Want to Try Your Hand at Maggot Art?

Jul 6, 2017

Want to try your hand at Maggot Art?

If you've ever visited Briggs Hall during the annual campuswide Picnic Day at the University of California, Davis, you probably know about Maggot Art, an arts-and-crafts activity that fuses entomology with art. Every year thousands create Maggot Art at tables set up at Briggs.

Now you don't have to wait for the next UC Davis Picnic Day (the 104th annual), set April 21, 2018. 

Maggot Art will be a family arts-and-crafts activity at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's special weekend open house from 1 to  5 p.m., Sunday, July 9 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis. It's free and open to the public.

Members of the North American Forensic Entomology Association (NAFEA) will be special guests and presenters at the open house. NAFEA is on campus (July 7-12) for an annual conference and the open house will be part of its outreach activities. The scientists will field questions throughout the event. "We'll have scientists from across the country here at this family friendly event,” said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator.

Here's how Maggot Art works: You dip a maggot into non-toxic, water-based paint and let it crawl--or guide it--on a piece of paper. It's suitable for framing or posting on your refrigerator.  One thing's for sure: it's a definite conversation piece!

Several years ago we asked UC Davis forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey, a past president of NAFEA and a long-time coordinator of the Department of Entomology and Nematology's Picnic Day activities at Briggs Hall, for his take on Maggot Art.  “This is an extremely interesting and innovative idea that combines very basic biology with art in a form that people can readily access and understand,” he said. “It provides an entrée into the biology and development of insects that people can really appreciate and understand. It was a stroke of genius.”

Forensic entomologist Rebecca O'Flaherty, a former graduate student of Kimsey's, coined the educational teaching curriculum,  Maggot Art, back in 2001 at the University of Hawaii. She was rearing blowflies for her forensic research and wanted an activity to draw the interest of elementary school students in her teaching program. She sought to generate interest and respect for an entomological wonder that's more associated with road kills and goose bumps than art thrills.

Her Maggot Art activity quickly drew national interest. If you ever watched the television show, CSI, you saw one of her works, “Ancient Offering,”  hanging on the permanent set in Gil Grissom's office. She has also exhibited her work at art shows, including a two-month exhibition at the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento, in 2007.

“I love my work and being able to share my love with so many people has truly been a joy,”  O'Flaherty told us in the 2007 interview. “I tend to target young elementary students, second- and third-graders, because I find that at that age, most children are enthusiastic, uninhibited and extremely open to new ideas. They haven't developed aversions to insects, and we're able to instill in them an appreciation for and interest in all organisms, no matter how disgusting those organisms may be perceived to be.”

“The beauty of the Maggot Art program,” she said, “is its ability to give hands-on, non-threatening experience with an insect that most people fear or loathe.”

And, no maggots are harmed in the making of these paintings. In fact, some children become so fond of the maggots that they ask to take them home.

(Editor's Note: Visitors entering the UC Davis campus on Sunday, July 9 are asked to take the Highway 113 exit to Hutchison Drive, as the Old Davis Road (which leads to the Visitors' Information Center booth) will be closed for construction. A paving project is underway: (https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/paving-project-close-old-davis-road/)/. Lot 46, the parking lot closest to the Bohart Museum, continues to be accessible. Parking is free.)