Posts Tagged: Matan Shelomi
Most of us remember the old nursery rhyme, "Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite," and vow to do everything we can to avoid any blood-letting.
Whether we call them "blood suckers," "menace in the mattress," or "human parasites," it's not cool to be bitten by bed bugs.
"Bed bug biting," however, is not part of their job descriptions.
The crowd watched in awe as the reddish-brown blood suckers turned from flat to bulging. The insects, Cimex lectularius, are "visually adorable," Wishon said, noting that they are pests but they don't spread diseases. She keeps two colonies in Briggs Hall for research purposes.
Several visitors told of their personal experiences with bed bugs--in their hotels and homes, and in their bedding and baggage.
Wishon made sure no one took any home.
For more information on bed bugs, check out the Entomological Society of America (ESA) website on bed bug resources. ESA includes the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM). Another good source is the relatively new University of Florida bed bug site.
"Despite their name, bed bugs can infest areas other than beds," according to the University of Florida website. "They tend to locate in cracks and crevices, such as behinds baseboards, wall outlets, and wallpaper; between bed joints, slats, and dresser drawers; and along mattress seams and in linens and clothes. Most bed bug infestations occur in the home, along with hotels, dormitories, and cruise ships. Bed bugs easily transfer from one site to another through infested belongings like clothes, suitcases, second-hand furniture, beds, and bedding."
Forceps held by Danielle Wishon zero in on a bed bug to be fed. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bed bug scurries away after taking a blood meal. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two bed bugs on Danielle Wishon's arm. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Danielle Wishon (foreground at left) answers questions. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Would the extinction of honey bees lead directly to the extinction of humans?"
That's a recent question posed on Quora, where folks can ask questions and receive answers.
The answer is "no."
"We are a resilient species that existed before beekeeping and will exist after it… but our cuisine will be very different," wrote Matan Shelomi, a Harvard alumnus and UC Davis graduate student seeking his doctorate at the University of California, Davis.
"Assuming native bees and other pollinators do not take over the job of the honey bee Apis mellifera, many of our favorite fruits and vegetables will cease to exist, or will require the very labor intensive manual pollination we see in parts of China," Shelomi noted. "Kiss almonds goodbye, for example. Staple crops like wheat, corn, and rice are not bee pollinated, however, so starvation won't be an issue."
Shelomi, who has received international recognition for his answers on Quora, is "right on," said Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
"We've not always had honey bees here," Mussen pointed out. Indeed, the European colonists brought the honey bee to what is now Virginia in 1622. The Native American Indians had no honey bees, but they did have lots of other pollinators, including native bees. (We Californians did not obtain the services of the honey bee in our state until 1853; that's when the first honey bees arrived.)
Unfortunately, people are falsey quoting Albert Einstein as saying "If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” Al Gore never invented the Internet, and Albert Einstein never said that about bees.
Without honey bees, our menu choices would be much different. But would the human race become extinct?
A honey bee heading toward almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
So begins Matan Shelomi, Ph.D. candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, in a creative video posted on the popular PHD TV website.
It's a compelling site that showcases the work of Ph.D students. In this case, Shelomi is allocated two minutes to describe his work--why he studies walking sticks. There aren't that many doctoral candidates who can describe their thesis in two minutes--and so engagingly!
What's PHD TV all about? As its website says, it "aims to illustrate and communicate the ideas, stories and personalities of researchers, scientists and scholars worldwide in creative, compelling and truthful ways. We believe there is a gap between scientists and academics and how the public perceives what they do and who they are."
Shelomi, who received his bachelor's degree in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University, studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
One of the top writers on the Quora site, Shelomi won a Shorty award last year for his answer to an insect question. He's also engaged in unusual research, such as "Cutting Bergmann's Rule Down to Size" and taking a poke at Pokémon (with two other entomologists).
In his PHD TV piece, titled "The Wild World of Insect Digestion," Shelomi explains why "you should go with your gut" and "follow your heart."
The video is so incredible that when when you finish watching it, you may just want to join Shelomi in studying walking sticks.
Or at least check out the stick insects walking around in the Bohart Museum...
A walking stick at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you like Pokémon, you know the insect connection.
Satoshi Tajiri of Japan, who developed Pokémon, collected insects in his childhood and initially toyed with the idea of becoming an entomologist.
He never forgot his love of insects and showcased them in Nintendo's Pokémon, now the world's second most successful video game-based media franchise, eclipsed only by Nintendo's Mario.
Enter three young entomologists at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis. What they did is amazing.
They published a humorous take on the evolutionary development and history of the 646 fictional species depicted in the Pokémon media over the last 16 years.
“We made a very real phylogeny of the very fake Pokémon creatures,” commented lead author Matan Shelomi, the UC Davis entomology graduate student who conceived the idea.
The article, “A Phylogeny and Evolutionary History of the Pokémon,” appeared in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), a tongue-in-cheek journal meant “to make people laugh and then think,” according to the editors. In keeping with the “laugh-and-then-think” concept, the journal also awards the infamous IG Nobel Prizes.
