- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, surrounds herself with more than seven million insect specimens in the museum, plus a few live ones (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula) in her "petting zoo."
Kimsey identifies about 800 bugs a year.
"I probably do four to five identifications a day (for the general public) between email, phone, mail and walk-ins; maybe 400 a year--I lose track," she said. “Probably another 400 or so for colleagues in my research groups--tiphiid and chrysidid wasps.”
The most common ID question? “Spiders--brown recluse or not, mostly," she said. Carpenter bees come in a strong second. The male Valley carpenter bee is often mistaken for a "golden bumble bee." (Both are pollinators.)
So when Holly Millener of Oroville, Butte County, spotted a strange-looking bug on her lilies, she posted an image on Facebook with a "what-is-it?" query.
“They’re everywhere,” noted Millener, who lives on Kelly Ridge near Lake Oroville.
The "mystery bug" drew guesses on and off-line. Elderberry bug, boxelder bug, soapberry bug, squash bug, milkweed bug, stink bug...
“I have one that looks kinda like that out here except where the yellow (orange) is, it’s red," answered a friend. "Those keep eating the leaves on my squash."
“I have a female boxelder tree and they are all around my yard,” wrote another. “They are a nuisance.”
A UC Master Gardener proclaimed it a boxelder bug and kindly posted a link to the UC IPM Management Guidelines.
Other Facebook friends differed.
“I believe they are stink bugs.”
“Valley elderberry longhorn beetle?"
“I don’t know, but we had them EVERYWHERE when we lived in Chico and Durham.”
Wait, is there an entomologist in the house?
Kimsey to the rescue.
“This is a largid in the group of insects called bordered plant bugs,” Kimsey said when we emailed her Millener's photo. Family: Largidae. Genus: Largus.
Mystery solved. It's a bordered plant bug, so named because of the characteristic orange border around its shield, directly behind the head and outlining the abdomen.
This insect sucks plant juices. It attacks a wide variety of plants, appearing especially fond of Asteraceae, the sunflower family. It is known to overwinter in cracks and crevices around the home.
By the way, Kimsey's skills at identifying insects drew international attention in a landmark case in which she identified insects and their locale from the radiator of a rental car driven by a 44-year-old murder suspect. The Bakersfield jury ended up convicting the defendant, a former vice principal, of five counts of first-degree murder in the July 2003 shooting and stabbing deaths of his estranged wife, three children and mother-in-law.
Kimsey knows her bugs.