This story is about a boy, bugs, a birthday and the Bohart.
Ty Elowe, who seeks a career in entomology, asked his mother for an early 13th birthday present: a visit to the Bohart Museum of Entomology. It houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and also features a live “petting zoo” of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.
His mother, Robbin Elowe, readily agreed to the birthday wish--although she acknowledges that she is not particularly fond of insects.
“Ty has had an obsession for bugs since he was a year and a half,” his mother recalled. “He has always wanted to be an entomologist and his trip to the Bohart Museum has only fueled his motivation and determination to make his entomology dreams come true!”
Ty described the visit, Oct. 13-14, as “one of the greatest trips of my life.”
“Everyone was so kind, informative, helpful and welcoming,” the Elowes agreed.
The Elowes spent much of the time with entomology enthusiast and undergraduate student Wade Spencer. Then they were invited to Bohart associate Greg Kareofelas' afternoon seminar Friday afternoon on "The Story and Life History of the Rarely Seen Sierra-Nevada butterfly, Colias behrii, known as Behr's Sulphur, or Sierra Sulphur."
“It was fascinating to sit in on Greg's seminar,” Robbin said. “It made us feel so important and privileged!”
“Wade Spencer was absolutely amazing with Ty,” she said. “He spent so much time and gave Ty so much attention. He is truly a mentor to Ty. “
Ty's interest in bugs extends to room décor. Ty convinced his brothers to let his aunt, Celeste Holley, an accomplished artist, redo the boys' bathroom with a bug theme. “They each picked a bug for Celeste to sketch,” Robbin said.
The Elowes' visit began on Thursday. “They came in while other visitors were viewing the live critters and I began helping them,” Wade said. “When Ty's mother remembered to move their car, I asked him where they were visiting from and he informed me his Mom flew them out from Arizona with the only goal of visiting the Bohart. That blew my mind away! So, when she came back, I asked if what he told me was true, and she elaborated, stating it was because he wants to be an entomologist and it was an early 13th birthday present. I was simply astonished.”
“So, seeing as how awesome this was, I set aside databasing to focus on investing time to inspire a buddy entomologist's mind and make their trip worth while,” Wade related. “He is a very bright young man. He's both knowledgeable and friendly and has the potential to be a great entomologist one day.”
Wade set about giving him “tips and pointers on how to safely navigate out in the field, be it at night or during the day.”
The Elowes left the Bohart Museum at 5 p.m. on Thursday, and were encouraged to return on Friday following their planned visit to the UC Davis Arboretum and the Botanical Conservatory. Ty is also deeply interested in plants.
“They came in Friday afternoon and Ty was telling me all about the Conservatory,” Wade said.
"Ty's is absolutely awesome to do something so special for her son," Wade said. "She didn't like bugs, per se, but with each new bug I brought out for him to hold, she sat within two feet of him and repeatedly commented ‘I'm not afraid right now at all, even though they're so close to me.'
“Just her willingness to take an interest in her son's passion and to take steps toward fueling it speaks volumes to her character and awesome parenting skills,” Wade said.
When they left Friday, Wade “handed him my pair of 12-inch forceps for him to use in the field. It was touching to see how such a simple gift could mean so much to him.”
They also exchanged emails. “Hopefully we'll be in touch with Ty and his family to help him as best as we can,” Spencer said.
“This is what makes everything we do in the museum worthwhile," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. "Every person we help increases our enthusiasm to teach more and try to reach more people.”
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, was founded in 1946, and is named for noted entomologist Richard Bohart (1913-2007), emeritus professor at UC Davis. The museum is the seventh largest insect collection in North America and is a National Science Foundation and UC-funded facility. Visitors are invited to tour the insect museum Monday through Thursday, view the collection, and learn from the scientists. It also operates a year-around gift shop that includes insect-collecting equipment, books, posters, jewelry, insect-themed candy, stuffed animals (insects), T-shirts and sweatshirts.
During the academic year, the Bohart Museum offers special weekend open houses, all family friendly. In the summer they host “bug camps” for kids. Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, directs the summer camps and organizes and conducts the many classroom tours.
Take it from UC Davis entomology student Wade Spencer.
