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."
When self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick of Davis created the morphologically correct honey bee sculpture for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis, she expected it to be a focal point.
And it is.
The bee, which she cleverly named "Miss Bee Haven," anchors the half-acre bee friendly garden and it's the first thing visitors see when they stop by the site, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, west of the central UC Davis campus.
"That's one big honey bee!" they say. Or, "that's one big worker bee!"
Sometimes you see young children circling it or climbing on it. Most of the time you see people whipping out a cell phone to take a photo.
Last Wednesday it was "Occupy the Bee." An insect occupied the bee's left antenna: a consperse stink bug (Euschistus conspersus).
Why was the stink bug there? After all, this little critter sucks plant juices.
Me thinks the agricultural pest was just warming itself on "Miss Bee Haven"--before heading out to misbehave.
When award-winning photographer Teresa Willis of Vacaville encountered a red caterpillar on a dirt road at about 6000 feet in a canyon north of Paradise Valley, Nev., she did what photographers do--she captured an image of it.
And posted it on her Facebook page where some of her friends likened it to the Oscar Mayer weiner.
The caterpillar is indeed red. Bright red. Well, what is it?
Renowned butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis, who knows about such things, says it is the larvae of an owlet moth (family Noctuidae) "and the species is probably Noctuid."
"It's infested with the parasitic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, a generalist parasite of insect larvae, which it turns bright red," Shapiro says. "Experiments have shown that this acts as a warning color, deterring visual predators (such as birds) from eating them (and the nematodes in the process)."
Hardly any Lepitoptera escapes identification from Art Shapiro, who maintains the popular website, Art's Butterfly World at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/ and is a UC Davis professor of evolution and ecology.
As for Teresa Willis (see more of her work at http://www.redbubble.com/people/teresalynwillis), you can say she got the red out.
With the help of a parasitic nematode, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora.
But they're much more than that. Much more.
Ant specialist Brian Fisher, an entomologist with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, describes ants as "industrious, tenacious workers who live in colonies and obey a hierarchy of rulers."
And they're also massive.
“Consider that the collective weight of all the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the world's humans," Fisher says. "It's a big subject with a big impact. That alone makes ants worthy of scientific study.”
Fisher, associate curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences and an adjunct professor of biology at both the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, will deliver the 2011 Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar, UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Fisher, who just returned from a collecting trip in Madagascar, will speak on “How Many Ants Can an Island Hold? Exploring Ant Diversity in Madagascar" from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the Recreation Pool Lodge on La Rue Road, UC Davis. The lecture is free and open to the public.
He'll be honored at a reception set from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Rec Pool Lodge.
Fisher received his doctorate degree in entomology from UC Davis in 1997, studying with major professor Phil Ward.
Often found hip-deep in Madagascar mud, Fisher is a self-described modern day explorer who has devoted his life to the study and conservation of ants and biodiversity around the world. His research sends him through the last remote rainforests and deserts of Madagascar and Africa in search of ants. Although his subjects may be small in stature, they make a huge impact on their ecosystems.
By documenting the species diversity and distribution of this “invisible majority,” Fisher says he's helping to establish conservation priorities for Madagascar, identifying areas that should be set aside to protect the highest number of species. Along the way, he has discovered hundreds of new species of ants. He has published more than 75 peer reviewed articles including Ants of North America with Stefan Cover.
Every year, Fisher trains dozens of international graduate students in the taxonomy and natural history of ants, providing them with skills to use ants as an important indicator of biodiversity across the globe. He has appeared in a number of BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic films and has been profiled in Newsweek and Discover magazines.
So, for the last 23 years, Brian Fisher has traveled the globe finding, collecting, identifying and naming ants, describing their behaviors, and cataloguing their traits. Of the estimated 22,000 ant species known to science, Fisher has personally discovered 1000 species.
Born in Normal, Ill., the son of a college professor and a fifth grade teacher, Brian Fisher always knew he wanted to work outdoors. But for awhile, he didn't know what. The day after his high school graduation, he caught a flight to Europe and spent two years bicycling the continent, learning French and carpentry before returning home.
Once he returned to the states, he enrolled at the University of Iowa, majoring in biology. “But I was itching to get to Latin America, learn Spanish and live the dream of a tropical plant collector,” he remembers. It was during a year in Panama that he worked part-time for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He also worked as an aspiring botanist, collecting specimens of tropical flora.
It was during his stay in Panama that the love bug bit. Ants!
“You go to the tropics and the sheer diversity of insects are literally raining down on you,” Fisher says. “At that point, I decided to switch from being a great botanical explorer to becoming an ant finder.”
The Nov. 9th UC Davis seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993), an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production. During his 37-year UC Davis career, he was based at the Shafter Research and Extension Center, also known as the U.S. Cotton Research Station. He researched pest and beneficial arthropod management in cotton fields, and host plant resistance in cotton to insects, mites, nematodes and diseases.
And we're sure Tom Leigh encountered a number of ants along the way, but not as many nor as diverse as Brian Fisher has.