She just wasn't that hungry.
To take it from the top:
The family craft activity at the Bohart's recent open house featured maggot art, in which youths dip a maggot into non-toxic, water-based paint and let it crawl--or guide it--on a piece of paper. Voila! Maggot art! A Picasso or Van Gogh suitable for framing? Well, not quite, but it's quite the conversation piece.
All was fine and good until an orchid praying mantis, a resident of the Bohart's live petting zoo, declined to eat all the leftovers. When she deposited her egg case or ootheca, and she expired, part of her dinner remained.
The result: maggots do what maggots do. They emerged as blow flies.
For a week, visitors ambled by and peered into the orchid-adorned habitat, expecting to see something special.
"What's that?" they asked.
Some escapees flew into the office of research entomologist Tom Zavortink.
"Why," he asked, "is there a blow fly flying around my office?"
"The praying mantis didn't eat all her dinner."
The blow flies are gone now, but you, too, can do maggot art. Mark your calendar for Saturday, April 13 when UC Davis hosts its 105th Annual Picnic Day. The annual maggot art activity, hosted by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the Entomology Graduate Student Association, takes place in Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive. Picnic Day organizers invite visitors to "experience the richness of diversity and achievement at UC Davis and the surrounding community in the areas of research, teaching, service and campus life."
That includes maggot art.
And speaking of maggot art, it was former UC Davis graduate student and forensic entomologist Rebecca O'Flaherty who coined the term back in 2001 when she was studying at the University of Hawaii. She was rearing blow flies for her forensic research and wanted an activity to draw the interest of elementary school students in her teaching program. She sought to generate interest and respect for an entomological wonder that's more associated with road kills and goose bumps than art thrills.
Her Maggot Art activity drew national interest. "The beauty of the Maggot Art program," O'Flaherty told me, "is its ability to give hands-on, non- experiences with an insect that most people fear or loathe."
Her UC Davis major professor, forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, later called it “an extremely interesting and innovative idea that combines very basic biology with art in a form that people can readily access and understand. It provides an entrée into the biology and development of insects that people can really appreciate and understand. It was a stroke of genius."
And when a praying mantis doesn't eat all of her dinner....
This particular monarch chrysalis was not the immature stage of a monarch butterfly but a piñata--complete with an emerging parasitoid--cleverly crafted by UC Davis doctoral student Charlotte Herbert Alberts and her husband, George, and recent UC Davis graduate Emma Cluff.
The sculpted larva of what monarch enthusiasts call the "dreaded tachinid fly" protruded from the piñata. It was the first to go, victim of a direct hit.
The annual pre-Halloween party presented by the Bohart Museum Society, draws assorted arthropod costumes, from assassin bugs to praying mantids to peacock spiders, but the annual piñata breaking contest, is always "the" smash hit. You can almost feel the whops, wallops and whammies, along with the one-two-three punches (each hitter gets three swings) as the crowd cheers.
Then there's the scramble for the candy.
The Bohart Museum is the home of some 8 million insect specimens, plus a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids) and an insect-themed gift shop. It's directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology. Those who join the Bohart Museum Society look forward to their invitation to the annual pre-Halloween party, which this year featured a parasitoid theme. (See Oct. 29 Bug Squad blog).
How much of a smash hit was the piñata? See the images below and the YouTube video.
There's a new bear in town.
Stuiffed toy animals resembling tardigrades, aka "water bears," are all the rage at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's year-around gift shop at the University of California, Davis.
The bright blue plush toys are just as cuddly, fluffy and pudgy--if not more so--than the traditional teddy bear.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, wrote about the tardigrades in her newsletter several years ago.
The water bear "has to be one of the most peculiar and indestructible groups of animals known," she wrote. The microscopic and nearly indestructible tardigrade can survive being heated to 304 degrees Fahrenheit or being chilled for days at -328 F. And, even if it's frozen for 30 years, it can still reproduce. See video on EurekAlert.
They belong to their own phyllum, the Tardigrada (meaning "slow steppers"), and to date there are some 1,500 described species throughout the world. "Tardigrades can survive high pressures of more than 1,200 atmospheres found in the bottom of the abyss," Kimsey related. "They can tolerate 1,000 times more ionizing radiation than other animals."
"This collection is the result of years of collecting, mounting, imaging, and identifying by former collection manager Bob Schuster and emeritus professor Al Grigarick and their collaborators," she noted.
What's the water bear look like? It has a barrel-shaped body, eight pudgy legs, and the adults usually range from 0.3 to 0.5 mm in length.
German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze (1731-1793) first described the critters in 1773, referring to them as "kleiner Wasserbär," or "little water bears."
They're easiest to find on lichens and mosses, Kimsey says, but they can also be found on beaches, in the subtidal zone, freshwater sediments, soil, hot springs and even on barnacles. They've been found "high in the Himalayas to down in the deep sea." They've even been found in the interior of Antarctica.
They mostly feed on plants or bacteria "but some are predators on smaller tardigrades," Kimsey says. They use the stylets in their tubular mouth (snout) to pierce "individual plant or bacterial ells or small invertebrates."
Why is the water bear so indestructible? In research published in 2016, geneticist Takekazu Kunieda and his colleagues from the University of Tokyo found that the water bear expresses a tardigrade-specific protein that binds itself to DNA. This acts like a "shield against x-ray radiation, preventing the DNA from snapping apart," according to an article published in Gizmodo.
Bottom line: the real "water bear" is definitely less destructible than its huggable, plush counterpart in the Bohart gift shop.
(Editor's note: The Bohart Museum of Entomology will host an open house, themed "Extreme Insects: Fire and Ice," from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 19 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. It is free and family friendly. More information is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. UC Davis student and Bohart associate Emma Cluff, pictured, is helping coordinate the event.)
It was a day for UC Davis employees to bring their offspring to campus to show what they and their peers do, and to interest them in career choices and opportunities.
The David and Sarah Trombly family (David works for UC Davis Utillties) were there with their three sons, Daniel, 5, Joshua, 4, and Joseph, 11 months. Joshua, the entomology fan in the Trombly family, exulted over the bugs, eagerly asking the Bohart scientists for identification. His smile widened each time he received an answer.
Amiyah Robinson, 8, was among the daughters who participated in TODS, joining her mother, Chelsy Robinson, who works in Human Resources. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology, introduced them to the fascinating world of insects.
Bohart associates and UC Davis students Emma Cluff and Wade Spencer showed jewels beetle specimens, and live insects--Madagascar hissing cockroaches ("hissers") and walking sticks--part of the museum's petting zoo. Cluff held a hisser in her hand while a walking stick crawled up her forehead.
Then it went from bugs to snakes! Amiyah walked down the hallway to the display provided by the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology. Owner Donnelly “Papaya” West of Papaya Pythons, Davis, was there for an educational presentation on snakes. Amiyah petted K'uychi, an 8-foot-long, 9-pound rainbow boa, Epicrates cenchria. True to its name, its colors resembled a rainbow in the sunlight.
Want to see more Bohart Museum insects? The Bohart is displaying 17 drawers of insect specimens at the 142nd annual Dixon May Fair, which opened Thursday, May 11 and continues through Sunday, May 14. The specimens are displayed all four days in the Floriculture Building. Scientists will be at the Floriculture Building on two afternoons: Friday, May 12 and Saturday, May 13 with the hissers and the sticks. Fairgoers will be invited to hold and photograph them. On Friday afternoon, an added attraction is Wade Spencer showing his scorpions, Hamilton and Celeste. Then on Saturday, entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth display at the Bohart Museum, will discuss and show his insect specimens, gathered from many parts of the world. (See May 10 Bug Squad blog)