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Like Bugs?

Bees from the UC Davis bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Like bugs? Thinking about becoming an entomologist or just want some hands-on experience?

Mark your calendar.

The Bohart Museum of Entomology on the UC Davis campus is planning an open house on "How to Be an Entomologist" from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 27. The insect museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge building, Crocker Lane, off LaRue Road.

The event is free and open to the public and is family friendly. This is the first of nine open houses during the 2014-15 academic year.

Plans call for a number of UC Davis entomologists to participate--to show and explain their work, said Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

"We will have a pinning and butterfly and moth spreading ongoing workshop with Jeff Smith and tips on how to rear insects," said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. Smith, an entomologist in Sacramento, is a longtime donor and volunteer at the Bohart.

Representatives from the labs of molecular geneticist Joanna Chiu, assistant professor; bee scientist Brian Johnson, assistant professor; ant specialist Phil Ward, professor; insect demographer James R. Carey, distinguished professor; and integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, distinguished professor and current president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America will share their research. 

 The Johnson lab will provide a bee observation hive, and Cindy Preto of the Zalom lab will be sharing her research on leafhoppers. The Carey lab will show student-produced videos, including how to make an insect collection, and one-minute entomology presentations (students showcasing an insect in one minute). The Ward lab will be involved in outside activities, demonstrating how to collect ants. Entomology students will be on hand to show visitors how to use collecting devices, including nets, pitfall traps and yellow pans.

Other entomologists may also participate. "There will be a lot going on inside the Bohart and outside the Bohart," Yang said. "It will be very hands-on."  

The Bohart Museum, founded by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007),  houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens and boasts the seventh largest insect collection in North America. It also houses the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity.  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 and on major holidays. Admission is free.

The museum's gift shop (on location and online) includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.

Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches,  walking sticks and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold the insects and photograph them. The newest residents of the petting zoo are Texas Gold-Banded millipedes, Orthoporus ornatus, which are native to many of the southwestern United States, including Texas.

“They're a great addition to the museum's petting zoo,” Kimsey said. “They are very gentle and great for demonstrations of how millipedes walk and how they differ from centipedes.”

Millipede enthusiast Evan White, who does design and communications for the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, and is a frequent presenter at the Bohart's open houses, recently obtained the arthropods from a collector in Texas.  “Texas Gold-Banded millipedes are naive to many of the Southwestern United States, not just Texas,” he said.

Contrary to popular belief, millipedes are not dangerous. “There is much public confusion about the difference between millipedes and centipedes--not because the two look similar, but because the terms are used interchangeably when not connected to a visual,” White said. 

He described millipedes as non-venomous, and relatively slow moving, with cylindrical bodies, two pairs of legs per body segment, and herbivorous. “In fact, they are more like decomposers – they do well on rotting vegetation, wood, etc.--the scientific word for is ‘detritivore.' Most millipedes are toxic if consumed, some even secrete a type of cyanide when distressed. The point being:  don't lick one.”  

In contract, centipedes are venomous, fast-moving insects with large, formidable fangs, and one pair of legs per body segment. “They are highly carnivorous, although some will eat bananas. Go figure. And they are often high-strung and aggressive if provoked.”

Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and millipede enthusiast Evan White, both of UC Davis, show Texas Gold-Banded mllipedes. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and millipede enthusiast Evan White, both of UC Davis, show Texas Gold-Banded mllipedes. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and millipede enthusiast Evan White, both of UC Davis,

Close-up shot of Texas Gold-Banded millipedes. Millipedes are arthropods. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up shot of Texas Gold-Banded millipedes. Millipedes are arthropods. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up shot of Texas Gold-Banded millipedes. Millipedes are arthropods. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bohart Museum is home to nearly eight million insect specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Bohart Museum is home to nearly eight million insect specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

The Bohart Museum is home to nearly eight million insect specimens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 22, 2014 at 9:03 PM

No Butterflies Without Caterpillars

How can you hate a caterpillar and love a butterfly?

You can't.

Some gardeners so love their passionflower vine (Passiflora) that they squirm at the thought of a caterpillar munching it down to nothing.