Shelomi, a graduate of Harvard where the IG Nobel Prizes are awarded, said he based his idea “in part on other AIR papers like the phylogeny of Chia Pets and the taxonomic description of Barney the Dinosaur.”
Until now, however, no one has traced the evolutionary history of the 646 fictional species, let alone develop a 16-generation phylogenetic or evolutionary tree.
The Pokémon project is the work of Shelomi; Andrew Richards, a junior specialist at the Bohart Museum; and Ivana Li, an entomology student/artist who works part-time at the Bohart.
Oh, wait! There's a fourth author, too--Yukinari Okido, whom Pokémon fans may recognize as the Japanese name of one of the fictional Pokémon professors from the game/TV show, Professor Oak.
How did it all come about? “I had a lull in my dissertation research and decided to spend the weekends and downtime making this phylogeny,” said Shelomi, who is studying for his doctorate in entomology with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. “It took at least a month to actually collect all the data, which I did manually by scrolling through Pokémon websites.”
What about reader reaction? “The paper is slowly making the rounds,” Shelomi said. “We've had quite a few people disagree with the tree, as some of the conclusions violate Pokémon canon, and we do have the usual phylogenetic problems of long-branch attraction, etc. The disconnect between the tree and Pokémon mating groups is a problem, but I argue that the Biological Species Concept should not be assumed for Pokémon and I stand by my tree.”
“So far, one scientist--a linguist in Japan--has asked for a copy of the dataset to use in a class on phylogram building," Shelomi said, "and he apparently came up with a different tree.”
“It would be nice to see a wide set of articles responding to this one,” Shelomi said. “I think it would be quite easy to fill a journal of Pokémon science, although much harder to justify creating one.”
Want to see the phylogeny? Click on the link or see it at the Bohart Museum, 1124 Academic Surge, Crocker Lane, UC Davis.
They did it! From left are Andrew Richards, Ivana Li and Matan Shelomi. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
That was basically the question that UC Davis entomologist/doctoral candidate Matan Shelomi answered on Quora.
Shelomi answered it so well that he tied for a first-place Shorty Award, the social media-equivalent of an Oscar. The Shorties are given annually to the best producers of short content on social media, as determined by popular vote. The question, posted on Quora, the popular question-and-answer website which engages worldwide users, drew scores of answers, but Shelomi's answer went viral and resulted in an invitation to the fourth annual star-studded Shorty Awards ceremony on March 26 in Times Square, New York City.
And nobody was more surprised than Matan Shelomi.
“I’ve been posting on Quora for a few months now after my sophomore roommate from Harvard, who works there, invited me to it. Not to question a website with employees from Harvard, I signed up. I occasionally go on there and post answers to entomology questions, especially if I get an e-invite to answer a specific question. I’ve answered more than 100 questions so far.”
"I saw this one question on ‘If you injure a bug, should you kill it’ on Nov 30, 2011 and was dissatisfied with the answers, which mostly answered from a religious or philosophical standpoint. I looked up insect pain reception briefly and answered it. I had no idea my response would be so popular! Apparently it's a question a lot of people had. It was popularized on Gawker as one of the 'most demented questions on Quora.' "
“They liked my answer, though. That was surprising enough, and later I got an email out of the blue saying I had been nominated for a Shorty, 'The Oscars of Twitter.' "
“Looks like the philosophers and theists have made their cases. As far as entomologists are concerned, insects do not have pain receptors the way vertebrates do. They don't feel ‘pain,’ but may feel irritation and probably can sense if they are damaged. Even so, they certainly cannot suffer because they don't have emotions. If you heavily injure an insect, it will most likely die soon: either immediately because it will be unable to escape a predator, or slowly from infection or starvation. Ultimately this crippling will be more of an inconvenience to the insect than a tortuous existence, so it has no ‘misery’ to be put out of but also no real purpose anymore. If it can't breed anymore, it has no reason to live.
“In other words, I have not answered your question because, as far as the science is concerned, neither the insect nor the world will really care either way. Personally, though, I'd avoid doing more damage than you've already done. 1) Maybe the insect will recover, depending on how damaged it is. 2) Some faiths do forbid taking animal lives, so why go out of your way to kill? 3) You'll stain your shoe.”
Shelomi's answer drew widespread praise on Quora, including:
--“This, by far, is the funniest answer I have read on Quora. Not only the funniest answer, but also the funniest show of authority on a subject. You have to love the casualness of it and the mockery aspect. Funny and yet not frivolous. Well done. 10/10. I will read it again now.”
--“Great answer, the shoe comment is what really sold it.”
Shelomi's response was subsequently nominated for “best answer on Quora," a new category of the Shorties. Another commitment prevented him from being at the Times Square award ceremony, held March 26, but he posted his "equally short" video acceptance speech. He earlier recorded it at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, where he studies insect physiology.
As it turned out, Shelomi shared the first-place award in the Quora category with former police officer Justin Freeman, now an evangelical pastor in Mountain Grove, Mo., who answered “What’s the best way to escape the police in a high-speed car chase?”
If you have a question, you, too, can post it on Quora. And if it's an entomological question, you just might get a creative answer from Matan Shelomi.
A red-shouldered stink bug peers at the camera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)