Darwin Day!

Most people celebrate this week for February 14th, Valentine’s day, but a new holiday is in the making- February 12th, Darwin Day! The 12th of this month celebrates the 204th birthday of Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of Species and co-discoverer of the principles of natural selection. Across the globe, thousands of people celebrate Darwin Day to commemorate the invaluable contributions of one of the world’s greatest scientists. But is the United States ready for this holiday? In 2011 legislation was introduced by Rep. Peter Stark to officially recognize Darwin Day, and revisited in January of this year by Rep. Rush Holt. In a country where about 40% of the public deny the fact of evolution, why should Darwin Day be recognized?

More than any other scientist, Darwin’s ideas have influenced our modern lifestyle. Vaccines and chemotherapy depend on understanding that viruses and cancers evolve. Agricultural innovation centers around selecting for crops that will be the most successful. Even the loveable Labradoodle was inspired by the idea of inherited traits. A famous quote by evolutionary biologist Ted Dobzhansky sums it all up: ‘Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution’. The very foundations of a healthy and well-fed society-  medicine and agriculture – also depend on the illumination of Darwinian evolution.

As a keen geologist, Darwin noted that the slow earthly transformations of mountain ranges depended on the earth being much older than previously thought. As a breeder of pigeons and plants, he observed the slow and hereditary transformation of species. As an avid naturalist, he collected the incredible diversity of life, including fossil specimens of extinct animals. In 1859 he collected his ideas in The Origin of Species to describe a novel idea: the earth is very old, and the species on it change with time. He was met with resistance from both the public and scientific community.

More than 200 years later, we know that evolution is true- we have undeniable evidence of evolution in action and science accepts the principles of evolution as fact. There are still many who resist these facts, but we should not be intimidated into silence when we know something to be true. It took centuries to recognize racial equality in this country, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day was only celebrated in all 50 states in 2000, despite being introduced in 1983. So too, we must started the long hard work to recognize the importance of Charles Darwin, and his contributions to our society.

The tradition of Darwin Day started in 1909 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the departed scientist, and the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. Since that time, celebrations have ranged from public lectures on evolution, to ‘phyllum feasts’ that aim to eat as broadly as possible from across the tree of life. At the University of California, Berkeley, the celebrations are hosted by the Essig Museum of Entomology, and  generally include an evolutionary themed photo contest, a cake for the birthday boy, and toasts to commemorate the contributions of local biologists. Although mainly a private event, the public can get a free tour of the museum.

Unfortunately, even in this the most liberal of American cities, Darwin Day is not widely celebrated. The celebration of Darwin Day needs to be brought to the public, because above all else, evolution serves a public good. So, for every flu vaccine, cold-tolerant crop, and new dog breed you encounter this year, please take some time and thank the illustrious Mr. Charles Darwin. And if you have some time, please write your public representative and show your support for the recognition of Darwin Day.




Balancing Act

Bio Control AcrobaticsEarlier this evening I spent two hours with four dainty but very picky female parasitoids (Meteorus ictericus– shoutout!). Normally my olfactometer experiments only take 1 hour for 3 females, but there was one very particular lady who just wouldn’t make a decision! She obviously did not go for her morning run! —-Silently I yelled at her- “Don’t you know that I have places to go? People to see? And Cookies to Eat (at a holiday party)?!- Good thing I swam earlier today or you would be toast!”

Unfortunately, I doubt threats work on insects. Instead, I patiently waited, and then substituted a more promising young lady into the y-tube and waited for her decision between a damaged and undamaged plant.

Meteorus ictericus (photo: Linda Buergi)

I wonder how many other people out there spend hours/days/ or years waiting on the whims of an insect or an animal.


You find yourself telling your friends – “Sorry I missed dinner- my females just weren’t having any from the males…. Or “Sorry I missed your Birthday- I’m down to the last female in my colony so I had to wait and see if she would mate with her son”.

 With all the time you spend on these experiments- you hope that something great will come out of it. Whether it be a publication, a nod from your adviser, a post-doctoral offer, Nobel Prize, or an applied impact (one that changes the world of course!)

