With Halloween coming up I am seeing lots of scary faux spiders among front yard Halloween decorations. I must admit I am guilty of feeding into the arachnophobia that so many people have by placing a big fake hairy tarantula in my yard.
Most spiders are solitary creatures, but some form groups and even cooperate in brood care, caring for other spiders' offspring.
Not all spiders spin webs but those that do can create an incredible assortment of web designs, depending on the species, including spiral orbs, funnels, tubular, or ground sheets.
In some cases, two or more males will perform for a female to compete for her favor.
Some drop their silk to act as parachutes so they can drift on the slightest breeze
While spiders do not have brains in the traditional sense, a type of jumping spider appears to remember similar prey it has encountered, using trial and error to determine what works in capturing it.
Common and Beneficial
Spiders are the most common miniature living things living in our homes (besides micro-organisms). We are seldom aware of them because they conceal themselves in hidden spots (thus camouflaging themselves from their prey), tend to be active at night, and avoid humans. After all, we are much bigger than they are!
Spiders are beneficial organisms because they feed on common indoor pests such as mosquitoes, flies, roaches, earwigs, and moths. An additional benefit: many of the indoor pests that spiders consume can transmit diseases, i.e., mosquitoes, fleas, flies, and cockroaches. If left alone, spiders will consume most of the insects in your home, thus providing effective pest control.
The jaws of most spiders are too small to bite humans. Of those that can bite, they will bite only if provoked, but very few spider bites are dangerous to humans. If you are bitten, the bite area may swell slightly and itch.
The adult female black widow is the primary spider in California capable of seriously injuring people. If bitten, remain calm and seek medical help.
Contrary to common myth, the brown recluse spider does not reside in California.
If you do have a spider issue around your home, the most effective way to manage them is to do regular housecleaning. Sweep or vacuum up their webs both indoors and outdoors, and prevent clutter build up that can provide hiding places for them both indoors and outdoors. If you do come across one, capture it in a jar and release it outside in an out-of-the-way spot. Avoid using pesticides since the chemicals will also kill other beneficial insects.
Appreciate Spiders Beneficial Role and Help Protect Them!
I will continue to put out my big “scary” tarantula out with the Halloween décor because spiders are so awesome. However, I do not put out the fake webbing, because like real spider webs, they can trap beneficial insects, spiders, and even small birds such as hummingbirds.
I will continue to allow spiders to share my home and garden, so they can do their crucial work of reducing pests. I much prefer having a few spiders around than mosquitoes, flies, moths, or cockroaches!
You do not have to love spiders like I do, but I hope you can appreciate the vital role arachnids play in our homes and gardens, and generally let them be.
Pests of Homes, Structures, People and Pets: https://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7442.html
Denise Godbout-Avant has been a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener since 2020.
At a recent Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, she read passages from her newly published children's book, Please Don't Bite Me: Insects that Buzz, Bite and Sting, and then encouraged questions.
Each time a youngster raised a hand, she'd say "Yes, my friend!"
She answered each question thoughtfully, expertly, and kindly.
Pakpour, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, is no stranger to UC Davis. She received her bachelor of science degree in entomology from UC Davis in 1999; her doctorate in microbiology, virology and parasitology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008; and served as a postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis for seven years, leaving campus in August 2015. Her work "focused on determining the effects of ingested human blood factors on the mosquito immune response to malaria."
Passionate about teaching science, Pakpour accepted a faculty position in 2015 at California State University, East Bay, teaching for nearly seven years before moving to the biotech sector. She is a senior scientist at Novozymes, Davis (since January 2022).
A resident of Woodland, Pakpour describes herself as "the mother of two witty and wonderful kids," and as someone who "loves bugs of all varieties, whether they are six-legged or microscopic."
Factoid: She once spent a summer feeding tarantulas at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
"An insect," Pakpour defines in her book, "is an animal that has six legs, two eyes, two antenna, and three body parts. A special group of scientists called entomologists have been studying insects for hundreds of years an they have learned all kinds of amazing things."
Pakour goes on to say that "our bodies offer a delicious and unique menu of food for a vast variety of insects. These insects drink our blood, live in our homes, and even in our hair! They impact every aspect of our lives, from the clothes we wear, the pets we keep, to the homes we live in, and the way we store our food. Like tiny aliens living among us, each insect has its own unique body, home, and lifestyle."
Mosquitoes. "If mosquitoes don't have protein, they can't make eggs, which is why only female mosquitoes feed on blood...Mosquitoes lay their eggs in almost anything that holds water. Once she finds a suitable spot, she will land on the surface and lay around 100 eggs. So they don't sink and drown, the eggs stick together and float like a tiny raft."
Lice. Lice, which are only 0.10 inches long, can move 9 inches in about a minute. "That is about the equivalent of a person who is 5 feet tall moving 450 feet in one minute."
