Logan, a visitor at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's recent open house on spiders and other arachnids, wowed the crowd with his knowledge of scorpions.
“Logan is only in kindergarten but he was showing his mom our arachnid drawer and describing the differences between the Emperor Scorpion, Pandinus imperator, and the Dictator Scorpion, Pandinus dictator,” said Bohart associate and scorpion scientist Wade Spencer, an undergraduate student at Bohart Museum. “Thankfully, he wasn't at all shy when I asked him to repeat what he had just said to the crowd.”
“He loved sharing his knowledge with those interested,” Spencer said. “And his mom is an arachnid saint as she supports his endeavors even while she still gets the willies from just looking at them. She told me she finds it important to keep her cool so that he may never lose his enthusiasm.”
The Bohart Museum's three-hour open house included a presentation on spiders by Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Scientists in both the Bond lab and the Bohart lab led arachnid activities, including "Eat Like a Spider" and "Catch a Moth."
Spencer and fellow Bohart associate and entomology undergraduate student Lohit Garikipati, tabled the scorpion display. The guests asked questions, gingerly touched them, and took cell phone photos.
Spencer currently has 37 scorpions of various species. Scorpions are venomous, not poisonous, he pointed out. As Professor Bond said in his talk: "Poisonous is what you eat it make you sick. Venomous means it takes toxin and it injects it into you."
"Fun fact about scorpions, Spencer said, "is that all of them are safe to eat as none of them are poisonous (toxins ingested or absorbed), but all of them (as far as we know) are venomous (containing poison(s) which are injected by some means)."
"I use the term 'medically significant' because it has the most potent venoms we know of, but I refrain and even discourage the use of the term 'dangerous' when describing scorpions and other venomous creatures," Spencer said. "It's often our own carelessness which makes them dangerous. If you live in in scorpion country, shake out your boots if you leave them outside and buy a $20 UV flashlight on Amazon. Those are simple ways to detect them and avoid being stung."
Spencer said he handles "my little Leiurus q. to show just how gentle and adorable she is so that people can have visual confirmation to back my claim that there is no such thing as a dangerous scorpion--though it should be clear I am not saying they're cuddly or friendly like a puppy. I advocate for them to be treated with caution and respect.
The UC Davis student attributes his interest in scorpions to his great-grandmother.
"My great-grandmother would always take me on afternoon picnics in the Big Tujunga Canyon Wash, a mostly dry river bed in the San Gabriel mountains in my home town of Sunland. She was a naturalist at heart and taught me about the native plants, geology, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and my favorite: the bugs. If ever we encountered a scorpion, she would stop and show me, but wouldn't kill them. Instead, starting when I was 3, she taught me that they were nothing to fear and showed me how to gently handle them. I've handled thousands ever since and not once been stung."
"I'm often asked why I'm not stung, and my response is always the same: 'It's not a cat!' By that, I mean, there's no risk of it randomly attacking me. I have scars all over my body from dogs and cats."
Spencer loves scorpions for three primary reasons:
- "Knowing their ancestors were the first animals on land about 450 million years ago."
- "Many of their venoms are being studied for use in shrinking brain tumors, sending fluorescent dyes to tumors with such specificities as to view 200 cancerous cell clusters--whereas MRIs can view 500,000 cell clusters. And some--to regulate insulin, treat arthritis, and antimicrobial components--have been used in mice with MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureas), completely curing them in 4 days."
- "Working with them directly and seeing how many people we have helped get over their fears has me simply head-over-heels for them."
The scorpion display drew the interest of adults and children alike. Three Brownie Girl Scouts from Vacaville giggled and comforted one another when they experienced the "Virtual Reality Spiders" demonstration conducted by medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. But not so the scorpion display.
"When it came to the live stuff, the girls (Kendl Macklin, 7, Jayda Navarette, 8, and Keira Yu, 8) were more calm than nervous," said Spencer, adding "I thanked them for their bravery and showing the adults that there was nothing to fear."
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, a gift shop, and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects or walking sticks, and tarantulas. The insect museum is open to the public Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m.
