Bigger, Better, Buglier: Impressive Science

May 1, 2017

Before: Crystal Homicz  gets ready to shine a black light on Wade Spencer's scorpion. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Before: Crystal Homicz gets ready to shine a black light on Wade Spencer's scorpion.
Oh, the bugs! Bigger. Better. Buglier.

It was Saturday, April 18,  the 103rd annual UC Davis Picnic Day, a campuswide open house, and several thousand folks filed into the Bohart Museum of Entomology to see the displays. The theme: "Bigger, Better, Buglier: Impressive Science."

Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Nematology and Nematology, displayed male Valley carpenter bees he netted in the UC Davis Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven (and later released there).

And in an amazing moment, a young boy, wearing a bumble bee t-shirt, walked up to see the bees. "My kind of guy!" quipped Thorp when he saw Adne Burruss, 6, of Irvine. Thorp is the co-author of Bumble Bees of North America: an Identification Guide (Princeton University) and California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday). Adne's mother,  Sigrid Burruss, a geneticist, is a UC Davis alumnus. 

The male Valley carpenter bee (Xylocopa varipuncta), a green-eyed blond, is also known as "the teddy bear bee." The female of the species is solid black. Thorp urged visitors to touch the carpenter bee. "Boy bees don't sting," he assured them. He also displayed specimens of bumble bees and other native bees.

Bohart Museum associate Wade Spencer, an undergraduate majoring in entomology, brought along his pet scorpions. Assisting him was Crystal Homicz, an animal biology major. She periodically pointed a black light on his scorpion to show the fluorescence. (Visitors were not allowed to touch the scorpions, which are known for their venomous sting.)

Entomologist and Bohart Museum associate Jeff Smith, who curates the butterfly and moth specimens, drew in visitors with his colorful butterfly and moth specimens and kept their attention as he talked about the places he's been and the insects he's seen.

Julianna Amaya, 10, of Martinez, was fascinated with the Australia walking sticks. She and sister, Jasmine, 14, and their mother, Rocio, watched it crawl up their hands. "Julianna is really into bugs," mom said.

The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and named for prominent entomologist Richard M.Bohart, is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, it is the home of nearly eight million insect specimens; a live petting zoo (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas); and a year-around gift shop stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.

Fran Keller, an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis (major professor Lynn Kimsey) talked to visitors about insects and also kept busy with sales at the gift shop. Lady beetle t-shirts and monarch t-shirts proved popular.

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