Backyard Orchard News
Maggot Art. Yes, you read that right. Maggot Art.
It's a traditional and popular part of the Department of Entomology and Nematology's many activities at Picnic Day. This year the UC Davis Picnic Day is Saturday, April 12, and the Briggs Hall events take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Maggot Art is especially for children, but anyone can participate. You grab a special pair of forceps, pick up a maggot, dip it into non-toxic, water-based paint and let it crawl around on white paper. Voila! Maggot Art. Suitable for framing!
Rebecca O'Flaherty, former entomology doctoral candidate at UC Davis, coined and trademarked the term in 2001 while a student at the University of Hawaii. She was organizing a community outreach program and seeking ways to teach youngsters about insects. Not to hate them. Not to fear them. To respect them and learn about them.
Maggot Art was the way. Her way. It worked.
"I love my work and being able to share my love with so many people has truly been a joy," she told us in an interview back in 2007. "I tend to target young elementary students, second and third graders, because I find that at that age, most children are enthusiastic, uninhibited and extremely open to new ideas. They haven't developed aversions to insects, and we're able to instill in them an appreciation for and interest in all organisms, no matter how disgusting those organisms may be perceived to be."
Some adults find maggots revolting, she acknowledged. "A few parents have pulled their children away with a 'Eeew!' and 'Don't touch that!'"
Since 2001, O'Flaherty has taught thousands of students, ranging from kindergarteners to college students to law enforcement professionals. She even showcased her own Maggot Art at a 2007 art show in the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento. Some art critics compared her work to that of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock.
While at UC Davis, O'Flaherty studied with major professor/forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey. Although she no longer participates in Picnic Day's Maggot Art, her art continues.
UC Davis entomology undergraduate and graduate students now guide little hands in creating art that is like no other.
Some youngsters are concerned about the welfare of the maggots (no maggots are harmed in the making of the paintings) and a few ask to take the maggots home.
Just the art work goes home, thank you. No maggots, please.
A maggot dipped in water-based, non-toxic paint crawls on paper. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
How about almond, yellow starthistle, leatherwood, cultivated buckwheat, safflower and wild oak?
Those are the varieties that will be offered by Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology at Briggs Hall on Saturday, April 12 during the 100th annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day.
Mussen will be offering honey tasting to one and all--come one, come all--from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. And it's free. You grab a toothpick, poke it in the honey dish, and enjoy.
Folks don't usually like the bitter taste of almond, Mussen says. That's why you won't find it sold in stores. His favorite? Starthistle. It's an invasive weed, but don't tell that to the bees. They love it.
It's also a good time to ask Mussen about honey bees and check out the glassed-in bee observation hive in 122 Briggs. There you can look for the queen (she's the one with a number on her thorax) and watch the colony at work. In addition, the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology is planning scores of educational displays and fun activities. You can learn what an insect is--how it differs from spiders and other critters. You can create maggot art, follow the termite trails and "bet" at the cockroach races. You can learn about forensic, medical, aquatic, apiculture and forest entomology. Like pollinators? Learn about the major pollinators in your backyard. Like fly fishing? Tie a fly.
At the Bohart Museum of Entomology, home of nearly eight million insect specimens, you can see insects have been recently discovered and insects that are threatened and extinct. You can also hold Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks (live!) in your hand.
All in all, it plans to be a fun day for picnickers who love bugs--or want to learn more about them and what they do.
Fish-eye view of the honey tasting at Briggs Hall during the UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Evan Marczak of Davis samples honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Briggs Hall will be busy on Saturday, April 12 during the annual campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The University of California, Davis, is a world leader in seed, plant and agricultural sciences. Some 100 seed and seed-related companies are located near UC Davis and benefit greatly from its proximity, but the influence of UC Davis extends throughout the USA and far beyond.--Seed Central.
So it stands to reason that Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will keynote a Seed Central-affiliated conference on Thursday, April 10 on the Davis campus. He'll speak on "Honey Bees in Seed Crop Pollination" at 6 p.m. in the UC Davis Conference Center.
Mussen serves as the Extension apiculturist for the entire state, but is also involved at the national and global level.
Seed Central is co-organizing the two-day conference (which ends April 10) with the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. This is the Veg Research and Development Forum, an annual meeting of the research managers of vegetable seed companies with breeding activities for the North American market. Its purpose, according to the Seed Central website: "to enable discussion among research managers of long-term, pre-competitive research topics and research-related policy issues of importance to the North American vegetable seed industry. Attendance includes invited participation with university scientists, technology providers to the seed industry and members of the downstream agriculture and food industries."
