He told the villagers to line up in town square with their sickles. When they did, he immediately fingered the killer. The killer confessed.
How did Song Ci know? Because minute traces of blood left on the "cleaned" sickle drew a swarm of blow flies.
That was one of the stories that UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology recounted in his 45-minute talk during the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on "Forensics and Insects."
In his presentation, Kimsey discussed the life cycle and development of blow flies and other insects. He is frequently called as a expert court witness at murder trials.
"Correct species identification is all important," said Kimsey, aka "Dr. Bob," in noting that different species have different development rates. He compared the life cycle of four species--Cochliomyia macellaria (secondary screwworm), Chrysoma rufifacies (a blow fly species), Phomia regina (a black blow fly), and Lucilia sericata (a common green bottle fly)--developing at a temperature of 27 Celsius. C. macellaria is the fastest and P. regina is the slowest, he said.
Kimsey also showed a chart illustrating the approximate age of a blow fly developing during a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Another chart included information on the succession of arthropod taxa on carrion.
Following his talk, held in the nearby Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology lecture room, Kimsey fielded questions in his "Dr. Death booth" in the Bohart Museum. He annually portrays Dr. Death at Briggs Hall during the annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day every April.
At the open house, the Bohart Museum displayed a number of species involved in forensic entomology, including
- Acalyptrate flies, numerous and diverse families, scavenging maggots
- Bluebottle flies, family Calliphoridae, scavenging maggots
- Green bottle flies, family Calliphoridae, scavenging maggots
- Large carrion, or burying beetles, family Silphidae
- Flesh flies, family Sarchophagidae, scavenging maggots
- Coffin flies, family Phoridae, scavenging maggots
- Clown or hister beetles, family Histeridae, predaceous beetles
- Red-legged ham beetle, family Cleridae, omnivorous predators that also scavenge
- Sap beetles, family Nitidulidae, "indirect" scavenge beetles
- Cockroaches, order Blattodea, scavenging larvae and adults
- Rove beetles, family Staphylinidae, predaceous beetles and their larvae
- Termites, infraorder Isoptera, scavengers for nitrogen
- Ants, family Formicidae, predators and scavengers
Ants: "Ants are a nightmare for the forensic entomologist! They are of little use as evidence as yet, but they can easily confound the development of vital evidence by establishing residency and defending the decedent from other scavengers, and further delay development of vital evidence by carrying off fly eggs and small maggots. Thus, they can delay progress of insect-mediated decomposition and feed vital evidence to their developing larval ants: the first, thus oldest and most important maggot cohorts (to the forensic entomologist)! They also ambush, kill and dismember female flies coming to the decedent to lay eggs."
Green Bottle Flies: "Green bottle flies are iridescent green in color. They belong to the genus Lucilia and comprise some of the most common flies with maggots that feed on carrion. A number of species, including the green bottle fly, Lucilia sericata, and the bronze bottle fly, Lucilia cuprina, have been introduced worldwide by human commerce, and the later, also known as the Australian sheep blow fly, commonly infests living sheep in Australia, causing enormous economic damage."
Termites: "In other parts of the world, insects exotic to what we in the temperate zones consider to be the standard groups associated with carrion, assist in the decomposition process. Termites in Central America exemplify such 'exotics' to decomposition, building mud casings over and defending carrion against all comers in an effort to garner nitrogenous materials to supplement their extremely nitrogen-poor diet."
Clown or Hister Beetles: "Distinctively shiny black and resembling a pill, these small to very small beetles feed on a great diversity of small arthropods found in carrion, including the smallest stages of maggots, fly eggs and scavenger or predaceous mites. Active at night, the numerous carrion-associated species appear in nearly all stages of decomposition, often specializing on prey found only in a particular stage.
Flesh Flies: "This very large family consists of large robust scavenger species and small species that parasitize other insects. The scavengers, Sarchophaga and Blaesozipha, frequently do not usually lay eggs but frequently deposit a small number of first-stage maggots on carrion, which puts their maggots at a distinct advantage over maggots of egg-laying species."
