Ascend with Bay Area Insects

Ride, walk, or jog along the Greenway in Emeryville and you will be greeted by a swarm of Bay Area “bugs”. Commissioned by the city of Emeryville, Joey Rose created two murals, titled “Ascend”, depicting some of the Bay Area’s most important inhabitants – the insects. Part of Emeryville’s park system, this green space cuts through the heart of Emeryville connecting Oakland to Berkeley. “The Greenway hopes to connect people with nature and serves as an “escape” in a historically industrial city,” says Rose. “My murals reflect this ideal. The intended audience is anyone who may happen to see them. It’s important for people of any age or demographic to feel connected to nature and see the importance of preservation.”

For inspiration, Joey visited the Essig Museum to photograph and sketch his subjects. I asked him why insects for this project. “Insects are an often ignored part of the ecosystem. Unfortunately, there is a stigma against insects. They are usually portrayed as being disgusting or scary. I wanted to show the true beauty of insects. This is a sight-specific mural, so I wanted to highlight local and native Bay Area insects. I hope people will be reminded of my painting when they see these insects around the Bay and vice-versa.”

The murals were unveiled on May 10, 2018 at 5768 Peladeau Street in Emeryville to an enthusiastic crowd. “The two figures in the murals are literally being carried by these insects,” says Rose. “I think that is really the core of what I want people to come away with. It’s not so important that they can identify each and every insect. What’s important is to get people thinking about how essential every creature is to not only our ecosystem, but to us (humans) as fellow members of that ecosystem. Even the little guys are important!”

by Peter Oboyski

Fall is for pumpkin spiders

You have probably noticed a lot of these critters around town lately; they seem to be just about everywhere this time of year. These eye-catching little beasts go by many names, including “Cross Orb-Weaver,” “European Garden Spider,” and “Pumpkin Spider,” among others,1,2 but their proper scientific name is Araneus diadematus. (Note: common names like “Garden Spider” or “Pumpkin Spider” may refer to a number of different spider species, which is understandable given that there are an estimated 47,000 (or more)3 spider species on earth! Since we have not come up with 47,000 unique common names for all of these species, it is best to use scientific names to avoid confusion.)

Araneus diadematus are tan, brownish or orange, with yellow, white and black markings and a distinctive “T” or cross pattern on the back of their spade-shaped abdomen. Adults can range from about 6-20 mm in body length, not including the legs.4 Females are much larger than males and have been known to cannibalize hopeful suitors who approach them to mate.5 You are most likely to find these spiders on their characteristic “orb webs”: those beautifully geometric, Charlotte’s Web-style constructions of spiral-shaped silk supported by spokes radiating from a central hub. This web shape is typical of the spider family Araneidae (“orb weavers”).

Although A. diadematus can be found in the Bay Area throughout the year, their numbers and visibility peak in the fall because this is when they reach maturity. They are not native to this region, they originated in Europe, but their range now extends across the U.S. and into many parts of Canada.1 A. diadematus can occur at remarkably high densities in both natural areas (like woods and parks) and urban environments. Whether they truly qualify as “invasive” (which, by definition, would require having a negative impact on the environment) is debatable, but one thing is for sure: they are enormously successful here.

So what are they doing on those lovely spiral webs? Mostly lying in wait for prey, which consists of insects like flies, beetles and aphids.6 The spiral on the web is made of sticky silk, and when unwitting insects blunder into this structure, they get stuck. The insects struggle, creating vibrations through the web. The spiders, although they have poor eyesight, are incredibly sensitive to vibrations, and by resting in the center of the web – where the “spokes” converge – the spiders can detect exactly where to find the prey based on which silk strands are vibrating.7 The spider then uses a combination of biting and silk-wrapping to immobilize the hapless prey before settling down to eat. Since this whole process damages the web, A. diadematus builds a fresh web each day, eating the old one to recycle the silk.