Wasps. Wasps are social insects. "I don't mean social as in they love to throw parties and hang out with their friends. When scientists say an insect is social, it means they live in a group made up of their relatives." She clarifies that only a few specific species are considered pests to humans and "even then it's only when they happen to build their nests near us."
Cockroaches. "Cockroaches give their eggs a little bit of extra protection, wrapping them up like a lovely box of chocolates in a package called an ootheca."
Fleas."Given a choice at the blood buffet, a flea will always choose a cat or a dog over a human."
Bedbugs. "Bedbugs have big appetites and they like to take their time sucking up your blood...The Romans believed eating crushed up bedbugs could cure poisonous snake bites."
Pakpour points out that these insects are annoying but emphasizes that the majority of the 10 quintillion insects in the world "have important and unique roles to play in nature that have nothing to do with humans....Without insects, our entire ecosystem would collapse."
Please Don't Bite Me could easily be called Please Read Me. It's a fascinating book, especially for young entomologists-to-be or children and teens curious about what's living in their world--or what's pestering them. It's an easy read with interesting scientific information spread throughout the book. The illustrations are BBC: big, bold and colorful.
Great book, Nazzy Pakpour!/span>/span>
Although all cockroaches in California are considered pests, the Turkestan cockroach is of particular concern. This cockroach has become increasingly common in California's residential outdoor areas because it has faster growth and higher reproduction rates compared to other cockroaches that live outdoors. Like other cockroaches, the Turkestan cockroach is considered both a nuisance and a public health issue.
What does the Turkestan cockroach look like?
Adult Turkestan cockroaches are about 1 inch in length. Females are slightly larger than males, dark-colored, flightless, and have distinct pale stripes right below their heads on their wing buds. Males are light brown with fully developed wings. Nymphs of the Turkestan cockroach have brown-reddish heads and dark brown bodies.
Where can you find Turkestan cockroaches?
Since these are outdoor cockroaches, they do not survive well indoors. Generally, they can be found in crevices in cement or rock walls, water meter boxes, outdoor drainage pipes, public drains, debris piles, and other dark, moist places.
What can you do about Turkestan cockroaches?
Use sticky traps or glue boards to detect and monitor cockroach populations. Securely store food and garbage, and limit excess moisture. Seal cracks and other openings to the outside and install door sweeps or weather stripping to prevent them from coming indoors. Pesticide baits can provide control, but pesticides alone will not solve a cockroach problem.
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.
Yes. Tune into the latest UC Davis Unfold Podcast by journalists Amy Quinton and Kat Kerlin and you'll learn about (1) their visit to the Bohart Museum of Entomology (2) their interview with the director, Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, and (3) what Kimsey once ate for dessert while engaged in field work in Panama.
Listen to the podcast and you'll learn:
- That the Bohart Musem is now the home of 8 million insect specimens
- That the Bohart is celebrating the 75th year of its founding
- What Kimsey, an international expert on Hymenoptera, considers the worst pain on the Schmidt sting pain index
- Why the Asian giant hornet, aka "murder hornet," probably can't live in California
- How Kimsey helped solve a murder case
And then...Spoiler Alert!
You'll learn how Lynn Kimsey managed to eat a cockroach for dessert.
"When I was working in Panama at the field station run by the Smithsonian, and the cooks decided to make us a big treat because we hadn't had, you know, any fancy food for a while," Kimsey told the Quinton-Kerlin team. "So they made oatmeal cookies with raisins, which is awesome, right out of the oven. You know, I took a big bite out of mine and then I realized that the raisin that I just bitten in half and swallowed, had LEGS. Oh, and, you know, cockroaches kind of taste the way they smell that kind of.. .yeah."
Amy Quinton: "Lynn says it was completely unintentional, cockroaches were not on the dessert menu."
Kat Kerlin: "Oh, my God, that is so gross. So she didn't eat them on purpose?"
Amy Quinton: "No, she told me no one eats cockroaches on purpose. Here's why. Apparently, they pee into their own fat in their bodies and store it there. It makes them taste awful.
Kat Kerlin: "Oh, that's so gross. Oh, my gosh. And they're going to outlive all of us."
Amy Quinton: "Very likely."
So Bug Squad asked Lynn Kimsey about her Blattodea dessert, the encroaching roach masquerading as a raisin.
"The roach I ate in the cookie was an American cockroach, probably a juvenile, about half the adult size," she commented.
Was she the only one to partake of the roach? "I didn't hear anyone else find a roach in their cookie."
"They taste," she said, "like they smell."
By the way, Kimsey has no plans to munch on the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka "hissers," that are an integral part of the Bohart Museum's live "petting zoo."
In case you wanted to know. You're welcome.