The Royal Entomological Society has bestowed its Westwood Medal upon entomology professor Christiane Weirauch for her work on true bugs — a group of insect that includes plant attackers and human disease spreaders as well as natural pest controllers.
The society, based in the U.K., is one of the oldest and most prominent organizations of its kind in the world. Its goal is to promote the world’s knowledge of insects. The award indicates that Weirauch and her colleague successfully furthered this goal with a new textbook, True Bugs of the World: Classification and Natural History.
Siri Scientific Press, which published the book, explains, “Despite the authors clearly positioning their book as the second edition of the 1995 manual, this upgrade of the former edition is so massive that it would be fair to consider the new edition as a brand-new treatise.”
Weirauch said that this is the first big book project she has been involved in, and that she got involved because knowledge of true bugs has advanced considerably since the 1990s.
“We understand a lot more now about their behaviors such as how they capture prey, what they feed on, whether the mother or the father cares for the young and more,” she said. “We have better observational and genomic data allowing for investigations into the insects’ evolution that weren’t possible 30 years ago. That’s what I’m excited about in my lab — incorporating molecular-based data with natural history observations.”
Originally from Germany, Weirauch said she has studied true bugs since her undergraduate days both because they are agriculturally and medically significant, and because they’re interesting creatures. True bugs comprise more than 45,000 different species and are part of the insect order Hemiptera, which includes cicadas, aphids, and whiteflies. They differ from other insect orders by their sucking mouth parts that work like a straw.
Here in California, growers are battling multiple species of true bugs that feed on strawberries and cause a problem called “catfacing.” The insects pierce the young fruits while they’re still growing, which leads to artifacts on the surface of the fruits and growths that resemble cats’ ears.
Others that fall in the ‘pest’ category include bedbugs as well as “kissing” bugs that spread Chagas disease. It is a serious disease in Central and South America. Left untreated, Chagas can lead to congestive heart failure.
Some are considered beneficial, like the minute pirate bug, that feeds on a variety of agricultural pests such as aphids, spider mites and alfalfa weevils, asparagus beetles, Bean thrips and more.
“In a nutshell, true bugs are important for humans to understand, but they’re also just cool,” Weirauch said. “I’m pleased that our new book is being recognized for compiling so much of the current knowledge about them.”