Talk about the unexpected.
“Look!” says Jim.
He pauses by the kitchen counter.
"Over there!” he says, pointing. I don't see anything except the half-filled coffee pot.
Then I see it. "There," as in “over there,” is a praying mantis clinging to the wall and staring at us. It is like finding a grizzly bear in Kenya. (Yes, there is a grizzly bear in Kenya, on a private reserve, the Ol Jogi wildlife conservancy in Laikipia, Kenya)
Praying mantis expert Lohit Garikipati, entomology student at the University of California, Davis and an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, identified our kitchen guest as a Stagmomantis limbata, a bordered mantis native to North America. “Looks like she wanted to come in for some free food!” Lohit quipped.
That's how we acquired Henrietta (which means home ruler) . Apparently she hitched a ride on the back of Jim's jacket as he was removing a patch of Mexican sunflowers. She opted to depart her "ride" in our kitchen.
By the half-filled coffee pot. Praying mantids don't do coffee.
We placed Henrietta in an aquarium, screened at the top, and kept her for a week, feeding her drone flies and crickets. We provided her with an upright stick just in case she wanted to deposit an egg case, an ootheca.
Several days later an ootheca, about an inch long, appeared in the aquarium. Not on the stick—she chose to deposit it on the floor.
What does an ootheca look like under a powerful microscope? Amazing. Lynn Epstein, UC Davis emeritus professor of plant pathology, photographed it with a Leica DVM6 microscope owned by the Department of Pathology and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (see below).
She hides 'em and we seek 'em.
We've spotted as many as seven adult praying mantids at a time in our little pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., but never once have we seen any of them laying eggs.
The praying mantis lays an egg mass known as an ootheca or a protective egg sac. But always when you're nowhere around!
Not so this time.
Late Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Ms. Mantis (a Stagmomantis limbata, as identified by UC Davis student Lohit Garikipati, a Bohart Museum of Entomology associate who rears mantids) decided to grace our milkweed planter with a little present.
She climbed a redwood stake, looked around, saw me (oh, no problem, you're not a predator!), and crawled over to the other side. She positioned herself upside down, bulging abdomen intact, and proceeded to do her business. A frothy cream-colored substance began to emerge. (See my short YouTube video.) When darkness fell, she was still there.
When Monday dawned, she was still there, her ootheca finished and hardening. It probably contains several hundred eggs, but who's counting? However, scientists estimate that only one fifth will survive to adulthood. Many of the nymphs will be eaten by their hungry brothers and sisters. Bon appétit?
"Now that she's deposited the ootheca, will she expire soon?" we asked Garikipati.
"It's still early on in the season, so she may lay another two or three," he said.
She may indeed. Mama Mantis continues to hang out in the milkweed, while her ootheca, like a flag on a flag pole, "commemorates" the spot.
It should be a warning sign to incoming monarchs.
The next day, we found the clipped wing of a male monarch.
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.)
Well, UC Davis officials and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology did!
All systems are "go" for the 104th annual UC Davis Picnic Day, an all-day event on Saturday, April 21 when scores of visitors, aka picnickers, will stroll the campus. It promises to be both educational and entertaining.
The UC Davis Picnic Day Committee offered a pre-view Thursday noon at the Quad.
Bohart Museum of Entomology representatives--Wade Spencer, Lohit Garikipati, and Diego Rivera, all UC Davis students and Bohart associates--kept busy answers questions about scorpions, stick insects and praying mantids.
Spencer displayed his desert hairy scorpion named Celeste. Okay, surprise, surprise! Celeste turned out to be a male, but his name remains Celeste.
Lohit Garikipati, an entomology student who rears praying mantids, came with his buddy, a Malaysian shield mantis. "What's that?" visitors asked, looking at the shield.
For a hour, the trio entertained the guests. Some expressed awe at Spencer casually holding a scorpion. "I've been handling scorpions since I was three," he said. "I've never been stung."
Rivera showed an Australian leaf walking stick insect that resembled a leaf. The crowd took turns holding and photographing it.
Now it's showtime!