Cockroaches: "A number of cockroach species found around the house (peridomestic) will gnaw on the skin of decedents indoors during the early fresh stage of decomposition. They are well known to chew on the calluses, clean debris from under the fingernails and around the toes of sleeping sailors on ancient sailing ships right through to the current day. This kind of depredation occurs in circumstances of overwhelming cockroach infestations. In similar circumstances, they are also responsible for chewing on the ears and eyelashes of newborn infants in cases of child neglect."
The family art-and-crafts activity involved maggot-inspired art. Participants dipped maggots in non-toxic, water-based paint and guided them on white paper to create their masterpieces, suitable for framing or at least as conversation pieces. (Photos to appear in June 9th Bug Squad blog)
The next open house at the Bohart Museum is "Night at the Museum" (Moth Night) from 7 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, July 22. All open houses are free and family friendly, and parking, too, is free.
The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens. It also maintains a live "petting zoo" (Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and more) and an insect-themed gift shop, stocked with t-shirts, hoodies, jewelry, posters, books, pens and collecting equipment.
The Bohart Museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. The Bohart will be open to the public (walk-ins) only on Tuesdays from 2 to 5 p.m., this summer, starting June 13. This is due to the high number of outreach programs, summer camps, scheduled tours and unavailability of staff. More information is available on the website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
That would be forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
You'll learn how important entomology is in forensic investigations, you can chat with Dr. Bob, and you can look at some of his collections.
Kimsey wears a number of hats. He's the master advisor of the Animal Biology major; an assistant adjunct professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and the faculty chair of the department's Picnic Day. He's also the advisor to the UC Davis Entomology Club and that includes guiding students to such venues as Alcatraz Island to see the flies and other insects. (See The Fly Man of Alcatraz)
Known as an outstanding teacher, advisor and mentor, Kimsey won the 2020 top faculty academic advising award from the international NACADA, the “global community for academic advising.”
Kimsey is also a 2019 winner of a faculty advising award from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Eleanor and Harry Walker Advising Awards. He previously won the UC Davis Outstanding Faculty Advising Award, and the Distinction in Student Mentoring Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America.
Bob Kimsey's teaching philosophy: "I think that humans learn best together, where one person demonstrates the process or disseminates the knowledge to solve a problem to another person, and then together they solve the problem. The problem may be proximal and practical or abstract and conceptual. Following instruction, the teacher may participate with groups of students to solve problems, and there exist many other variations on teaching that adhere to this simple theme. But the principal components remain the same: demonstration or dissemination of knowledge followed by cooperative application. This is likely the most ancient of teaching concepts, and to the extent recent innovations in teaching method return to this simple process and replace simple lecturing, it continues to be the most effective."
Known for expertly guiding students toward career paths, and helping them meet challenges and overcome obstacles, Kimsey draws such unsolicited accolades on Rate My Professors as:
- “Dr. Kimsey is by far one of the best professors at UC Davis. His class never fails to entertain! You do need to put in the work to do well but it is very worth it! Dr. Kimsey truly cares about his students and wants to see them succeed and find a path that best suits them. Strongly recommend!”
- "This was the best class I've taken at UC Davis. You can tell that Dr. Kimsey really cares, and puts a lot of effort into his class.”
The campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day is free and open to the public. Kimsey's booth is an integral part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's insect-related displays and activities, set from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Briggs Hall. You'll see everything from Roach Races to Maggot Art (also think medical, forest and agricultural entomology). Check out the line-up.
Over at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, Lynn Kimsey, a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, serves as the director. (Yes, the Kimseys are husband and wife.) The Bohart Museum displays will be at the east entrance of the Academic Surge Building. Scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Bohart displays will center on the state insect, the California Dogface Butterfly; monarchs; and the student-created traveling display exhibits.
What's a picnic without bugs?
Flies seem to be in the news a lot lately.
But have you ever looking closely at a common green bottle fly Lucilia sericata, also known as a blowfly?
Ever admired their brilliant metallic blue-green coloration? Ever thought about them as pollinators (they are sometimes!) but of course, that's not what they're known for.
