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Spiders? Scary? Spooky?

Black widow spider and egg sacs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"Look, there's a spider!"

A sure-fire way to frighten arachnophobics is the very mention of "spiders"--especially on Halloween.

Spiders aren't insects but arthropods, order Araneae. They have eight legs, which according to some, are seven legs too many. They are also distinguished by their chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. 

You've seen them. Black widow spiders. Jumping spiders. Crab spiders. Garden spiders. 

If you fear them, there's a name for that fear: Arachnophobia. Wikipedia says that "People with arachnophobia tend to feel uneasy in any area they believe could harbor spiders or that has visible signs of their presence, such as webs. If arachnophobics see a spider, they may not enter the general vicinity until they have overcome the panic attack that is often associated with their phobia. Some people scream, cry, have trouble breathing, have excessive sweating or even heart trouble when they come in contact with an area near spiders or their webs. In some extreme cases, even a picture or a realistic drawing of a spider can also trigger fear."

So many myths about spiders.  The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington,  Seattle, has posted some of the myths, misconceptions and superstitions on its website.

The general fallacies, as listed by Rod Crawford, curator of arachnids: 

General Fallacies

Meanwhile, over at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, plans are underway for an open house themed "Insect Myths." They will focus on spider myths, too.

The event, free and open to the public, is set for Sunday, Nov. 23 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane,  off LaRue Road.  Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, the museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens and is the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. The museum is open to the public four days a week, Monday through Thursday (9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m.)  but it sponsors special weekend open houses as well.

The remaining schedule:

  • Sunday, Nov. 23: “Insect Myths,” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 20: “Insects and Art,” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, Jan. 11: “Parasitoid Palooza,” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Sunday, Feb. 8: “Biodiversity Museum Day,” noon to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 14: “Pollination Nation,” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 18: UC Davis Picnic Day, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Sunday, May 17: “Name That Bug! How About Bob?” 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 18: “Moth Night,” 8 to 11 p.m.

 When you attend the Bohart Museum open houses, you'll probably have the opportunity to hold and/or photograph "Rosie," a 24-year-old tarantula. It's one of the critters in the live "petting zoo," which also includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, millipedes and walking sticks.

Jumping spider eyes the photographer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Jumping spider eyes the photographer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Jumping spider eyes the photographer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Crab spider on sedum eyes a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Crab spider on sedum eyes a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Crab spider on sedum eyes a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Garden spider captures a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Garden spider captures a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Garden spider captures a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, October 31, 2014 at 2:06 PM

Partnering with The Pieris Project

If you see a white cabbage butterfly fluttering by you, net it.

The Pieris Project wants it.

Entomology Today, a publication of the Entomological Society of America, today covered a story about how graduate students (including Sean Ryan of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, and Anne Espeset, University of Nevada, Reno), are seeking a "global community of citizen scientists" to collect the white cabbage butterfly, Pieris rapae, for their Pieris Project, launched last summer to study invasion biology and species responses to environmental change.

They've already received more than 600 species from "at least half of the United States," and eight other countries, Entomology Today reports.  The butterfly, native to Europe, has spread throughout the world in the last 200 years and is thought to be one of the most widespread and abundant butterflies of them all. It is found on every continent except Antarctica. (Check out the most up-to-date collection map.)

The graduate students want to reconstruct the invasion history and "explore how environmental variation has been shaping the genome and phenotype of this butterfly," according to the article.

Here are some of the specifics:

1) Send them a couple of butterflies from your backyard. Include the date and latitude/longitude coordinates on the envelope. You can find more details at Even though fall is here, depending on where you live, you may be able to catch a few before winter arrives, they point out.

2) Help spread the word by either sharing the project with people you think might be interested in participating or by letting them know of organizations, schools, or any community that might be interested. Email them at pierisproject@

3) Consider donating to their crowdfunding campaign. They say they have only a few days left to reach their goal, and it's all or nothing, "so we need all the help we can get! One incentive for donating is a 'Backyard Genomics Kit' — a great gift for a budding entomologist — and we also have awesome photographs by the amazing bugographer Alex Wild!" (Wild, a noted insect photographer, received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis.)

As an aside, the cabbage white butterfly gains notoriety every year in the three-county area of Sacramento, Yolo and Solano, California.  Butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, sponsors an annual contest offering a pitcher of beer for the first butterfly of the year collected in one of the three counties.

The contest is all part of Shapiro's 43-year study of climate and butterfly seasonality. He monitors the many species of Central California butterflies and posts the information on his website, Art's Butterfly World.

