Sometimes it's found in a parade, where the "fear" turns to cheers and applause.
Take the case of the 40-foot black widow spider--yes, 40-foot spider!--that the UC Davis Entomology Club entered in the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Parade on Saturday, April 22.
The spider drew oohs and aahs from the crowd, and judges selected it the winner of the “Best Organization” category. It continued to draw oohs and aahs when the club showcased it in front of Briggs Hall on Picnic Day. Thousands of visitors stopped to look or capture photos with their families or take selfies. Little kids just stood and stared. "What's that, Mommy?"
What a spider! And complete with that distinguishing red hourglass marking.
“We built it three years ago,” related president Maia Lundy. “This year we just had to clean it up and make some modifications, like adding ventilation. It took us two meetings --or about 4 hours- of work this year. When we originally built it, we met several times over about a month to finish it. It's made out of plastic sheeting, chicken wire, pvc pipe, pool noodles, window screening, and held together by lots of duct tape and zip ties!”
The spider came to life in the backyard of entomologists Robert and Lynn Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty. Robert Kimsey, a forensic entomologist, serves as the club's advisor. Lynn directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Her specialty is wasps, but she answers all kinds of questions about insects and arachnids at the Bohart Museum.
The black widow spider is no stranger to the parade. It's reminiscent of the one that the UC Davis Entomology Club built for the parade about 25 years ago.
The Entomology Club decided to revive the project in 2015. It all took place in the Kimsey yard, and Robert Kimsey offered a blow-by-blow account then as he watched it develop from plastic sheeting to a black widow spider. “It is huge and currently in pieces as it is getting its skin and pedipalps and other minor body parts and whatnot. It is anatomically correct in every way! The students have been trained well in arachnology!”
“There are legs all over the place,” Kimsey said of the eight legs, each slightly less than 20 feet long. In real life, the body of the black widow spans about 1.5 inches long.
Kimsey said membership in the entomology club is open to all interested persons, including faculty, staff, college and high school students and community residents. (Contact email@example.com.) President Maia Lundy heads the club with Jamie Fong, vice president; Andre Poon, treasurer; Lovey Corniel, secretary; and Chloe Shott, vice secretary.
As for black widow spiders, yes, the bite is venomous. The glands contain the neurotoxin, latrotoxin, which causes the condition latrodectism, both named after the genus, according to Wikipedia. "The female black widow has unusually large venom glands and its bite can be particularly harmful to humans. However, despite the genus' notoriety, Latrodectus bites are rarely fatal. Only female bites are dangerous to humans."
Take a bow, UC Davis Entomology Club. Well done! The prize: a certificate and a glass trophy.
The black widow spider joined seven other parade award winners:
- Best Community Entry: Davis Whymcycle Society
- Most Spirited: DEVO (Davis Enology and Viticulture Organization)
- Best Theme: Biological and Agricultural Engineering
- Best Animal Entry: Canine Companions for Independence
- Best Department Entry: UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
- Best Organization: Entomology Club
- Parade Marshal's Choice: Bakuhatsu Taiko Dan
- Parade Participants' Choice: West Plainfield 4-H Club, Woodland
You'd never know that if you looked in the backyard of UC Davis entomologists Robert and Lynn Kimsey.
The UC Davis Entomology Club, advised by Robert Kimsey, is building a 40-foot-long black widow spider for the UC Davis Picnic Day Parade on Saturday, April 18.
Latrodectus hesperus has never looked so...well...huge!
And so colorful--right down to the distinctive red hourglass.
What's it like seeing a huge spider coming to life in your backyard?
“Well, it is very weird!” said Robert Kimsey, a forensic entomologist and longtime advisor of the club. “It is huge and currently in pieces as it is getting its skin and pedipalps and other minor body parts and whatnot. It is anatomically correct in every way! The students have been trained well in arachnology!”
“There are legs all over the place,” Kimsey said. Each is slightly less than 20 feet long. "Again, it is huge. I have to admit that there are some brilliant artists and engineers in this group! But looking out the windows into the backyard takes your breath away. Any non-biologist would completely go to pieces.”
Along with anyone suffering from arachnophobia.
