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For the Love of Bats

Big-eared Townsend bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management)
Most of us think about bats at least twice a year: during National Pollinator Week, when bees, beetles, butterflies and bats beckon, and on Halloween, when bats mingle with the witches, ghosts, ghouls, goblins and other things that go bump in the night.

Bats are pollinators? Definitely.  According to the USDA Forest Service, more than 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination. The crops include mangos, bananas and guavas, grown in tropical and desert climates. While bees take the daytime pollinator shift, bats take the nighttime shift. 

Entomologists and agriculturists think about bats a lot, too, because bats eat insects that ravage our crops.

Someone who really knows and appreciates bats is Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Freeman Long. "I've had a long time interest in ecosystem services of bats because they feed on insects and can help with pest control in agricultural crops," Long said.  "For example, we just determined that in walnuts, each bat provides about $6 in pest control services for codling moth control, a major pest in this crop (Long RF et al. 2014. What's a bat worth to a walnut orchard? BATS Magazine [Bat Conservation International] Spring 2014)."

A person of many interests and talents, Long has also written a children's book that features bats.

The cover of Valley Fire.
It's actually part of a trilogy published by Tate Publishing Co. The first was Gold Fever. The second, newly published, is Valley Fire. She's half-way through writing the third and final book in the trilogy, River of No Return.

In honor of bats,  The Avid Reader, 617 2nd St., Davis, between E and F St., is planning a special program from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22. Long will be there for the book signing, and talk about her book, and Corky Quirk of Nor Cal Bats will be there with her live bats and talk about their importance in the world. The organization is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of bats throughout Northern California. 

"My interest in writing this trilogy is science literacy for kids to teach them about the natural history of bats and the incredible importance of bats in our world for pollination and pest control benefits," Long said. "Bats are major pollinators of many plants; without bats we wouldn't have tequila as they are the main pollinators of the agave plant from which tequila is made!"

"In my stories, we learn all kinds of wonderful tidbits about bats, including echolocation, migration, that they feed on insects and that 'blind as a bat' is a total myth. I'll have to talk about their shiny poop in my third book with all the insect exoskeleton parts that bats can't digest and the fancy name of guano!"

Long recalls telling these stories to her son, when he was little, "on our long drives into town from our ranch."

"He loved them so much that one day I finally decided to write them down to share with other children--and adults too!!"

Sadly, bats often get a bad rap. When a person is mentally unstable, he's "batty" or has "bats in the belfry." Visual issues? "Blind as a bat."  And who hasn't heard the expression, "like a bat out of hell?" (usually referring to a speeding car heading toward you at breakneck speed).

In Long's book, a little boy named Jack falls into a cave and loses his memory. We won't tell you what happens next but that the book is engaging and entertaining.

Just like bats. 

Rachael Long beneath the Yolo Causeway with a bat detector. Notice the bats in the photo.  (Photo courtesy of the California Farm Bureau Federation)
Rachael Long beneath the Yolo Causeway with a bat detector. Notice the bats in the photo. (Photo courtesy of the California Farm Bureau Federation)

Rachael Long beneath the Yolo Causeway with a bat detector. Notice the bats in the photo. (Photo courtesy of the California Farm Bureau Federation)

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Remembering the Wild Bees

Celeste Ets-Hokin working on her app to spread public awareness about native bees. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Native bee enthusiast Celeste Ets-Hokin of the Bay Area is on a mission: she wants residents to provide habitat for wild bees, including bumble bees, sweat bees, miner bees, mason bees, digger bees and long-horned bees.

Earlier this year she came out with an app, "Wild Bee Gardens," the first-known conservation app for North American native bees. That app was exclusively for an iPad, but she promised an app for an iphone later.

Later is "now."

It's out. "Wild Bee Gardens" is an educational tool "showing the dazzling diversity of North America's native bees." The app pairs native bees with many of the flowers they frequent.

