Butterflies and moths totally fascinate entomologist Jeff Smith, the 32-year volunteer curator of the Bohart Museum of Entomology's Lepidoptera collection.
Smith loves talking about them, engaging folks face-to-face, and answering their questions. He is a fixture at the Bohart Museum open houses and other events, including the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day and the annual UC Davis Picnic Day.
But this year's Picnic Day, the 107th annual, went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to be deterred, Smith hosted a one-hour Zoom session. "Mimicry in the Butterflies and Moths with Jeff Smith," now available online on YouTube at https://youtu.be/8ZccezxhhK4.
Smith prefaced his talk by recommending the 375-page book, Insects and Other Arthropods of Tropical America by Paul E. Hanson and Kenji Nishida. "I didn't write it," he added, "and we (Bohart Museum) do not sell it (in the gift shop)." The book is an introduction to arthropods in North America--not just butterflies and moths but beetles, wasps, flies, true bugs and others.
"I've always been fascinated by the mimicry of butterflies and moths," said Smith, who won a 2015 Award of Distinction from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for his volunteer service (see news story). "I've had the opportunity to make 10 to 12 trips to South and Central America. What I found there are great examples of how they can mimic each other or other things in order to survive."
Smith defined mimicry as "the close resemblance of an animal to some other animal, some other a plant or some inanimate object." Müllerian mimicry, named for Johann Friedrich Theodor "Fritz" Müller, is "where two or more species have similar appearances as a shared protecting device," Smith told this audience. "Batesian mimicry, named for Henry Walter Bates, is the resemblance of an edible species to other species that are noxious and avoided by predators."
"The monarch and the viceroy are good Batesian mimics," Smith said, "because until recently, it was believed that the monarch is distasteful and slightly toxic and that the viceroy was an edible species but it looked so much like the monarch that it was protected as well. It turns out--I don't know if somebody ate it or if they just tested the chemicals in the insect--but it turns out the viceroy is also a distasteful and toxic butterfly so we've now switched this from Batesian and mimics to Müllerian mimics, but the fact is, that they they look very much alike. Predators may have tried one and didn't care for it so now they leave alone anything that kind of looks like that."
"In order for mimicry to work," Smith pointed out, "the two different species need to be living in the same general habitat as each other. So if the monarch lived in Asia and the viceroy lived in North America, predators would never learn to associate these things with each other, and with that bad experience of trying to eat them."
"It's also important, I think, for us to understand that everything about every insect, in particular every butterfly and moth, that every pattern, every color, and every shape is meant to protect it. These things have evolved over many millions of years and that's what's worked for them."
Smith also drew attention to predator avoidance of butterflies with eye spots, such as the buckeye butterfly, Junonia coenia, and the owl butterflies, Caligo. Some bumble bees have beetle and fly mimics, including the longhorned wood-boring beetles and robber flies. "They look like something that could sting and they get protection from that."
Smith estimated that of the 17,500 described species of butterflies in the world, about 750 of those occur in North America. "However, in North America there's 160,000, easily, species of moths. Moths are far more numerous than butterflies, and in particular, with the little tiny moths, it's estimated by experts in those groups, that at least 90 percent of the species still have not been described. They are sitting waiting for someone to identify them and give a name to them. So if anybody is interested in insects and wondering if there's still something left to do, the answer is absolutely yes."
The Lepidoptera curator also discussed host plants: how milkweed offers toxicity to monarch caterpillars, and how passionflower offers toxicity to Gulf Fritillaries. "And they sequester it. They use it for their own defenses. It's kind of curious that in the monarch butterflies, the male may pass on some of those toxic chemicals to the female when they mate, and the female then stores those chemicals into the eggs, and gives the eggs some level of protection once they're placed on a plant. So they call it a nuptial gift."
Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator, helped field the questions. Smith said Lawrence Allen's book, Butterflies of the Western States, available in the Bohart Museum's online gift shop, is a good resource.
When asked his favorite butterfly, Smith acknowledged that "it's kind of hard to pick a favorite butterfly. It may very well be, I mean as far as the thing that gets me the most excited, the big Morphos, the big blue Morpho butterflies that you find in tropical America. There are about 30 different species. They're almost all brilliant metallic blue on top, with wing spans of four to six inches across, and brown on the underside so they're camouflaged when they're landing with those wings closed. But when you see one of those fly by you, and when you're walking around in a trail in the rain forest in Central or South America, it's pretty exciting. Once in a while, it'll even land on your arm and sip the the sweat."
Many people don't want to know this, Smith said, but butterflies also feed on the nutrients in "rotten bananas, dead animals, and urine and feces." That includes human waste.
Lamenting the plunging population of monarchs, Smith advocated that folks plant milkweed and nectar sources in their gardens. Urbanization is one of the causes of the decline, he said.
The Bohart Museum, which is marking its 75th anniversary this year, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, but is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology, it houses nearly eight million insect specimens and is the seventh largest insect museum in North America. In addition to its online gift shop, the Bohart Museum maintains a live "petting zoo" comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas.