Some people may find A. diadematus creepy or frightening, and these spiders do look formidable when they are fully grown (not to mention that we usually see a lot of them around Halloween!). However, there is no reason to fear these autumnal creepy crawlies: they are completely harmless. Although they do possess venom – as do almost all spiders – the venom’s function is to paralyze insects, not to hurt large vertebrates like us. And while a bite from one of these guys might be painful and cause a small localized reaction8 (much like a bee sting), the chances of being bitten are so slim that it is a non-issue. These spiders are not the least bit aggressive; they like to keep to their webs and mind their own business, and would only bite as a last resort (i.e. if they were about to be squished). So next time you walk through a huge web that a resident A. diadematus thoughtfully constructed right in front of your door, do not panic – the spider is running for the hills as we speak. If you are lucky, your little 8-legged buddy might stumble into your hands and let you take a closer look!

by Susan Kennedy

See also common Bay Area spiders.

References

  1. “Cross Spider.” Washington NatureMapping Program, naturemappingfoundation.org/natmap/facts/cross_spider_712.html.
  2. Bowline, Mariah. “Pumpkin Spider – Araneus diadematus.” BugGuide, Iowa State University Department of Entomology, 2005, bugguide.net/node/view/33907/bgpage.
  3. “World Spider Catalog (2017).” World Spider Catalog. Natural History Museum Bern, wsc.nmbe.ch, version 18.5, accessed on 12 September 2017. doi: 10.24436/2
  4. Araneus diadematus (Cross Orbweaver).” Spiders.us, 2017, spiders.us/species/araneus-diadematus/.
  5. Elgar, M. A. and D. R. Nash. 1988. Sexual cannibalism in the garden spider. Animal Behaviour 36(5): 1511-1517.
  6. Ludy, C. 2007. Prey selection of orb-web spiders (Araneidae) on field margins. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 119(3): 368-372.
  7. Landolfa, M. A. and F. G. Barth. 1996. Vibrations in the orb web of the spider Nephila clavipes: Cues for discrimination and orientation. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Sensory Neural and Behavioral Physiology 179(4): 493-508.
  8. McKeown, N., R. S. Vetter, and R. G. Hendrickson. 2014. Verified spider bites in Oregon (USA) with the intent to assess hobo spider venom toxicity. Toxicon 84: 51-55.

 

Darwin (Evolution) Day 2018

On February 12, 2018 the Essig Museum hosted another great Evolution Day in honor of Charles Darwin’s birthday.  Over 120 students, staff, faculty, and folks from all around the Bay Area got a behind the scenes look at the Museum and some of our special displays. Thank you to our colleagues at the UC & Jepson Herbaria, UC Paleontology Museum, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and UC Botanical Garden for supplying specimens and information for the displays.

At a reception afterwards, Dr. Peter Oboyski summarized some of the outstanding achievements of the Essig over the past year, including: a collaboration with the Muzeum of Vertebrate Zoology on a multi-taxon survey of the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia (hear more about this project this Friday at Essig Brunch); an Entomology at Cal Reunion in October; new specimen donations and accessions, and a temporary funding increase from the Vice Chancellor of Research and the Deans of Letters & Science and College of Natural Resources. The temporary funding increase will facilitate efforts to secure the financial future for the Essig Museum.

Our next big event is Cal Day on April 21 when we will welcome guests to view displays, touch live insects, and get behind the scenes tours of the museum in English, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin – hope to see you there!

Entomology student, Jessica, talking about Orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets).

   

Students checking out the giant African termite queens, and a marine iguana from the MVZ.

Specimens collected by Charles Darwin in Tierra del Fruego during the Voyage of the Beagle.

Entomology graduate student, Sean Perez, admiring a mimicry display by Professor Nipam Patel.

Carnivorous plants from the UC Botanical Garden.

Lots of happy guests enjoying their visit to the Essig Museum.

 

Thanks to Helina Chen (University of California Paleontology Museum) for taking photos!

