Spiders--especially jumping spiders, crab spiders and orb weavers--fascinate me. They've been around for 400 million years and are cunning, skillful predators. I don't relish them eating a honey bee in our pollinator garden, but everything has to eat. If I were in charge of their culinary habits, though, I'd point them in the general direction of a delicious stink bug or a scrumptious green bottle fly or a tasty lygus bug. And ask them, pretty please, to leave my honey bees alone.
Still, many people fear spiders. Arachnophobia is a common phobia, but there are five good reasons to like spiders, according to Jason Bond of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
The five good reasons to like spiders?
- Spiders consume 400-800 million tons of prey, mostly insects, each year. Humans consume somewhere around 400 million tons of meat and fish each year.
- Spider silk is one of the strongest naturally occurring materials. Spider silk is stronger than steel, stronger and more stretchy than Kevlar; a pencil thick strand of spider silk could be used to stop a Boeing 747 in flight.
- Some spiders are incredibly fast – able to run up to 70 body lengths per second (10X faster than Usain Bolt).
- Athough nearly all 47,000-plus spider species have venom used to kill their insect prey, very few actually have venom that is harmful to humans.
- Some spiders are really good parents –wolf spider moms carry their young on their backs until they are ready to strike out on their own; female trapdoor spiders keep their broods safe inside their burrows often longer than one year, and some female jumping spiders even nurse their spiderlings with a protein rich substance comparable to milk.
Following his presentation, activity stations will be open in the Bohart Museum where visitors can “Assemble an Arachnid,” “Create a Chelicerate,” “Cribellate vs. Ecribellate Silk,” “Catch a Moth,” “Eat Like a Spider,” and learn about "Spider Senses" and “Trapdoor Specifics.”
Visitors will see live specimens and specimens in alcohol. They'll learn the differences between woolly silk and sticky silk. They'll see the Bohart arachnids--tarantulas--and hold some of the non-arachnids, including walking sticks and Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
“Spiders are an incredibly diverse group with more than 50,000 species described with probably another 200,000 remaining to yet be discovered,” says Bond, who joined the department last July from Auburn University, Alabama. “They are quite ancient, with fossils dating back well over 300 million years and are known to be exclusively predatory.”
Bond joined the UC Davis faculty after a seven-year academic career at Auburn University, Ala. He served as professor of biology and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences from January 2016 to July 2018, and as curator of arachnids and myriapods (centipedes, millipedes, and related animals) at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History, from August 2011 to July 2018.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses nearly eight million insect specimens collected from all over the world. It also includes a gift shop and a live “petting zoo,” comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas.
When you're 5 years old, the world is full of wonders.
Especially when your mother takes you to the Bohart Museum of Entomology to see the butterfly specimens.
Such was the case when Cash Belden, 5, and his mother, Michelle Belden (she's the coordinator of the campus Aggie Surplus, formerly the Bargain Barn) attended the Bohart Museum open house during the eighth annual campuswide UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day.
Little Cash especially liked the monarchs and the blue morphos.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly/moth section at the Bohart, showed them around. He estimates the Bohart has half a million Lepitoptera in the collection, about 60 percent moths and 40 percent butterflies.
He mentioned the "defensive strategies these insects use for survival, such as camouflage, warning coloration, mimicry of other species."
"We love to teach about the importance of Lepidoptera in the environment, either to their habitat directly or possibly as an indicator of the health of their habitat."
And, of course, there's the beauty of the insects.
Next time it's spiders!
The next open house, themed "Eight-Legged Wonders" and featuring spiders, is set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, March 9. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It's free and family friendly. Professor Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will host a slide show at 1 p.m. Visitors will see specimens and can engage in interactive activities and family arts and crafts.
The Bohart Museum, home of a global collection nearly eight million specimens, is directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. 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 tarantulas. 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's 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 and on major holidays. Admission is free. Open houses, focusing on specific themes, are held on weekends throughout the academic year. More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or Tabatha Yang, education and public outreach coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The world's largest bee, known as Wallace's Giant Bee (Megachile pluto), considered extinct since 1981, lives.