In 2019, UC Davis hosted the international Lepidopterists' Society's 65th annual conference. The scientists visited the Bohart Museum twice. Kimsey participated with senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; and Bohart associates retired research entomologist John De Benedictus, naturalist Greg Kareofelas, and Smith. (See Bug Squad blog)
Don't miss the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology virtual open house on alfalfa and rice from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Oct. 22.
Cooperative Extension agricultural specialist Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, and his second-year graduate student, Madison "Madi" Hendrick, will discuss the crops, the pests, and the natural enemies or beneficials.
The good: Think the lady beetle, aka ladybug, that can devour some 50 aphids a day.
The bad: Think the larvae of the alfalfa butterfly, a major pest of alfalfa. Other pests of alfalfa include the Western yellowstriped armyworm, beet armyworm, and alfalfa weevil. Among the pests of rice: armyworms, aster leafhoppers, crayfish, rice leafminers, rice seed midges, rice water weevils and tadpole shrimp.
The bugly: Think all the arthropods--pests and natural enemies.
The event, "The Good and the Bad: Insects and Other Arthropods in Agriculture, with a Focus on California Rice and Alfalfa," will be live-streamed on the Bohart Museum of Entomology's Facebook page. (Link to Facebook live here). Grettenberger and Hendrick will present short talks and then field questions. No personal Facebook account is required to join the session, which is free and open to the public.
As Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator of the Bohart Museum, says: "This is all about the arthropods, both the pests and beneficials that they study in the rice and alfalfa fields." Most of the focus is on insects, but tadpole shrimp in rice fields also will be discussed." A virtual family craft activity on rice is also planned.
"I will be discussing some of the insect (or arthropod) problems faced by growers of rice in California and some of the challenges in managing them, Grettenberger said. "In rice, some of the key arthropod pests are tadpole shrimp, which can turn what would have been a lush stand if rice into a poor stand with a lot of floating seedlings. Meanwhile, later in the year, armyworm caterpillars, the larvae of a moth, can chew on rice leaves and destroy plants. I'll discuss some of the ongoing work to better understand and manage these pests."
Grettenberger, Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Freeman Long and Madi Hendrick recently wrote a piece in the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources (UC ANR) blog, Alfalfa and Forage News, "A (Virtual )Update on Worms, Weevils an Aphids in Alfalfa."
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, but is temporarily closed. The museum houses nearly eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and taranatulas; and a gift shop stocked with insect-themed T-shirts, books, posters, jewelry, candy and insect-collecting equipment. (Gift items can now be shipped during the closure.)
The Bohart Museum will live-stream the free open house on Facebook. Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the 500,000 Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) collection, will show specimens and answer questions.
"We started holding a moth-themed open house near Mother's Day in May, because people who are enthusiasts for moths are called moth-ers,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum. “We then switched our programming to align with National Moth Week. This year's Moth Week is July 18-26. The annual event is celebrated throughout the world with private and public events.
Bohart Museum officials are preparing videos on black-lighting and how to spread and pin moths.
During the Facebook Live program, viewers can type in their questions on moths.
Smith is expected to answer questions such as:
- What is the largest moth?
- How do butterflies and moths differ?
- What is so unique about moths?
- Why should we be concerned with moth diversity?
LynnKimsey, director oftheBohart Museum and UC Davis professor of entomology, nominated Smith for the award. “You could not ask for a better friend than Jeff Smith,” she said, noting that he has “brought us international acclaim and saved us $160,000 through donations of specimens and materials, identification skills and his professional woodworking skills. This does not include the thousands of hours he has donated in outreach programs that draw attention to the museum, the college and the university.”
Kimsey, who has directed the museum since 1989, remembers when Smith joined the museum. “When Jeff was working for Univar Environmental Services, a 35-year career until his retirement in 2013, he would spend some of his vacation days at the museum. Over the years Jeff took over more and more of the curation of the butterfly and moth collection. He took home literally thousands of field pinned specimens and spread their wings at home, bringing them back to the museum perfectly mounted. To date he has spread the wings on more than 200,000 butterflies and moths. This translates into something like 33,000 hours of work!” The numbers have since increased.
“About a decade ago, Jeff began helping us by assembling specimen drawers from kits that we purchased,” Kimsey related. “This substantially lowered our curatorial costs, from $50/drawer to $16/drawer. We use several hundred drawers a year to accommodate donated specimens, research vouchers and specimens resulting from research grants and inventories. More recently, he's been accumulating scrap lumber and making the drawers from scratch at no cost to us. Overall, he has made more than 2000 drawers. Additionally, he makes smaller specimen boxes with the leftover scrap wood, which are used by students taking various field courses in the department. We simply could not curate the collection without his contributions.”
Kimsey praised Smith for completely reorganizing the butterfly and moth collection. “It's no small feat to rearrange this many specimens, housed in roughly one thousand drawers,” she said. “Many thousands of the specimens needed to be identified, and the taxonomy required extensive updating and reorganization.”
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, 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 the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
The Bohart Museum is the home of a “live” petting zoo featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas, and a gift shop stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
If you marked your calendar to attend the Saturday, March 21 open house at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis campus, you can unmark it.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology has postponed its open house to comply with the new UC Davis policies regarding coronavirus pandemic cautions. Officials initially set the open house, themed "Pollinators and Microbes," from 1 to 4 p.m.
