Sometimes the unexpected happens.
Take the case of the female praying mantis delivered to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, University of California, Davis, for an educational display. The Bohart, home of some eight million insect specimens, also has a live "petting zoo"-- which houses tarantulas, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and walking sticks.
And now: a female praying mantis.
UC Davis entomology student Justin "Wade" Spencer begins feeding and caring for her.
One day he wonders if she is gravid (pregnant). So when another entomology student, Minsu Kang, brings in a male praying mantis, Spencer makes sure that the female receives an extra portion of roach nymphs because of the possibility--well, a little possibility--that the female might lop off his head.
So Spencer feeds her more yummy roach nymphs. All is well.
Finally, it's time to meet. The male praying mantis climbs inside the habitat.
The male looks interested. He takes one step toward her. She doesn't move. He takes another step. No response. “Oh good,” thinks Spencer.
Then she responds. “Food! Food! Food!" She promptly grabs him with her spiked forelegs and lops off his head. Then she devours him. All of him.
Well, almost. The owner of the male praying mantis returns. "Where's my praying mantis?” Kang asks.
Wade holds up a wing and some frass.
Sometimes the unexpected happens.
This story is about a boy, bugs, a birthday and the Bohart.
Ty Elowe, who seeks a career in entomology, asked his mother for an early 13th birthday present: a visit to the Bohart Museum of Entomology. It houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and also features a live “petting zoo” of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
His mother, Robbin Elowe, readily agreed to the birthday wish--although she acknowledges that she is not particularly fond of insects.
“Ty has had an obsession for bugs since he was a year and a half,” his mother recalled. “He has always wanted to be an entomologist and his trip to the Bohart Museum has only fueled his motivation and determination to make his entomology dreams come true!”
Ty described the visit, Oct. 13-14, as “one of the greatest trips of my life.”
“Everyone was so kind, informative, helpful and welcoming,” the Elowes agreed.
The Elowes spent much of the time with entomology enthusiast and undergraduate student Wade Spencer. Then they were invited to Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas' afternoon seminar Friday afternoon on "The Story and Life History of the Rarely Seen Sierra-Nevada butterfly, Colias behrii, known as Behr's Sulphur, or Sierra Sulphur."
“It was fascinating to sit in on Greg's seminar,” Robbin said. “It made us feel so important and privileged!”
“Wade Spencer was absolutely amazing with Ty,” she said. “He spent so much time and gave Ty so much attention. He is truly a mentor to Ty. “
Ty's interest in bugs extends to room décor. Ty convinced his brothers to let his aunt, Celeste Holley, an accomplished artist, redo the boys' bathroom with a bug theme. “They each picked a bug for Celeste to sketch,” Robbin said.
The Elowes' visit began on Thursday. “They came in while other visitors were viewing the live critters and I began helping them,” Wade said. “When Ty's mother remembered to move their car, I asked him where they were visiting from and he informed me his Mom flew them out from Arizona with the only goal of visiting the Bohart. That blew my mind away! So, when she came back, I asked if what he told me was true, and she elaborated, stating it was because he wants to be an entomologist and it was an early 13th birthday present. I was simply astonished.”
“So, seeing as how awesome this was, I set aside databasing to focus on investing time to inspire a buddy entomologist's mind and make their trip worth while,” Wade related. “He is a very bright young man. He's both knowledgeable and friendly and has the potential to be a great entomologist one day.”
Wade set about giving him “tips and pointers on how to safely navigate out in the field, be it at night or during the day.”
The Elowes left the Bohart Museum at 5 p.m. on Thursday, and were encouraged to return on Friday following their planned visit to the UC Davis Arboretum and the Botanical Conservatory. Ty is also deeply interested in plants.
“They came in Friday afternoon and Ty was telling me all about the Conservatory,” Wade said.
"Ty's is absolutely awesome to do something so special for her son," Wade said. "She didn't like bugs, per se, but with each new bug I brought out for him to hold, she sat within two feet of him and repeatedly commented ‘I'm not afraid right now at all, even though they're so close to me.'
“Just her willingness to take an interest in her son's passion and to take steps toward fueling it speaks volumes to her character and awesome parenting skills,” Wade said.
When they left Friday, Wade “handed him my pair of 12-inch forceps for him to use in the field. It was touching to see how such a simple gift could mean so much to him.”
They also exchanged emails. “Hopefully we'll be in touch with Ty and his family to help him as best as we can,” Spencer said.
“This is what makes everything we do in the museum worthwhile," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. "Every person we help increases our enthusiasm to teach more and try to reach more people.”
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, was founded in 1946, and is named for noted entomologist Richard Bohart (1913-2007), emeritus professor at UC Davis. The museum is the seventh largest insect collection in North America and is a National Science Foundation and UC-funded facility. Visitors are invited to tour the insect museum Monday through Thursday, view the collection, and learn from the scientists. It also operates a year-around gift shop that includes insect-collecting equipment, books, posters, jewelry, insect-themed candy, stuffed animals (insects), T-shirts and sweatshirts.
During the academic year, the Bohart Museum offers special weekend open houses, all family friendly. In the summer they host “bug camps” for kids. Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, directs the summer camps and organizes and conducts the many classroom tours.
A perfect perch.
