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See tiny insect at museum’s Moth-ers Day celebration

The Bohart Museum of Entomology is planning its fifth annual Moth-er’s Day celebration from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 4, in Room 1124 of Academic Surge on Crocker Lane on the UC Davis campus. The event is free and open to the public.
“We will be celebrating the diversity of moths and making moth-inspired cards in advance of Mother’s Day,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator. “We’ll have a cloth and light set-up to show people how moths are collected and we will have displays about the differences between moths and butterflies.”

Most moths are nocturnal, unlike butterflies, which fly during the day. Moths of all sizes, shapes, colors and patterns will be displayed.

One of the moths displayed may well be one of the smallest moths in the world. Bohart Museum senior museum scientist Steve Heydon was sorting through his collection of unmounted insects from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, central Africa, when he noticed a moth about 1 mm long, the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

The moth is a new species, yet to be described, Heydon said.

“We don’t even know what genus it is,” he said. “We are guessing it is a Nepticulidae since this family contains the smallest moths. Their caterpillars are leaf miners — they actually live between the top and bottom layers of a leaf, eating out the middle.

“It has a wing span of 2 to 2.5 mm,” Heydon continued. “Insects that have a wing span of 3 mm are considered tiny, but this one is really tiny — the smallest moth anyone ever seems to have found.”

Heydon collected the moth in April 2006 on an expedition to the village of Kikongo Mission, located about 45 minutes by air east of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He caught the moth on forested land, near a river, in a Malaise trap, a mesh tentlike structure commonly used to trap flying insects such as flies and wasps.

Also at the open house, visitors can hold such live specimens as Madagascar hissing cockroaches, a rose-haired tarantula and walking sticks. They also may browse the gift shop, which includes T-shirts, jewelry, insect nets, posters and books, including the newly published children’s book, “The Story of the Dogface Butterfly,” written by UC Davis doctoral candidate Fran Keller and illustrated by Laine Bauer, a 2012 UCD graduate.

Bohart officials schedule weekend open houses throughout the academic year. The museum’s regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The insect museum is closed to the public on Fridays and on major holidays. Admission is free.

Kathy Keatley Garvey

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