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>
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.
And when the 107th annual UC Davis Picnic Day goes virtual on Saturday, April 17, the insects will go virtual, too.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Bohart Museum of Entomology will be participating with virtual cockroach races and a series of talks. Among them: Bohart Museum associate and natural historian Greg Kareofelas will present a pre-recorded video on Gulf Fritillary butterflies and entomologist Jeff Smith, the Bohart's volunteer curator of the Lepidoptera collection, will deliver a live (Zoom) talk from 1 to 2 p.m. on butterfly and moth mimicry.
"For my presentation on mimicry within Lepidoptera, it will briefly mention camouflage and spend most of the time on mimicry for defense--mimics of toxic or distasteful species, mimicry using odors or sounds, mimics of snakes or spiders, and mimics of non-food materials such as bird feces," Smith said.
More events are pending.
The Bohart Museum, temporarily closed, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building. Directed by Professor Lynn Kimsey, the Bohart Museum includes nearly eight million insect specimens, a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas) and an online gift shop stocked with insect-themed t-shirts, jewlery, hoodies, books and posters.
The UC Davis Entomology Graduate Student Association is selling t-shirts on its website (including shirts featuring Roach Races), and soon will be offering face masks and stickers.
Discovering Silver Linings
This year's theme is “Discovering Silver Linings.” Despite all that has happened this year, the UC Davis community has continued to find silver linings everywhere, the Picnic Day officials reported on their website. "Our campus always strives to inspire hope and works towards a better and brighter tomorrow."
It all began, according to the UC Davis Picnic Day website, "when the University Farm invited the surrounding community to view their new dairy barn. Two thousand visitors attended, bringing picnics to complement the coffee, cream, and sugar provided by the University. Following the success of the 1909 picnic, the faculty of the University Farm continued to plan and sponsor the event until a student committee took over the task in 1912. Through the years of Picnic Day history, the event has only been canceled five times. In 1924, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease among the cowherds caused the first cancellation. In 1938, delayed construction of the gymnasium, which was needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of participants, led to a second cancellation. During World War II, the Army Signal Corps controlled the campus, and Picnic Day disappeared from 1943 to 1945. Since 1946, Picnic Day has been growing strong and now boasts an annual attendance of more than 70,000 people. This year, there will be more than 200 events on campus and an estimated 75,000 visitors attending this special event. Since 1959, the parade was extended to include downtown Davis to celebrate the fact that Davis became a separate UC campus and not just the Farm School for UC Berkeley."
This year's Picnic Day won't look like the traditional Picnic Day, but it will include insects!
This is a story of what might have been that never was and never will be and it all has to do with Hammock's cockroaches.
While on the UC Riverside faculty, he worked on two cultures of very large roaches. One was the wingless Madagascar hissing cockroach, Gromphadorhina portentosa, and the other, the South American cave cockroach, Blaberus giganteus with "lovely translucent wings."
When he published a paper on his research, the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture discovered that these 20-year-old cultures had never been registered.
“So, I registered, certified and chugged on with the research,” recalled Hammock. “Then one day both cultures vanished. I was frantic.”
The next day the chair of the department walked into his lab, gave him $10, and told him: “This is your share.”
The chair had sold the roaches that “no one was using” to a Hollywood movie company. “This was the main project in my lab so I went to Hollywood and tried to get the insects back,” Hammock lamented. “No way.”
Hammock's prized roaches, perhaps destined for greatness in the scientific world of cockroach literature, instead starred as evil roaches in the 1975-released movie, “Bug,” an American horror film based on Thomas Page's novel, ”The Hephaestus Plague (1973).”
The plot: A massive earthquake releases mutant cockroaches that create fire by rubbing together their cerci, a pair of small sensory appendages at the end of their abdomen that function somewhat like antennae. However, these mutant roaches die because they cannot survive in the low air pressure on the Earth's surface. Nonetheless, Professor James Parmiter (actor Bradford Dillman, 1930-2018), manages to keep one alive in a pressure chamber and breeds it with a modern cockroach, creating a breed of intelligent, flying, super-cockroaches. Chaos erupts in the small farming community.
Chaos also erupted on the movie set—and not just because some of the actors hated roaches.
“In a twist of fate,” Hammock said, “the movie company had rented the zoology building during the summer at UC Riverside for filming evil cockroaches from the center of the planet that got in people's hair and set them on fire.” In the process, the flames ignited a minor fire in the building.
