Talk about "crafty"--as in cunning or sneaky--insects.
Ever seen a praying mantis ambushing a cabbage white butterfly?
Or an assassin bug targeting a spotted cucumber beetle?
Or European paper wasps attacking a Gulf Fritillary butterfly?
And, how about the other kind of "crafty" insects--like honey bees and European paper wasps creating those intricate nests?
"Crafty Insects" will set the theme for the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on the UC Davis campus. The event is free and family friendly.
“We are hoping to have two parallel exhibits--one where we show crafty insects and then one where we are asking people to bring insect-themed crafts from their home--a plate with a cicada on it, or mug shaped like a wasp or we have a bee-shaped stapler for example,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. “We'll have a place for them to display their crafts.”
“Crafty insects can be interpreted in two ways,” Yang commented. "‘Crafty' can be makers such as caddis fly larvae, case bearer moths, and potter wasps. The other crafty interpretation is sneaky, so our live orchid mantid, the dead leaf butterfly like Kallima inachus will be on display.” Activities are to include “spot the flower fly versus bee activity” and “spot the assassin fly versus bumble bee activity.”
For the family crafts, visitors will be painting rocks that can be hidden on campus or elsewhere. The Bohart Museum officials were inspired by Yolo Rocks and Solano Rocks, but a similar organization on campus, UC Davis Rocks, launched a similar activity last spring. It is the brainchild of Kim Pearson and Martha Garrison, who work in the arts administrative group in the College of Letters and Science.
Saturday, Sept. 22 is also move-in weekend for UC Davis students, so the Bohart Museum expects a lot of new people exploring the campus.
Bohart associates Jeff Smith, curator of the butterfly and moth exhibit and naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas will be on hand to shows the collection.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. In addition to the petting zoo, the museum features a year-around gift shop, which is stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
Some folks call them "bumble bees," but they're not.
In size, the female Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) resembles a bumble bee, but certainly not in color.
The female Valley carpenter is solid black with metallic wings. The male of the species is a green-eyed blond, fondly known as "the teddy bear" bee because it's fuzzy-wuzzy and cannot sting. Entomologists will tell you that the male and female are dramatic examples of sexual dimorphism. Yes, they are!
We've been seeing a lot of female Valley carpenter bees lately on our blue spike salvia, (Salvia uliginosa). They engage in nectar-robbing: this occurs when bees circumvent the usual plant-pollinator relationship and "cheat" by entering a flower from the outside to steal nectar. They drill a hole in the corolla to reach the nectar, thus avoiding pollination or contact with the anthers.
Similar-looking insects include bumble bees, cactus flies and horse flies, according to California Bees and Blooms, a Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists,by UC-affiliated authors Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter. "Carpenter bees are shinier and have less hair than fuzzy bumble bees. Carpenter bees have two pairs of wings, and they have long, slender, elbowed antennae, while fly mimics have only one pair of wings, and short stubby antennae."
The Valley carpenter bee is California's largest carpenter bee.
They're large but they're elusive. They usually don't linger long for you to grab a photo. This one did. It was early in the morning, and like a true human morning person, she declined to move fast./span>
Judge: "Will the defendant please rise?"
The defendant, a praying mantis--a male Stragmomantis limbata--rises solemnly, stretching his spiked forelegs.
Judge: "Do you have anything to say for yourself about how this dismembered Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, happened to be in the very same passionflower vine that you were occupying--at the very same time, 4 p.m., Sept. 12, 2018 in Vacaville, Calif.? Do you have anything to say for yourself, Mr. Mantis?"
Defendant: "Yes, sir! I do, sir. I was hungry. But I ate only the abdomen, thorax and head. I left the pretty parts, the wings, behind, for everyone to enjoy."
Mystery solved. Everybody eats in the pollinator garden!
The male Stagmomomantis limbata, as identified by mantis expert and Bohart Museum of Entomology associate Lohit Garikipati, a UC Davis entomology major who rears mantids, proved difficult to see amid the green passionflower vine (Passiflora). A perfect camouflage!
It's a male Stagmomomantis limbata and not a male Mantis religiosa? "Note the bicolored pronotum (first thoracic segment) that is an easy distinguishing tool!" Garikipata said. "Mantis religiosa also have a band around the head!"
S. limbata, commonly called a "bordered mantis," is native to North America. It is green or beige and can reach three inches in length.
"Males are slender, long-winged, and variable in color, but most often green and brown with the sides of the folded tegmina green and top brownish (may be solid gray, brown, green, or any combination of these)," according to Wikipedia. "Abdomen without prominent dark spots on top. The wings are transparent, usually with cloudy brownish spots on outer half."
Garikipata described it as a "super cool find, adult males are superb fliers!"
This one didn't fly. At least then.
Neither did his prey, the hapless Gulf Fritillary.
(Editor's Note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, will host an open house, "Crafty Insects," from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 22 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. The public event--free and family friendly--will focus on "crafty" or "sneaky" insects. Visitors are invited to bring insect crafts that they have made. They will be displayed next to "crafty" or "sneaky" insects.)
Bohart Museum of Entomology associate John De Benedictis, aka "Moth Man," brought a mantidfly, an insect that's parasitic to spiders, to the museum on Tuesday. He collected it while blacklighting at the UC Davis Stebbens Cold Canyon Reserve, Winters, a site maintained by the University of California as an ecological preserve for teaching and research.
It's a rare find. "It's the first one I've caught in 30 years," he said, recalling that the last one he collected was in the "1970s or 1980s" at Cobb Mountain Lake, Lake County, while he was enrolled at UC Berkeley.
