Ask her why people should be interested in insects, and she'll tell you. There's no "yecch" factor here: just the "ahh!" and "wow" factors.
Which is as it should be!
"First of all, bugs are just really cool!" says Sol, in her third year as an entomology major. "Second, they are extremely important in just about every aspect of life, even if most people don't like to think about that. Just as an example, almost all the food we eat was either directly or indirectly insect-pollinated. Fruits are obvious, but even all the meat we eat comes from animals that ate plants that were pollinated by insects. My field of study, wild bees, is especially important in this exact context because they cannot pollinate every crop. For example, alfalfa and tomatoes are two of our most common crops that cannot be pollinated by honey bees."
Sol, who grew up in the Bay Area community of Belmont, is the first entomologist in her family. "My parents and brother all love insects, but I am the only one hoping to make a career out of entomology. My dad is a forensic economist, my mom is a photographer, and my brother works as a distributor in the car wash industry."
What sparked her interest in entomology?
The UC Davis Entomology Club draws about 25 people to its weekly meetings, held on Thursdays at 6 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. (See Instagram account). "But this quarter a few of our meetings have had 40-plus," Sol said. "Every week, I lead a bug-themed activity, which ranges from professional pinning demos, guest speakers, and arboretum field trips, to movie nights, bug-themed trivia, and show-and-tell nights. At least once or twice a quarter, we do an overnight camping trip in Pope Valley to look for bugs. This fall, our camping trip had 25 insect-enthusiasts, which was a ton of fun but definitely a hassle for me to plan!"
Sol is passionate about her research. In the Williams lab, she is working on a project led by graduate student Elizabeth Reyes-Gallegos that is focused on comparing the functional traits of wild bees to floral functional traits. "Early this quarter, we finished our first field season sampling at plots at the Bee Biology Facility (Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road), so we are still in the early stages of the project," Sol said. "Since spring quarter, I have been working very closely with just about every bee we have collected because I have been dissecting their proboscises as well as pinning and labeling them. Because I have worked so closely with the bees' 'tongues,' I will be branching off slightly from Elizabeth's main focus to look for intraspecific variation in tongue lengths and body size. Currently, I am working closely with Elizabeth and Neal to fully flesh out this project."
At the Bohart Museum, Sol is involved in general curation: pinning, labeling and integrating specimens into the collections. She is currently organizing the Orthoptera collection, which includes grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets. And she's beginning species identification of katydids (Tettigoniidae).
Sol is a fixture at the Bohart Museum open houses. "I started volunteering with the Bohart in winter of 2022 at the Biodiversity Museum Day," she related. "In the months following that, I became a regular volunteer at their outreach events. This was also before I became president of the Entomology Club, but during that time I was helping out as much as I could with various club outreach opportunities, like birthday parties or campus festivals. In July of 2022, the Bohart hired me as an undergraduate intern and I have been working there ever since!"
Another project: Sol is spearheading the Bohart Museum's open house on "Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids," from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 3 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. (See Bohart Museum schedule)
How would she describe herself to a stranger? "I am an ambitious, hard-working, and outgoing future career entomologist with a special interest in wild bees and katydids. I love to explore the outside looking for bugs, and have dreams of traveling the world for that very purpose. When I don't have insects on my mind, I like to spend my time playing violin, drawing, and surrounding myself with my friends and family."
She's played the violin for about 11 years; in high school she volunteered to teach fourth and fifth graders how to play the instrument.
Sol is glad she chose UC Davis to study entomology. "Overall, I really like how UC Davis is inclusive and welcoming. I also love that we have the arboretum, which has some really great places to find bugs. And of course, I'm especially glad that entomology is a major here and I absolutely love the little entomologist community we've built."
From a childhood loving insects to a senior majoring in entomology at UC Davis, to a researcher studying wild bees to a curator working in the Orthoptera collection at the Bohart Museum, what's next?
"After I graduate from UC Davis, I would like to go to graduate school and study systematics," Sol related. "Although I am also extremely interested in ecology, I have developed an interest in systematics and museum work over the last year. Ultimately, I think I would like to become a professor of entomology and maybe someday run my own lab."
Professor Sol Wantz...That has a nice ring to it!
