Butterflies of Albany Hill mural project

The Albany Hill is nestled along highway I-80 / I-580 in the East Bay town of Albany. Trails along the north side wind through a native forest of oaks, hazel nut, and other native trees, which harbor birds, deer, and other wildlife. More trails to the south scramble up a mostly eucalyptus forest leading to open areas of grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers at the top.  And in the winter, a small aggregation of monarch butterflies clusters high up in the eucalyptus branches awaiting spring when they head inland to lay eggs on milkweed and start the next generation.

Friends of Albany Hill have worked tirelessly to secure the land for conservation, maintain trails, and foster environmental education through hands-on activities. Their latest project, spearheaded by artist Carole Fitzgerald, is a mural along Jackson Street on the the east side of the hill depicting the butterflies that occur on hill and the plants they depend on. Each butterfly species is accompanied by the host plant on which its caterpillar feeds. Citizen artists gathered for months to make sketches and eventually paint sections of the mural, paying close attention to biological details of both plants and insects. For the butterflies, their inspiration was a collection assembled in the 1990’s by Essig Museum research affiliate, Robert Langston

Robert Langston and Jerry Powell (longtime director of the Essig Museum) spent several seasons exploring the various habitats of the hill documenting all the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) they could find. For the moths this was done without setting out lights at night, but by hunting for caterpillars on their host plants and netting moths by day.

Recently the Albany Hill mural artists made a visit to the Essig Museum to learn more about butterflies and other insects found across California and how the museum continues to grow through ongoing research from faculty, staff, and students.

Monitoring Biodiversity in Post-Fire Santa Cruz Mountains

In August of 2020, a fire that began as a smoldering lightning strike, erupted into a firestorm that roared across the Santa Cruz Mountains, scorching over 86,000 acres of forest and surrounding communities. The CZU Lightning Complex Fire burned for over a month before being fully contained and was the most destructive fire to ravage Santa Cruz County in over a century.1

Today, as part of the Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) program, students from Professor Kip Will’s lab are helping to monitor the effects of post-fire removal of trees and underbrush at various intensities on the diversity and abundance of terrestrial arthropods, especially ground beetles (Carabidae). The project is part of a larger study being conducted by Professor Scott Stephen’s lab in ESPM, and in cooperation with the Amah Mutsun Land Trust Stewards, the Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). The study area is located in San Vicente Redwoods Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains – a mixed hardwood forest dominated by oaks, douglas fir, madrone and bay trees – that burned in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire. 

Each pitfall trap is set with a cover to prevent rain from getting in

In an area of moderate intensity burn where the forest canopy remained intact following the CZU Complex Fire, students help to set up pitfall trap arrays and temperature and humidity data loggers in nine plots, each in one of three forest fuel and selective tree removal treatments.  The three treatment types are categorized as minimal, moderate, and intensive levels of cutting and removal of trees and underbrush. In addition, one round of spring and fall sampling across all nine plots was done prior to the treatments to act as a baseline control sample. 

Retrieving specimens from the traps

A total of 72 pitfall traps are set in the nine transects two times per year – once in spring and once in late fall. Each pitfall trap is left for a one-month period after which time the samples are collected into Whirl-Pak bags and brought back to the lab. At the same time, temporal and spatial data collected from the field are entered into the Essig Museum’s online database.

Digging to set the traps and retrieval of samples is dirty and physically challenging work, often on slopes where poison oak is abundant. In the process, students learn valuable field techniques including how to set up sampling regimes and record accurate environmental data. Back in the lab students also learn how to sort trap samples and identify arthropods. The project will yield thousands of specimens including hundreds of species over the three-year survey period.

Sorting specimens from the trap samples

The data collected from this ongoing project will provide opportunities to study how different post-forest fire fuel treatments affect not only the diversity and abundance of ground-dwelling arthropods, but how overall forest health, structure and resources recover following fuel reduction and subsequent prescribed burning in San Vicente Redwoods Preserve.