Shapiro says the cabbage white "is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter." Since 1972--the year he launched the "beer-for-for-a-butterfly" contest--the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20. And he usually wins his own contest because he knows where to find them. (See Bug Squad for results of this year's contest.)

Meanwhile, let's all catch some cabbage whites for the Pieris Project.

Have you seen this butterfly? You can become a part of a global community of citizen scientists by helping graduate students with a project. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Have you seen this butterfly? You can become a part of a global community of citizen scientists by helping graduate students with a project. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Have you seen this butterfly? You can become a part of a global community of citizen scientists by helping graduate students with a project. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 9:19 PM

Scientists search for an odor Asian citrus psyllids cannot resist

New chemical attractants could make a better Asian citrus psyllid trap.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists based at UC Riverside are honing in on odors that might lure Asian citrus psyllids into traps, and other odors that will keep them away from citrus trees, reported Mark Muckenfuss in the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

Anandasankar Ray, professor in the Department of Entomology at UCR, along with two other researchers, published results recently that Ray believes are promising enough they may soon be adapted for grower use.

Ray and his team tested three attractant odors in El Monte backyards using yellow sticky traps. More than twice the number of psyllids were found in the scented traps compared to unscented traps, the article said. In time the researchers will also test chemicals that can mask odors that are pleasant to Asian citrus psyllids and some that repel the insects.

Other research projects underway at UC Riverside to combat Asian citrus psyllid and the disease it can spread were also noted in the Press-Enterprise article. They are: biological controls, including a tiny wasp imported from Pakistan that feeds on the psyllids; insecticides; developing resistant strains of citrus trees; finding a way to kill the bacteria spread by psyllids once it is in the tree; and discovering ways to identify diseased trees earlier.

Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 2:19 PM

Good News for the Bees!

Good news for the honey bees!

And none too soon.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today (Oct. 29) in a press release that "more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees, which play an important role in crop production."

 “The future of America's food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations,” Vilsack said in the USDA release. “Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area.”

The declining honey bee population is besieged with health issues, exacerbated by pests, parasites, pesticides, diseases, stress and malnutrition  Nationally, however, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. If you enjoy such produce as almonds, apples, cherries, cucumbers, and peaches, thank a bee for its pollination services.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Why the Midwest? "From June to September, the Midwest is home to more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter."

The announcement renews and expands what USDA calls "a successful $3 million pilot investment that was announced earlier this year and continues to have high levels of interest."  It's all part of the June 2014 Presidential Memorandum – Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which directs USDA to expand the acreage and forage value in its conservation programs.

Funding will be provided to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Applications are due Friday, Nov. 21.

This means that the farmers and ranchers will receive support and guidance to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. This will include appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management. In addition to providing good forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, the actions taken are expected to reduce erosion, increase soil health and inhibit invasive species.

California also will benefit. "This year, several NRCS state offices are setting aside additional funds for similar efforts, including California – where more than half of all managed honey bees in the U.S. help pollinate almond groves and other agricultural lands – as well as Ohio and Florida," according to the release.

A nice push for the pollinators!

Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on mustard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 9:26 PM

My Favorite Bee: The Carpenter Bee

First, I want to say that I have never had an infestation of carpenter bees. I just enjoy seeing them in my front yard. If my home or any of my fences were suffering from an infestation of carpenter bees, I might have to rescind this post. If you think you might have an infestation of carpenter bees, please check out this link.

I think most, if not all, home gardeners have heard about the plight of the honeybees in the past few years. But did you know that there are most than 25,000 species of bees around the world? The United States is home to about 4,000 species. Both honey bees and bumble bees (family Apidae) are what are called "social" bees - meaning that they create colonies (hives) and work as a team. I was surprised to learn during my training to become a Contra Costa County Master Gardener that most native bees are solitary bees - I did not know that any bees were solitary! Carpenter bees fall into this category - a solitary bee.


Just because carpenter bees are solitary and do not belong to a colony does not mean that they are not good pollinators. The carpenter bees that I see most often are buzzing around my front yard - specifically around the Hot Lips Sage that grows in the front corner of my front yard

Now, you might wonder, why are these bees called carpenter bees?They make their nests in old wood - in fence posts and eaves most commonly in developed areas. Digger bees are similar in appearance and size to carpenter bees, and they make their nests in bare soil.

I do not know why, but I have always enjoyed seeing one or two of these big, black beauties buzzing around my yard. In researching for this post I learned that male carpenter bees, which are the solid black ones I see most often, cannot sting. So yes, I enjoy them even more now! So keep you eyes open, and the next time you see one of these beauties thank them for the solitary hard work they do in pollinating our plants!



Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 at 7:00 AM

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