A new display, designed and coordinated by Bohart associate and UC Davis biological sciences graduate Emma Cluff, showcases stick insects and insect digestion. A research grant donated by Brian Johnson, associate professor of entomology, funded the project.
“I have always thought stick insects were pretty amazing,” said Cluff, who worked on the project over a six-month period. “I loved making the display visually catching as well as informative. I spent a lot of time reading papers and communicating with graduate students who worked with Brian Johnson, and I enjoyed figuring out how to translate their science into terms that the public would find accessible.” The Johnson lab studies the genetics, behavior, evolution, and health of honey bees and currently focuses on the evolution and genetic basis of social behavior using comparative and functional genomics.
Stick insects, most abundant in the tropics and subtropics, belong to the order Phasmatodea and are found on all continents except Antarctica. They derive their name from the ancient Greek “Phasma,” meaning an apparition or phantom, referring to their resemblance to sticks or leaves.
The finished project, mounted on a wall, includes a wood sculpture of a stick insect by Leo Huitt of Woodland, and illustrations by UC Davis entomology student Karissa Merritt, who drew the anterior midgut, Malpighian tubules, crop and hindgut. The display also includes stick insect facts, with lift off tabs.
“People seem surprised that we know so much about stick insect digestion,” Cluff commented. “Visitors have also commented on how incredible it is that a fairly complex digestive system can fit in such a slender organism.”
In her display, Cluff explains cellulose and why it is difficult to digest. She defines cellulose as “a molecule made of linked sugars. It is found in plants and forms plant cell walls. This moleculre provides the rigid structure in plants, like stems and wood (this means that wood is made mostly of sugar!)”
Why is it difficult to digest? “Cellulose has a very stable structure and forms strong fibrous strands. Because of this, animals need enzymes (proteins which enable chemical reactions) to break the cellulose apart into sugars.”
This was her first experience designing an exhibit. “It was a really wonderful experience,” she said.
“Emma is very talented and I would really like to see her continue doing science outreach,” said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Cluff, from Turlock, plans to attend graduate school and become a marine biologist. “I love marine bio and I am also passionate about education so I would like to somehow combine the two. I always loved marine science as a kid, and taking a research course at Bodega Bay re-inspired me. I think marine science is so important for the future of our planet, and I also fell in love with research and the creativity of it.”
The Bohart Museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. It is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a live “petting zoo” that includes stick insects, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, tarantulas and praying mantids; and a year-around gift shop.
Richard “Doc” Bohart (1913-2007), former professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the Department of Entomology and Nematology), founded the insect museum in 1946.
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. The next weekend open house is from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18 and centers around urban entomology..
The Bohart Museum of Entomology is planning an open house, "Insects and U," on Sunday, Sept. 24, 1 to 4 p.m. in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
The open house, a family friendly event, is free and open to the public of all ages.
"This purposely coincides with UC Davis dorm move-in weekend," says Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. "Our target audience is new students and their families, but everyone is welcome. The focus is how to study insects at home and in school--any age."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the moth and butterfly collection, will show attendees how to pin and spread butterflies during the three-hour open house.
Smith, a resident of Rocklin, curates the 400,000-specimen (and growing) collection. The entomologist has spread the wings of more than 200,000 butterflies and moths, or about 7000 a year, since 1988. “I do most of the work at my home (Rocklin), where I spread and identify specimens and add them to the museum collection,” he said.
“My life is dedicated to this passion of entomology,” said Smith, an associate of the Bohart Museum and a member of the Bohart Museum Society and the Lepidopterists' Society. He was named a recipient of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences' "Friend of the College" award in 2015.
“Entomology is my passion and the Bohart Museum is my cause.” He retired in 2013 from a 35-year career with Univar Environmental Science but that just means he can spend more time at the insect museum.
The UC Davis Entomology Club, headed by Chloe Shott, will participate. Undergraduate entomology student advisor Brandy Fleming will be on hand (tabling) to talk about classes, careers, and fun with entomology. She is also the global disease biology student advisor. Yang is also planning a display featuring cabbage white butterflies for educators.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It also maintains a live “petting zoo,” featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, praying mantids, and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, offers T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
The family friendly science-based event, set from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., will showcase 12 museums collections, said Biodiversity Museum Day coordinator Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum of Entomology. All 12 collections are within walking distance on campus except for the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road for the Raptor Center on Old Davis Road.
