Well, there is that "ick" factor.
"If you have a grizzly bear or a beautiful bird, many people are engaged right away," Mace Vaughan, director of the Pollinator Conservation Program of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation told Nuwer. The Xerces Society, headquartered in Portland, Ore., protects invertebrates, especially pollinators.
"People think all invertebrates have an ick factor," Vaughn commented, "but in fact almost all don't."
People who don't like bugs sometimes run, stomp or scream--not necessarily in that order.
But at the Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus, there's a sense of awe and wonderment. See, the Bohart Museum is home to a global collection of more than seven million insects but a popular attraction is the "live petting zoo," comprised of assorted Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and the like.
And children do "like."
Bob Dunning of Davis recently brought along three of his children, Molly, 9, Emme, 8, and Mick, 6, to enjoy a Bohart open house.
Emme, especially, was drawn to the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka hissers. She watched one crawl up her arm and around her neck. She didn't flinch. Right on cue, brother Mick let his hisser do the same. Molly? She preferred to watch.
Bohart volunteer Ralph Washington, who received his bachelor’s degree in entomology from UC Davis, told them that these cockroaches are native to Madagascar. The Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa) is one of the largest cockroach species and can reach two to four inches in length.
“They’re like goodwill ambassadors to the Bohart and the cockroach family,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach director, who estimated the museum holds about 40 to 50 Madagascar hissing cockroaches at any given time.
“Some visitors think of them as big beetles, and when we tell them they’re cockroaches sometimes they get a little concerned," she said. "They’re thinking of the pest species.”
An added attraction is that Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka “hissers,” make a noise—they hiss.
“They hiss for a variety of reasons,” Yang said. “The males hiss at each other over territory and they hiss to attract females. When we pick them up, they do an ‘alarm hiss’ so we will leave them alone and put them down.”
Sometimes they’re so used to being handled that they don’t readily hiss. That’s when the museum staffers raid the personal collection of entomology graduate student Emily Bzdyk, who keeps some in her Bohart office.
The Bohart Museum, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, is directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. It's open for visits Monday through Thursday.
To draw in folks who can't attend on weekdays, the Bohart Museum offers special weekend open houses.
The next weekend open house is Saturday, Nov. 19 from 1 to 4. The theme: “Thankful for Bugs.” Want to attend? It's free. And, you'll have a buggy good time.
But be sure to bring your camera. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of a bug on a kid ought to be worth at least 10,000.
Lynn S. Kimsey is an entomologist, and has been one for most of her life.
It's an interesting piece. Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, traces her interest in entomology to age 5, when she received her first butterfly net.
"I've pretty much had a burning passion for insects ever since, except for a brief foray into marine biology as an undergraduate," she told LiveScience.
Kimsey recently drew international attention with her discovery of gigantic "warrior wasps" on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.(The male measures about two-and-a-half-inches long, Kimsey says. “Its jaws are so large that they wrap up either side of the head when closed. When the jaws are open they are actually longer than the male’s front legs.)
And what is "the most important characteristic a researcher must demonstrate in order to be an effective researcher?"
"A burning curiosity and the need to know."
Kimsey is also quick to point out the societal benefits of her research. "Understanding insects, where they occur and the ecosystem services they provide, is critical for our how important insects are to us. They are our principal competitors — they feed on us and our animals, they make us sick and yet provide critical pollination, recycling and nutritional services."
We're glad to see LiveScience singling out scientists for a "behind-the-scenes" look. It humanizes the scientists who do such intriguing research.
We remember when apiculturist Marla Spivak, a 2010 MacArthur Foundation and Distinguished McKnight Professor and Extension entomologist with the University of Minnesota, shared some of her thoughts with LiveScience.
When asked "If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what would it be?" Spivak answered "My students." Then, showing a trademark sense of humor, she added "If there were bees in the lab, I would grab them, too."
Kimsey, too, has a honed sense of humor. The Bohart Museum is the home of a global collection of seven million insect specimens and what she calls "the live petting zoo"--insects you can touch and handle. They include Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a rose-haired taranatula, and walking sticks.
We thought she might gleefully answer "walking sticks" when she was asked what she would RUN out of burning building with, but no.
Kimsey replied: "My external hard drive: My entire research life, my brain, is in that drive."
Wear your favorite insect costume. Show off your insect tattoo.
When the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis hosts its pre-Halloween open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 30, it promises to be a "blood-suckin' good time."