This species, also found in the Bohart Museum collection, is Climaciella brunnea, said Wade Spencer, Bohart associate and UC Davis entomology student.
Climaciella brunnea looks somewhat like a mantis and a wasp, thus, this species is commonly called a "wasp mantidlfy." Its raptorial front legs remind us of how a praying mantis "prays." The mantidfly uses its front legs to catch small insect prey. Its coloring mimics a paper wasp.
Actually, this tiny insect is neither fly nor mantis nor wasp. It belongs to the family Mantispidae, order Neuroptera:
- Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
- Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
- Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
- Class Insecta (Insects)
- Order Neuroptera (Antlions, Owlflies, Lacewings, Mantidflies and Allies)
- Suborder Hemerobiiformia (Lacewings, Mantidflies and Allies)
- Family Mantispidae (Mantidflies)
- Subfamily Mantispinae
- Genus Climaciella
- Species brunnea (Wasp Mantidfly)
"As with most mantidflies, this species is parasitic to spiders as larva: the eggs of wolf spiders are their preferred host and larva will get themselves wrapped up with the eggs in the sac by the spider, since they cannot break into the sacs themselves," according to Wikipedia. "If the spider hasn't yet laid eggs, the larva will subsist on the spider's blood until then. Once inside the sac the larva will feast on the eggs until it pupates."
According to BugGuide.net, its range includes "the southern parts of British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec (Cannings & Cannings, 2006). Widespread in the United States. South to Costa Rica."
The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History notes that "C. brunnea has a very interesting life cycle. During their 3-4 week adult life stage, inch-long females may lay as many as several thousand short-stalked eggs, grouped on the underside of plant leaves. The eggs hatch and each tiny larva waits for a passing spider. The larva then boards the spider and rides around on it until the spider lays eggs. At this time the tiny mantispid larva crawls off the spider and into the egg sac, where it feeds on the spider eggs in the security of the silken spider egg sac."
"Different species of mantispids specialize on different species of host spiders," according to the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History website. "C. brunnea larvae are known to parasitize the eggs of wolf spiders long females may lay as many as several thousand short-stalked eggs, grouped on the underside of plant leaves. The eggs hatch and each tiny larva waits for a passing spider. The larva then boards the spider and rides around on it until the spider lays eggs. At this time the tiny mantispid larva crawls off the spider and into the egg sac, where it feeds on the spider eggs in the security of the silken spider egg sac."
The adults are often nocturnal but are sometimes attracted by porch lights or blacklights.
That rang true for John De Benedictis: blacklights.
(Editor's Note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is open to the public Monday through Thursday, and on specially announced weekends. The next open house, free and open to the public, is Saturday, Sept. 22 from 1 to 4 p.m. The theme is "Crafty Insects." Visitors are invited to bring their insect crafts that they have made. They will be displayed next to "crafty"--sneaky--insects.)
Bohart associates sang "Happy Birthday" and cheered when he blew out a candle on the dessert plate.
For the occasion, doctoral student Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies with Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, drew two longhorned bees on his birthday card envelope--the bees replaced the "b's" in his first name. Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum, coordinated the event.
Thorp actually celebrated his birthday while he was teaching Aug. 18-28 at The Bee Course, sponsored annually by the American Museum of Natural History, New York at its Southwest Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The nine-day intensive workshop draws conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists who seek greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
He is the co-author of Bumble Bees of California: An Identification Guide (2014, Princeton University Press) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (2014, Heyday Books). both available in the Bohart Museum of Entomology's gift shop.
Robbin received his bachelor and master's degrees in zoology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his doctorate degree in entomology from the University of California, Berkeley. He served on the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology) from 1964 to 1994.
During his long and productive career, Thorp conducted research on pollination of crops pollinated by honey bees, especially almonds. His research also included the use of other bee species in crop pollination, the roles of native bees in pollination of flowers in natural ecosystems such as vernal pools, and the ecology and systematics of native bees. He taught courses at UC Davis in General Entomology, Natural History of Insects, Insect Classification, Field Entomology, California Insect Diversity, and Pollination Ecology, and has given scores of public presentations.
Thorp is a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco (since 1986). Among his many awards: the distinguished team award (shared with Eric Mussen, Neal Williams, Brian Johnson and Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 2013 from the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America for their collaborative work specializing in honey bees, wild bees and pollination issues through research, education and outreach. Their service to UC Davis at that time spanned 116 years.
Although Thorp retired in 1994, he continues to be active. For many years after his retirement, he researched ecology, systematics, biodiversity, and conservation of bees including pollen specialist bees in vernal pool ecosystems, as well as the role of native bees in crop pollination, the role of urban gardens as bee habitat, and declines in native bumble bee populations. He maintains an office at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis where he continues his public service. That includes identifying bees for his colleagues. He recently served as a "bee" advisor for Leslie Saul-Gershenz, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (2017) and published her first piece in the Proceedings for the Natural Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on “Deceptive Signals and Behaviors of a Cleptoparasitic Beetle Show Local Adaptation to Different Host Bee Species.”
Robbin Thorp is truly a dedicated entomologist who does the University of California proud!
- Read about his work: Robbin Thorp, Distinguished Emeritus Award
- Listen to Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen interview him about his career.
- Read what CNN wrote about him in its piece on "The Old Man and The Bee" (in pursuit of Franklin's bumble bee, now feared instinct)
Happy "b-day," Professor Thorp! That "b" can stand for bumble bees, honey bees, native bees, carpenter bees, blue orchard bees, leafcutter bees, longhorned bees and more...there are more than 1600 species of undomesticated bees that reside in California.