It's not extinct, after all.
You probably read the news. An international team, accompanied by guides, rediscovered the black resin bee in January in the North Moluccas, an island group in Indonesia. The find, announced Feb. 21, continues to draw "oohs" "aahs" and accolades.
The four-member team, supported by Global Wildlife Conservation, an Austin, Texas-based organization that runs a Search for Lost Species program, included Honorary Professor Simon Robson of the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney; Honorary Professor Glen Chilton, of Saint Mary's University, Canada; Clay Bolt, a natural history conservation photographer from Montana who specializes in North American native bees; and entomologist and bee expert Eli Wyman of Princeton University.
“It was absolutely breathtaking to see this 'flying bulldog' of an insect that we weren't sure existed anymore,” said Bolt, who is known for his conservation efforts, including his work with the rusty-patched bumble bee. His work (see his website at http://www.claybolt.com) has been featured in National Geographic, Scientific American and many others.
“To see how beautiful and big the species is in real life, to hear the sound of its giant wings thrumming as it flew past my head, was just incredible," Bolt said. "My dream is to now use this rediscovery to elevate this bee to a symbol of conservation in this part of Indonesia."
It was the last day of their five-day trip when they found it: a single female Wallace's Giant Bee living in an active termite mound in a tree about 2.5 meters off the ground. The bee, which nests in active arboreal termite mounds, lines her nest with tree resin to protect it from termites.
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, and a past president of the International Hymenopterists (she was not involved in the project) surmises that are more in the area. "Finding a female is a good thing," she told us.
"Yes, I've had a lot of folks email me and call me about the giant bee," said Kimsey, whose museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens, but no Megachile pluto. "I've actually seen specimens of this beast either at some meetings or the American Museum of Natural History. No surprise that it hasn't been collected since the '80s. Its probably been that long since someone collected in the Moluccas."
In his blog, Bolt relates how it all came about. In 2015 he visited Wyman at the American Museum of Natural History “as part of an ambitious project documenting North America's under-appreciated native bee species. Eli was kind enough to show me around. As we looked through drawers of pinned bee specimens from around the world, I drooled over the beautiful array of species. Just before I left, Eli said with a sly grin, ‘want to see a specimens of Megachile pluto?” I couldn't believe my ears and seconds later, I was literally inches away from one of the rarest and most-sought-after insects in the world."
“It was more magnificent than I could have imagined, even in death,” Bolt blogged. “Eli shared with me that it had been his dream to try to find the bee in the wild for years and before long the two of us began a lengthy dialogue discussing possibilities, following clues, nearly giving up; ultimately a path to follow in the footsteps of Wallace himself and search for the bee in the Indonesian islands known as the North Moluccas. When we heard that GWC was calling for nominations for their Search for Lost Species program, we convinced them to include Wallace's Giant Bee on their top 25 'most wanted list.' We were one step closer to fulfilling our dream."
Fast forward to January 2019. Bolt remembers staring at "termite mounds for 20 minutes at a time" then moving on to the next mound. "It was invigorating but tiring work...As each day went by, we were less and less sure it would happen."
"By the last day of searching, we were all dealing with various maladies, including Glen, who had made the difficult decision to return home to Australia after coming down with heat-induced illness," Bolt blogged. "That day we walked down an old orchard road flanked on both sides by mixed lowland forest and fruit trees. Iswan (a guide), ever the eagle eye, spotted a low termite mound, around eight feet from the ground. He later recounted that he almost didn't mention it to us because, like the rest of the team, he was feeling tired and hungry. However, I'll forever be grateful that he did because as we scampered up an embankment to the nest, we immediately noticed that it had a hole in it, like many other nests we'd seen, but this one was a little more perfect. It was very round, and just the size that a giant bee might use.