Ets-Hokin, a UC Berkeley zoology graduate, wants us all to work together to protect North America's premier pollinators. She seeks to inspire an appreciation for the importance and diversity of our native bees, and anticipates that people will create a habitat for native bees in their own gardens. The habitats are not fancy; in fact, native bee habitats are "a bit on the wild side," she says.

The work is impressive. It opens up the world of native bees and their floral resources through her text and some 300 photographs of native bees, primarily the work of entomologist/insect photographer Rollin Coville of the Bay Area.

Topics covered include:

  • The role of native bees in our natural ecosystems
  • The ecology and life cycles of native bees
  • How to create a successful bee garden
  • How to identify the native bee visitors that will appear in these gardens

The app covers 26 genera and links the bees to their favorite plants.  Consultants included three scientists: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis and UC Berkeley faculty members Gordon Frankie and Clare Kremen. They are acknowledged for their contributions of scientific knowledge and research. Arlo and Rebecca Armstrong of the Bay Area designed the app.

Just as we need food and shelter, so do bees. Native bees forage for pollen and nectar for their offspring. The bee scientists suggest you leave areas of undisturbed, bare ground for ground-nesting bees, and provide "bee condos" (wood blocks drilled with the proper-size holes) for leafcutting bees and mason bees.

While many folks will be out buying computers, laptops, tablets, designer clothes, houseware and the like during the holiday season, Ets-Hokin hopes they will take time to think about the native bees and provide for them.

The app can be ordered from http://appstore.com/wildbeegardens. For gift-giving, access http://support.apple.com/en-us/HT2736, and scroll to the section entitled, “Gift an Item on an IOS Device.”

Meanwhile, Celeste Ets-Hokin continues to spread public awareness about the plight of bees, writing about them, speaking about them, photographing them, and now she has an app for that: "Wild Bee Gardens."


"Wild Bee Gardens" is the first known conservation app for North American native bees.

"Wild Bee Gardens" is the first known conservation app for North American native bees

A sunflower bee foraging on an echinacea flower. (Photo by Celeste Ets-Hokin)
A sunflower bee foraging on an echinacea flower. (Photo by Celeste Ets-Hokin)

A sunflower bee foraging on an echinacea flower. (Photo by Celeste Ets-Hokin)

Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 9:29 PM

Bohart Museum Open House: Insect Myths!

Worker bee. Many myths persist. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
How many insect myths do you know?

Worker bees are males, right? 

Butterflies and moths can't fly if you rub the scales off their wings, right?

Earwigs crawl into your ears and then into your brain, right?  

Wrong. They're all widely known but falsely held beliefs.

What better place to learn about insect myths than the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of nearly eight million insect specimens? An open house is scheduled  from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 23, in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building, Crocker Lane.

The Bohart folks will dispel scores of myths, including these:

  • Brown recluse spiders are found in California 
  • Daddy long-leg spiders are very venomous, but their mouths are too small to bite us.
  • We swallow/eat a significant amount of spiders/insects in our sleep. 

The open house is free and open to the public, and family friendly.

Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, the insect museum is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity.

Special attractions include a live "petting zoo," featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches,  walking sticks and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold the insects and photograph them. In addition, face painting will be among the family-oriented activities. Think bugs!

Visitors can also browse the gift shop, which includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy. (Gifts can also be purchased online.)

The Bohart Museum's popular open houses are in addition to its regular weekday hours, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. It is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.

Here's a list of open houses through Saturday, July 18: 

  • Saturday, Dec. 20: “Insects and Art,” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, Jan. 11: “Parasitoid Palooza,” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, Feb. 8: “Biodiversity Museum Day,” noon to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 14: “Pollination Nation,” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 18: UC Davis Picnic Day, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 17: “Name That Bug! How About Bob?” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 18: “Moth Night,” 8 to 11 p.m.

