Maggot Art Always Draws a Crowd at UC Davis Picnic Day

When the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology hosts its "bug activities" at Briggs Hall during the 110th annual UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 20, one of the most popular is maggot art.

Children and adults alike create maggot art by using plastic forceps to dip a live maggot into water-based, non-toxic paint. They then watch it--or guide it--to make the drawing they're seeking.

The result: It's suitable for framing (or at least a spot on the refrigerator door).

Rebecca O'Flaherty, a former graduate student of UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert "Bob" Kimsey, coined the educational teaching curriculum,  "Maggot Art," back in 2001 when she was studying at the University of Hawaii and rearing blowflies for her forensic research.

Then, asked to create an activity to draw the interest of elementary school students, she came up with "Maggot Art." She also wanted a way to generate interest and respect for forensic entomology,

It quickly drew national interest. The CSI television show featured one of her works, “Ancient Offering,”  which hung on the permanent set in Gil Grissom's office. O'Flaherty also exhibited her work at art shows, including a two-month exhibition at the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento, in 2007.

Today, maggot art activities occur sporadically throughout the country. The Entomological Society of America acknowledged O'Flaherty here. "The basic premise is dipping prepuparial blow fly larvae (Diptera: Calliphoridae) into non-toxic ink and then placing them on a piece of paper or file card and letting them crawl around to create an abstract picture. Different larvae are used in different colours to create the picture. Rebecca O'Flaherty first demonstrated this at a North American Forensic Entomology Association Meeting many years ago, and it is a popular activity and many youtubes can be viewed to see how it works." 

Sometimes the young artists get quite attached to a maggot and ask an event coordinator or parent if they can take it home. (Nobody ever gets a "yes!")

(For a complete list of bug activities at Briggs Hall, see the UC Davis Entomology and Nematology website. This year the Bohart Museum of Entomology display and live petting zoo also will be at Briggs. The Bohart headquarters in the Academic Surge Building will be closed on Picnic Day)