First Entomology Alumni Reunion

On October 21st, 2017, as part of Alumni / Homecoming Weekend, the Essig Museum of Entomology hosted a gathering for UC Berkeley entomology alumni. We reached out to former undergraduate and graduate students from Berkeley’s entomology program and saw some familiar faces and met others who were part of our university’s entomological past. Alumni reconnected with one another, enjoyed food, wine, talks and exhibits from our current faculty, graduate students, and the Essig Museum. Award for farthest traveled to attend the event goes to Kim Hoelmer, from Newark, Delaware! It was wonderful to meet and catch up with Berkeley entomologists from the past and present- we plan to make this an annual event.

In attendance: Shan Amin, Elizabeth Arias, Dick Arnold, Cheryl Barr, Dylan Beal, Art Berlowitz, Roberta and Bob Brett, Jan Buellesbach, Leo & Ana Caltagirone, Don Calvert, Elizabeth Cash, Les Casher, Kezia Coster, Sara Crews, Paul & Maria da Silva, Paul Daley, John De Benedictis, Kim Do, Jenny Florio, David Garnick, Josh Gibson, Rosemary Gillespie, Natalie Graham, Charles Griswold, Lisa Marie Harris, Shiran Hershcovich, Kim Hoelmer, Casey Hubber, Deanna Jackson, Alan Kaplan, Susan Kennedy, Max Klepikov, Anthena Lam, Bob Lane, Vernard & Lisa Lewis, Jessica Maccaro, Kevi Mace, Patina Mendez, Seongmin Nam, Ida Naughton, Peter Oboyski, Nina Pak, Sean Perez, Alan Poropat, Jerry Powell, Julian Rasco, Vince and Cheryl Resh, Kevin Roberts, George Roderick, Valle Rogers, Paul Rude, Bill Shepard, Andre Szeiner, Lisa Treidel, Neil Tsutsui, Matthew Van Dam, Brandt Weary, Noah Whiteman, Brian Whyte, Kip Will, Caroline Williams, David & Caroline Wood, and Bob Zuparko.

Essig Museum Research Associate Elizabeth Arias and Berkeley Alumnus John DeBenedictis picking up their name tags as they entered the event.

 

Alumni, students and faculty enjoyed a variety of food and beverages as they caught up with one another.

 

So many choices…

 

Berkeley graduate students were instrumental in helping to make the evening a success.

 

Essig Museum Director Kip Will and Berkeley professor George Roderick address the group.

 

Essig Museum Collection Manager Pete Oboyski talks about the function of the Essig Museum and its daily activities.

 

Professor Noah Whiteman describes his research on insect-plant interactions and genomics.

 

Kip Will tells the audience about his ongoing research projects with carabid beetles.

 

Berkeley professor Neil Tsutsui Talks to the group about his research on ants and other social Hymenoptera.

 

Browsing the various displays at the event.

Above photos by Max Klepikov.

Lepidopterists honor Jerry Powell

Speakers from the Powell symposium (l-r): Dave Wagner, Frank Hsu, Felix Sperling, Eric Metzler, Dan Rubinoff, Jerry Powell, Jim Kruse, Kelly Richers, Peter Oboyski, John Brown.

Dr. Jerry Powell was honored on July 30, 2017, at the Lepidopterist Society annual meeting in Tucson, Arizona, with a symposium organized by John Brown, Dan Rubinoff, and Dave Wagner. Speakers included students and colleagues who roasted and toasted Jerry, who sat with his wife Liz in arm chairs at the front of the room. A general theme throughout the presentations (besides Jerry’s demanding and often gruff facade) was how he influenced the trajectory of each person’s career. Others who chimed in remotely, either by Skype or email, included: Dan Janzen, Jim Liebherr, Cheryl Barr, and John De Benedictis. 

Jerry and Liz with front row seats to the roastng.