"Bracing the rotting tree, I asked Iswan if he would mind climbing up to take a look inside. As he peered inside the nest he exclaimed, 'I saw something move!' Jumping down, for fear that the creature was a snake—his worst fear—after catching his breath, he said that it looked wet and sticky inside. Eli and I looked at each other with reserved excitement. Eli climbed up and immediately felt for certain that it was a bee nest. The structure was just too perfect and similar to what we expected to find. I climbed up next and my headlamp glinted on the most remarkable thing I'd ever laid my eyes on. I simply couldn't believe it:
"We had rediscovered Wallace's Giant Bee."
They documented it, photographed it, and let it bee.
British entomologist Alfred Russel Wallace discovered the giant bee in 1858 when he was exploring the Indonesian island of Bacan. He described the female bee, about the length of a human thumb, as "a large black wasp-like insect, with immense jaws like a stag-beetle." Years went by. It was considered extinct until American entomologist Adam Messer rediscovered it in 1981.
And now this international team has rediscovered it...in 2019.
Sadly, this is a bee threatened by habitat loss. Between 2001 and 2017, Indonesia lost 15 percent of its forestation, according to Global Forest Watch. "The islands have become home to oil palm plantations that now occupy much of the former native habitat," says Wikipedia. "This has caused the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to label this species as Vulnerable."
And sadly, there are greedy entrepreneurs out there anxious to make a buck. Or a lot of bucks. Two specimens sold on eBay in 2018. One sold for $9,100 on March 25, 2018. It was advertised as "very rare--only one!"
We need strict conservation efforts--and bans on international trade--to save this iconic bee.
But have you heard of the "other" bear flag that's on a hooded sweatshirt at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis? It's lettered with "Bohart Republic."
The Bohart flag features a water bear or tardigrade, the creative work of UC Davis entomologist/artist Charlotte Herbert Alberts.
Besides living on the Bohart sweatshirts, the tardigrade is a microscopic, water-dwelling animal that lives just about everywhere: "from the mountaintops to the deep sea and mud volcanoes; from tropical rain forests to the Antarctic," according to Wikipedia. German zoologist Johann August Ephraim Goeze, who first described them in 1773, called them "little water bears."
The name stuck. "Water bears."
"Tardigrades are among the most resilient known animals, with individual species able to survive extreme conditions that would be rapidly fatal to nearly all other known life forms, such as exposure to extreme temperatures, extreme pressures (both high and low), air deprivation, radiation, dehydration, and starvation," Wikipedia says. "Tardigrades have even survived exposure to outer space. About 1,150 known species form the phylum Tardigrada, a part of the superphylum Ecdysozoa. The group includes fossils dating from 530 million years ago, in the Cambrian period."
How did she get the idea? "I came up with the tardigrade flag idea in my sleep!" she said. "The next morning I told Lynn and she loved it."
Then Alberts and Kimsey conferred with Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, and Bohart associate Fran Keller, assistant professor at Folsom Lake College and a UC Davis alumnus (she holds a doctorate in entomology) "to figure out the details"--like the entomologist holding a net and riding the tardigrade, and the name, "Bohart Republic."
"The entomologist is no one in particular," Alberts said, "but she's a female because I think it is important to encourage more women into the field of entomology."
"So far, the reactions have all been super positive!" she commented. "My family and friends are all asking for one!"
Located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, the Bohart Museum, home of a global collection of some eight million insect specimens, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
A bright blue stuffed animal tardigrade in the gift shop also sells well.
"I do not have a stuffed tardigrade but often gaze fondly at the ones for sale at the Bohart," Alberts commented. "I would love to adopt one... but am worried that our sweet puppy will think it is for him."
As for the real tardigrades, they have always fascinated her, especially "their ability to survive in any environment--even space!"
Tardigrade enthusiasts love them more than they can "bear."
The scientists and butterfly/moth enthusiasts who gathered Saturday, Feb. 9 for the Northern California Lepidoptera Society meeting in the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, did all that: identify specimens and engage in collaboration and camaraderie.