The value of data collected from long-term monitoring projects like this will long outlive the project itself. Locality data and identifications recorded in the Essig Museum’s online database and the specimens in the museum’s collections provide an important resource for current research as well as future research and education. These vital resources can help inform not only our understanding of current species distribution patterns but also help answer questions about the effect of future landscape and climate changes. – Roberta Brett

  1. 2022-5_CZUFire_Report.pdf

A Charismatic Cockroach in California

Figure 1: Mix of adult female and male three-lined roaches (Luridiblatta trivittata)

Scampering through leaf litter and grassy landscapes, upon first appearance these flashy little insects might not look like cockroaches, but in fact, they are. They are the smallest cockroaches we have in California, with adults averaging between 5-7mm in length. They are commonly known as the three-lined roach, or if you want to be more scientific, Luridiblatta trivittata; but either way, these charismatic cockroaches are not originally from California, they are native to North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Figure 2: Female Luridiblatta trivittata carrying an egg case called an ootheca

The three-lined roach first made its debut in California around 2004 in Marin County, but was not positively identified until the Essig Museum’s very own Cheryl Barr, aquatic beetle expert and former Collection Manager, submitted a specimen from her backyard in 2009 to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Since then, Luridiblatta trivittata has slowly expanded its range to include the Bay Area, San Luis Obispo to the South, to the foothills of El Dorado County in the East, and to Mendocino County to the North.

Though the three-lined roach lives in some of the most densely populated parts of California, these are not the kinds of roaches that want to live in your kitchen. These critters prefer to live outdoors in partially irrigated or dry landscapes and can be found in matted thatch, compost bins, and leaf litter. Occasionally in summer and fall, adults will wander indoors through poorly sealed doors and windows.

We don’t fully understand Luridiblatta trivittata’s biology and ecology, but recent field observations reveal they only have one generation per year. Juveniles hatch around mid-April, and develop through spring and early summer, eventually maturing into adults during July and August. Once mature, females lay egg cases (called oothecae) that will overwinter until next spring. Interestingly, juveniles cannot hatch from their ootheca without precipitation in spring. On the other hand, too much water throughout the overwintering cycle will kill juveniles before they can hatch. It seems our Mediterranean climate, with long dry summers and short wet winters is the Goldilocks of ideal habitats.

Fun three-lined roach facts:

  1. Knowing your Latin roots in biology can be very helpful in understanding scientific names. Luridiblatta for example, can be broken down into ‘luridus’ meaning something has a wan or yellow coloring, and ‘blatta’, which is Lain for a light-shunning insect (incidentally, all cockroaches are in the group Blattodea). The species name trivittata refers to this particular species. ‘tri’ means to have three, and ‘vitta’ means stripe or line. Therefore, we can conclude that the scientific name is referencing a light-colored cockroach with three lines.
    Figure 3: Females with an ootheca at different stages of development
  2. Oothecae of this species start out mint green in color. As an ootheca develops, it turns olive green and then dark brown before they are eventually deposited into the landscape.
    Figure 4:  Left-Female, Right- Male
  3. Males and Females are relatively easy to tell apart. Males have long forewings that extend down the length of the body. Females have short forewings that leave the abdomen completely visible.

References:

  1. California Plant Pest & Disease Report Vol. 25. 2009. CDFA
  2. Proposal for New Common Name Luridiblatta trivittata, Entomological Society of America
  3. Cockroach pest note, 2019
  4. Andrew Sutherland. Luridiblatta trivittata post on Linkedin, 2020

– Photos & text by Casey Hubble, please contact cwhubble@berkeley.edu for photo usage

walkingsticks

Meet the Essig Museum’s walkingsticks.

Watch this KQED Deep Look episode featuring our Australian spectres (Extatosoma tiaratum).

 

Watch the KQED Deep Look episode featuring our Indian walkingsticks (Carausius morosus).

 

 

Giant Malaysian leaf insects (Phyllium giganteum) are known almost exclusively from females. But this year a male (left) emerged in our population.

 

 

 

Oak moths return to Cal campus

Oak moths return to Cal campus

Eggs, caterpillars, pupa, and adult of Phryganidia californica.