 For me the hardest part about the scientific process- is the DOUBT.  DOUBT is worse than any four-letter word. It is the most insulting thing to the human ego besides failure. The doubt that creeps up from your stomach to the back of your neck, infesting your every thought. The doubt that says ‘What if I am doing this wrong? What if this doesn’t work?  What if I don’t get more money? What if I’m wasting my time?- What if I’m not worthy! (that last one is the worst)”

 Of course any scientist’s rebuttal to this would be “Well if you researched it enough before starting, then you shouldn’t have doubt”. Yea -right.

So instead, everyday to gain a bit of satisfaction- I dedicate time to the physical arts. Whether it is learning a new flip, catching a wave, working on my six-pack (okay… it’s a 4) being the first woman to win Ninja Warrior (working on that still) or doing a 2.5 star drop on an aerial silk. I think it is the same satisfaction people get from cleaning their house, learning martial arts, baking, doing laundry or just having a dog stare at them with eyes that say: “you are the best”. Either way- you have that product at the end of the day- that you can be proud of.

Often people get so involved with their work- they forget to take care of themselves. What they don’t realize is that you need to make your health and soul the # 1 thing in your life.  If you do this, I have firm confidence that you will be happier, more productive and definitely have a better chance of passing on your genes

Photo by: http://cisr.ucr.edu/

Light Brown Apple Moth- Star Species

So while I plan out my new physiology methods tomorrow on how to most efficiently quantify the proteins, lipids and carbohydrates in parasitized and non-parasitized hosts (Light Brown Apple Moth Shout Out!) – I will also be getting ready for my first debut Aerial Silks Show!! As much as I can talk in front of people (sometimes too much)- I am super shy when it comes to performing… so we will see how this goes.

If I get injured-can someone take care of my insect colonies?

Also an excuse to finally learn how to photoshop out backgrounds

Julie V. Hopper (ESO member)

Bee Thankful

The Thanksgiving meal, with it’s heaps of buttery mashed potatoes, succulent piles of turkey, and gelatinous gobs of cranberry sauce, is truly an All-American feast in more ways than one. Most of the foods we mound onto our plates originated in the Americas. What’s more, many of them rely on pollinator partners that are also native to the New World.

While most of us think of the iconic honey bee as the primary pollinator of our food crops, they were introduced to the Americas from Europe. Before that, a variety of native bees were responsible for all crop pollination. The dishes shared by the pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving dinner likely owe a debt of gratitude to the native bees of New England.

Take pumpkins, the key ingredient in my favorite pie, for example. To fatten into their delicious orange form, pumpkins need to be visited by a specific pollinator, the squash bee, Peoponapis purinosa, which is found throughout much of North America.

Squash Bee, Peponapis purinosa (Photo credit: Kathy Keatley Garving)

Pumpkins have large, yellow, tubular flowers that open at dawn. At the base of the female reproductive organ, are tantalizing pools of nectar. Female squash bees also wake at first light to plunder these rich resources, climbing deep into the flower’s gullet. In the process, thousands of pollen grains adhere to the russet-colored velvety hairs that cover the bees’ bodies. While the bees carry some of the pollen home to their nests, they inadvertently deposit the rest in other pumpkin flowers as they forage between different plants.

Native bees come in all shapes and sizes, which makes them suitable pollinators for an array of tasty crops. Even today they contribute to a wide variety food production, including apples, almonds, peaches, pears, cranberries, and, yes, even pumpkins.

This Thanksgiving, I plan to give thanks to a group of insects that made my delicious meal possible: the native bees. Which bugs will you be thanking?

~ Hillary Sardiñas, pollination ecologist

Kremen lab ESPM


Welcome to the ESO Blog

Thank you for visiting the ESO (Entomology Student Organization) blog!  We are a student organization in the department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.  This blog serves as a forum for the graduate, undergraduate, and post-doctoral researchers to share aspects of their research and travels in the wonderful world of insects!