Jerry is known largely for his work in Lepidoptera, particularly microlepidoptera (ie. small moths). His publications (>240) include Moths of Western North America, (Field Guide to) California Insects, the biology and systematics of spruce budworm, Lepidoptera of the California Channel Islands, yuccas and yucca moths, insects of California sand dune habitats, and a long list of collaborations on various moth groups, including the taxonomy, systematics, and biology of Tortricidae, Heliodinidae, Ethmiidae, Prodoxidae, Pyralidae, and many others. He described as new 227 species of Lepidoptera, and collected over 440 holotypes in various groups. Over 40 species of insects have been named for Powell in seven orders to-date (Hemiptera x1, Neuroptera x1, Diptera x9, Coleoptera x4, Hymenoptera x5, Trichoptera x1, Lepidoptera x22). A true “vacuum cleaner” collector, Powell has contributed many hundreds of thousands of specimens to the Essig Museum of Entomology, where he still curates the Lepidoptera collection a few hours every day.

Comic on Powell’s office door.

Speakers also reminded the audience of their favorite Powell quotes and phrases: “If it was easy someone would have done it already”, “Science moves forward by creeps and jerks”, “chowdered”, “corked”, “good grief”, “One larva; two larvae / NO EXCEPTIONS”, Powell’s Law: “No biologist studies anything found within 100 miles of where they live.”

Although Jerry’s main research focus has always been the insect fauna of western North America, especially California, what was evident from the comments of speakers and other contributors is Jerry’s depth and breadth of knowledge in both insects and plants (and their interactions), and his influence on the careers of entomologists throughout the country and on most continents. Perhaps just as telling is a comment made by a citizen scientist helping to digitize label data from the Essig Museum specimen collection through our Notes From Nature portal who quipped, “Who is this Jerry Powell? Is he some sort of vampire? He has been collecting for over 60 years!”

Jerry Powell collecting in Anza Borrego, March 2017.

 

“Bugged” – California Alumni Magazine, Fall 2017

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The Essig Museum of Entomology was featured in the fall 2017 issue of the California Alumni Magazine. The issue explores the many different uses of the word “bug”, as best explained by UC Berkeley School of Information professor, Geoffrey Nunberg, in Krissy Eliot’s article An Entomological Etymology. The feature article on the Essig Museum, by Pat Joseph, explores the past, present, and future importance of The Bug Collection. The magazine also includes For Love of Roaches: confessions of an entomophile by Kaitlyn Kraybill-Voth, a UC Berkeley graduate who spent over three years working as a collections assistant in the Essig Museum.

As if the words and photos are not enough, video journalist Marika Petrey created four short videos that are available below: Introducing Bugged, How to Mount a Moth, How to Kill the Specimen, and Why Entomology? These videos provide a sneak peak into the daily activities of the Essig Museum. Enjoy!

 

 

Butterfly workshop – May 20/21, 2017

The Jepson Herbarium & Essig Museum
Co-Present: 

Butterflies: Biology, Behavior & Identification

May 20-21, 2017
 

Led by the Essig Museum of Entomology’s Dr. Peter Oboyski, this workshop is open to anyone who is curious about butterflies: perfect for naturalists, gardeners, and enthusiasts alike, in this course we will explore the diversity of butterflies, their life cycles and host plants, behaviors, and identification, with a special focus on California and the Bay Area. We will also discuss how to promote butterflies in your own neighborhood by providing resources for both larvae and adults. This workshop includes a tour of the Essig Museum, a field trip to nearby native butterfly habitats, and a visit from some guest speakers!

Visit the Jepson Workshops website for registration information

Enrollment is still open for this course! For more information or to register, contact Allyson Ayalon, Public Programs Coordinator at the Jepson Herbarium. Phone: 510-643-7008. Email: alayalon@berkeley.edu.

Sulawesi Expedition 2016

The island of Sulawesi (aka. Celebes) is nestled between Borneo, Papua, and the Philippines in a region of Indonesia known as Wallacea. It was formed by a collision of the Asia plate, Australian plate, and a system of island arcs, each contributing their fauna and flora. The resulting complex biogeographical patterns were a fascination to Alfred Russel Wallace and continue to be for modern biologists. Thanks to an NSF Biodiversity: Discovery & Analysis grant (DEB 1457845) led by Jim McGuire of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (MVZ), and co-PIs Rauri Bowie (MVZ), Rosemary Gillespie (Essig), and Susan Perkins (AMNH), a multi-taxon team of biologists will survey an elevation gradient across nine volcanoes distributed throughout the island.

