Davis Museum Crawling With Bugs

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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.