Entomologist and tour guide Steve Heydon took me through the museum with a group of 5th graders from Cornerstone Christian School in Antioch. The Bohart doesn’t look like a museum. It’s a large, windowless room filled with racks of flat specimen drawers. First we looked at bugs and butterflies. A lot of them are native to northern California. But enough with the dead bugs -- Let’s see the ones that are crawling around.
Steve: You guys want to see the nice bugs or the dangerous bugs. Dangerous. (scream)
There are three-inch long cockroaches … and a bug called a Walking Stick. It looks like a branch … or a stalk of asparagus with legs.
Steve: Now who wants to hold this one (scream) …
The kids are allowed to hold the Walking Sticks … and Steve Heydon has three of them crawling on his shirt.
Now it’s time to move on to the spiders. I hate spiders. At this time of year, it seems I can’t turn around without bumping into a spider web. And, as Heydon explains, different spiders weave different webs.
Steve: you have ones that make the big classic orb web. And then you have black widows that make kind of a messy web in corners … or the ones you get in your houses, they have a less-organized web. There are actually some spiders, called bola spiders, that make a web into a little ball, and they attract moths to this ball, and then they throw it at the moths, and they actually catch the moths that way.
Have I told you how much I hate spiders? And the biggest one, almost as big as my hand, is right in front of us in a glass aquarium. Blech.
Steve: Tarantulas - they don’t make webs, but they make a carpet when they get ready to molt. And then they lie on their backs on this carpet, and then they molt.
da: I could probably handle the rest of these, but something about that big brown furry guy bugs me. They’re not native to this area, are they?
Steve: Yes, actually, we do have ... Mount Diablo in late summer/early fall is a very famous area for tarantula spotting, cause the males are out at that time of year looking for the burrows the females are in.
da: What do you think is the most interesting bug or spider in our area?
Steve: The black widow is actually an interesting creature because here you have a spider that has sort of adapted to living with people. And they are also known for eating their males during mating or afterwards.
da: I heard that tarantulas also eat their own. Is that true?
Steve: Bugs basically are not all that smart. So separating prey from mate is a very tricky issue in predatory insects and spiders. If the male doesn’t time it right, (oops) then he is perceived as dinner rather than a date.
LIVE TAG: The Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis is open from 9 to 5 Monday through Thursday. Group tours should be scheduled in advance. For a link, and a few scary pictures of ugly bugs, go to our website – capradio.org.