In the year 2020, COVID chased us out of our work places and out of our fun places.
So we dutifully covered our faces to cover all the bases, washed our hands to meet all the demands, and kept our distance to continue our existence.
But wait...we did NOT socially distance from the insects.
The bees buzzed, the butterflies fluttered, and the praying mantids did what they do best--ambush their prey (much to some folks' dismay).
But let us not stray....
They say that Santa Claus this year looks like...um...The Grinch.
Does Santa look like The Grinch? Maybe, in a pinch. But on Christmas Eve we always scan the horizon for that familiar sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer--and led by No. 9, a beaming reindeer with a red nose. (But they've never been willing to pose.)
COVID may have chased us out of our work places and out of our fun places, but don't let The Grinch steal Christmas. It's not his to steal. Let us heal.
Merry Christmas! And stay safe!
He's a mantis. A masked mantis.
And Santa Claus does not DRIVE a sleigh.
The jolly ol' gent RIDES a mantis. A masked mantis.
Take it from UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members Robert and Lynn Kimsey.
A masked mantis with Santa astride graces their front yard in Davis. The mantis? It's probably a Stagmomantis californica, native to the Western United States—and the Kimsey domicile.
Unfounded (and unfunded) scientific research indicates that passersby have laughed at the mantis, but it is not known whether anyone has ever called him names or banned him from playing reindeer games. A National Institutes of Health grant may determine that.
Rumor has it, though, that S. Claus--aka Kris Kringle or that Pudgy-North-Pole-Resident-Who-Never-Met-a-Cookie-He-Didn't-Like--did approach the red-nosed mantis and mumble something like “with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?” Or maybe it was “Hey, buddy, can I hitch a ride?”
Anyway, the red-nosed mantis, not known for keen auditory perceptions, consented.
Of course, all the reindeer loved him and shouted out with glee that he would "go down in his-tor-ee." That's because Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen and Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen wanted to get out of work. Who wants to pull a sleigh that defies the maximum federal gross vehicle weight of 80,000 pounds?
But what, pray tell, will happen if the preying mantis gets...umm...hungry along the way?
Professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and an authority on insects, and Robert Kimsey, who specializes in forensic entomology, caution that children should NOT leave milk and cookies (not even luscious chocolate chirp cookies made with crunchy crickets) on Christmas Eve as the red-nose mantis prefers live crickets, mealworms, bees, beetles, syrphid flies, grasshoppers, butterflies and caterpillars, thank you.
Oh, you didn't get yours?
Well, Delsin Russell, 9, of Vacaville, did, and he and his mother journeyed Saturday, Jan. 12 to the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on the University of California, Davis, campus, to show it to scientists and perhaps get it sexed. Male or female? That's still uncertain.
Russell, wearing a purple t-shirt lettered with "Easily Distracted by Bugs," said Santa knew what he wanted and delivered his much-wanted--and now much-cherished--tarantula to him.
According to Wikipedia, the Mexican redknee tarantula, as the name implies, is a native of Mexico: "It's a popular choice as pets among tarantula keepers."
No strangers to the Bohart Museum, Delsin and his mother, Beth Russell, attended the insect museum's open house last August featuring extreme insects. (Delsin wore an insect-themed shirt, "I like big bugs; I cannot lie.") The open house featured "insects that can live in intense heat, cold, acidity or salinity." A wide variety insects, including flies, beetles, wasps and more, can live in these extreme conditions. Some species are even attracted to fire, said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology.
As for Delsin, he aims for a career as an entomologist. Currently, he's enrolled in a beekeeping project in the Vaca Valley 4-H Club--and taking very good care of his Mexican redknee tarantula.
Goes to prove that Santa isn't afraid of tarantulas. They're welcome in his sleigh.
Three More Open Houses Scheduled at Bohart Museum
The Bohart Museum is planning three more open houses during the academic year.
- Saturday, Feb. 16, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., during campuswide Biodiversity Museum Day.
- Saturday, March 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. for its "Eight-Legged Wonders" (This is a spider theme, featuring the work of the Jason Bond lab)
- Saturday, April 13 from 10 to 3 p.m. as part of the UC Davis Picnic Day.
