Cuddle a cockroach? Snuggle with a stick insect?
When UC Davis Chancellor Gary May and Dean Helene Dillard of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences recently toured the Bohart Museum of Entomology, they praised the scientific research and displays, but neither expressed an interest in cuddling a cockroach or snuggling with a stick insect in the live "petting zoo."
They were more interested in the science.
The news coverage, however, won a gold award (first place) in a competition hosted by the international Association for Communication Excellence in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Life and Human Sciences (ACE).
Kathy Keatley Garvey, communications specialist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, covered the event with pen and camera. Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis, chronicled the history of the museum, relating that Professor Richard M. Bohart founded the insect museum in 1946. Now located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, it houses nearly 8 million insect specimens, plus a gift shop and the petting zoo.
Garvey headlined her news story, "To Boldly Go," referencing the theme of Chancellor May's 10-year strategic planning process launched in 2017. May, a Star Trek enthusiast, chose the theme to bring together everyone's bold ideas "to propel us to accomplish things we've only dreamed of in the past."
"So does the chancellor 'boldy go' into a museum with nearly eight million insect specimens and a live 'petting zoo' of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking insects, scorpions, tarantulas and praying mantises?" Garvey asked in her news story.
"Does he 'boldly go' to see a rose-haired tarantula named Coco McFluffin, a scorpion named Hamilton, and an orchid praying mantis named Marsha? And dozens of Madagascar hissing cockroaches fondly nicknamed 'Hissers?'"
"He does. Of course, he does!"
Judges lauded the coverage. "This great range of photos captures the event well," they wrote in their critique. "The diversity of angles, shot size, people, and insects make an interesting guide through the article. Definitely fulfilled the service mission, making a nice shareable piece for the university and the other involved entities...It's a good glimpse into the museum for people who can't visit and generates interest for those who can. Though the article explained the chancellor and dean were not keen on interacting with the insects, it would have been nice to have a photo of them smiling. They don't look very comfortable, though they do look interested...Great work, nice coverage." (See entry at https://bit.ly/2LJE65i.)
The award was one of 10 that communicators affiliated with UC Davis will receive at the ACE conference set June 24-27 in San Antonio, Texas. Communications coordinator Steve Elliott of the Western Integrated Pest Management Center won four, including two golds:
- A gold award for writing for the web for his "Preparing for the Invasion: Emerald Ash Borer in Colorado" (See entry: https://bit.ly/2YBaRTT)
- A gold award for writing within a specialized publications for “Learning to Manage – and Live with – Coyotes in Southern California.” (See entry: https://bit.ly/2LLFjZY)
- A silver award (second place) for the center's electronic newsletter, highlighting integrated pest management research, issues, funding opportunities, jobs and meetings each month. Issues available at (See entry: https://bit.ly/2M5mL6s)
- A bronze award (third place), with Will Suckow, for the Western IPM Center website (www.westernipm.org)
Science writer Gregory Watry of the College of Biological Sciences won a silver award in the promotional writing category for his story, ‘Feeding the Future: Growing Stronger Crops.” (Entry: https://bit.ly/2vZYZyz)
Garvey also won several other awards:
- A silver award for a feature photo of a honey bee covered with mustard pollen. (Entry: https://bit.ly/2I82fi2)
- A bronze award (third place) for "The Bee Man" newspaper story on Norm Gary, emeritus professor of entomology, book author, and retired bee wrangler (Entry: https://bit.ly/2w3yW9m)
- A bronze award for writing within a specialized publication. This was a feature on "Bugs and Beats," published in Entomology Today, a publication of the Entomological Society of America, and featuring the Entomology Band of UC Davis graduate students (Entry: https://bit.ly/2JHIfEa)
- A bronze award for her Bug Squad blog, "When Queen Bees Get Permanents," showcasing the art of Karissa Merritt, UC Davis entomology student, in a Bohart Museum calendar (Entry: https://bit.ly/2BWV7Ch)
ACE, headquartered in Morton Grove, Ill., and founded in 1913., is a non-profit international association of communications, educators and information technologists.
She is the first UC Davis-affiliated scientist to win the award. She will receive a certificate, 1250 pounds ($1,624) and an expense paid trip to London to receive the award at the Ento 19 conference, set Aug. 20-22 at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The Royal Entomological Society, an international organization devoted to the study of insects, was founded in 1833 as the Entomological Society of London. Its mission is to disseminate information about insects and improve communication between entomologists.