The California oakworm or oak moth (Phryganidia californica), returned to the UC Berkeley campus for the second year in a row.

In June 2019 the Essig Museum received a call from a reporter at the Daily Cal asking about moths flying around oak trees on campus. Normally people do not notice the moths, but they certainly notice the onslaught of caterpillars eating the leaves of coast live oaks (Quercus agrifolia), and occasionally other oak species. By August many trees on campus were stripped bare. But by the end of October they recovered. In May-June 2020 we are witnessing the return of the oak moth.

The same tree at Sproul Hall: defoliated (August 15, 2019), recovered (October 3, 2019)

Oak moths typically have two generations per year – one in the spring and one in the fall. As of June 2020 we are seeing the spring caterpillars emerge as adult moths and laying eggs. These eggs will turn into caterpillars that will continue to defoliate trees in August and September. The caterpillars seem to focus on individual trees, rather than attacking all trees equally. This probably has to do with where the females lay their eggs, but the defensive chemistry of the oak trees may play some role.

This chemistry may also play a role in protecting the caterpillars and moths from birds and other predators. Many non-toxic moths and caterpillars hide during the day and feed at night. But oak moths and their caterpillars are very active during the day and do not seem to attract flocks of birds. Their main predators seem to be parasitoid wasps.

Feeding damage by Phryganidia caterpillars.

Once finished feeding on a tree, the caterpillars lower themselves by silk threads that can blow them to another tree to continue feeding, or two the ground where they will wander in search of a place to pupate. In nature these caterpillars would find a crack in the tree bark or side of a rock to anchor their pupal case (which looks more like a butterfly chrysalis). On campus these caterpillars can form masses on the sides of buildings, and sometimes crawl  into utility access tubes.

Masses of caterpillars at Campbell Hall in August 2019.

As if the oak trees are not suffering enough, this year is looking like a big year for tussock moths as well. Females of the western tussock moth are flightless and crawl a short distance from their cocoon to lay large masses of eggs. Caterpillars have distinctive tufts of white or cream hairs that can sometimes irritate skin. 

Tussock moth caterpillar and cocoons on coast live oak. 

 

PCOC at UCB

The Pest Control Operators of California infested the Essig Museum on 19 February 2020. They were in town for the Termite Academy, hosted by our own Dr. Vernard Lewis at the Richmond Field Station. The two-day event included lectures, discussions, and events that covered the history of pest control research at UC Berkeley (including a tour of the Villa Termiti), regulation updates, and a lavish dinner at the Faculty Club. Many were surprised to know that the Essig Museum holds the most comprehensive collection of Cimicidae (bed bug family) thanks to the research of Dr. Robert Usinger. We also reassembled the damaged-wood display that was on exhibit at the San Francisco Internation Airport (SFO) last year.

Special thanks to Chris Reardon & Sarah Conrad (PCOC), Andrew Sutherland (UC ANR), and Vernard Lewis (UCB) for making this happen. Photo credits: PCOC (except Villa Termiti by UC ANR)

Adopt-A-Drawer

Leave your mark! Or honor family, friends, or a mentor, by adopting a specimen drawer at the Essig Museum. Special exhibit displays (“Oh My” drawers) are available for donations of $1000. Curated drawers in the main collection are available for $500. Alumni, add your year of graduation. Choose your favorite insect group and make a donation through our Give To Cal secure online donation portal. In the memo/notes field indicate you want to adopt a drawer and we will follow up with you. Your name and/or message will be laser-engraved on a maple plaque.

Learn more about the Adopt A Drawer program.


