Bob stole the show.
Picture this: UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert “Bob” Kimsey is portraying “Dr. Death” inside Briggs Hall during the 109th annual UC Davis Picnic Day, but just outside the building, another Bob is grabbing the spotlight.
That would be Bob, a two-inch long American cockroach, Periplaneta americana, competing in the Roach Races.
"Roach Bob" is part of the colony that "Dr. Bob" inherited from the late entomology emeritus professor Charles Judson (1926-2015).
Every year someone names a roach “Bob” to honor the colony keeper.
The reddish-brown roaches race inside a tubelike track. An air pump, emitting "a gentle breeze," encourages them to leave the starting gate and head for the finish line--all six legs flying.
This year Bob, Speedster and Charlie proved to be crowd favorites.
“We rotate the roaches so they don't get too stressed from the heat, but Speedster definitely lived up to its name,” said Roach Race coordinator Taylor Kelly, a doctoral candidate in the lab of medical entomologist/geneticist Geoffrey Attardo, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“Bob was a definite winner,” said race announcer-roach handler Iris Quayle, a first-year doctoral student in the lab of Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and associate dean, UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “I don't think the crowd knew they were naming a cockroach after Bob Kimsey but it worked out well. And the aptly named Speedster gave everyone a run for their money!”
Kimsey's wife, Lynn Kimsey, a UC Davis distinguished professor and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, also is honored annually with a roach named “Lynn.” Last year her namesake won a few races; this year, no.
“We had audience members be our Roach Coaches--they encouraged the roaches to run with a gentle breeze of air,” Taylor said. “Later on in the day, we had a very speedy roach named Charlie that clinched 4 rounds back-to-back. Charlie was named by a youngster participating as his Roach Coach. He named the cockroach after his little brother.”
“At the beginning of the day we had some near-escapees and definitely elicited some screams from the crowd when one managed to get free,” Iris said, “but Taylor and I were too fast and were able to get them all back into the colony in the end. We also had some stubborn racers who didn't want to leave their racing tube after the competition.”
Some spectators asked Iris what the experience was like. “I did get a few questions about if I was okay holding them, and if I was scared I would get sick, but once I explained that this was a maintained colony by the college and that cockroaches are only as dirty as their environment, people came around and were even willing to give the racers a little head pat for good luck.”
In between races, the announcers asked if anyone wanted to pet a cockroach. They did, and took cell phone images and videos, too. “It was fun to let folks give the roaches a little head pat, a lot of folks said they seemed more cute after getting up close and personal,” Kelly said. “I hope folks loved roaches a little more after the races!”
Did anyone ask to take one home? “No, but we had many people complain that they already had too many lurking at home,” Taylor quipped.
Taylor was a member of the 2022 UC Davis Entomology Games team that won the national championship at the Entomological Society of America meeting. She also won the 2022 Student Leadership Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) for her leadership in STEM and entomological activities.
Iris recently won first place in the doctoral student research competition at the 2023 PBESA meeting, held in Seattle. Her presentation, “Colorless but Never Dull: Unraveling Population Genetics and Color Evolution in ‘White' Darkling Beetles (Onymacris),” was her first-ever scientific presentation. Iris served a year as a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Post-Baccalaureate Students (NSF-REPS) in the Bond lab before being accepted into the doctoral program in 2022.
Kimsey, an associate adjunct professor and lecturer since 1990, has served as the master advisor for the animal biology (ABI) major since 2010 and an ABI lecturer since 2001. He also serves as the UC Davis Entomology Club advisor. He annually co-chairs the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Picnic Day activities with a member of the Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA). This year he co-chaired the event with doctoral student Grace Horne of the lab of urban landscape entomologist Emily Meineke.
Youngsters--and the young at heart--headed over to Briggs Hall during the 109th annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day to create art masterpieces--masterpieces involving maggots.
Using forceps, the artists dipped a maggot in water-based, non-toxic paint and let it crawl around a piece of white paper. Or they guided it. Different color? Different maggot dipped in a different paint.
What a conversation piece! And perfect for framing or posting on a refrigerator door.
Maggot Art has been a traditional part of the UC Davis Picnic Day since the early 2000s.
Rebecca O'Flaherty, a former graduate student of UC Davis forensic entomologist Bob Kimsey's, coined the educational teaching curriculum, "Maggot Art," back in 2001 when she was studying at the University of Hawaii. She was rearing blowflies for her forensic research and wanted an activity to draw the interest of elementary school students. She also wanted to generate interest and respect for forensic entomology.
Her Maggot Art quickly drew national interest. The CSI television show featured one of her works, “Ancient Offering,” which hung on the permanent set in Gil Grissom's office.O'Flaherty also exhibited her work at art shows, including a two-month exhibition at the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento, in 2007.
And the maggots at the 2023 UC Davis Picnic Day? "The maggots are Calliphora vacinia, the blue bottle fly," Kimsey said. "Realize that there are likely close to 100 species that can be called blue bottle flies. This particular one is very large as an adult and has huge larvae that are perfect for Maggot Art."