More information is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or Tabatha Yang, education and public outreach coordinator at tabyang@ucdavis.edu

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Cosmos. One myth is that if you rub the scales off their wings (who would want to?), they can't fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Cosmos. One myth is that if you rub the scales off their wings (who would want to?), they can't fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Cosmos. One myth is that if you rub the scales off their wings (who would want to?), they can't fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cellar spider wrapping a honey bee. How many myths do you know about spiders? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Cellar spider wrapping a honey bee. How many myths do you know about spiders? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cellar spider wrapping a honey bee. How many myths do you know about spiders? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 6:06 PM

ICE Is Red-Hot!

You've heard folks say "cold as ice," right?

Well, ICE is red hot.

The International Congress of Entomology (ICE) is gearing up for its 2016 conference, "Entomology without Borders," to take place Sept. 25-30, 2016 in Orlando, Fla., and the line-up of speakers should make all entomologists--and others interested in insect science--mark their calendars.

With a red-hot pen.

The ICE meeting will be co-located with the annual meetings of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) and the Entomological Society of Canada, along with events hosted by the entomological societies of China, Brazil, Australia, and others.

First of all, the ICE co-chairs, chemical ecologist Walter Leal of UC Davis and vegetable research entomologist Alvin Simmons of USDA/ARS, managed to book not one, but two Nobel Laureautes:  Peter Agre (2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) and Jules Hoffmann (2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine).

Then the next announcement. Last weekend at the ESA meeting in Portland, Ore., Leal revealed the list of ICE plenary speakers, selected from 77 nominated worldwide.

UC Davis-affiliated entomologists James R. Carey and Robert E. Page Jr., internationally recognized for their work, are among the eight plenary speakers selected.

Carey, a distinguished professor of entomology with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is considered the world's foremost authority on arthropod demography. Page, provost of Arizona State University and emeritus professor and former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, is considered the most influential honey bee biologist of the past 30 years.

“We are delighted to have the first Hispanic woman (Latina) to give a plenary lecture at ICE; likewise, the first kiwi (New Zealander), as well as the first native African to have the opportunity to highlight their work in this venue,” said Leal, professor in the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

The list of plenary speakers:

  • Carolina Barilla-Mury, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Guatemala & USA, who will speak on medical entomology immunity
  • Jacqueline Beggs, University of Auckland, New Zealand. Topic: biodiversity and biosecurity
  • James R. Carey, University of California, Davis. Topic: insect biodemography
  • Fred Gould, North Carolina State University. Topic: GMOs: crop and health protection
  • Robert E. Page, Arizona State University. Topic: bee biology: Spirit of the Hive” (title of his latest book)
  • José Roberto Postali Parra, ESALQ, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Topic: biological control.
  • John A. Pickett, Rothamsted Research, UK. Topic: insect-plant interactions
  • Baldwyn Torto, Centre of Insect Physiology & Ecology, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Topic: colony collapse disorder and pollination.

Capsule information on the UC Davis-affiliated entomologists:

James R. Carey
James R. Carey
James R. Carey has authored more than 250 scientific articles, including landmark papers in Science that shaped the way scientists think about lifespan limits and actuarial aging, and two articles in the Annual Review series that provide new syntheses on insect biodemography (2003, Annual Review of Entomology) and aging in the wild (2014, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics). He directed a $10 million multi-university grant for more than a decade (2003-2013).  

Carey is the author of three books, including Applied Demography for Biologists with Special Emphasis on Insects (Oxford University Press), the go-to source for all entomologists studying demography. Highly honored for his work, Carey received the 2014 C. W. Woodworth Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), and the 2014 UC Davis Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award for innovative and creative teaching.

Carey chaired the University of California Systemwide Committee on Research Policy—one of the most important and prestigious committees in the UC system and served on the systemwide UC Academic Council. In addition, he serves as the associate editor of three journals: Genus, Aging Cell, and Demographic Research. In addition, he is the first entomologist to have a mathematical discovery named after him by demographers—The Carey Equality—which set the theoretical and analytical foundation for a new approach to understanding wild populations.

