If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a bug worth?
That question was neither asked nor answered at the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Day, a campuswide open house, held April 22, but just about everything else was!
Let's take a look back at all the bug activities at Briggs Hall, home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. (We previously posted a UC Davis Picnic Day blog about the bugs at the department's Bohart Museum of Entomology).
Graduate student Brendon Boudinot, who is studying for his doctorate in entomology (working with major professor and ant specialist Philip Ward), chaired the Picnic Day Committee in between classes and ant research.
For some interesting alliteration, you could say "Brendon Boudinot's Bugs at Briggs."
Several thousand visitors climbed the Briggs Hall steps to
- cheer on the cockroach races (yes, cockroaches move fast!)
- participate in maggot art (dip a maggot into non-toxic, water-based paint and create a drawing. The term Maggot Art was coined by forensic entomologist Rebecca O'Flaherty, former UC Davis graduate student)
- watch fly-tying by the Fly Fishers of Davis
- observe the aquatic insects from the Sharon Lawler lab
- sample honey compiled by Extension apiculturist Elina Niño of the department's Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility (this exhibit won a special award, determined by popular vote)
- explore the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program tables (where the staffers displayed publications and gave away lady beetles, aka ladybugs)
- ask questions of The Bug Doctor (graduate student Ralph Washington Jr.); Dr. Death (forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey; the Nemotode Guy (Corwin Parker), and the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District (fight the bite)
- buy insect-themed t-shirts from the Entomology Graduate Students' Association (see website for sales)
- get their face painted by the UC Davis Entomology Club
- sample chocolate chirp cookies (think cricket!)
- greet ants (and uncles, too)
- pose as a cockroach, bee or fly behind the cutout boards
- marvel at the 40-foot-long black widow spider, which won the UC Davis Entomology Club the prize of "best float from an organization" at the UC Davis Picnic Day Parade
- take lots of selfies!
How many people trooped up the Briggs Hall steps? At least 3000.
How many bugs did they see? Hundreds and hundreds.
The cost? Free.
The memories? Priceless!
Sometimes it's found in a parade, where the "fear" turns to cheers and applause.
Take the case of the 40-foot black widow spider--yes, 40-foot spider!--that the UC Davis Entomology Club entered in the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Parade on Saturday, April 22.
The spider drew oohs and aahs from the crowd, and judges selected it the winner of the “Best Organization” category. It continued to draw oohs and aahs when the club showcased it in front of Briggs Hall on Picnic Day. Thousands of visitors stopped to look or capture photos with their families or take selfies. Little kids just stood and stared. "What's that, Mommy?"
What a spider! And complete with that distinguishing red hourglass marking.
“We built it three years ago,” related president Maia Lundy. “This year we just had to clean it up and make some modifications, like adding ventilation. It took us two meetings --or about 4 hours- of work this year. When we originally built it, we met several times over about a month to finish it. It's made out of plastic sheeting, chicken wire, pvc pipe, pool noodles, window screening, and held together by lots of duct tape and zip ties!”
The spider came to life in the backyard of entomologists Robert and Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty. Robert Kimsey, a forensic entomologist, serves as the club's advisor. Lynn directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Her specialty is wasps, but she answers all kinds of questions about insects and arachnids at the Bohart Museum.
The black widow spider is no stranger to the parade. It's reminiscent of the one that the UC Davis Entomology Club built for the parade about 25 years ago.
The Entomology Club decided to revive the project in 2015. It all took place in the Kimsey yard, and Robert Kimsey offered a blow-by-blow account then as he watched it develop from plastic sheeting to a black widow spider. “It is huge and currently in pieces as it is getting its skin and pedipalps and other minor body parts and whatnot. It is anatomically correct in every way! The students have been trained well in arachnology!”
“There are legs all over the place,” Kimsey said of the eight legs, each slightly less than 20 feet long. In real life, the body of the black widow spans about 1.5 inches long.
Kimsey said membership in the entomology club is open to all interested persons, including faculty, staff, college and high school students and community residents. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.) President Maia Lundy heads the club with Jamie Fong, vice president; Andre Poon, treasurer; Lovey Corniel, secretary; and Chloe Shott, vice secretary.
As for black widow spiders, yes, the bite is venomous. The glands contain the neurotoxin, latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named after the genus, according to Wikipedia. "The female black widow has unusually large venom glands and its bite can be particularly harmful to humans. However, despite the genus' notoriety, Latrodectus bites are rarely fatal. Only female bites are dangerous to humans."
Take a bow, UC Davis Entomology Club. Well done! The prize: a certificate and a glass trophy.
The black widow spider joined seven other parade award winners:
- Best Community Entry: Davis Whymcycle Society
- Most Spirited: DEVO (Davis Enology and Viticulture Organization)
- Best Theme: Biological and Agricultural Engineering
- Best Animal Entry: Canine Companions for Independence
- Best Department Entry: UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
- Best Organization: Entomology Club
- Parade Marshal's Choice: Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan
- Parade Participants' Choice: West Plainfield 4-H Club, Woodland
And it's an enemy to be reckoned with, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen told students in the UC Davis "Biology of Parasitism" class, taught by forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey and nematologist Steve Nadler, Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Guest-lecturing at a special session held at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, Mussen talked about the varroa mite--its history, biology, damage and control methods--and then opened several hives at the apiary.
The Varroa destructor, a native of Asia, is now found in hives throughout the world except in Australia. It was first detected in the United States in 1987.
The eight-legged reddish-brown parasite, about 1–1.8 mm long and 1.5–2 mm wide, is a blood sucker that's difficult to control, Mussen said. Mites transmit viruses (there are now some 22 named RNA viruses) that can wipe out a hive. A familiar mite-transmitted disease that beekeepers see is DWV or Deformed Wing Virus. Mites are also known lowering the protein level of a bee's blood, and reducing its weight and life span.