They're known for their forensic, veterinary and medical importance. They are nature's recyclers when the females deposit their eggs in carrion.
But they're also beautiful.
We captured these photos of a green bottle fly on a tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, in our garden. The red and yellow blossoms contrasted nicely with the stunning fly coloration. Nature's art.
Indeed, flies are an integral part of the annual UC Davis Picnic Day (cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and precautions). What's a picnic without flies?
Forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology always staffs a booth at Briggs Hall where he holds forth as "Dr. Death" with his microscope and specimens as he encourages--and fields--questions from the thousands of picnickers. (See Bugs at Briggs)
Also at Briggs Hall during the UC Davis Picnic Day, "Maggot Art," is extremely popular. The artists, mostly children and teens, dip a maggot into water-based, non-toxic paint and drop it onto a white piece of paper and let it crawl. The finished product often finds its way onto a refrigerator, inside a frame, or as as an unexpected gift to grandparents. Certainly it's a conversation piece.
Meanwhile, mark your calendar for April 17, 2021, the scheduled date of the next UC Davis Picnic Day.
Dr. Bob, the flies, and the maggots will be waiting.
Take the case of a male monarch reared, released and tagged by Steven Johnson in a Washington State University citizen-science project operated by WSU entomologist David James. Johnson tagged and released the monarch on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016 in Ashland, Ore. Seven days later, on Sept. 5, it fluttered into our family's backyard pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif., where we photographed it.
"So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day," James said. "Pretty amazing." (See Bug Squad blog)
But how do monarchs know when to migrate? You can find out when you attend the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday, Jan. 18 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, Crocker Lane.
Doctoral student Yao Cai, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Joanna Chiu lab who studies circadian clocks in insects, will relate how monarchs know when to migrate. “Using Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) and Danaus plexippus (monarch butterfly), as models, we seek to understand how these insects receive environmental time cues and tell time, how they organize their daily rhythms in physiology and behavior, such as feeding, sleep and migration (in monarch butterfly)," he says.
Cai is one of six doctoral students who will be showcasing their research. The event is free and family friendly.
Visitors not only will have the opportunity to talk to graduate students about their research and glean information about insects, but will be able see their work through a microscope. In fact, eight microscopes will be set up, Yang said.
In addition to Cai, doctoral students participating and their topics:
Ants: Zachary Griebenow of the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Assassin flies: Charlotte Herbert Alberts, who studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Bats (what insects they eat): Ecologist Ann Holmes of the Graduate Group in Ecology, Department of Animal Science, and the Genomic Variation Laboratory, who studies with major professors Andrea Schreier and Mandi Finger.
Bark Beetles: Crystal Homicz. who studies with Joanna Chiu, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and research forest entomologist Chris Fettig, Pacific Southwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Davis.
Forensic entomology: Alexander Dedmon, who studies with Robert Kimsey, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology
Some doctoral students also will deliver PowerPoint presentations or show slides. The projects:
“Did you know that between 1987 and 2017 bark beetles were responsible for more tree death than wildfire?” asks Crystal Homicz, a first-year doctoral student. “Bark beetles are an incredibly important feature of forests, especially as disturbance agents. My research focuses on how bark beetles and fire interact, given that these are the two most important disturbance agents of the Sierra Nevada. At my table, I will discuss how the interaction between bark beetles and fire, why bark beetles and fire are important feature of our forest ecosystem, and I will discuss more generally the importance of bark beetles in many forest systems throughout North America.
“I will have several wood samples, insect specimens and photographs to display what bark beetle damage looks like, and the landscape level effects bark beetles have. I will also have samples of wood damage caused by other wood boring beetles and insects. My table will focus widely on the subject of forest entomology and extend beyond beetle-fire interactions.”
Visitors, she said, can expect to leave with a clear understanding of what bark beetles are and what they do, as well as a deeper understanding of the importance of disturbance ecology in our temperate forests.
Charlotte Alberts, a fifth-year doctoral candidate, will display assassin flies and their relatives, as well as examples of prey they eat and/or mimic. Visitors can expect to learn about basic assassin fly ecology and evolution. Alberts studies the evolution of assassin flies (Diptera: Asilidae) and their relatives.