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a year-around gift shop and a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and a year-around gift shop. It is open to the general public Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. It hosts occasional, weekend open houses. Admission is free. Further information is available on the Bohart Museum website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu/ or contact (530) 753-0493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spider Glue Seminar, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Wednesday, April 24 is the date of a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar to be presented by postdoctoral researcher Sarah Stellwagen of the University of Maryland, College Park. She will speak on “Toward Spider Glue: From Material Properties to Sequencing the Longest Silk Family Gene" from 4:10 to 5 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall, located on Kleiber Hall Drive. (See new story on spider glue.) Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is coordinating the seminars.
So goes a line from "Santa Baby." The songwriters (J. Javits, P. Springer and T. Springer) listed all the good presents they wanted Santa to bring: a sable, a '54 convertible (light blue, please!), a yacht, a duplex and a deed to a platinum mine.
The late Eartha Kitt sang it well, emphasizing: So, hurry down the chimney, tonight!
Odds are that Santa will indeed hurry down the chimney if honey bee colonies occupy the roof. The growing popularity of urban beekeeping means not only more backyard beekeepers but more rooftop beekeepers.
Umm, be careful out there, Santa! You will need some protection: a veil, gloves and smoker. And are you sure you want to wear red? Bees dislike red. It's black to them and bees dislike black. Intensely. Did I say intensely? intensely.
Another thing, Santa, please note that your reindeer will pause longer on the rooftop if they encounter bees, and this will adversely affect your global delivery schedule.
Up on the housetop, reindeer pause
Out jumps good old Santa Claus
Down through the chimney with lots of toys, all for the little one's Christmas joys.
--Up on the Housetop"
In fact, Santa, your reindeer may turn a "pause" into a "standoff" due to guard bees defending their colony. Aggressively. And they don't much like reindeer hooves (or anything else, for that matter) disturbing their hives.
And take Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He's a perfect target and not just because of hooves flailing. It's that bright red nose. Bright. Red. Nose. Ouch!
Question: Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go? (Up on the Housetop)
Answer: Umm, Santa and his reindeer?
And remember Clement C. Moore's "The Night Before Christmas?"
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
with a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
The key words here are "so lively" and "quick." One sting, and you, Santa, will certainly be both lively and quick. Very. Lively. Very. Quick.
The Chronicle, as you may remember, launched rooftop beekeeping back in 2011 in an effort to help save the disappearing honey bees. Beekeeper May writes "Honeybee Chronicles."
Santa does not read the "Honeybee Chronicles." He is too busy reading lists and questioning whether people are "naughty" or "nice."
These days, however, it is not just about being "naughty" or "nice."
Santa is bound to ask: "Pardon me, but do you keep bees on your roof? How many colonies? Are they European honey bees or Africanized bees? And are these bees accustomed to encountering a red-dressed, bearded fellow driving a not-so-miniature sleigh pulled by not-so-tiny reindeer and led by a reindeer with a big, fat red nose?"
With all the rooftop beekeeping underway throughout the world, Santa may have some serious issues to consider tonight.
The “ho, ho, ho” may turn into a “ho, ho, ouch!”
What if Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer trips over a bee hive on a rooftop? Honey bees are rather grumpy this time of year, you know. The queen bee, clustered inside the warmth of the hive, surrounded by worker bees, is not likely to issue a royal pardon. Guard bees will buzz out to defend their hive.
And they won't be just "pollen" Santa's leg.
Before jolly ol' Saint Nicholas can say "On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen, on Comet, on Cupid, on Donner, and on Blitzen," the Big Guy in the Red Suit (not an appropriate color for beekeepers) isn't feeling so good. Neither are the eight reindeer and the Red-Nosed One (now the Red-Nosed-Bulbous-One-That-Got-Stung-by-a-Bee.)
Indeed, this may prompt scientists to issue a white paper on "Santa Claus and the Pitfalls of Rooftop Beekeeping."
So, Santa, it might be a good idea to leave the red outfit at the North Pole tonight and don a professional bee suit with a zippered domed hood and leather gloves.
Might also be a good idea, too, to tuck a smoker in your sleigh.