Spencer decided to create a Bohart Museum of Entomology Christmas card--an insect version--and sure enough, Santa is a robber fly. And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a male argid sawfly.
The idea surfaced when Christine Melvin (who just received her bachelor's degree in entomology from UC Davis) and Spencer were TA'ing (serving as teaching assistants) for Lynn Kimsey's Entomology 100L lab. Kimsey directs the Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million specimens, and she's a professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The young entomologists decided that the male argid sawfly needed a red nose, just like Rudolph.
As Spencer was photographing the argids, Bohart Museum teen volunteer Noah Crockette walked by. "He suggested we should find an insect with fluffy white facial setae for an 'insect Santa' and the moment he said that the image of an Asilid (robber fly) popped into my mind."
Spencer then searched through the Bohart's asilid collection and found a perfect robber fly. The rest, as they say, is history--or hysterical.
"I'm hoping to image some Phasmids (stick insects) to make an insect menorah for Hanukkah as well," Spencer said. (And he just did! See below)
Remember Wade Spencer? He's the one created a peacock jumping spider costume for the Bohart Museum's inhouse Halloween party. Bohart Museum associate Fran Keller videotaped his courtship dance and it went viral--more than two million hits. See Bug Squad.
Drum roll...Time's up...
If you answered "mealworms"--or the larval form of the darkling beetle, family Tenebrionidae--that's correct.
And if you visit the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house ("Keep Calm and Insect On") from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 5 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building, Crocker Lane, you'll encounter them chewing on a Styrofoam head, "The Recycling Man."
“It turns out that mealworms have some hidden talents,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis. “They're not just good for feeding to pet reptiles or eating in snacks from HotLix. “These darkling beetle larvae have some dynamic gut bacteria.”
Enter Entomology undergraduate student Wade Spencer. You may know him from Bohart Associate Fran Keller's video of him costumed as a peacock jumping spider and performing a courtship dance. That video drew more than 2 million hits. (See previous Bug Squad piece on Wade Spencer with a link to Keller's video, or visit the Bohart Museum's Facebook page.)
So for his project, Spencer purchased a Styrofoam head online, obtained a Styrofoam insert from a bicycle helmet, and inserted 60 mealworms. That was on Nov. 18. Meanwhile, they're munching away. “Listen and you can hear them chewing," he said.
"This is a recycling project that's all in the head,” Spencer quipped.
(Learn more about darkling beetles on the UC Integrated Pest Management Program's website.) The insects can be pests of squash, pumpkins, dry beans and figs and the like. The wormlike larvae are commonly eaten by folks engaging in entomophagy.
Also at the Bohart Museum open house on Dec. 5, it's a time for show and tell. Bring insect or spider specimens and ask questions of the entomologists.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, will be available for discussions on bumble bees and other pollinators, and will sign his books. He is the co-author of “Bumble Bees of North America: An identification Guide” (Princeton University) and “California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists” (Heyday).
The Bohart Museum 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. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum. Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula named “Peaches.” Visitors are invited to hold the insects and photograph them.
The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum hosts special weekend open houses throughout the academic year. All are free and open to the public and families are encouraged to attend. The regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. There is no admission but donations are appreciated.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tabatha Yang (email@example.com) does public education and outreach and conducts groups tours.
No, expect to see a peacock jumping spider, violin spider, and praying mantis. And okay, maybe a monarch butterfly and a honey bee or two.
But a peacock jumping spider?
The best costume at the Bohart Musuem's recent Halloween party was of a peacock jumping spider, designed, created and worn by UC Davis entomology undergraduate student Wade Spencer.
And that's not all. He performed courtship dances throughout the evening, wowing the crowd.
“He spent a huge amount of time on this even practicing the 'moves' watching videos of the spiders,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology.
Bohart Museum associate Fran Keller, who received her doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, captured a video of Spencer's courtship dance. Posted on the Bohart Museum Facebook page, it immediately went viral on social media. (As of Nov. 1, more than 700,000 accessed it.)
How did Spencer come up with the idea? From watching biologist Jürgen Otto's videos of the peacock jumping spider. See Otto's video on YouTube.
When Spencer saw the videos, he thought "Wow! these little things are amazing!"