But that's what caterpillars do. The Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) lays its eggs on its host plant, the passionflower vine, the eggs develop into larvae or caterpillars, and the caterpillars into Gulf Frits.

Our passionflower vine--which we planted specifically for the Gulf Frits--is now a skeleton. The caterpillars ate all the leaves, the flowers and the stems. What was once a flourishing green plant looks like a criss-cross of brown sticks.

Comedian George Carlin supposedly said "The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."

And architect-author-designer-inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller observed: "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."

And someone named John Grey offered this poetic comment:
"And what's a butterfly? At best,
He's but a caterpillar, at rest."

So, it is. Take a look at the Gulf Frit caterpillar and then check out the Gulf Frit butterfly.

Yes, a hungry caterpillar turned into a magnificent butterfly. 

How can you hate a caterpillar?

You can't.

A very hungry Gulf Fritillary caterpillar working over the Passiflora. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A very hungry Gulf Fritillary caterpillar working over the Passiflora. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A very hungry Gulf Fritillary caterpillar working over the Passiflora. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

From a very hungry caterpillar to a magnificent butterfly. This Gulf Fritillary is nectaring on cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
From a very hungry caterpillar to a magnificent butterfly. This Gulf Fritillary is nectaring on cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

From a very hungry caterpillar to a magnificent butterfly. This Gulf Fritillary is nectaring on cosmos. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, September 19, 2014 at 10:13 PM

Short Cut

We all take shortcuts.

We look for the shortest line at the supermarket, we use keyboard shortcuts, and we text ”how r u?”

So, why shouldn't honey bees use shortcuts? They do.

If you've ever watched a carpenter bee drill a hole in the corolla of a tubed flower to get at the nectar—this is "nectar robbing" or bypassing pollination—you may have seen a honey bee come along and sip nectar from the hole. Why work hard to get at the nectar when it's right there for the taking?

This is the insect version of a convenience market!

Take the foxgloves (family Plantaginaceae, genus Digitalis). Sometimes you'll see a honey bee trailing or shadowing a carpenter bee that moves from corolla to corolla.

Short cut to the nectar!

A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sipping nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee on a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A Valley carpenter bee about to drill a hole. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 6:02 PM

Fall is for Fertilizing

A drop fertilizer spreader.

Fall is just around the corner so it's time to start thinking about fertilizing your lawn. All types of lawns are actively growing during the fall months. Fertilizer applied at this time will help ensure that turfgrass is vigorous enough to outcompete...

Posted on Thursday, September 18, 2014 at 12:58 PM
Tags: fertilizer (1), lawn (1)

Bring Back the Monarchs!

When a monarch butterfly comes fluttering through your yard, grab your camera. Marvel at it beauty, celebrate its presence, and keep it in your memory. It may be become an endangered species the way things are going.

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently reported that the monarch population has declined by more than 90 percent in under 20 years. And, “during the same period it is estimated that these once-common iconic orange and black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.”

So a trio—Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, and the Xerces Society—filed a legal petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species status to protect the monarch (Danaus plexippus).

The widespread loss of milkweed, the butterfly's host plant, especially throughout the Midwest, is troubling.

Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis,  says there's plenty of milkweek in Northern California. “The problem is that nobody's there to breed on it.” For example, he sees large spreads of milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) around his many monitoring sites, including one by the Vacaville (Calif.) Transit Center. “Probably 75 stems, but I have never ever seen a monarch there, let alone any evidence of breeding." (See his entry on monarchs on his website.)

So, a monarch's solo visit to our little bee garden seems like a major event. When we see one, as we did Sept. 17, it heads straight for the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).

Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window. What a gorgeous butterfly, worthy of the royal name, “monarch!”

The only question is: will we consider it worthy enough to save it?

  • Plant milkweed, its host plant.
  • Avoid insecticides or herbicides.
  • Become a citizen scientist and help record sightings.
  • Support conservation efforts. 
  • Promote public awareness.

The Xerces Society's information on its website on the mighty monarch should be required reading, as should be this website: Monarch Watch.

Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Backlit, the monarch resembles a stained glass window as it touches down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Side view of a monarch on a Tithonia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch spreads its wings, a glorious sight, even as the afternoon light fades. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 5:28 AM

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