It is free open to the public, and parking is also free.
The committee lists these attractions, geared toward children ages 6 to 10, but also interesting to all age groups:
You can "pet" walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantulas at the live "petting zoo" at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
You can marvel at the huge dinosaur bones in the Paleontology Collection in the Earth and Physical Sciences Building on Crocker Lane.
You can see carnivorous plants "swallow" flies and other unsuspecting insects in the Botanical Conservatory, off Kleiber Hall Drive.
You can sample Vegemite and kombucha at the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, situated in the Earth and Physical Sciences Building on Crocker Lane.
You can get up close to hawks and other birds of prey and watch demonstrations at the California Raptor Center on Old Davis Road. You can also check out the Raptor Center museum and even pick apart owl pellets to look for bones.
You can see prehistoric tools and watch demonstrations of flint knapping and atlati throwing at the Anthropology Museum display, Young Hall, central campus.
You can catch bees and other insects in a vacuum device for a catch-and-release activity at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, and get a close-up view of the queen bee, workers and drones in the bee observation hive.
You can engage in leaf rubbing activities, olive wreath crown making and some interactive activities dealing with erosion control and composting at the Arboretum and Public Garden, headquartered on LaRue Road.
You can also look through the portable Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), borrowed from Hitachi. It will be located in the Academic Surge Building, either in the Bohart Museum or in the Wildlife Room, said Yang.
The UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day is also a good time for prospective students to learn about possible majors.
The following will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.:
- Arboretum and Public Garden, headquartered on LaRue Road
- Bohart Museum of Entomology, Academic Surge Building
- California Raptor Center, Old Davis Road
- Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Academic Surge Building
- Paleontology Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
- Phaff Yeast Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
- Viticulture and Enology Culture Collection, Earth and Physical Sciences Building
The following will be open from noon to 4 p.m.:
- Anthropology Museum, Young Hall
- Botanical Conservatory, greenhouses along Kleiber Hall Drive
- Center for Plant Diversity, Sciences Lab Building
- Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, Bee Biology Road
- Nematode Collection, Sciences Lab Building
All participating museums and collections have active education and outreach programs, Yang said, but the collections are not always accessible to the public, Yang said. In the event of rain, alternative locations are planned for the outdoor sites. Maps, signs and guides will be available at all the collections, online, and on social media, including Facebook and Twitter, @BioDivDay.
For further information about the event, access the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day website.
Shelomi, who studies with major professor Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, will speak on "Anatomy of the Phasmid Digestive Tract and the Function of the Midgut Appendices” on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
He received $1000 from the Graduate Student Travel Award from the UC Davis Office of Graduates Studies to help fund the trip.
At the conference, Shelomi will present the results from his four-year research, including research he did at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Japan; Academia Sinica in Taiwan; and some of his most recent findings at UC Davis.
“I have focused on the appendices of the midgut, which are a series of tubes found only
in the walking sticks whose function is unknown,” Shelomi said. This is the same project that resulted in him being named a finalist in PhD Comics' Two-Minute thesis competition.” (See video.)
“I have since almost solved the puzzle of what the appendices of the midgut actually do, and the presentation in China will be the first time I reveal my findings to the scientific community,” he said.
Shelomi recently was named the recipient of the coveted John Henry Comstock Graduate Student Award from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America (PBESA). He will be one of six John Henry Comstock Award recipients, one from each ESA branch, to be honored at the ESA annual meeting, Nov. 10-13 in Austin, Texas. Each winner receives an all-expenses paid trip to the annual meeting, a $100 cash prize, and a certificate. Shelomi is a member of the UC Davis Linnaean Team and the UC Davis Debate Team team that will compete at the ESA meeting.
He is also known for a humorous paper on Pokémon phylogenetics in the Annals of Improbable Research.
In 2012, he won a Shorty Award, the social-media equivalent of an Oscar, for his answer to an insect question. The Huffington Post recently spotlighted one response. Another was printed in the "Best of Quora 2010-2012" book. His Quora posts have also appeared on Slate.
A native of New York, Shelomi graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University in 2009.