He is a fellow of four professional organizations: ESA, the Gerontological Society of America, the California Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Carey has presented more than 250 seminars in venues all over the world, from Stanford, Harvard, Moscow, Beijing to Athens, London, Adelaide and Okinawa.  In addition, Carey is considered a worldwide authority on the demography and invasion biology of tephritid fruit flies, particularly the Mediterranean fruit fly; and a preeminent authority on biodemographics of human aging and lifespan. He is also a pioneering force advocating the educational use of digital video technology, work that he is sharing throughout much of the state, nation and the world.

Carey received his bachelor's degree (animal ecology, 1973) and master's degree (entomology, 1975) from Iowa State University, and his doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley in 1980.

Robert E. Page Jr.

Robert E. Page
Arizona State University Provost Robert E. Page Jr., who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis in 1980,  joined the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 1989. A honey bee geneticist, he chaired the department for five years, from 1999 to 2004. Page's specialized genetic stock of honey bees was based for many years at UC Davis.

Page has published more than 200 reviewed publications, three edited books and two authored books. His latest book is "Spirit of the Hive." His lab pioneered the use of modern techniques to study the genetic bases to the evolution of social behavior in honey bees and other social insects.

Page was the first to employ molecular markers to study polyandry and patterns of sperm use in honey bees. He provided the first quantitative demonstration of low genetic relatedness in a highly eusocial species.

Among his other achievements involving honey bee research:

  • Page and his students and colleagues isolated, characterized and validated the complementary sex determination gene of the honey bee; perhaps the most important paper yet published about the genetics of Hymenoptera.
  • He and his students constructed the first genetic map of any social insect, demonstrating that the honey bee has the highest recombination rate of any eukaryotic organism mapped to date.

In addition, Page was personally involved in genome mappings of bumble bees, parasitic wasps and two species of ants. His most recent work focuses on the genetic bases to individuality in honey bees.

Page also built two modern apicultural labs (in Ohio and Arizona), major legacies that are centers of honey bee research and training. He has trained many hundreds of beekeepers, and continues to teach beekeeping even as provost of the largest public university in the United States. He is also the Foundation Chair of Life Sciences.

An internationally recognized scholar, Page is an elected foreign member of the Brazilian Academy of Science, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the oldest scientific academy of science, the Germany Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. He was elected to Leopoldina, founded in 1652, for his pioneering research in behavioral genetics of honey bees.

It promises to be an informative, educational and entertaining meeting in Orlando!

Worker bes cleaning out queen cells. Honey bee presentations will be part of the ICE program. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Worker bes cleaning out queen cells. Honey bee presentations will be part of the ICE program. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Worker bes cleaning out queen cells. Honey bee presentations will be part of the ICE program. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, November 17, 2014 at 5:33 PM

Neonics: Should They Be Banned?

UC Davis debate team member Rei Scampavia makes a point. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Neonicotinoids.

It's a 14-letter word but many people consider it a four-letter word.

Wikipedia defines it as a "a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine...In the late 2000s some neonicotinoids came under increasing scrutiny over their environmental impacts. The use of neonicotinoids was linked in a range of studies to adverse ecological effects, including honey-bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) and loss of birds due to a reduction in insect populations. Several countries restricted or banned the use of certain neonicotinoids."

"In the U.S., neonicotinoids are currently used on about 95 percent of corn and canola crops, the majority of cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets, and about half of all soybeans," according to Wikipedia. "They are also used on the vast majority of fruit and vegetable crops, including apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes. Neonicotinoids are also applied to cereal grains, rice, nuts, and wine grapes. Imidacloprid is effective against sucking insects, some chewing insects, soil insects and is also used to control fleas on domestic animals.  It is possibly the most widely used insecticide, both within the neonicotinoids and in the worldwide market."

