Wait! They may NOT have been ladybugs, scientifically known as lady beetles, family Coccinellidae.
“I'm still not convinced that the swarms are ladybugs,” Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, told us Friday. “It's pretty late in the season for them and apparently there's no hard evidence for ladybugs except anecdotes that folks have seen a lot of ladybugs in the region. We were seeing a lot of ladybugs in the Imperial Dunes when we were there in March.”
Scientists spotted the cloud, about 10 miles wide and a mile above the ground around 9 p.m. They ruled out bats and birds. The temperature in the air? About 40 degrees or lower—considered too cold for ladybugs.
“Forty degrees is too cold for their flight muscles, but if there's a wind and they've already warmed up, it's possible they could stay airborne,” Kimsey said, adding she'd like to see some hard evidence that these were indeed ladybugs. “Otherwise this is all just speculation.”
The ladybugs were thought to be the migratory convergent lady beetles, Hippodamia convergens. Some 200 species of ladybugs reside in California. (See information on this beetle on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program website.)
Speculation abounds. Why the huge swarm? Maybe it was the result of a combination of cues, such as temperatures and length of day, climate change (wildfires?), and lack of food? A perfect storm?
Kimsey told reporter Maanvi Singh of The Guardian in a June 7th news story: “It's too bad there wasn't anyone in a private plane up in the air at that time. We could've figured it out based on which dead insects were splatted across the wings.””
Kimsey knows about those bug splats. She was the nation's only entomologist selected for the NASA SPLAT/Boeing team to research how to decrease bug splats on aircraft and thus increase fuel efficiency in commercial jets. NASA engineers developed four different surface treatments designed to repel bugs and Boeing developed wing modifications to test an aircraft at Shreveport, La.
By the way, a Boeing EcoDemonstrator 575 took flight, reaching an altitude of 5000 feet to maximize bug splats. The panels generated 100 and 500 splats each. Kimsey identified all the insects and found that a relatively small number of species caused the bulk of the splats. They included flower flies, aphids, thrips, muscid flies, midges, mosquitoes and love bugs. Kimsey's excellence in teaching, research and public service led to her being named the 2016 recipient of the Academic Senate's Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award and a comment from her nominators that her SPLAT research was a "great public service to NASA, the airline industry and worldwide passengers who depend on air travel."
Naturalist Greg Kareofelas, an associate at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, has never seen such a cloud but has photographed lady beetles overwintering in California's Coast Range. "When they are at the place they will spend the winter, they hide under leaves and other detritus and unless you dig down to the ground level, you don't really see them or notice they are there. I guess this is the way they are protected from the cold. I know the places I have found them are under snow for the winter. It is only when they are ready to disperse in the spring, do they congregate like on tree trunks and other places above ground level."
UC Davis emeritus professor Hugh Dingle, author of Migration: The Biology of Life on the Move (second edition, 2014, Oxford University Press), a sequel to the first edition published in 1996, says the cloud may have been lady beetles. "I guess lady beetles, but I suspect other insects were in the swarm as well."
"This one was especially large, but yes, there have been other swarms showing up on radars, especially locusts, some moths," Dingle said. "Could also have been moths, grasshoppers, etc. I confess, though, that the swarm was so large that I wonder if there was a glitch somewhere on the radar or something?"
Now if there had just been a plane near that cloud, as Kimsey pointed out, we'd have known exactly what was in that swarm.
Birds, bats, bloom? Unidentified objects?
Splat! Identified objects.
And this one, too.
And that one over there!
When UC Davis employees and their offspring visited the Bohart Museum of Entomology during the recent "Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work" Day, reactions ranged from awe to "wow!"
They held walking sticks (stick insects), Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tomato hornworms. Two youngsters held tarantulas. And all checked out the butterfly and beetle specimens.
One little girl, Olivia Bingen, 4, who was there with her father, Steve Bingen of the UC Davis Department of Music, was dressed in pink and asked the Bohart scientists if they had any pink butterflies.
"She likes pink," her father said. She also likes to play the violin.
The museum, founded in 1946 by the late Richard M. Bohart and now directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, except on holidays. Admission is free.
Special weekend events, free and family friendly, are held throughout the year. The next weekend event is Moth Night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3. Blacklighting will take place just outside the museum. Inside, the attendees will visit the museum's displays and, outside, they will see what insects are attracted to the black-lighted white sheets.