An image of zoo building and a Hammock-reared roach appear on the IMDB poster. “After they finished shooting, I heard that they released the roaches on campus,” Hammock said.
“I would never find them,” he lamented. "But my son (Tom Hammock) who now is in the film industry loved the story."
Madagascar hissing cockroaches, nicknamed "hissers," measure two to three inches long and are big in the pet trade. They are a popular attraction in the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology's live “petting zoo.”
Hammock's roach-rearing days at UC Riverside included giving a hissing roach to his mother because “she wanted a pet so I gave her one.”
“She had for several years as a pet. But she brought it back because she could not get her lady friends to babysit when she traveled. It terrified our cat but finally settled into an uneasy relationship.”
Viewers' description of Bug ranged from “the best of killer bug films” and “a scream fest” to “something that really freaked me out.” One reviewer, noting what happened to Professor Parmiter's wife, wrote “Bug, you light up my wife.”
Looking back, Hammock noted that "The science was actually a serious effort to work out the biosynthetic pathway of the hormone that regulates insect development, and then disrupt it for insect control. Sadly, I only published the first step before Hollywood turned the roaches into science fiction film history."
However, bed bugs, carpet beetles and pantry pests got into the act and competed mightily for the spotlight.
The occasion: The UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house, held Sunday afternoon, Nov. 18. The theme: "Urban Entomology."
The three-hour event starred a cockroach--well, a human dressed as a cockroach.
Karey Windbiel-Rojas of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM)--she's the associate director for Urban and Community IPM who serves as the area urban IPM advisor for Yolo, Sacramento and Solano counties--donned her cockroach costume and joined Bohart scientists in fielding questions about urban pests.
The pests the UC IPM scientist has been dealing with lately include carpet beetles, bed bugs and pantry pests. She handed out two newly published Quick Tips on carpet beetles and pantry pests, as well as information on other pests. What are some of the other pests? Check out UC IPM's Quick Tips library at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/QT/index.html.
UC IPM offers a wealth of information on its website, including
- home, garden, turf and landscape pests
- agricultural pests
- natural environment pests, and
- exotic and invasive pests
But when a cockroach is scurrying about (that was Karey's Halloween costume, by the way), the mind focuses on the "ins" and "outs" of cockroaches. Mostly the "outs."
As in: Stay. Out. Never. Ever. Come. Back. In.
"There are six species of cockroaches in California that can become pests: German cockroach, brownbanded cockroach, oriental cockroach, smokybrown cockroach, American cockroach, and Turkestan cockroach. A seventh species, the field cockroach, is not really a pest. It is usually found outdoors, but sometimes comes indoors when it is hot or dry and is often mistaken for the German cockroach. Of these seven species, the one that has the greatest potential for becoming persistent and troublesome is the German cockroach, which prefers indoor locations. Oriental and American cockroaches occasionally pose problems in moist, humid areas."--Excerpt from UC IPM Pest Note on Cockroaches.
As the UC IPM website indicates, cockroaches "may become pests in homes, schools, restaurants, hospitals, warehouses, offices, and virtually in any structure that has food preparation or storage areas. They contaminate food and eating utensils, destroy fabric and paper products, and impart stains and unpleasant odors to surfaces they contact."
Cockroaches can definitely give you a difficult time.
And speaking of giving, today (Tuesday) is Giving Tuesday, and UC IPM Director Jim Farrar has committed to eating a pest if at least 20 people make a donation of $10 or more to UC IPM.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) spokesperson Pamela Kan-Rice, assistant director of News and Information Outreach, informed us: "With your donation and Jim's appetite, there will be one less pest to deal with! Spread the word to colleagues, family and friends to help UC IPM meet this goal. All UC IPM donors will be invited to the special pest eating event which will take place in the afternoon on Wednesday, Nov 28 in the UC ANR building." The dining experience is expected to begin at 4 p.m.
Here's where to donate before midnight tonight: https://donate.ucanr.edu/pages/integrated-pest-management.
We asked Karey if the pest to be consumed could possibly be a cockroach. Or a garden-variety pest, such as a dandelion.
"To my knowledge he will not be eating a cockroach or a dandelion," she commented in an email. "I don't want to give away what he might be eating (so I don't actually know for sure)."
That would be a definite "no" on the roach!
(Update: Director Farrar ate corn smut, grasshoppers and live mealworms.)