It’s been a busy few weeks for the UC Riverside Entomology Outreach Program! The city of Riverside recently held two large public events to promote science engagement in our community: The Long Night of Arts and Innovation, and the first ever Riverside Citizen Science BioBlitz. UC Riverside Entomology graduate students showed up in force at both events.
The Long Night of Arts and Innovation on Oct. 8 brought together scientists, artists, and innovators from throughout Riverside to provide free presentations and activities for the public. UCR Entomology brought the insect petting zoo – by far the most fun way to teach people about insects is to invite them to hold a real, live insect!
The most popular were our walking stick insects. Walking sticks are herbivores that eat the same plants they use for camouflage (blending into surroundings to avoid being seen by predators). Walking sticks also use a fascinating form of reproduction called parthenogenesis, in which females lay unfertilized eggs which successfully develop into females. In nature, some males can exist, and when eggs are fertilized they develop into males. Our insect zoo contains only females, and they frequently reproduce by parthenogenesis.
Our “stink beetles” are readily recognized by many locals in Riverside. Beetles in the family Tenebrionidae are commonly seen in local parks, open spaces, and even backyards! Shiny black Tenebrionid beetles in the genus Eleodes are known for their characteristic head down-abdomen up posture when they feel threatened, and if provoked, their stink! The stink serves as a defensive mechanism, and is emitted as an oily secretion or spray from the tip of the abdomen; it has a noxious smell and is an irritant to skin and mucus membranes.
The Riverside Citizen Science BioBlitz on Oct. 17 at Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park mobilized professional scientists and citizen scientists with the goal of documenting the naturally occurring biodiversity of the park. (See sister blog post from the Los Angeles Natural History Museum here).
UC Riverside entomologists led groups on “insect tours,” pointing out the ants, butterflies, stinkbugs, dragonflies and lace bugs on the park’s native plants. We also collected flying insects for preservation by using pan traps deployed throughout the park.
As we hiked along, we collected yellow and blue pan traps that had been deployed earlier in the day along the hiking trail. We filtered the insects out of the soapy water onto filter papers, and brought them back to be identified at the end of our insect tour.
Back in the Ameal Moore Nature Center, the UC Riverside Entomology Research Museum Senior Museum Scientist, Doug Yanega busily identified and counted all the insect specimens that were collected by each yellow and blue pan trap.
At the end of the last insect tour, we removed a small section of decaying Sycamore log to explore the termite colony living within. Slowly and carefully removing sections of the log exposed the inner galleries of the colony, along with many workers, and several soldiers. Termites are very efficient detritivores, living by eating only dead and decaying materials. They host a rich community of microbes in their guts that assist in digestion of complex molecules. To both maintain their gut flora, and to provide these microbes to new members of the colony, termites engage in a behavior called trophallaxis. Trophallaxis is the transfer of partially-completely digested food and fluids among members of the colony.
The Long Night of Arts and Innovation and the Riverside Citizen Science BioBlitz were two great recent events where UCR Entomology graduate students engaged the local community in science, discovery and exploration. We participate in community events like this year-round, and we host a few of our own as well. For more information, visit our page here.