Mussen said that mites spread from colony to colony by phoresy (animal-to-animal transport). They ride on flying drones (males) and adult worker bees (females). They also spread changing hosts on flowers.
"A mite enters a honey bee cell just before or during the time it is being capped," Mussen said. "It feeds on older larva or prepupa. Sixty hours later, the mite lays its first egg. The egg will hatch in about 24 hours."
"The number and release of offspring depend on the length of the pupal stage. The queen is pupa for 8.5 days (no mites). The worker is pupa for 12.5 days (1.3 mites) and the drone is pupa for 14.7 days (3 or 4 mites)," he said. Thus, due to the longer time required for drone development, drone pupae get the worst of it.
"When maturing, the newly emerged mites climb onto adult bees and feed by puncturing the intersegmental membranes and sucking the bee blood," Mussen related. "Often these are nurse bees that stay around the brood nest. Sometimes the hosts are drones and older foragers that are flying from the hive every day. Eventually the new mite climbs off the nurse bee onto a comb in the brood nest and enters a cell. The reproductive cycle starts and within 6 days, 44 percent of the young mites have moved into the brood cells; within 12 days, 69 percent of the mites are in the brood cells; and within 24 days, 90 percent of the mite are in the brood cells."
"If there is no brood, the mite has to feed on adult bee blood every six days or so to remain alive," Mussen said. "Mite life expectancy in summer is around 60 days; bees about 42 days. Mite life expectancy in the winter is up to 9 months; bees about six months."
Mussen also discussed how to detect mite infestations through non-chemical and chemical methods, and listed chemical treatments being used throughout the nation. Mites are developing resistance to a few chemical treatments, he pointed out. And, some of the chemical treatments not only kill the mites, but damage or kill the queen and the brood.
Beekeepers who try to go organic, figuring that "if the bees can't make it on their own--if they're not fit--let them die" are really doing a disservice to neighboring beekeepers, Mussen said. The mite will overrun a colony and then infest other colonies.
Public Enemy No. 1--definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Maggot Art. Yes, you read that right. Maggot Art.
It's a traditional and popular part of the Department of Entomology and Nematology's many activities at Picnic Day. This year the UC Davis Picnic Day is Saturday, April 12, and the Briggs Hall events take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Maggot Art is especially for children, but anyone can participate. You grab a special pair of forceps, pick up a maggot, dip it into non-toxic, water-based paint and let it crawl around on white paper. Voila! Maggot Art. Suitable for framing!
Rebecca O'Flaherty, former entomology doctoral candidate at UC Davis, coined and trademarked the term in 2001 while a student at the University of Hawaii. She was organizing a community outreach program and seeking ways to teach youngsters about insects. Not to hate them. Not to fear them. To respect them and learn about them.
Maggot Art was the way. Her way. It worked.
"I love my work and being able to share my love with so many people has truly been a joy," she told us in an interview back in 2007. "I tend to target young elementary students, second and third graders, because I find that at that age, most children are enthusiastic, uninhibited and extremely open to new ideas. They haven't developed aversions to insects, and we're able to instill in them an appreciation for and interest in all organisms, no matter how disgusting those organisms may be perceived to be."
Some adults find maggots revolting, she acknowledged. "A few parents have pulled their children away with a 'Eeew!' and 'Don't touch that!'"
Since 2001, O'Flaherty has taught thousands of students, ranging from kindergarteners to college students to law enforcement professionals. She even showcased her own Maggot Art at a 2007 art show in the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento. Some art critics compared her work to that of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
While at UC Davis, O'Flaherty studied with major professor/forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey. Although she no longer participates in Picnic Day's Maggot Art, her art continues.
UC Davis entomology undergraduate and graduate students now guide little hands in creating art that is like no other.
Some youngsters are concerned about the welfare of the maggots (no maggots are harmed in the making of the paintings) and a few ask to take the maggots home.
Just the art work goes home, thank you. No maggots, please.
It's appropriate during National Pollinator Week to remember that.
We spotted this newly emerged green bottle fly (below) nectaring on lavender last week in our yard.
It seemed out of place among the honey bees, leafcutter bees and carpenter bees working the blossoms.
We didn't recognize it as a newly emerged green bottle fly, Lucilla sericata. But fly experts Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and Terry Whitworth of Washington State University, did.
Family Calliphoridae. Genus Lucilla. Species sericata.
"This looks like a Calliphoridae which just emerged, so the wings are still folded," said senior insect biosystematist Hauser.
Said Whitworth, an adjunct professor of entomology at WSU who maintains the websites birdblowfly.com and blowflies.net: "This is a teneral fly, not fully sclerotized. You can see it just emerged and the wings have still not extended so identification can be tough. However, the shot clearly shows three postacrostichals which almost certainly makes it the common, cosmopolitan Lucilia sericata."
Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of UC Davis marveled at the newly emerged fly. "Something dead in your yard?" he quipped.
"No," we said. "But the cat caught a rat the other day. We disposed of it quite quickly." Not the cat, the rat.
'Course, flies aren't known for being pollinators. They're better known--and rightfully so--for disposing of carrion and as the key tool in forensic entomology. They're also used in medical science as maggot therapy. And for art: one of Kimsey's former graduate students, forensic entomologist Rebecca O'Flaharty, coined the term "Maggot Art" (trademarked) and that's one of the activities at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day. Graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Entomology and Nematology show youths how to dip a maggot in water-based, non-toxic paint, place it on white paper, and let it crawl. Voila! Maggot Art! Suitable for framing...
Everything in life--and death--has a purpose.