"Then when I saw the species Maratus speciosus, I thought the pattern on the abdomen looked somewhat like a face. The moment that occurred to me I decided I could make that a mask and the costume idea was instantly solidified in my mind.”
Spencer, who plans to obtain a doctorate in entomology and teach, hails from a tiny rural suburb of Los Angeles called Sunland. “It's often seen as 'Sunland/Tujunga' as they are joint communities with a rich history," he said. "They're also often seen in movies, TV shows, and commercials as it's a popular filming area.”
A graduate of Verdugo Hills Senior High School, Tujunga, Calif., he then went on to Pasadena City College (PCC) before transferring to UC Davis.
Spencer said his insect interest "all started with my great grandmother whom I called 'Gommie.' She babysat me often and would take me out into nature for picnics and such. There she would teach me about the plants, birds, snakes and lizards, the water cycle, geology, mammals, and, of course, insects. She didn't know many of the scientific names but she knew so many common names. it'd make your head spin. After many years of her influence and really learning how to simply stop and appreciate the nature around me, I decided I wanted to get into biology.”
After he completed ecology/evolutionary biology courses at PCC and field projects, he decided that "field biology was the thing for me."
"Then, after completing organic chemistry, I decided I wanted to synthesize molecules, specifically pharmacological compounds. I really wanted to either work with plants or bugs to extract molecules for potential medicines as they have amazing compounds with insane properties to them. Then I realized that while I loved the organic chemistry and all that, I really didn't want to be cooped up in a lab all day as my true passion was to be out in the field.”
“I lived with my great grandma from 2008 until 2014, taking care of her in her older years as she did for me in my younger years," Spencer recalled. "She would always encourage me to get into the sciences and follow my true passions.” He applied to a handful of colleges and was accepted by three. “I thought about it for a little and came to the conclusion that if I study bugs--which are way cooler than only flowers--I could also study the plants that I loved.”
Wade Spencer chose UC Davis. Unfortunately, his great-grandmother passed suddenly in November of 2013. "So, long story still long, my great grandmother was the one to push me into the amazing world of bugs and I still feel like a curious and playful child when I'm out in the field frolicking with the bugs and the rest of nature. I find my peace when I'm out in nature because I feel connected with my best friend, my Gommie.”
Spencer volunteers at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open houses, held periodically throughout the academic year. He can be found enthusiastically encouraging visitors to hold a rose-haired tarantula named Peaches, and extolling the virtues of Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks.
As for Fran Keller's video, it's drawing lots of comments on social media, including:
- This Wade person is amazing for not only making this costume but performing the dance that goes with it.
- Best Halloween costume, ever!
- So funny, only biologists and entomologists would understand the human and mastery
- Nice to see other people admire these little critters
- I completely love this person!
- Guy in costume, will you marry me? I love you!
And yes, there was. A Madagasar hissing cockroach was one of the critters that UC Davis entomology major Wade Spencer showed to guests at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house last Saturday during the 101st annual campuswide Picnic Day.
Some folks call them "hissers." That's because of the hissing sound they make when when they force air through their spiracles, or respiratory openings. Sometimes they hiss when you touch them or pick them up. Want to hear them hiss? Access George Gavin's program on the BBC website.
Madagascar hissing cockroaches can reach three inches long. They seem to favor rotting logs for their homes. They're vegetarians, so guests at the Bohart Museum don't have to worry about them as predators.
Hollywood producers can't get their fill of them.
And then there was the television series Fear Factor. (The Bohart Museum received some of the excess roaches.)
We also remember when Six Flags Great America sponsored a Halloween contest at its 2006 FrightFest and challenged people to eat a hisser. Eat 36 hissers in one minute and beat the world record. Fortunately, they rescinded the idea and the offer.
The hissers at the Bohart, though, are not for eating. They're for admiring. Some 4000 people visited the Bohart Museum last Saturday to view all the exhibits, which included a pollination display and the ongoing live "petting zoo." Although the crowd favorite is Peaches, a rose-haired tarantula, also popular are the walking sticks and hissers.
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, houses nearly eight million insect specimens. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, it is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and on special weekends.
The next weekend open house is from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 17. The theme? “Name That Bug! How About Bob?” Admission is free.