"Although at certain times of the year, it is active in California, particularly around cities, it is not as common as others and I do not have a colony," Kimsey added. "There has been a lot of very famous research in entomology done on this species, particularly at University of Massachusetts and Harvard under Vincent Dethier, whose research has provided profound insights into human biology."
The Department of Entomology and Nematology ordered the maggots from Knutson's Sporting Goods, an Internet purveyor based in Brooklyn, Mich., which sells them as live fish bait and as research tools.
Or Maggot Art....
But when she began delivering her first-ever presentation at a scientific conference, “I found it quite fun to present my work and see people's excitement.”
Quayle, a first-year doctoral student in the Jason Bond lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, went on to win first place in the doctoral student competition at the annual meeting of the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA), held recently in Seattle. The organization encompasses 11 Western states, plus Canada, Mexico and U.S. territories.
Quayle discussed her research, “Colorless but Never Dull: Unraveling Population Genetics and Color Evolution in ‘White' Darkling Beetles (Onymacris).”
“It was a really great conference with a lot of interesting talks,” Quayle said, “so I feel very honored to have placed first in the Ph.D student competition.”
“Iris has hit the ground running in all respects," said Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Winning the student paper award, the first time ever presenting her research, reflects her exceptional capabilities as a scientist and as a future professor and teacher. Iris comes from a non-traditional STEM background and it is exactly those experiences that will continue to contribute to her success as she evolves as a scientist. I predict that this is only a prelude of things to come.”
Quayle is focusing her dissertation on the evolutionary relationships and color/trait evolution in Onymacris. “This genus displays a lot of phenotypically and behaviorally charismatic traits and I am excited for my dissertation research to expand and grow in the next few years,” she said.
In her talk, Quayle noted that Tenebrionidae (darkling beetles) comprise “more than 80 percent of all known beetle species in the Namib, where the genus Onymacris contains a rarity unexpected from aptly named darkling beetles--the presence of several species with striking ‘white' elytra (wing sheaths).”
“A known history of hybridization, strong inclination towards polytypic taxa, and paraphyletic status with another genus reveals that coloration and speciation in Onymacris is anything but straightforward,” said Quayle, who is examining “the phylogenetic relationships between white Onymacris species to determine whether multiple derivations of pure white elytra is due to convergence or introgression.”
In her population genomic analysis, Quayle extracted DNA from all white Onymacris, using additional specimens for the four species with the largest geographical ranges (O. marginipennis, O. bicolor, O. candidipennis, O. langi cornelii).
“Studying the population structure and genomic components leading to white coloration highlights behavioral and ecological adaptations of organisms to an arid environment which is increasingly vital in the face of global trends towards aridity,” she told the group.
Quayle fielded several questions about the potential ecological pressures that may be driving diverse coloration. She noted that the darkest of white species (O. marginipennis which is brown and striped) is found primarily on vegetated hummocks, while all white species (O. candidipennis and O. bicolor) are found only on sandy coastal dunes with no vegetation.
Quayle served a year as a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Post-Baccalaureate Students (NSF-REPS) in the Bond lab before being accepted into the doctoral program in 2022. “I'm so grateful that I've been able to start this work early in my first year as a Ph.D. student,” she said.
Quayle, who grew up in Paradise, Calif., holds an associate of science degree in biology from Sacramento City College. Formerly known as Iris Bright, she received her bachelor of fine arts degree (creative writing and literature) in the honors program from Emerson College, Boston, Mass., in 2015 before switching to science. Fascinated with insects in her early childhood, she began collecting specimens at age 7. Her grandfather was an amateur entomologist.
Her career plans? Becoming a professor “so I can do further research and also share my passion and interests with the next generations!”
It's a myth. There are no established populations of Loxoceles reclusa in California, doctoral candidates Emma Jochim and Xavier Zahnle of the Jason Bond arachnology lab related during their 30-minute mythbusting at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, "Many Legged-Wonders," on Saturday, March 18. First-year doctoral student Iris Quayle of the Bond lab moderated the session.
They study with their major professor Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Jochim related that a person claiming to have been bitten by a brow recluse spider in California may have recently returned from a state where they are established or that they handled one that was shipped from that area.
That brings to mind the research of Rick Vetter of UC Riverside and his piece on "Myth of the Brown Recluse: Fact, Fear and Loathing."
"This website presents evidence for the lack of brown recluse spiders as part of the Californian spider fauna. Unfortunately, this contradicts what most Californians believe; beliefs that are born out of media-driven hyperbole and erroneous, anxiety-filled public hearsay which is further compounded by medical misdiagnoses. Although people are free to disagree, this opinion has come about after more than two decades of constant research resulting in many publications in the scientific and medical literature."