Neonics, as they're called, will be front center stage in Portland, Ore. at the Entomological Society of America's student debates on Tuesday, Nov. 18. It's the 62nd annual ESA meeting.  Distinguished professor Frank Zalom, an integrated pest management specialist in the UC Davis Department of Entomology, serves as president of the 7000-member organization.

Several different topics will be debated. For the debate on neonics, it will be UC Davis graduate students vs. graduate students from Auburn University, Alabama.

For months now, the graduate students have been reading the literature, talking to experts, and setting strategies.

We listened in on a practice debate Thursday night in the third-floor conference room of Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The team is captained by Mohammad-Amir Aghaee of the Larry Godfrey lab, and coached by Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the department. Other team members are Jenny Carlson, Anthony Cornel lab; Margaret "Rei" Scampavia, Neal Williams/Edwin Lewis lab; Ralph Washington Jr., Steve Nadler lab; and Daniel Klittich, Michael Parrella lab.

They scrutinized a PowerPoint, making sure every word was clear and exactly the one they wanted. They searched for more resources, pointing out which scientist published what significant paper and when and where. Extension apicuturist (retired) Eric Mussen of UC Davis was there to assist with his expertise on honey bees and pesticides.

We won't tell you what the strategies are--that would be a "spoiler." Suffice it to say that this controversial topic promises to be lively. The Auburn team, comprised of  Olufemi Ajayi, Adekunle Adesanya, Julian Golec, Matt Burrows, Scott Clem and, Z. Ye and advised by David Held, will argue that neonicotinoids are causing the death of bees essential for pollinating our food crops, and will advocate that the use of neonicotinoids should end. UC Davis will take the opposing view.

The 2013 UC Davis team, also captained by Mohammad-Amir Aghaee, won the ESA championship. They hope for a repeat.  They're good; they've won every match since 2011 except one.

Aghaee is deeply involved in ESA activities. A participant in the student debates and Linnean Games teams for four years, he also participates in the student 10-minute paper competitions, covering such topics as Lygus bug movements in bush beans, efficacy of Bacillus thuringiensis spp. galleriae against rice water weevil, and preliminary research on winter flooding effectiveness against rice water weevil. Last year he won first place for his winter flood presentation. 

Aghaee, whose major professor is Extension entomologist Larry Godfrey, is a fifth year Ph.D. candidate working on rice water weevil (Lissorhoptrus oryzophilus) management in California rice. The majority of Aghaee's dissertation research is dedicated toward developing alternative management options for growers. “I have examined the use of Bacillus thuringiensis spp. galleriae as a biopesticide for rice water weevil and explored the mechanisms of winter flooding rice fields as a cultural control against weevil larvae," Aghaee related. "I am currently examining the possible role of silicon augmentation as a means of increasing rice tolerance to weevil damage and the potential threat of Brown marmorated stinkbug (Halyomorpha halys) to California rice."

A Renaissance kind of guy, Aghaee has secondary interests in post-Renaissance European history and contemporary Middle Eastern politics.  He explores some of these themes in his freshman seminar titled "Bugs, Germs, and Steel: A History of Entomology in Warfare" where he and his colleagues teach students how basic scientific research and ecology has influenced human conflicts and technological progress.  Outside of entomology, his leisure activities include oil painting, language acquisition, and culinary specialization in Persian and Indo-Pakistani cuisines.

Stay tuned for who won the debate and what they said. Their work will be published in the journal, American Entomologist.

This honey may or may not have been poisoned by neonics, but it's definitely
This honey may or may not have been poisoned by neonics, but it's definitely "under the weather." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

This honey may or may not have been poisoned by neonics, but it's definitely "under the weather." (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mohammad-Amir Aghaee, captain of the UC Davis debate team, leads a discussion at a practice Nov. 13 in Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Mohammad-Amir Aghaee, captain of the UC Davis debate team, leads a discussion at a practice Nov. 13 in Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Mohammad-Amir Aghaee, captain of the UC Davis debate team, leads a discussion at a practice Nov. 13 in Briggs Hall, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

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