The first expedition in July-August 2016 was to Latimojong in the northern part of South Sulawesi. Six researchers from the Berkeley Natural History Museums: Peter Oboyski (Essig), Jim McGuire, Rauri Bowie, Luke Bloch, Alexander Stubbs, Jeff Frederick (MVZ),  along with Heidi Rockney (SF State) met with colleagues from Australia and the Indonesia Research Center for Biology in Bogor, West Java to organize the inaugural trip. Permitting and other paperwork took two weeks onsite, and this was the expedited processing! Fortunately we were able to visit the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriensis and the Bogor Botanical Garden, and buy field supplies while we waited. The entomology collection is extensive with butterflies and other macrolepidoptera, beetles, bugs, bees, and flies well represented. Not so well represented are microlepidoptera and spiders – two of the targets of this expedition. The facilities are modern with good climate control. The well-educated and knowledgeable curators and staff prepare and database accessions, conduct research, and train students. Although there were some language barriers, there were enough people from each team that spoke the others’ language, which greatly facilitated our collaboration.

Two weeks later, over 20 biologists flew from Jakarta (Java) to Makassar (Sulawesi) to purchase final supplies and make the ten hour drive to the town of Belopa where we spent the night. The next morning we made our final push, by 4WD vehicles to the village of Gamaru – our first field camp. The village, at 1350m elevation, included ~20 simple wooden houses within a matrix of coffee plantations, small gardens, ponds, and secondary native forest. Our home for the first few days was the house of one of the village leaders, while a team of local villagers begin building our field camp and porting gear and supplies.

The first week was rainy and muddy, but the new moon was optimal for UV light collecting. On the first night, a sheet hung under the house with a view into the valley below was one of the best nights of moth collecting.

The next camp was at 1730m along a trail leading from Gamaru village. More secondary forest with a lot of invasive plant species along the trail, but native forest off the trail. We set up pitfall traps, malaise tents, and sifted leaf litter to put in winkler funnels at 100m intervals from 1800 to 2400m, but did not acquire many specimens (possibly due to rain or poor timing). Hand collecting for spiders proved very productive. The highest field camp (2800m) was in a dwarf forest / bog along the upper ridge of the mountain – a distinctly different habitat with a unique insect fauna.

The last few days of the three-week field operation was spent in another village at 800m, which was in the process of being cleared for agriculture and development. Remnants of native forest remained and collecting was generally good. But it was clear that this area would soon be completely converted to agriculture, like many rural areas. After returning to Bogor and the museum, it was time to count specimens for export permits and pack our bags.

More images of Sulawesi Lepidoptera can be found at our Flickr site. We can use your help in identifying these species.

  • by Peter Oboyski

CalDay – April 22, 2017

CalDay is here! Join us on Saturday, April 22 for amazing arthropod displays, education, and fun. This year’s lecture series will focus on disease and feature Dr. Bob Lane (professor emeritus) talking about ticks and tick-borne diseases in California in “California Tick Talk”. Other lectures include Dr. Matteo Garbalatto on “Invasion of the Tree Killers” including sudden oak death, Dr. Michelle Koo on “Amphibian Decline”, Dr. Michael Shapira on “Microbiomes in Health and Disease”, and PhD student Sara ElShafie on “Real World Fanastic Beasts”.

There will be live arthropods (stick insects, hissing roaches, and more) in the Valley Life Science Building courtyard, and displays of insects from around the world in room 3003 Valley Life Science Building. And don’t forget to visit the UC Berkeley Entomology Club between 11:00 and 1:00 for more displays, face painting, and information about the club.

There will also be behind the scenes tours of the Essig Museum in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. Find out more in 3003 VLSB.

See you at CalDay!