The Insects Around Us: From UC Davis Picnic Day to Your Computer

The Insects Around Us: From UC Davis Picnic Day to Your Computer

If you missed the 105th annual UC Davis Picnic, you're not alone.

We missed it, too. So did the ants and other insects.

The Department of Entomology and Nematology annually hosts dozens of popular Picnic Day events at Briggs Hall and at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. But this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, “closed” was the word of the day.

"Closed." It's not a popular word when you're craving to show your audience the wonderful world of insects.

However, this year the campuswide Picnic Day Committee hosted a virtual tour of some of the planned events, and posted this link:

The spotlight paused on the Bohart Museum, which houses nearly eight million insect specimens; the seventh largest insect collection in North America; the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity; and a live “petting zoo” comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas and the like. It also is the home of a gift shop, stocked with T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.

Directed by UC Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey for 30 years, the museum is named for noted entomologist Richard Bohart (1913-2007). The Bohart team includes senior museum scientist Steve Heydon; Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator; and entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths section).

If you browse the Bohart Museum site, you'll find fact sheets about insects, written by Professor Kimsey.

But if you want to see the Bohart Museum's virtual tours, be sure to watch these videos:

It's just like being there--only they are giving you a private tour and you have the best seat in the house!

Also on the UC Davis Virtual Picnic Day site, you'll learn “How to Make an Insect Collection," thanks to project coordinator James R. Carey, distinguished professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and "Can Plants Talk to Each Other?" a TED-Ed Talk featuring the work of ecologist Rick Karban, professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Can plants talk to each other? It certainly doesn't seem that way. Plants don't have complex sensory or nervous systems like animals do, and they look pretty passive, and responding instinctively to inputs like light and water. But odd as it sounds, plants can communicate with each other. Just like animals, plants produce all kinds of chemical signals in response to their environments, and they can share those signals with each other, especially when they're under attack. These signals take two routes: through the air, and through the soil. (Watch the entire Ted-Ed talk here.)

Other research work that draws widespread attention at the annual UC Davis Picnic Day is the work of UC Davis medical entomologist-geneticist Geoffrey Attardo, assistant professor of entomology. A global authority on tsetse flies, he specializes in reproductive physiology and molecular biology, in addition to medical entomology and genetics.

"Female tsetse flies carry their young in an adapted uterus for the entirety of their immature development and provide their complete nutritional requirements via the synthesis and secretion of a milk like substance," he says. PBS featured his work in its Deep Look video, “A Tsetse Fly Births One Enormous Milk-Fed Baby,” released Jan. 28, 2020. (See its accompanying news story.) 

PBS also collaborated with the Attardo lab and the Chris Barker lab, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, for a PBS Deep Look video on Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits dengue fever and Zika. The eggs are hardy; "they can dry out, but remain alive for months, waiting for a little water so they can hatch into squiggly larvae," according to the introduction.  Watch the video, "This Dangerous Mosquito Lays Her Armored Eggs--in Your House."

In the meantime, the UC Davis Picnic Day leaders are gearing up for the 106th annual, set for April 17, 2021. What's a picnic without insects?