And it's free and open to the public.
One of the highlights will be an insect costume contest. A prize will be awarded to the "best dressed insect" under 6; ages 7-12, 13 to 18, and adults. Judging will be based on creativity and originality, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator.
In addition, a prize will be awarded to the best overall insect tattoo, Yang said.
Another special event is the 3:15 p.m. mosquito pinata bashing. The pinata is the work of Brittany Nelms, a PhD student within the Entomology Graduate Group with a designated emphasis in Vectorborne Diseases (she studies with William Reisen of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases). The pinata will be filled with candy and some insect toys, Yang said.
Among the "blood bugs" on display will be mosquito, bed bug and biting fly specimens. (Not to worry--they're specimens; they're not alive.)
Located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, the Bohart Museum houses a global collection of more than seven million insect specimens and also maintains a live “petting zoo” with such residents as Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, launched its series of weekend openings for the fall season on Saturday, Sept. 24 with “Catch, Collect and Curate: Entomology 101.”
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located at 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, UC Davis campus, knows that a Halloween party isn't a party without the appropriate butterfly, ladybug and honey bee costumes.
After all, the museum houses a global collection of more than seven million specimens (and some live insects, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas).
The Bohart Museum Society party, held tonight (Thursday), drew scores of costumed folks who enjoyed the camaraderie, the refreshments, the gift shop, the specimens and the "live petting zoo." Toward the end, they took time to bash a mosquito pinata, made by Brittany Nelms, a PhD student within the Entomology Graduate Group with a designated emphasis in Vectorborne Diseases. William Reisen of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases, serves as her major professor.
Mosquitoes are meant to be bashed.
UC Davis entomology graduate student Emily Bzdyk arrived as a butterfly, with her face intricately painted. Entomology graduate student Danielle Wishon, who studies with forensic entomologist Bob Kimsey and won the 2011 UC Davis Undergraduate Award in Entomology, selected a maggot theme.
Forensic entomologist Bob Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology dressed in a ghillie suit. And his wife, Lynn, the museum director and professor of entomology? She followed through with an Alcatraz theme (Bob does fly research on Alcatraz and is known as the "Fly Man of Alcatraz.")
When it was all over, Honey Lovers candy donated by Gimbal's Fine Candies of San Francisco, spilled out of the split mosquito pinata as the eager crowd dashed for the goodies.
On Sunday, Oct. 30, the Bohart Museum will host a free pre-Halloween open house for the public. It will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Prizes will be awarded to the best insect costumes (youth and adult divisions) and the best insect tattoo.
And, oh, yes, there will be another blood-sucking mosquito to bash in the form of a pinata.
Staff at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Equine Health encountered "a strange little bug" that they'd never seen before outside their office Friday on Old Davis Road.
Barbara Meierhenry, senior editor at the Center for Equine Health, described it as "a strange little bug...It was about an inch long, with two rounded body sections covered with 'blond' fuzz, and six legs. He was actually very cute. We have never seen a bug like this before."
She emailed us two cell-phone images taken by Equine Control Officer Laurie Christison.
Enter UC Davis bug experts. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, quickly identified it as a "female velvet ant (family Mutillidae)."
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology, added: "The photo is of a female velvet ant, genus Dasymutilla, family Mutillidae. The females are wingless and parasitize ground-nesting bees. The males are winged. These ants are not commonly seen. They're usually associated with sandy soil, and are mostly active on cloudy days or at night. Males squeak when handled, females have powerful stings, so it's not a good idea to try to handle them."
Meierhenry speculates the velvet ant "may have come here on a hay truck as we had a delivery of hay on Friday. In the years we have both worked here, we have never seen such a creature."
As a side note, renowned insect photographer and ant specialist Alex Wild, based in Illinois, posted a Mutillidae family member on his popular Monday night insect quiz last February. He titled it "What's That Fuzz?" The responders got the genus right: Dasymutilla, but differed somewhat on the species.
For another amazing photo of Dasymutilla, check out Alex Wild's Dasymutilla gloriosa, aka Thistledown Velvet Ant. Talk about a good hair day!
By the way, Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis in 2005, studying with major professor Phil Ward, will return to UC Davis this week to speak on insect photography. His talk is Wednesday, Oct. 26 from 12:10 to 1 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. Professor James R. Carey plans to webcast the seminar and post it on UCTV.
It's a good week for bugs!