Vitter goes on to say: "Spiders are one group of arthropods that are very well known by the common person yet are terribly misunderstood; because of the rare occasion of a deleterious venom incident, almost all spiders are lumped into the category of 'squish first and ask questions later.' There are remarkably few spiders in California that are capable of causing injuries via biting. Overall, spiders are beneficial to humans in that they eat many pestiferous insects that either infest our foods (many phytophagous insects), are vectors of disease (flies, mosquitoes) or are aesthetically-challenged (cockroaches, earwigs). Unfortunately, humans have a low tolerance for spiders in their homes, either because spiders are symbols of danger, unkemptness or arachnophobia. One of the first steps one should take in dealing with these critters should be to identify them properly before blasting them with pesticide and/or getting hysterical."
Meanwhile, listen to UC Davis arachnologists:
Said one attendee: "Dr. Rick Vetter at U. C. Riverside fought the battle for the truth for decades and finally pretty much threw up his hands in defeat. He just couldn't get the media or California medical profession to stop claiming the Brown Recluse is HERE and diagnosing every little spot or open sore as a spider bite. My opinion is that people LIKE to think they were bitten by a brown recluse and wear it as a badge of honor. So much more thrilling than saying bacteria infection.”
"I just got bit by a brown recluse spider in California."
No, you didn't--unless you recently returned from a state where they are established or handled one shipped from that area. There are no established populations of Loxoceles reclusa in California.
So said doctoral candidates Emma Jochim and Xavier Zahnle of the Jason Bond arachnology lab when they dispelled myths in their 30-minute, family friendly session about arachnids at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, "Many Legged-Wonders," on Saturday, March 18. First-year doctoral student Iris Quayle of the Bond lab moderated the session. Their major professor, Jason Bond, is the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and associate dean, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Jochim and Zahnle covered scores of myths. Here are their answers (abbreviated and shared here by Iris Quayle)
Myth: Arachnids and myriapods are insects.
Answer: No, they're not insects. You can tell them apart by the number of body segments and legs. Arachnids have two body segments and 4 pairs of legs. Insects have 3 body segments and 3 pairs of legs, and myriapods have lots of body segments with either one or two pairs of legs per segment.
Myth: Millipedes have 1000 legs and centipedes have 100 legs.
Answer: Only one recently (2021) species of millipedes has 1000 legs, actually 1300 plus, and that is Eumillipes persephone from Australia. Many soil centipedes have more than 100 legs.
Myth: Camel spiders can jump 4 to 6 feet straight up and eat the stomachs of camels.
Answer: Most solifugid species are 2-3 inches in length and definitely cannot bite into hard camel hide. They can have a bit of a bite for humans, but have no venom, though.
Myth: These are all daddy long legs (image shown of a harvester, crane fly, and cellar spider).
Answer: This depends on where you are from regionally. They all are referred to as "daddy long legs." Also, the myth of daddy long legs being super venomous is false as being dangerous to humans. Of this group, only the Pholcids (cellar spiders) have venom. The venom of cellar spiders can kill insects but is too weak to bother humans; their venom composition is very weak.
Myth: Black widows get their name because females always cannibalize males after mating.
Answer: That is why they got their name, but they are not the only spiders who do this. It is actually quite common fpr a a male to offer a nuptial gift in the form of a fly or other food source to deter the female from devouring him.
Myth: This creature (image of an amblypygid shown) exists only in the fictional world of Harry Potter.
Answer: Amblypygids are very real and are arachnids, but not spiders.
Myth: You consume eight spiders in your sleep every year.
Answer: It's highly unlikely that you will ever consume any in your sleep.
Myth: Every tick will give you a deadly disease
Answer: Ticks are vectors for lots of diseases. Here in California only the blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease.
Myth: Baby scorpions are deadlier than adults.
Answer: No, they do not produce enough to be deadly.
Myth: Both millipedes and centipedes bite.
Answer: Only centipedes bite and they are venomous.
Statements for the Audience: True or false?
The audience was invited to call out the answers.
Statement: There are spiders that can spit silk out of their mouth.
Answer: True. The family Scytodidae spit silk as well as produce silk though their spinnerets. Used for mating and prey capture.
Statement: Maternal care can be seen in some arachnids and myriapods.
Answer: True. Many arachnids carry their young on their backs, and myriapods will protect their egg clutch.
Statement: The grasshopper mouse is immune to scorpion venom.
Answer: True. Bark scorpions comprise the majority of its diet.
Statement: Some myriapods and all scorpions fluoresce.
Answer: True, main theories for scorpions are that they use this to communicate in the dark or to warn of predators. Main theory for myriapods is that it is to warn of predators. Some myriapods are eyeless (blind).
Bohart Open House. The Bohart Museum open house, held from 1 to 4 p.m., featured displays of arachnids. Visitors conversed with the scientists and held Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks from the Bohart's live petting zoo. Directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, the Bohart Museum houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus the petting zoo and a gift shop. Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, it is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m. More information is available on the Bohart website at https://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources on brown recluse spiders (Rick Vetter, UC Riverside)
- How to Identify and Misidentify a Brown Recluse Spider
- Myth of the Brown Recluse: Fact, Fear, and Loathing
- Recluse Spider Map