Gillung's work on spider flies, involving genomics, phylogenetics, systematics, and comparative analyses, “has increased our understanding of the biological patterns and processes that have shaped our planet's biodiversity,” wrote her major professor and award nominator Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and a professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Gillung received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in December 2018, studying with Kimsey and mentor Shaun Winterton, insect biosystematist, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and a member of the Royal Entomological Society. Gillung also collaborated with ant specialist and taxonomist Phil Ward, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Gillung is now a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University in the Bryan Danforth lab, where she is researching Apoidea (stinging wasps and bees) phylogenomics, evolution and diversification.
Her dissertation, “Systematics and Phylogenomics of Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae),” focused on the evolution, conservation, biology, and taxonomy of spider flies, a group of spider natural enemies,
Gillung's taxonomic work on spider flies, described as landmark, included identification keys and morphology-based diagnoses of species using modern techniques of cybertaxonomy—the application of the internet, digital technologies, and computer resources to increase and speed up the discovery and cataloging of new species, Kimsey wrote. “Using cybertaxonomic tools, Jessica described 25 new spider fly species herself, and in collaboration with fellow entomologists, three fossil species from Baltic amber, described in her first dissertation chapter. Cybertaxonomy is a powerful tool that allows researchers and citizen scientists to collaborate in real time and across great distances to increase the speed and efficiency of biodiversity discovery.”
“Jessica unraveled the functional and ecological implications of key morphological traits, as well as their distribution across the Tree of Life,” Kimsey said. “In her doctoral dissertation, she established new homologies for the wing venation of spider flies and conducted detailed and assiduous dissections of male reproductive structures (i.e., genitalia) to understand homologies, demonstrating that morphological traits are dynamically evolving systems useful for both classification and inference of evolutionary history.”
Since many insect species are threatened, geographically restricted, or relatively rare in nature, Gillung performed non-destructive DNA extraction of specimens housed in entomological collections, including the Bohart Museum of Entomology. Gillung collected molecular data from decades-old insects without damaging the specimens.
Gillung's multifaceted research on genomics, bioinformatics, phylogenetics, plant-pollinator interactions, and biodiversity discovery drew more $120,000 in grants and awards while at UC Davis.
The UC Davis alumnus is known for her “phenomenal leadership activities, her nearly straight-A academic record (3.91 grade point average), her excellence as an entomologist and teacher, her public service and outreach programs (from 2013 to 2018, she reached more than 20,000 people at UC Davis-based events) and her incredible publication record,
Kimsey said. “She published 11 refereed publications related to her thesis in very strong journals. Most entomologists do not publish nearly that much, even as a postdoctoral scholar or a junior faculty member.”
A recipient of numerous other awards, Gillung won the prestigious international award for “Best Student Presentation Award” at the ninth annual International Congress of Dipterology, held in 2018 in Windhoek, Namibia. She also won the 2019 Early Career Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA) and the 2018 PBESA Student Leadership Award. PBESA encompasses 11 western states, U.S. territories and parts of Canada and Mexico.
Gillung was a key member of the 2015 PBESA championship Linnaean Team that went on to win the ESA national championship. The Linnaean Games are lively question-and-answer, college bowl-style competition on entomological facts played between university-sponsored student teams.
Gillung also collaborated on a project aimed at encouraging students to attend and participate in the Orlando, Fla., meeting of the International Congress of Entomology. She and several colleagues published a paper entitled “From the Students to the Students: Why YOU need to Attend ICE 2016.”
The Royal Entomological Society will publish her biography and photo in its Antenna magazine, on the society website, and in the Marsh Christian Trust Award brochure.
The annual event is a national celebration at which employers host their employees' children at their workplace.
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, will greet visitors from 1 to 5 p.m., while the bee haven, located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, will be open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
At the Bohart, TODS participants will explore the displays and hold live insects. The Bohart is the home of nearly 8 million insect specimens, plus a gift shop and a live "petting zoo" of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects (walking sticks) and tarantulas.
At the haven, a half-acre bee demonstration garden installed in the fall of 2009, docents will guide informal tours. TODS participants can engage in bee watching (bee observation hive), bee identification and a "catch-and-release" bee activity.
The UC Davis TODS program is designed for children ages 6-12. "TODS not only exposes girls and boys to what a parent or mentor does during their workday, but shows children the value of their education and provides an opportunity to share how they envision their future and begin steps toward their goals in a hands-on and interactive environment," according to the TODS website. "Kids will have the opportunity to see how our UC Davis community functions, instructs, learns and grows."
This event is for staff, faculty, students and their youth guests." More information on what will be open is available on the TODS website.
