Posts Tagged: Bohart Museum of Entomology
You're thinking about making Grandma's Southern Cornbread.
You head for your pantry. You remember that six months ago you purchased a bag of cornmeal from a local supermarket and that you immediately emptied the contents into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
You open the airtight jar and notice something strange. It's moving. Moving? Moving? Yes! It's crawling with a transparent carpet of dozens of nearly microscopic critters.
What? First, what are they? If you're like me, you grab your camera--in this case, a Canon EOS 7D with an MPE-65mm lens that can magnify an insect five times its life size--and click the shutter.
You post the photo on BugGuide.Net and request an identification.
The entomologists all agree: They're booklice, Liposcelis bostrychophila.
- Class Insecta (Insects)
- Order Psocodea (Barklice, Booklice, and Parasitic Lice)
- Suborder Troctomorpha
- Family Liposcelididae (Booklice)
- Genus Liposcelis
- Species bostrychophila (Booklouse)
These Liposcelis bostrychophila, or "psocids" (pronounced "so kids"), are common pests in stored grains. They're usually unseen because they're about a millimeter long--about the size of a speck of dust--and are transparent to light brown in color. They're also wingless, but can they ever crawl!
Fact is, their name, "lice," is misleading. These tiny insects are not lice; they are not parasitic. And they're everywhere. They feed on flour, cereals, grits, molds, fungi, papers, books, pollen, dead insects and the like. In fact, you've probably unknowingly eaten them--or parts of them--in your pancakes, your oatmeal or maybe even your chocolate birthday cake.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly-moth collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, took one look at the photo and commented: "They're pretty thick in there!"
"Booklice can be scavengers and often feed on the bits of mold or fungi that grow on damp materials," Smith explained. "Very old, neglected food stuffs are also subject to them, and the key to prevention is to use food materials reasonably quickly and not store them for years, store them in a nice dry location and in airtight containers."
"They very well could have been in the food already when you bought it, but they're so common that you probably have some roaming around in the house all the time, just looking for something good to eat. They'll feed on dead bugs in window sills, stale pet foods, etc."
If you're worried about what's in your cornmeal, flour, oats, biscuit mix, cake mix and other stored foods, you can pop the contents in your oven at about 120° for a half hour, and then transfer them to an airtight container, Smith says. "Your food should be okay--albeit perhaps containing a few dead booklice. We had them in an old bag (paper) of rice one time, and in several packages of cornmeal mix that were forgotten in the back of our cupboard."
A UC Davis colleague said he's seen them crawling in his flour, but his wife made pancakes from them anyway. No issues. No problem. "Just protein!" he chortled.
And from another colleague: "I once had an entire case of instant grits. The grits were completely factory-sealed in unopened plastic bags. I opened the bags and the grits were poured into hot water, but they would not sink and mix with the water. Instead the grit floated on the top of the water. I opened a second bag and looked at the grits under my stereo microscope. Each and every grain of grit had two or three little six-legged creatures standing on each grit. These creatures were 100 percent transparent, the only color was in their bodies which was the same color as the grits they were eating. I opened every 100 percent factory-sealed bag, and every bag was contaminated in this matter."
"There is nothing new about insect contamination of grain products," she added. "Another personal experience was a biscuit mix. For no particular reason, I sifted the biscuit mix while making the batch of biscuits. After sifting several cups of biscuit mix, in the sifter screen there were 4 worm-like creatures about the diameter of a standard pencil and about an inch long. These worms were 100 percent transparent, each filled with the white biscuit mix. "Consider we all eat insects, spiders, and urine and feces of all sorts of animals."
We live in world where we all eat bugs, whether we know it or not. Sometimes we may not want to know!
Statistics indicate that the average American unknowingly eats one to two pounds of insects a year. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "has very specific tolerances for the amount of residue in food stuffs," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
Want to know what the action level is? Check out this FDA document.
And the next time, you're yearning to make Grandma's Southern Cornbread, you might want to check for bugs first. Or maybe not. You might not want to know!
This image, taken with a Canon MPE-65mm lens, shows booklice, nearly microcopic insects, in cornmeal. The insects are about 1 millimeter long, or about the size of a speck of dust. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
With the naked eye, booklice or Liposcelis bostrychophila, are nearly invisible. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Find the booklouse! It's on this penny, magnified with the powerful Canon MPE-65mm lens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Odds are that the flour, cornmeal and other stored products you buy in a grocery store contain insects parts or nearly microscopic insects. It's estimated that the average American unknowingly eats one to two pounds of insects or insect parts a year. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Like a moth to a flame?
Yes, and you can learn more about moths at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's "Celebrate Moths!" open house on Saturday night, July 30 from 8 to 11.
The Bohart Museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane at UC Davis.
The event is in keeping with "International Moth Week: Exploring Nighttime Nature," July 23-31, a citizen science project celebrating moths and biodiversity.
It promises to be informative, educational and engaging, according to Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology and the recipient of the UC Davis Academic Senate's 2016 Distinguished Public Service Award.
Free, open to the public and family friendly, the three-hour open house will include:
- outdoor collecting
- viewing of the Bohart's vast collection of worldwide moth specimens
- information on how to differentiate a moth from a butterfly
- family arts-and-crafts activities
- free hot chocolate
Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's public education and outreach coordinator, said that after the sun sets, a black light demonstration will take place just outside Academic Surge. You can observe and collect moths and other insects from a white sheet, much as you may do around your porch lights.
Moths are considered among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth. They continue to attract the attention of the entomological world and other curious persons. Scientists estimate that there may be more than 500,000 moth species in the world.
“Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage,” according to International Moth Week spokespersons. “Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.”
Most moths are nocturnal, but some fly during the day, as butterflies do.
Among the thousands of moth specimens at the Bohart is the Atlas moth, Attacus atlas. One of the world's largest moths, it's found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, and commonly found across the Malay archipelago. And it's huge! A record specimen from Java measured 10.3 inches. Atlas moths may have been named after the Titan of Greek mythology, or their map-like wing patterns. It apparently inspired the movie, Mothra.
Scientists participating in the Bohart Museum's Moth Night will include UC Davis entomology graduate student Jessica Gillung, who speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese, in addition to English. A fourth-year graduate student, she is a member of the UC Davis Linnaean Games team that won the Entomological Society of America's national championship last year. The Linnaean Games are a college-bowl type game in which competing university teams answer trivia questions about insects and entomologists.
The Bohart Museum is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly 8 million specimens. It also maintains a live “petting zoo,” featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, includes 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.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email@example.com.
UC Davis entomology graduate student Jessica Gillung holds a tray of Atlas moths at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)