On Saturday, April 21, during the campuswide Picnic Day, you can engage with insects at both Briggs Hall, which houses the Department of Entomology and Nematology administration and most of the faculty, and the Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of eight million insect specimens.
At Briggs Hall, located off Kleiber Hall Drive, activities will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. At the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, the open house is from 10 to 3 p.m.
Here's what's on tap at Briggs, either in front or inside the building:
- Entomology at UC Davis: Enter Briggs Hall and find a wide variety of entomology-themed displays, from classics, including insect forestry to recent additions, such as “Virtual Reality Bugs."
- Honey Tasting Booth: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño and her staff will operate the honey tasting booth, focusing on berry honeys. They will offer these honey varietals: blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, snowberry, almond and buckwheat.
- Maggot Art: Visitors will create maggot art by dipping a maggot into a water-based, non-toxic paint and position it on paper and let it crawl. Voila! Maggot art, suitable for framing
- Cockroach Races: Crowds can pick their favorite "roach athlete" and cheer it to victory
- Virtual Reality Bugs: Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo will set up a virtual reality system to enable people to view three dimensional models of insects. In VR, the models can be made to look life size, 40 feet tall or anywhere in between, he says. Here's the link that to view them in your web browser: https://skfb.ly/6xVru
- Bug Doctor: The Doctor Is In: Graduate students will identify insects and arachnids and answer questions
- IPM Booth: UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program professionals will discuss and answer questions about insect pests, beneficial insects and pest control. They will display their publications and live insects. In keeping with tradition, they will give away free lady beetles (lady bugs), to be released in gardens to devour aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
- Mosquito Abatement: Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District professionals will staff a booth
- Dr. Death: Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey will staff his traditional Dr. Death booth, inviting the visitors to ask questions and look through microscopes.
- Davis Fly Fishers: The anglers will demonstrate fly-tying techniques in Briggs 158
- Scavenger Hunt: Participants will search for and identify insects in a display of 10 drawers in Briggs 122.
- Insect Face Painting: Entomology Club members will face-paint bees, butterflies, lady beetles and other insects
- T-Shirt Sales: Visitors can take their pick or picks among insect-themed t-shirts (popular t-shirts include beetles and honey bees) Selection and prices are online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/
- Bake Sale: The Entomology Club will offer insect-themed baked goods.
- Strike Up the Band: Music composed by Michael Lewis Bollinger (Frank Zalom lab); cover songs possible. The band, dressed in insect costumes, will include Jackson Audley of the Steve Seybold lab, rhythm guitar; Yao Cai of the Joanna Chiu lab, drums; Christine Tabuloc of the Chiu lab, vocals; Zachary Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, keyboard; Wei Lin of the Brian Johnson lab, bass; Jill Oberski of the Phil Ward lab, tenor saxophone; and Brendon Boudinot of the Phil Ward lab, bassist.
"The band will be setting up and warming up at 4," said Boudinot. "We'll start our set at 4:30, and wrap up at 5 or so. We are working on tightening up the set list--for now we have four songs. Expect some guitar and drum solos at the least!"
At the Bohart Museum, open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the theme is "Where the Sun Doesn't Shine," a play on this year's Picnic Day theme of "Where the Sun Shines."
"We'll be highlighting nocturnal insects, cave dwelling insects, and yes, beaver butt beetles or Platypsyllus castoris, an ectoparasite on beavers, near their glands, wounds, and skin," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. " We will be holding insects as well."
The Bohart Museum will also showcase its live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks or stick insects, tarantulas and mantids. The museum also offers a year-around gift shop with T-shirts, jewelry, posters, books, insect nets and the like.
"Entomology at UC Davis" (122 Briggs) has been nominated for a special campus award under the category "At One With Nature." The Honey Tasting booth at Briggs has been nominated for a similar award under the category, “Hunger Fix.” Winners of the categories are determined by an Internet vote. (Access the link here to vote from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. for your favorite exhibits on Picnic Day). The winners will be publicized on the Picnic Day website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts after Picnic Day.
What's a picnic without bugs?