Posts Tagged: Matan Shelomi
We know that honey bees work hard. They forage for food within a four-mile range of their hive. They can fly up to 15 miles per hour, and their wings can beat about 200 times per second, or 12,000 beats per minute. Sometimes they'll visit 50 to 100 flowers on a collection trip. No wonder worker bees live only four to six weeks during their peak season. They literally work themselves to death.
Matan Shelomi, doctoral candidate in entomology at the University of California, Davis, responded. He answers scores of questions on Quora. (He won a Shorty award for his answer to "If you injure a bug, should you kill it or let it live?”).
Shelomi took the bee question to heart.
"Nope," he wrote. "No blood vessels."
"A heart attack is when fatty deposits, clots, etc. block the coronary artery that leads to the heart muscle. Blood flow to the heart muscle itself (as opposed to the pumping chambers) stops, so the muscle dies and the heart stops beating. So to have a heart attack, you need a heart and arteries."
"Insects have a heart, sometimes, but no arteries or veins. They have an open circulatory system: all their organs just float in a goo called 'hemolymph' that is a combination of lymph and blood. Some insects, bees included, have a heart and an aorta (the vessel leading out of the heart) that pumps the blood and gives it some semblance of direction (from the back of the insect to the front), but beyond that there is no circulatory system. The heart floats in the hemolymph along with everything else. No way to stop it from receiving blood flow, because it's surrounded by it.
"Furthermore, unlike human blood, insect blood doesn't carry oxygen. They have a special network of tubes called trachea that provide oxygen: think of it having air vessels go from your lungs all throughout your body instead of blood vessels. Conceivably the trachea leading to an insect heart could all get blocked by something from the outside, which would be the closest thing to a 'heart attack' in an insect, but there's no record of that happening and its unlikely anyway. So, nope, no insect can have a heart attack. Scare them to your heart's content."
So, this month being "American Heart Month" and all, we don't have to worry about honey bees having heart attacks. All drones (male bees), however, pay the ultimate price when they mate with a queen. During the in-flight mating process, parts of the male anatomy are ripped out and they die.
Honey bee heading toward rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
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)