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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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....
If you've ever visited Briggs Hall during the annual campuswide Picnic Day at the University of California, Davis, you probably know about Maggot Art, an arts-and-crafts activity that fuses entomology with art. Every year thousands create Maggot Art at tables set up at Briggs.
Now you don't have to wait for the next UC Davis Picnic Day (the 104th annual), set April 21, 2018.
Maggot Art will be a family arts-and-crafts activity at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's special weekend open house from 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday, July 9 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis. It's free and open to the public.
Members of the North American Forensic Entomology Association (NAFEA) will be special guests and presenters at the open house. NAFEA is on campus (July 7-12) for an annual conference and the open house will be part of its outreach activities. The scientists will field questions throughout the event. "We'll have scientists from across the country here at this family friendly event,” said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator.
Here's how Maggot Art works: You dip a maggot into non-toxic, water-based paint and let it crawl--or guide it--on a piece of paper. It's suitable for framing or posting on your refrigerator. One thing's for sure: it's a definite conversation piece!
Forensic entomologist Rebecca O'Flaherty, a former graduate student of Kimsey's, coined the educational teaching curriculum, Maggot Art, back in 2001 at the University of Hawaii. She was rearing blowflies 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 quickly drew national interest. If you ever watched the television show, CSI, you saw one of her works, “Ancient Offering,” hanging on the permanent set in Gil Grissom's office. She has also exhibited her work at art shows, including a two-month exhibition at the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento, in 2007.
“The beauty of the Maggot Art program,” she said, “is its ability to give hands-on, non-threatening experience with an insect that most people fear or loathe.”
And, no maggots are harmed in the making of these paintings. In fact, some children become so fond of the maggots that they ask to take them home.
(Editor's Note: Visitors entering the UC Davis campus on Sunday, July 9 are asked to take the Highway 113 exit to Hutchison Drive, as the Old Davis Road (which leads to the Visitors' Information Center booth) will be closed for construction. A paving project is underway: (https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/paving-project-close-old-davis-road/)/. Lot 46, the parking lot closest to the Bohart Museum, continues to be accessible. Parking is free.)