Saturday, Jan. 20:
"Social Wasps," 1 to 4 p.m., featuring UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum. She recently received the 2023 Exceptional Faculty Award from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Kimsey, a recognized authority on insect biodiversity, systematics and biogeography of parasitic wasps, urban entomology, civil forensic entomology, and arthropod-related industrial hygiene, is a 34-year member of the UC Davis entomology faculty. She has directed the Bohart Museum since 1990. She plans to retire in 2024. (See news story)
Saturday, Feb. 10:
13th Annual Biodiversity Museum Day, all day. Last year 13 UC Davis museums or collections participated: Arboretum and Public Garden, Bohart Museum of Entomology, Botanical Conservatory. California Raptor Center. Center for Plant Diversity, Department of Anthropology Museum, Marine Invertebrate Collection, Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Nematode Collection, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Paleontology Collection, and Phaff Yeast Culture Collection.
"Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids." Talk and a question-and-answer forum from 1 to 2 p.m. Open museum, 2 to 4 p.m. Heading the event is UC Davis undergraduate student Sol Wantz, a senior majoring in entomology and a member o the lab of community ecologist and professor Neal Williams. She serve as president of the UC Davis Entomology Club.
110th UC Davis Picnic Day, all day. This is billed as the largest student-run event in the country. It is UC Davis' annual open house with hundreds of free and family friendly events. Entomology displays, exhibits and activities planned by the Department of Entomology and Nematology will be at the Bohart Museum and at Briggs Hall.
Sunday, May 19:
"Bees: Both Wild and Managed," 1 to 4 p.m. Presenters will include community ecologist Rachel Vannette, associate professor and vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus a live petting zoo (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects, and tarantulas) and a insect-themed gift shop, stocked with t-shirts, hoodies, jewelry, books, posters, pens, and more.
The Bohart Museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday. Casual walk-in hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. Pre-arranged tours (schools, scouts, UC classes) may also occur during these times. The museum will be closed for the winter holiday break, Dec. 23-Jan. 1. More information is on the website or by contacting email@example.com. Tabatha Yang serves as the education and outreach coordinator, and Brennen Dyer as the collections manager.
Visitors at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house learned about such "household vampires" as mosquitoes, fleas, lice, ticks and bedbugs, and many also participated in the family arts-and-crafts activities.
The artsy-craftsy activities, a traditional part of all the Bohart Museum open house, are also educational and informative. At the Sept. 23 open house, UC Davis entomology students introduced visitors to (1) collecting tiny insects and then viewing them under a microscope and (2) making insect collecting or "kill" jars.
Bohart intern Melody Ruiz, a third-year entomology major at UC Davis, demonstrated "Clear Packing Tape Art" as a way to collect tiny insects and view them under a microscope, while UC Davis entomology senior Sol Wantz, president of the Entomology Club, showed participants how to make insect collecting jars or "kill" jars.
For the collecting jar or "kill" jars, Wantz explained:
- Get a clean wide-mourth jar with a lid
- Add some plaster to the bottom
- Add some water so it is like pancake batter
- Swirl it around to mix
- Let air dry (15 minutes to a day)
- Add a teaspoon of poison-like nail polish remover (acetone or ethyl acetate). The plaster absorbs this.
- Add in a tissue so the insects don't bump into each other.
- Add an insect or insects.
- Seal the jar and the insect(s) should die within a few minutes
- They are ready to be pinned for a collection
The Entomology Club, advised by forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, meets Thursdays at 6 p.m. in 122 Briggs. The meetings are open to all interested persons, Kimsey said.
Ruiz staffed the "Clear Packing Tape Art" table and provided insect nets. She noted that clear packing tape is a good way to collect and see tiny insects. "Use a strip of clear packing tape. Put the sticky side down on your pillow, couch, clothes, skin, etc. Then place that same tape onto a white piece of paper. Write down the date, where it was collected from, and your name. Look at your project through a microscope."
Also popular at the open house was the Lepidoptera specimen collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith; and the live insect petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka "hissers," and stick insects, aka "walking sticks."
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus the insect petting zoo and an insect-themed gift shop. The museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane,. UC Davis.
The next open house, themed "Monarchs," is set for Saturday, Nov. 4 from 1 to 4 p.m. All open houses are free and family friendly. For more information, contact the Bohart Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (530-752-0493.