In the meantime, head out to your favorite pollinator garden and see what's foraging. You might see not only honey bees, but yellow-faced bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii), Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae) mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) and more. Spring begins March 19!
"Studying insects is something you can do anytime or anywhere," Bohart officials said. "We recommend that individuals and families get outside and explore arthropods. Here are great info sheets for many of the common arthropods in a California backyard or a local park.
- Common Insects, Information Sheets (Written by Bohart director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology.
- How to Collect Insects (Video)
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, and directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, a live petting zoo, and a gift shop.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology weekly Wednesday seminars are now virtual seminars and are being live-streamed through Zoom and linked on the department's website, says coordinator Rachel Vannette, community ecologist and assistant professor. (See list of spring seminars)
The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden Plant Sale, initially slated March 14, is also canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, now global.
For information on the coronavirus, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
UC Davis Directives as of March 12 (See website for updates)
From Chancellor Gary May:
Acting out of an abundance of caution amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we have decided to take additional steps in our efforts to protect our students, faculty and staff, and the community at large, as we all do our part to help contain the spread of the virus.
We take these actions in consultation with the UC Office of the President, the Academic Senate and campus administrators, as well as Yolo County Public Health (which, as of today, has reported one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the county, none on the Davis campus). As this situation continues to evolve rapidly, we will respond with further directives. For now, this letter addresses the following topics:
Gatherings — Mandating the cancellation or postponement of events with planned attendance of more than 150 people, from Thursday, March 12, through March 31. We are evaluating this timing on an ongoing basis, as we continue to consult with public health officials. This mandate does not apply to instruction through the end of this week. Our overarching goals: For the sake of everyone's health, we want to minimize face-to-face contact, in instruction and office hours, in workspaces and large gatherings. And we want to emphasize to students, staff and faculty: If you are sick, stay home.
As we strive to minimize face-to-face contact, we announced March 7 that faculty and students have maximum flexibility to complete their Winter Quarter work without having in-class instruction. We are now strongly encouraging faculty to go online with their teaching. We said webinars would be available to faculty who needed assistance making the conversion — and we now have a schedule of four different webinars on quizzes/exams and other Canvas tools, and web conferencing and video. Each is being presented daily, every day this week. The schedule and links are here on the Keep Teaching website. It is very likely that we will need to have online capacity in place for Spring Quarter classes.
Faculty also are strongly encouraged to make use of other technologies, such as Zoom and Facetime, to provide opportunities for students to approach them with questions.
Graduate and professional instruction: Given the special nature of graduate and professional instruction, we ask the faculty involved to use their discretion in endeavoring to optimize curricular delivery (as well as graduate advising and mentoring) while remaining mindful of public health advice to observe social distancing to the extent possible. We encourage graduate and professional instructors to utilize opportunities for virtual instruction and testing where appropriate.
Those who painted rocks at the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on Saturday, Jan. 18 were not just rock artists. They were rock stars, painting creative, inspirational and seasonal illustrations.
A sign on the table, staffed by entomologist Ann Kao of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (2019 alumnus of UC Davis), urged: "Paint a Rock!" The directions:
- Please choose a rock
- Be creative, you can write a kind message on it
- You may keep it or hide it somewhere outside
And that they did. They selected a smooth river rock and made it their own. They painted everything from butterflies, ants, and spiders to rainbows, smiles and the sun. Indeed, some of the critters looked like new species of arthropods just waiting to be named.
The artists hid some of the rocks on the UC Davis campus. They are likely to wind up on the Facebook page, UC Davis Rocks, which encourages folks to paint rocks, hide them, and then post the images. The Bohart rocks will join other images on the Facebook page, including such resident rocks as "When All Else Fails, Hug the Dog" to "Take the Next Step" to "You Are Loved."
One talented rock artist at the Bohart Museum chose a Valentine's Day theme, painting two "Love Bugs”--a honey bee and a ladybug. The colorful rock now resides in the office of director Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis. It's right next to her microscope where she will 'scope the real Apis mellifera and Coccinellidae species and other insects.
If you look on the Internet, you'll find some creative, inspirational and downright humorous rocks:
- "Life Is Short; Eat the Cupcake"
- "A Laugh Is a Smile that Bursts"
- "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"
- "Be a Rainbow in Someone Else's Cloud"
- And this two-sided rock: On one side, a simple three-word request, "Turn Me Over," and on the other side, a 10-word admonishment: "You Just Took Orders from a Rock. Are You Stoned?"
Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator, coordinated the open house, which showcased the research of six doctoral students: Charlotte Herbert Alberts, Yao Cai, Alexander Dedmon, Zachary Griebenow, Crystal Homicz and Ann Holmes. (See Bug Squad blog).
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane and founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live "petting zoo" that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas; and a gift shop stocked with books, insect-themed t-shirts and sweatshirts, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy. 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.
Hmmm....did we say the "Bohart Museum houses a global collection of nearly eight million insects specimens?" Correct that! Make that "a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens and one local Love Bug rock."