“You're never too far away from a spider; a spider is always watching you," Professor Jason Bond told the crowd at his town-hall presentation at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house on arachnids.
“If you look at the statistics, you have a 60 to 75 percent chance there's a spider in your bathroom and a slightly higher percent chance there are spiders in your bedroom," said Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in Insect Systematics, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. "They are always there. There are lots of them on the planet. They're absolutely everywhere."
Bond presented a 10-minute, family-friendly talk on spiders, enthralling the crowd. They ranged in age from toddlers to senior citizens.
“Folks are always surprised to hear that there are over 48,000 species of spiders that have been described, and there are probably 250,000 actual species on our planet,” said Bond, who researches terrestrial arthropod systematics, evolution and diversity. "So there's this amazing amount of diversity that's out there. The amazing thing is that there's so much left to discover.”
Bond mentioned a new tarantula species discovered in California in 2015 near Folsom Prison and named for country singer Johnny Cash: Aphonopelma johnnycashi. (One of Cash's signature hits is “Folsom Prison Blues.")
“Spiders are found on every continent on our planet except maybe Antarctica,” Bond related. “But if you go into one of the field stations in Antarctica, you'll probably find a spider there that's been brought in on a ship. Spiders can exist in incredibly harsh environments, including some of the driest places on the planet."
It's interesting to compare the numbers, he said. "Compare the 48,000 species to our planet's 9500 species of birds, 5400 species of mammals and 250 species of primates."
“And spiders are incredibly old, that is, the lineage has been around a long time," Bond said. "Fossil evidence shows that the common ancestor of the spider goes back to somewhere around 350 million years ago."
A spider's relatives include such arachnids as scorpions, whip spiders, ticks, mites, sun spiders and harvestmen, the UC Davis professor said, but what makes “spiders really special are their spinnerets. Spiders have the ability to produce silk from these abdominally placed appendages.”
Folks commonly ask if spiders have superpowers. "If you Google that (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zc472hv), you'll learn that silk as thick as a pencil can stop a passenger jet airline, like a Boeing 747. Silk is incredibly strong.”
Among the "superpowers": spiders can fly, leap and carry heavy weights. Through ballooning, "they can travel thousands of feet in air and travel hundreds, if that not thousands of miles, on air currents," Bond said. "They can leap 50 times their body length. They can carry up to 170 times their weight walking across the ceiling."
"They really are superpowers," Bond told the crowd. "But what really makes them superpowers are the webs they build, the silk they weave. They use silk for all sorts of things--to line their burrows, build trap doors, make things like sheet webs, and entangle prey."
A common misnomer is to call a spider "poisonous." Bond said that "spiders are venomous, not poisonous. Do you know what the difference is? Poisonous is what you eat it make you sick. Venomous means it takes toxin and it injects it into you." Almost all species use venom when they attack and kill their prey.
"Of the 48,000 described species, only about 30 or so are known to be harmful to humans," he said. "There are probably more out there, but most spiders aren't harmful."
Turning to the spider population, Bond estimated that the world spider population weighs 29 million tons. "That's equivalent to 478 Titanics if you were to weigh all these. And the neatest thing about this is they're eating somewhere between 400 to 800 million tons of insect biomass a year. If you took all seven million human adults, and weighed them, that's about 285 million tons. And there's about 70 million tons of children on the planet. So the total weight of humans is about 350 million. If spiders were to consume exclusively humans--they don't consume humans--there would be only enough biomass to sustain spiders for one year."
"Bottom line: Here on planet earth, there are lots of spiders and they're eating lots of things and there's always a spider watching you."
Bohart associates and entomology students Wade Spencer and Lohit Garikipati displayed Spencer's scorpions. Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, set up a virtual reality station. Participants marveled at the 40-foot-tall spiders.
Three members of the Brownie Girl Scout Troop 30477 of Vacaville--Kendl Macklin, 7, Jayda Navarette, 8, and Keira Yu, 8--delighted in participating in all the activities. They especially liked the virtual reality station, gleefully holding onto one another for comfort as they viewed the spiders. One Brownie declined to "eat like a spider"--even though fellow participants assured her "It's just applesauce." Mikah Jarvis, 2, of Davis loved "eating like a spider." Said his parents: "He loves applesauce."
Logan Loss, 6, of Rocklin, who attends John Adams Academy, amazed Spencer with his knowledge of scorpions, gained from watching nature documentaries.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of nearly eight million insect specimens, also houses a gift shop and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas. The museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It is open to the public (free admission) on Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m.
