggle' dance, on a specialized 'dance floor' in the hive. The dance gives specific instructions that help the other bees find the food.
"Foraging honey bees on cocaine are more likely to dance, regardless of the quality of the food they've found or the status of the hive, the authors of the study report."
Scientists, led by Robinson, dabbed a low dose of cocaine on the bees' backs before they went out foraging. The Journal of Experimental Biology published the findings this month. Robinson, who calls the bee dance "one of the seven wonders of the animal behavior world," said the research also supports the idea that in certain circumstances, honey bees, like humans, are motivated by feelings of reward.
"Cocaine – a chemical used by the coca plant to defend itself from leaf-eating insects – interferes with octopamine transit in insect brains and has undeniable effects on reward systems in mammals, including humans. It does this by influencing the chemically related dopamine system," Yates wrote.
"Dopamine," she explained, "plays a role in the human ability to predict and respond to pleasure or reward. It is also important to motor function and modulates many other functions, including cognition, sleep, mood, attention and learning."
Well, when you consider the powerful effect of cocaine on humans, the bee research isn't all that surprising.
But this is NOT the reason for colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which bees mysteriously abandon the hive, leaving behind the immature bees and stored food.
Just wait--the same folks who attribute CCD to cell phone disturbance may now connect CCD with cocaine--and maintain that CCD actually stands for Co-Caine Disturbance.
Can't you just see it?
- Crack users will have another excuse when they're stopped by law enforcement. "This is for my bees, officer!"
- The number of beekeepers will increase ten-fold.
- Apiculture majors will rise high in the nation's entomology departments.
- Late-night shows will crack jokes about the the new bee buzz.
- "Making a beeline" will be linked with a line of coke.
And, Crystal Boyd's happiness comment will take on new meaning:
"Work like you don't need money,
Love like you've never been hurt,
And dance like no one's watching."
To see a waggle dance, sans cocaine, access this video on You Tube.