They ranged from those early in their career, to mid-point, to the height of their career, to retired.
The group meets for a mid-winter gathering once a year, alternating between the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis and the Essig Museum of Entomology at UC Berkeley.
Senior museum scientist Steve Heydon, Bohart associate John "Moth Man" DeBenedictis; and Jeff Smith, curator of the butterfly/moth section at the Bohart hosted the event, assisted by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and Bohart associate and naturalist Greg Kareofelas.
In their meeting notice, Heydon, DeBenedictis and Smith noted that those attending could bring specimens, photos, PowerPoint presentations "or slides from collecting trips and tales of collecting triumphs to share with others
and that "attending lepidopterists may be able to help you identify specimens and the museum collection will be open for yoour inspection."
Retired public health entomologist and Bohart associate Dick Meyer of Bakersfield, known as "the mosquito guy," was there. He recently retired as assistant manager of the Orange County Vector Control Agency. He did not bring any of his collection, but he did tell us that he has 225 drawers of insects at home, including 71 drawers of butterflies. "Did you know that the highest diversity of butterflies in the country is in Kern County?" he asked. Meyer, who holds a doctorate in entomology, studied with major professor Richard M. Bohart Jr., for whom the Bohart Museum is named.
Among those participating:
- Bohart associate Jerry Powell, emeritus director of the Essig Museum, and co-author of California Insects.
- Marc Epstein, senior insect biosystematist for the California Department of Food and Agriculture and author of the book, Moths, Myths and Mosquitoes: the Eccentric life of Harrison G. Dyer Jr.
- Kelly Richers, treasurer of the Lepitopterists Society and an affiliate of Essig Museum of Entomology who is also afield associate with the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and member of board of directors of the Wedge Entomological Research Foundation
- Lawrence "Larry" Allen of Calaveras County, author of A Field Guide to the West Coast Butterflies of the United States, one of the books available in the Bohart Museum's gift shop (he donated all sales of his book that day to the Bohart).
- Arthur Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology and author of Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento Valley Regions.
- Entomologist Rick Kelson, who directs the butterfly habitat at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo
- Bohart associate Bill Patterson, former graduate student of Richard Bohart
- Rosser Garrison, research associate with the California State Collection of Arthropods, retired senior insect biosystematist, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and co-author of Dragonfly Genera of the New World: An Illustrated and Annotated Key to the Anisoptera
- Don Miller, professor at Chico State University who teaches entomology in the Department of Biological Sciences
- Ryan Hill, professor at University of Pacific, Stockton
- Chris Tenney, retired educator from Pacific Grove
- Jeffrey Caldwell, known for his ecological restoration
- John Lane, one of first graduate students of Art Shapiro (Lane received his master's degree)
- Paul Johnson, biologist with the National Parks Service
- Hobbyist Jeff Baier of Napa
- Physician Val Albu of Fresno
- And many more...
At the last gathering in the Bohart, Kelly Richers, who compiles the California Moth Specimen Database, maintained at the Essig Museum since 1996 as a resource to better survey and understand California moths, said of the systematists: "We're a dying breed."
This year self-described "aspiring entomologist" Madison Cunha of Modesto attended with her mother, Christine Cunha. True to her love of insects, Madison wore a dress adorned with a beetle pattern.
Scientists say that 180,000 species of the Lepidoptera are described, in 126 families and 46 superfamilies.
"The Lepidoptera are among the most successful groups of insects. They are found on all continents, except Antarctica, and inhabit all terrestrial habitats ranging from desert to rainforest, from lowland grasslands to mountain plateaus, but almost always associated with higher plants, especially angiosperms (flowering plants). Among the most northern dwelling species of butterflies and moths is the Arctic Apollo (Parnassius arcticus), which is found in the Arctic Circle in northeastern Yakutia, at an altitude of 1500 m above sea level. In the Himalayas, various Apollo species such as Parnassius epaphus have been recorded to occur up to an altitude of 6,000 miles above sea level."--Wikipedia.