The last time the the UC Davis Entomology Club entered a float in the UC Davis Picnic Day Parade was about 20 years ago. And yes, it was a black widow spider (see photo below)
“The spider idea collectively came from all members of the cabinet after hearing about past picnic days from Bob,” said Entomology Club vice president Alex Nguyen. “When we presented it to the club we received very positive feedback so we decided to commit to marching in the parade with a float this year.”
The spider represents a month of planning and two weeks of building, Nguyen said.
During the parade, Entomology Club president Marko Marrero will be inside the spider, hoisting it up, and walking with it, along with two people at each leg.
If you want to see the spider, the opening ceremony of the parade begins at 9:25 a.m. in the grandstands on the North Quad Avenue across from Wickson Hall. The parade begins at 10, snakes downtown, and ends at noon. Announcement locations include the beginning of the parade; second and D Street in downtown Davis; F street in front of PDQ Fingerprinting; and third and C Street in downtown Davis.
You can also see the spider after the parade. It will be showcased in front of Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive, where scores of entomological events will take place, including cockroach races, maggot art, honey tasting, and fly-tying. There will be a bee observation hive, ant displays, and displays of mosquitoes, forest insects and aquatic insects.
The UC Davis Entomology Club and the Entomology Graduate Student Association will be working the booths, along with faculty and staff.
Membership in the UC Davis Entomology Club is open to all interested persons (email firstname.lastname@example.org). Members are faculty, staff, students (college and high school) and community residents.
They have at least one thing in common: they're interested in insects and other arthropods, including arachnids (spiders).
Even at picnics...and parades...
Kimsey, a UC Davis forensic entomologist, first became involved in the fly project in July 2007 when he received a call about the annoying flies from entomologist Bruce Badzik, integrated pest management coordinator with the National Park Service, Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Complaints rose to a feverish pitch in late August, September and October. The flies seemed to land on people as if they were rotten meat. Kimsey witnessed the incessant “shoo-fly” behavior on the docks and encountered it on a personal basis.
While during research, Kimsey became known as "The Fly Man of Alcatraz." And, he became keenly interested in the history of The Rock, reading books and conversing with officials, former inmates, tour guides, and visitors.
One of the tour guides was a former Alcatraz inmate, Robert Luke, a convicted armed robber who did time on The Rock from 1954 to 1959. He was known as Alcatraz Inmate No. 1118AZ. "I was convicted of bank robbery with an automatic weapon and was sent to Alcatraz for attempted escape from Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas," said Luke, who now lives in Northern California and is a National Park Service volunteer on The Rock.
UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students met him, too.
"The students met Robert during their 2011 retreat to Alcatraz Island, and learned much of the intimate details of Alcatraz prison life and his extraordinary experiences as an inmate as he toured them around the main cell block," said Kimsey, who advises the UC Davis Entomology Club. "Robert and the students have remained in contact ever since."
The result: The Entomology Club and Entomology Graduate Students' Association asked Luke to give a talk on the UC Davis campus.
Luke will be on the UC Davis campus on Friday, Jan. 13 to talk to entomology undergraduates, graduate students and other interested persons about life on The Rock. His public presentation is from noon to 1 p.m. in 1002 Giedt Hall, located just north of Kemper Hall, in the UC Davis engineering/physical sciences district.
Luke, author of "Entombed in Alcatraz," will then head over to the Bohart Museum of Entomology, 1124 Academic Surge on California Drive, to sign copies of his book from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. (Bring your own copy.)
Luke, now in his 80s, is a living resource on what Alcatraz was really like on The Rock.
And the annoying flies?
Kimsey identified the troubling fly as a “kelp fly” (Fucillia thinobia) or “cormorant fly” in the family Anthomyiidae. “But it’s not a kelp fly as such,” said Kimsey, who plans to publish his research in an entomological journal. “It has nothing to do with kelp. It lives in purge-soaked soil under dead cormorants found in rookeries all around the island. It does not exist in any other place.”
“Alcatraz,” Kimsey said, “is the perfect place to study this fly, with three species of cormorants utilizing the island, and this is the only breeding spot for Brandt’s and the pelagic cormorant in the San Francisco Bay Area.”