When you first meet Brandon DeGroot, 6, of Vallejo, he'll tell you "I love spiders and snakes" and he'll flash a big smile.
He's the kind of youngster that arachnologists, including Professor Eileen Hebets of the University of Nebraska and Professor Jason Bond, of the University of California, Davis, welcome to their fold.
Bond, associate dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is chairing the American Arachnological Society's meeting June 26-30 at UC Davis with Lisa Chamberland, postdoctoral research associate, Department of Entomology and Nematology, and Joel Ledford, assistant professor of teaching, Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences.
An open house, "Eight-Legged Encounters," set from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 25 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, will kick off the conference. Hebets is co-hosting it as part of a U.S. National Science Foundation grant, “Eight-Legged Encounters,” that she developed as an outreach project to connect arachnologists with communities, especially youth. It's free, open to the public, and family friendly.
The open house promises to be one of the biggest events--if not the leggiest!--of the year on the UC Davis campus and beyond. A powerhouse of arachnologists, Bond said, will be at the open house. “There will be everything--spider specimens, live arachnids, activities, artwork, etc."
Some 20 exhibits and activities will be set up in the hallway of the Academic Surge Building, said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. A popular activity at the Bohart is its live petting zoo, comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches or "hissers," stick insects and tarantulas. Youths, especially, delight in holding the hissers and stick insects.
But back to Brandon.
"Brandon has always loved spiders, insects and snakes, starting when he was a toddler looking for bugs in our yard," said his mother, Heather DeGroot. "Brandon was always in the dirt, and my other son, Mason, now 8, was always in the grass." Last Tuesday, June 7, while Heather kept busy coordinating the Solano County Fair exhibits at McCormack Hall, in preparation for the June 16-19 fair, Brandon kept busy looking for critters outside. When he'd find one, he'd excitedly announce his treasure, and even more excitedly, show it to all.
So, in between his bug hunts, we thought we'd interview Brandon.
Bug Squad: "How old are you?
Brandon: "I'm six and I go to kindergarten at Vallejo Charter School. I'm almost in the first grade." (He graduated from kindergarten June 9.)
Bug Squad: "Brandon, how long have you loved spiders and snakes?"
Brandon: "A long time."
Bug Squad: "Cool! Why do you love spiders?"
Brandon: "I like the poison and how they eat."
Bug Squad: "What do you want to be when you grow up, Brandon?"
Brandon: "I want to be a scientist about animals. See my snake tattoo on my arm?" (He displayed the washable tattoo that tattoo artist Jason Meyers of Concord created just for him.)
Bug Squad: "Fantastic! What makes you happy?"
Bug Squad: "Does your brother Mason like snakes and spiders?"
Brandon: "No, he only likes BMX." (Mason will be competing as part of Team USA at a BMX competition in Nance, France in July. The entire family will be there to support him.)
Bug Squad: "Why doesn't Mason like spiders and snakes?"
Brandon: "He doesn't want to get hurt by them."
Bug Squad: "Do you like bees?"
Brandon: "I like bees. They pollinate the flowers and make them change colors. I like ladybugs and I like letting them crawl on me. I like walking sticks. I saw them on YouTube and they look just like sticks."
Bug Squad: "Do you like ants?"
Brandon: "I like ants but I don't like fire ants." (He sees fire ants on family trips to Houston, Texas.)
Bug Squad: "Do you like butterflies?"
Brandon: "I like them because of their colors."
Bug Squad: "Do you like dragonflies?"
Brandon: "I like how fast they fly and they nibbled on my family at the Yuba River but they didn't nibble on me."
Bug Squad: "Brandon, do you like sports or play sports?"
Brandon: "I played basketball and I'm going to learn to play tennis."
Bug Squad: "Do you like girls?"
Brandon (raising his eyebrows): "No, I like dogs."
Bug Squad: "Do you have a dog?"
Bug Squad: What's your favorite food?"
Brandon: "Strawberries and chocolate."
And with that, he opened his lunch box, picked out a strawberry, and shared it with a bug that he had just collected in the McCormack Hall gardens.
"Here you go," Brandon told the bug, later identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, as an aphid. "I'm feeding you so you won't get hungry."
Call them ladybugs, call them ladybirds, call them lady beetles, call them Coccinellidae, or just call them aphid eaters or deluxe aphid eaters.
