Here is a well-kept secret. Well, a secret for Davis people, although people throughout the region seem to know about it. As many as 150 people show up for special weekend events, but most journey from outside of Davis.
The secret? We have an exciting museum on the UC Davis campus with amazing resources. Staff eagerly share with drop-in individuals, group tours and at special events. I’m talking about the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
“Oh, I hate bugs. No thanks.” Well, I dare you to leave your comfort zone and take a look. You will find fascinating facts, collections both live and dead, displays, a gift shop with everything from books, tools and insect jewelry to an interesting treat — a scorpion with stinger removed encased in candy that looks like amber. The whole bar is beautiful and edible.
On my last visit, the Wilson family from Sacramento had popped in as part of a surprise mystery trip. Mother Kathy Wilson is a UCD grad and she likes to take her kids, Umi and Anaya, along with their friends and her mother, Dora Carter, on weekly stimulating trips. On a weekday, they were all totally engaged and were given attention and information from staff junior specialist Jagveer Singh. Young Jordan Reeves used to come with his grandfather and was scared of the bugs. Now, he is fascinated and is part of a bee study group in his fourth grade public school.
Tabatha Yang, enthusiastic education and outreach coordinator for the Bohart Museum and the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, showed me around and introduced me to a Madagascar cockroach and to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart museum and a UCD professor. Kimsey has just discovered a new species, the warrior wasp, and has discovered more than 300 species. She found the wasp on a remote island in Sulawesi in Indonesia. She will name the wasp in honor of the Indonesian national symbol, the Garuda, a mythical warrior that is part human and part bird of prey.
So who cares about bugs? You should — if only for self-interest. I urge you to read “Sex on Six Legs” by Marlene Zuk. The subtitle is more accurate: “Lessons on Life, Love and Language from the Insect World.” Economists put the worth of just wild insects at $57 billion. They are important pollinators and pest controllers.
But more interesting are newly known facts about insects. The book, written with snappy humor, relates experiments that show behaviors that look like human behaviors. Yet they have no human brain.
The neuroscientists are having a field day with insects. Zuk relates studies of insect behavior and brains. Because insects are both like us and unlike us, they are valuable for studying nature versus nurture, heredity versus environment. With so many insects, scientists can tinker with their engineering and determine which genes are responsible for everything from shyness to body size.
What is amazing is that insects are not just robots but so much more than we think they are.
They can teach, count, learn, remember and cooperate on group decisions. Male moths can detect odors of a female released miles away. Bees remember the faces of bees in their colony and if that face is changed, they initially are aggressive but then accept them again. If it is a bee from another colony, they continue to be aggressive. And bees can recognize human faces.
The museum is at California Avenue and LaRue Road in Academic Surge right next to Meyer Hall. There are many Surge buildings on campus, so make sure you get the right one. On weekends, there is free parking south of the building in the P46 lot. On weekdays, use the parking lot on the west side of Meyer Hall, VP47, or even better, ride a bike. Weekday hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday. However, they are closed for the rest of December. For maps and more information, visit bohart.ucavis.edu.
Special events include: “A New Year, A New Bug: How Insects Are Discovered” from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14, and “Bug Lovin’ ” from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12. The Museum of Wildlife and Biology will offer special public hours in the same building on Feb. 12.
Would you like to make it easier for yourself to get outside, get exercise, socialize, view wildlife and experience new places in the new year?
A first kick-off meeting for a new group will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, at the Stephens Branch Library’s Blanchard Room, 315 E. 14th St., Davis. Come prepared to tell the group what your outdoor interests are and what you might share with others. We’ll brainstorm a group name and discuss everyone’s interest. Bring a friend or five. It’s pretty cool to have several activities happening each week to choose from and get you into the great outdoors with like-minded individuals. Check my Oct. 25 column online for more details. If for some reason you cannot attend, email [email protected] with the pertinent information.
The Yolo Audubon group recently had its 41st annual Christmas Bird Count/Putah Creek bird count. There were 82 participants who sighted 143 species. According to Steve Hampton, the official compiler, some of the highlights were a Swainson’s hawk — new to the count, several pileated woodpeckers, 10 mountain bluebirds and a single blue phase snow goose flying with tundra swans.
— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her columns appear monthly. Got a story, question, comment? Contact her at [email protected]