Picnic Day serves as the university's annual open house for prospective and current students, families, alumni, staff, faculty, and the greater Davis and regional communities. It all begins with the parade opening ceremony at 9:30 a.m. by the grandstands on North Quad Avenue, across from Wickson Hall. The parade begins at 10 a.m. Most Picnic Day events will run from 10 a.m. to 4 or 4 p.m. (See more information on the campus website.)
At Briggs Hall, home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, activities will take place from 9 a.m. to around 4:30 p.m., while the Bohart Museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.--shorter hours to enable the Bohart scientists and volunteers to help at Briggs Hall and with the UC Davis Picnic Day Parade. The UC Davis Entomology Club's parade entry is a gigantic black widow spider.
The Bohart Museum, themed, "Will Travel for Bugs: The Bohart Museum of Entomology's Collections from Around the World," is nominated for a people's choice award, as is the honey tasting at Briggs Hall. QR codes will be at each site. "Visitors will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite exhibits in five award categories," according to Madhuri Narayan, UC Davis Picnic Day exhibits director. Folks can vote by QR or vote here from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 13. The prize for earning the most votes? "An awesome certificate and bragging rights," Narayan said.
Briggs Hall. Among the scheduled events:
- Cockroach Races: Participants can pick their favorite "roach athlete" and cheer it to victory.
- Honey Tasting: Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño is planning on a number of varietals of honey.
- Maggot Art: Participants will dip a maggot into water-based, non-toxic paint and position it on paper and let it crawl. Voila! Maggot art, suitable for framing.
- Virtual Reality Bugs: Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo will set up a virtual reality system to enable people to view three dimensional models of insects. In VR, the models can be made to look life size, 40 feet tall or anywhere in between, he says. Here's the link that to view them in your web browser: https://skfb.ly/6xVru
- Bee Observation Hive: Viewers can check out the queen, workers and drones in the bee observation hive and see tools used in beekeeping.
- Bug Doctor: The Doctor Is In: Graduate students will identify insects and arachnids and answer questions
- IPM Booth: UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program professionals will discuss and answer questions about insect pests, beneficial insects and pest control. They will display their publications and live insects. In keeping with tradition, they will give away free lady beetles (lady bugs), to be released in gardens to devour aphids and other soft-bodied insects.
- Ants: Graduate students from Professor Phil Ward's lab will talk to visitors about the amazing world of ants.
- Mosquito Abatement: Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District professionals will staff a booth
- Dr. Death: Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey will staff his traditional Dr. Death booth, inviting the visitors to ask questions and look through microscopes.
- Davis Fly Fishers: The anglers will demonstrate fly-tying techniques in Briggs 158
- Aquatic Insects: Professor Sharon Lawler's lab will display a number of aquatic insects.
- Scavenger Hunt: Participants will search for and identify insects.
- Insect Face Painting: Entomology Club members will face-paint bees, butterflies, lady beetles and other insects
- T-Shirt Sales: Visitors can take their pick or picks among insect-themed t-shirts (popular t-shirts include beetles and honey bees). Newly printed t-shirts feature the roach races, an American Gothic of entomologists, and a cicada plugged into an amp. Selection and prices are online at https://mkt.com/UCDavisEntGrad/
- Bake Sale: The Entomology Club will offer insect-themed baked goods.
"At the Bohart, we are focusing on the various countries from around the world and some of their insect fauna," said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. The 12 countries that the Bohart is highlighting, besides the United States, are Australia, Belize, Democratic Republic of Congo, Korea, Madagascar, Malayasia, Mexico,Papua New Guinea, Peru, Republic of South Africa, and Turkey.
“So for anyone who is from there, has lived there, has visited there, or who wants to visit there, please come and take a peak at some unique insects from around the world,” Yang said. “Some people enjoy traveling to explore cuisine and culture, but traveling for the flora and fauna of the world is equally wonderful. Insects are an important part of nature, so be curious, not afraid.”
The Bohart Museum was founded in 1946 by UC Davis entomologist Richard “Doc” Bohart (1913-2007). It is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a year-around gift shop and a live "petting zoo" that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects, tarantulas and praying mantids. The gift shop is stocked with books, jewlery, t-shirts, insect-collecting equipment, insect-themed candy, and stuffed animals.
The Bohart Museum is open to the general public Mondays through Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., plus occasional, weekend open houses. Admission is free. Further information is available on the Bohart Museum website.
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is chaired by nematologist/professor Steve Nadler. Molecular geneticist/physiologist Joanna Chiu, associate professor, serves as the vice chair.