And while you're at Briggs Hall, check out the insect-related displays and activities planned and coordinated by entomology doctoral candidate Danielle Rutkowski of the UC Davis Graduate Student Association. The events range from Roach Races (cheer on your favorite roach) to Maggot Art (dip a maggot in non-toxic, water-based paint and create a masterpiece worthy of framing--or at least, it can join your refrigerator art).
Spotted: A lady beetle (aka ladybug) feasting on aphids in her winter wonderland.
It dines uninterrupted until it sees the shadow of what could be a predator.
Swoosh! It quickly slips beneath a strawberry leaf and remains there, hidden and silent until the photographer leaves.
Did you know there are some 250 species of lady beetles in California alone? Check out the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) website that includes text and images of several of the species, including the California lady beetle, twospotted lady beetle, sevenspotted lady beetle, ninespotted lady beetle and the twenty-spotted lady beetle. Worldwide, there are some 5,000 different species of lady beetles, according to National Geographic.
Not all lady beetles have spots and not all lady beetles are red, as they point out.
Frédérique Lavoipierre, author of the newly published book, Garden Allies: The Insects, Birds and Other Animals That Keep Your Garden Beautiful and Thriving, devotes a chapter on beetles: "Meet the Beetles" and another chapter on "The Voracious Lady Beetles."
Lavoipierre mentions that more than one fifth of all the living species on earth are beetles and that "Beetles (order Coleoptera) share two definitive features. "They have hardened or leathery forewings (eltrya) with membranous flight wings tucked under this protective cover...Secondly, beetles have chewing mouthparts."
"There are those who don't really like insects, but it's hard to find anyone who doesn't have a soft spot for lady beetles (family Coccinellidae)," she writes. "Ladybugs, as they are more familiarly called, appear in legends, songs and children's stories and are a popular decorative motif."
Lavoipierre goes on to explain how beetles and other garden allies play a role in the ecosystem. This informative and educational book definitely "needs a spot" on your bookshelf!
Lady beetles also make arts and crafts fun. if there's a kid in your family who is looking for an art project, access this site at https://gosciencegirls.com/ladybird-paper-plate-craft/. Kids (and adults, too!) can make a 3D lady beetle using a white paper plate, black craft paper, pipe cleaners for legs and antennae, googly eyes, and of course, red, white and black acrylic paint.
Just add aphids.
Step right up, folks!
I'm a lady beetle, aka ladybug, and it's lunch time.
Or maybe it's snack time, I don't know. I don't talk when my mouth is full.
What I do know is this: aphids are tasty and they line up to be eaten. Or sometimes it appears that way!
Lady beetles, the good guys and gals in the garden, are natural enemies of aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Scientists say a lady beetle may eat as many as 5000 aphids in its lifetime.
The red coloration serves as a warning that “I don't taste good.” When attacked, they ooze a substance that further emphasizes that.
Even the larvae of these beetles eat aphids. Unfortunately, the alligator-like larvae are mistaken for pests and many an novice gardener has killed them.
"They are ferocious predators of small insects," says Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology. In her information sheet on lady beetles, she mentions that "adults will also feed on pollen and nectar when their prey is scarce."
Factoid: "Lady beetles will occasionally bite humans. However, they apparently bite to collect salt rather than to defend themselves or to behave aggressively."
Kimsey includes five species of lady beetles, with photos, on her information sheet:
- Spotless lady beetle, Cycloneda sanguinea
- Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis
- Seven-spot lady beetle, Coccinella septempunctata
- Two-spot lady beetle, Adalia bipunctata
- Convergent lady beetle, Hippodamia convergens
The five are "mostly distinguished by the extent of white markings on the prothorax and the number of black
spots on the wing covers (elytra)," Kimsey says.
All hail the lady beetles!/span>/span>
Thoughtful of the moms, isn't it? Moms are like that.
Look on or under your rosebush leaves. Look under your milkweed leaves. See the cluster of tiny yellow eggs? And if you look closely, you'll see those pesky aphids sucking the sap, the very lifeblood, out of the plant.
The lady beetle eggs hatch in about a week. The larvae look like little alligators (many a gardener has killed them, not knowing these are beneficial insects, not pests.) Larvae, too, devour aphids. As adults, lady beetles can polish off about 75 aphids a day.
Lady beetles hibernate during the winter, huddling under leaves, rocks or grasses. (See more about lady beetles on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program website.)
But for now, you'll see them laying eggs--right where the food source is.
Thoughtful of the moms, isn't it? Moms are like that.