A young male variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum, found a perfect perch--a seed ball of Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
It towered over the garden and so did he.
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas, Bohart Museum of Entomology associate, University of California, Davis, has been seeing and photographing some of these migrating dragonflies in his yard in Davis as well.
"Evidently, there was a big migration of lots of these dragonflies south of San Francisco," Kareofelas noted in his Facebook post.
And apparently thousands have been spotted at Half Moon Bay. Dragonfly alert!
Variegated meadowhawks live near ponds, lakes, and swamps. They are largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males, according to Odonatacentral.org. They're found throughout the United States and southern Canada; also Mexico south to Belize and Honduras. "This species may be seen on the ground more than other meadowhawks. It will also readily perch on the tips of grass stems and tree branches. It can be numerous flying over roads, lawns, meadows, marshes and ponds...It is largely tan or gray with a pale face that is tan in young males and females but becomes red in mature males."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building on Crocker Lane, offers a beautiful dragonfly poster, "Dragonflies of California," in its gift shop. It's the work of entomologist Fran Keller (she received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis and is now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College) and Kareofelas, whose expertise includes butterflies and dragonflies.
This just in for Halloween!
Ever seen a false black widow spider?
Commonly known as the cupboard spider, it's a semi-cosmopolitan spider that's often confused with the "real" black widow spider, known for its powerful venom.
Adrienne Shapiro of Davis took this photo (below) of a spider on the Shapiro property (photographed and released). Her husband, Art, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, identified it as a female false black widow, Steatoda grossa.
"The overall appearance is very similar to the real thing, except it lacks the red spot on the belly and usually--but not always--has some yellow patterning on the dorsal abdomen: a crescent-like line at the anterior end and a row of triangular spots down the midline, visible here," Shapiro commented.
"But a few may be all black, or the yellow is barely visible," he noted. "This is a semi-cosmopolitan species usually found in or around buildings. It's originally from the Mediterranean region and in the United States and is mostly urban-bicoastal, absent from the heartland. Its habits are nearly identical to the black widow. It's not very common and I personally have never seen it in Davis before. The bite of the female IS venomous, but not to the degree a true black widow bite is. The symptoms are usually local pain, redness and blistering, but some people report generalized malaise for up to a couple of days. I am unaware of any deaths or serious sequelae."
Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, says he gets a few calls about the false black widow. "Steatoda mostly lives under things on the ground," he said, "while the black widows live a little bit off the ground."
We've never seen the false black widow, but have seen numerous black widows (genus Latrodectus.) One black widow homesteaded on the rim of our swimming pool several years ago and we managed to photograph Mama straddling her egg cases. The familiar red hourglass was definitely visible!
The black widow's bite, particularly harmful to people, contains neurotoxin latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named for the genus. Only the female bite is harmful. But the bite is rarely fatal to humans.
We watched Mama scurry around, seemingly trying to protect both egg cases simultaneously from the long-lensed camera.
She was like a Mama Grizzly protecting her cubs.
Bohart associate Fran Keller, an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College, and her former entomology teacher David Wyatt, a professor at Sacramento City College, led the tour to Belize, returning with some 100,000 specimens to add to the Bohart collection.
Gordon and Esther Schmierer came from Lodi to donate her 1973-74 collection of Belize specimens. They included a blue morpho (Morpho peleides), one of the world's largest butterflies.
Special guests included Keller's students (okay, they got extra credit for attending) marveled at the Belize specimens and got extra points for holding a live bug, including a walking stick, Madagascar hissing cockroach or a tarantula.
Jordan Bailey, one of Keller's students, gingerly held a walking stick as his classmates photographed him. Milo Kovet of the Keller class arrived with his daughter, Paschela, 8. She delighted in holding a tarantula in the palm of her hand, transferred there by Bohart Museum volunteer Wade Spencer.
Seventeen-year-old Noah Crockette, a budding entomologist who received a grant last year to study beetles in Belize, was part of the Wyatt-Keller tour. He explained his finds to eager visitors.
In the butterfly section, Bohart associate/entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the moth-butterfly specimens, and Bohart associate/naturalist Greg Kareofelas held court, answering questions. Kimber Richardson and Alex Luevano came from Yuba City to see the collection.
Little Mia Brown, 5, of Folsom, delighted in holding a walking stick. The expression on her face: priceless!
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of more than eight million specimens. It also includes a live "petting zoo." featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. No admission is charged, but donations are accepted. The scientists also hold open houses throughout the academic year, which are free and open to the public (and family friendly).
The schedule includes:
Saturday, Nov. 19: 1 to 4 p.m.: “Uninvited Guests: Common Pests Found in the Home”
Sunday, Jan. 22: 1 to 4 p.m.: “Parasite Palooza: Botflies, Fleas and Mites, Oh, My”
Saturday, Feb. 18: (varying times throughout campus): Biodiversity Museum Day, an opportunity to explore 11 UC Davis collections
Sunday, March 19: 1 to 4 p.m.: “Eggs to Wings: Backyard Butterfly Gardening”
Saturday, April 22: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: “”UC Davis Picnic Day”
More information on the Bohart Museum is available on its website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Group tours can be scheduled throughout the year with public education and outreach coordinator Tabatha Yang.