Among those scheduled to host Moth Night are John "Moth Man" DeBenedictis; senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepitopdera (butterflies and moths) section of the Bohart; and Greg Kareofelas, Bohart associate and naturalist.
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.
Just check out the Bohart Museum of Entomology's newly published calendar.
"Mr. January" is a locust sitting quite comfortably in a chair--a swivel chair at that--and eagerly accessing a dating site. "You've got a match!" the screen informs him.
Yippee! You can almost hear him yelling "Yippee."
The caption reads: "Normally, locusts are introverted creatures; they do not socialize unless it is for reproduction."
The rest of the story: Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and longtime professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, collects unusual answers on the student tests she administers. You can imagine how many sentences comprise her collection: she joined the faculty back in 1989!
The "dating locust" is one of 12 from the Lynn Kimsey Prized Collection that made it into the Bohart's first-ever calendar. UC Davis entomology major Karissa Merritt, a talented artist and scientist known for her creativity and sense of humor, interpreted and illustrated all the sentences.
The calendar, a project of the non-profit Bohart Museum Society, sells for $12, plus tax, at the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. (More information is available on the website or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 753-0493.) It's also available in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology administration office in 367 Briggs Hall.
Those who contribute $50 or more to the Bohart Museum Society will receive a calendar with their donation. All proceeds are earmarked for research, education and outreach projects.
Merritt says insects fascinate her. She's amazed at how "alien their biology and morphology are as compared to vertebrates." She's also drawn to their beauty and diversity.
Professor Kimsey, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, directs the world-renowned Bohart Museum, home of eight million specimens, a year-around gift shop and a live "petting zoo" which includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. She specializes in bees, wasps and insect diversity.
And collecting sentences--many apparently from sleep- or caffeine-deprived students.
"Normally, locusts are introverted creatures; they do not socialize unless it is for reproduction."
The Bohart Museum Society hosted the Bohart Museum of Entomology's 24th annual pre-Halloween party on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the University of California, Davis, billing it as “They Come From Within" and promising a “haunting night full of frights and delights."
You can thank the emerald cockroach wasp or jewel wasp (Ampulex compressa), an entomophagous parasite, for that! It is known for its unusual reproductive behavior, in which it stings a cockroach and then uses it as a host for its larvae, eating it alive.
That was the critter depicted on the invitation.
UC Davis entomology undergraduate student and talented artist Karissa Merritt created the much-applauded, wasp-inspired invitation. "For this year's Bohart Halloween party invite, I set out to create an original--fake--movie poster, inspired by old B-movies such as 'Them' and 'Invasion of the Saucer Men,'" she explained. "I really wanted the invitations to grab people's attention with the bright colors, and grotesque horror as a giant jewel wasp--based on Ampulex compressa--emerges from a living man's chest."
It did. It also grabbed the attention of UC Davis entomology doctoral candidate Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies Asilidae (Assassin flies) with her major professor, Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology. "I made my costume to honor Karissa's incredible drawing of the invitation," said Charlotte, who anticipates receiving her Ph.D in 2020. Her husband, George, dressed as Dracula. Their Brittany Spaniel, Westley, declined to wear a dinosaur costume and came as himself.
At the entrance, assorted mustaches and masks commanded a table. A sign urged people to "write a name tag, yet disguise yourself if you aren't in costume." (With the addition: "I know it doesn't make sense; just humor us.")
Among those coming as themselves were entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth collection; his wife, Cathy; and Bohart associate and naturalist-photographer Greg Kareofelas.
Senior museum scientist Steve Heydon wore an orange jumpsuit lettered with "Department of Corrections" while his wife, Anita, came dressed as a police officer, complete with badge and handcuffs.
Forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey, husband of Lynn Kimsey, donned his traditional ghillie suit.
Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey cut a 72nd anniversary cake, a red-velvet, chocolate-frosted cake decorated with--what else?--bugs! After all, the Bohart Museum houses some 8 million specimens, plus a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and praying mantids, as well an insect-themed gift shop.
Meanwhile evolutionary ecologist Scott Carroll, at 6'11", towered over everyone. "I can pick him out in a crowd," quipped his wife, entomologist Jenella Loye.
(See tomorrow's Bug Squad blog for more Halloween images, including the pinata breaking game. The pinata? A replica of a monarch chrysalis.)