“OH MY” DISPLAY DRAWERS

               Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths)                             Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants)

            Orthoptera (grasshopers, crickets)                                       Hemiptera (true bugs)


CURATED COLLECTION DRAWERS

 

The Love Bugs

 

Join the Essig Museum and the Pacific Coast Entomological Society

for a special screening of “The Love Bugs

8:00pm on 5 September 2019, at 2040 Valley Life Science Building

Over the course of 60 years, Lois and Charlie O’Brien, two of the foremost entomologists and pioneers in their field, traveled to more than 67 countries and quietly amassed the world’s largest private collection of insects. He was the Indiana Jones of entomology and she was his Marion Ravenwood. Their collection is a scientific game-changer with more than one million specimens and more than 1,000 undiscovered species. During the past several years, however, Charlie and Lois have grappled with the increasingly debilitating effects of Charlie’s Parkinson’s disease and the emotional toll it takes on Lois. They realize that a chapter of exploration and discovery is coming to an end in their lives. But they live in a time when the beleaguered field of science needs them most, and the O’Briens know they need to keep fighting for it. So they turn to their 1.25 million insects for a little help! The Love Bugs interweaves the O’Briens’ present day journey with animated watercolor illustrations that reveal their past in a humorous and poignant documentary short that explores the nature of Love–and the love of Nature–and what it means to devote oneself completely to both.

Charlie and Lois garnered worldwide attention in 2017 when they announced that they would be donating their $10 million dollar insect collection to Arizona State University. Their collection will reshape entomology for years to come, but outside of entomology circles it was not widely known that such a valuable collection existed. We live in a time when insect populations are declining worldwide at an alarming rate. This decline has a domino effect that could impact all other aspects of an ecosystem and humanity as a whole and the O’Briens’ collection is not only a snapshot of the past of insect life on this planet. It is also a valuable key to providing insights into the potential future of insect life and biodiversity patterns. We want this film to inspire wonder and reverence for the complexity and beauty of insects. We also live in a time when the value of teaching science and the value of investing in science is being questioned at a federal level. We deeply need stories that can help foster a paradigm shift by showcasing scientists as human beings–not only as people who passionately dedicate their lives to something that others might see as trivial, but as human beings whose work is crucial and with whom we can empathize.

Sadly, Charlie O’Brien died on August 10, 2019.

Students making a difference

Visit the Restoration Project website for the latest on our pollinator gardens.

Weed warriors: Allie, Shiran, Cameron, Taylor, Alba, Pete, Tim, Marissa, Sakina, Leslie, and Zeal after 2 hours of pulling and rolling ivy. Not in photo – Theron, Ellen, Lily, Kyra.

Thanks to everyone who helped out at our weed pulling party on May 7, 2019! The Essig Museum and Entomology Club teamed up with CalPIRG and others to pull ivy and other weeds outside the Valley Life Science Building to prepare the area for restoration of native plants. The “Essig Garden” will be an outdoor education space to learn about how insects, spiders, birds, and other wildlife interact with their habitats, and the value of native plants to reduce irrigation needs. The Garden is also part of CalPIRG’s effort to make UC Berkeley a Xerces Society Bee Campus.

 


Volunteers pulling and rolling 15 ft strands of Algerian ivy.


Before the battle: The area between VLSB and LSA before the weed warriors launched their assault.
 

On the wings of butterflies

Have you ever touched the wings of a moth or butterfly and gotten some “powder” on your fingers? That powder is actually tiny scales, like on a fish or lizard, or like the feathers of a bird. These scales give butterflies and moths their scientific name Lepidoptera (from the Greek Lepido = scale, and ptera = wing). Each scale can be a different color and when placed next to each other, the mosaic makes up the color patterns we see. Some are brightly colored to warn that this species does not taste good (aposematism), or look like distasteful species (Batesian mimicry), while others look like eye spots to startle predators (image to the left), and still others form a camouflage pattern to blend in with their background.

Most colors are caused by pigments that form inside the individual scales and reflect light through holes on the scale surface (image to the right), while others, especially blues, are structural and result from light refracting off of ridged surfaces, like looking at the underside of a DVD. For more information on how blue (structural) colors are formed on butterflies watch KQED’s Deep Look episode “What gives the morpho butterfly its magnificent blue?” featuring the research of Essig Museum faculty affiliate, Dr. Nipam Patel

To see butterfly scales under a microscope visit the Lawrence Hall of Science.