“Assassin flies are voracious predators on other insects and are able to overcome prey much larger than themselves,” she said. “Both adult and larval assassin flies are venomous. Their venom consists of neurotoxins that paralyze their prey, and digestive enzymes that allow assassin flies to consume their prey in a liquid form. These flies are incredibly diverse, ranging in size from 5-60mm, and can be found all over the world! With over 7,500 species, Asilidae is the third most specious family of flies. Despite assassin flies being very common, most people do not even know of their existence. This may be due to their impressive ability to mimic other insects, mainly wasps, and bees.”
For her thesis, she is trying to resolve the phylogenetic relationships of Asiloidea (Asilidae and their relatives) using Ultra Conserved Elements (UCEs), and morphology. "I am also interested in evolutionary trends of prey specificity within Asilidae, which may be one of the major driving forces leading to this family's diversity."
Ecologist Ann Holmes, a fourth-year doctoral student, is studying what insects that bats eat. "I will be talking about my research project that looks at insects eaten by bats in the Yolo Bypass. The insects eat crops such as rice, so bats provide a valuable service to farmers. Hungry bats can eat as much as their own body weight in insects each night."
"Visitors can expect to learn how DNA is used to detect insects in bat guano (poop)." "Insects in bat poop are hard to identify because they have been digested, but I can use DNA to determine which insects are there," she said. "We care about which insects bats eat because bats are natural pest controllers. With plenty of bats we can use less pesticide on farms and less mosquito repellent on ourselves."
Zachary Griebenow, a third-year doctoral student, will be showcasing or discussing specimens of the ant subfamily Leptanillinae, most of them male. “I will be showing specimens of the Leptanillinae under the microscope, emphasizing the great morphological diversity observed in males and talking about my systematic revision of the subfamily," he said. "In particular, I want to explain how the study of an extremely obscure group of ants can help us understand the process of evolution that has given rise to all organisms."
Forensic entomologist Alex Dedmon, a sixth-year doctoral student, will display tools and text and explain what forensic entomology is all about. "My research focuses on insect succession. In forensic entomology, succession uses the patterns of insects that come and go from a body. These patterns help us estimate how long a person has been dead. Visitors can expect to learn about the many different ways insects can be used as evidence, and what that evidence tells us."
Other Open House Activities
The family craft activity will be painting rocks, which can be taken home or hidden around campus. "Hopefully some kind words on rocks found by random strangers can also make for a kinder better future,” said Yang.
In addition to meeting and chatting with the researchers, visitors can see insect specimens (including butterflies and moths), meet the critters in the live “petting zoo” (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas) and browse the gift shop, containing books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Professor Lynn Kimsey and founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of insect biodiversity.
The insect museum is open to the public Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m., except on holidays. More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website at http://bohart.ucdavis.edu or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.
Did you see "Dr. Bob" in Briggs Hall during the UC Davis Picnic Day last Saturday?
Forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology held forth in 122 Briggs, explaining forensic entomology to curious visitors and not-so-curious visitors. He and his graduate student/forensic entomologist Alex Dedmon fielded scores of questions.
Meanwhile, in the courtyard across the hall, all ages engaged in maggot art. They dipped a maggot in non-toxic, water-based paint, and let it crawl around on a piece of white paper. Voila! Suitable for framing!
Kimsey, master advisor in the Animal Biology program and an adjunct professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, was recently named the faculty recipient of the 2019 Walker Advising Awards, sponsored by the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Elvira Galvin Hack, staff advisor in the Animal Biology program, won the staff advisor award. They will be honored at a May 2 ceremony, along with peer advisor Mirella Lopez of Animal Science, announced Susan Ebeler, associate dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES). The annual awards honor excellence and innovation in academic advising.
Kimsey received both his bachelor's degree and doctorate in entomology from UC Davis. His wife, Lynn Kimsey, a UC Davis professor of entomology, directs the Bohart Museum of Entomology on campus.