If you've ever seen honey bees pollinating an onion umbel (flowering head), they're a joy to watch. The bees come in twos and threes, buzzing up, around, over and under. It's their world on a string. A globe on a stalk. A bee-covered ball.
Nevertheless, there's concern among the onion growers and beekeepers about decreasing seed production due to the increased use of insecticides to control onion thrips. This insect vectors the pathogen, iris yellow spot virus.
Hybrid onion seed is indeed a small specialty crop in California, but an important one. To get acquainted with what's going on in the industry, read the UC Agriculture an Natural Resources (UC ANR) publication (No. 8008) on "Onion Seed Production in California," published in October 2013. One of the experts on onion seed production in California is Yolo County Farm Advisor Rachael Long, who directs the Yolo County Cooperative Extension, Woodland.
Honey bees on an onion umbel. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees circling the "globe" (onion umbel). (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If not, monarch butterflies are in a heap of trouble.
An interesting study just published in journal PLOS One by researchers at the University of Jamestown, North Dakota, and the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, revealed that the larvae of monarch butterflies that skip meals (host plant, milkweed) will become adults with a smaller wing size, as much as 2 percent smaller.
That's important because monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are migratory animals that travel long distances, and without milkweed, Asclepias spp., their migration will be adversely affected.
In their research, “Does Skipping a Meal Matter to a Butterfly's Appearance? Effects of Larval Food Stress on Wing Morphology and Color in Monarch Butterflies,” Haley Johnson of the University of Jamestown and her colleagues also found that monarch larvae deprived of food became adults with a different wing coloration: paler wings.
This study nails home the point why we need to plant milkweed. As the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation says on its website: “The loss of milkweed plants in the monarch's spring and summer breeding areas across the United States is believed to be a significant factor contributing to the reduced number of monarchs recorded in overwintering sites in California and Mexico. Agricultural intensification, development of rural lands, and the use of mowing and herbicides to control roadside vegetation have all reduced the abundance of milkweeds in the landscape.”
To address this seed shortage, the Xerces Society launched Project Milkweed to produce new sources of milkweed seed “where seed has not been reliably available: California, the Great Basin, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida."
Bottom line, the Xerces Society is:
- raising public awareness about milkweeds' value to monarchs and native pollinators
- promoting the inclusion of milkweeds in habitat restoration efforts
- developing milkweed seed production guidelines, and
- building new markets for milkweed seed.
The Xerces website also offers sources of native milkweed seed in your state.
Meanwhile, the butterflies that overwintered in Mexico are on the move and in Texas. For more information on butterfly migration, see Monarch Butterfly, Journey North.
Monarch butterfly sightings are becoming more uncommon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch butterfly grabbing a sip of nectar from lantana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Talk about a good insurance policy.
Researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) just published an article in the Journal of Applied Ecology that indicates that blueberry growers who invest in nearby wildflower habitat to attract and support wild bees can increase their crop yields. They're saying that the cost of planting a habitat for wild bees can pay for itself in four years or less.
"Other studies have demonstrated that creating flowering habitat will attract wild bees, and a few have shown that this can increase yields," MSU entomologist and co-author Rufus Isaacs said in a press release. "This is the first paper that demonstrates an economic advantage. This gives us a strong argument to present to farmers that this method works, and it puts money back in their pockets."
"This is HUGE news," said pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor of entomology at UC Davis, who was not involved in the study. "This is the first study to quantify pollination benefit as a result of habitat planting adjacent crops. It also works through the economics of the implementation of the the habitat and accrued economic and yield benefit over time. Fantastic stuff."
This is right up Willilams' alley, er, hedge row. He and his colleagues are exploring the role of wild native bees, honey bees and other managed species as crop pollinators and the effects of landscape composition and local habitat quality on their persistence. His research on pollination spans the disciplines of conservation biology, behavioral ecology and evolution. One of his primary research foci is on sustainable pollination strategies for agriculture. This work is critical given ongoing pressures facing managed honey bees and reported declines in important native pollinators such as bumble bees.
Williams' research has taken him from eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey to California's Central Valley. "A continuing goal is to provide practical information that can be used to improve the long-term stability of pollination for agriculture in California, as well as promote pollinator conservation and management," Williams says. In addition to work in agriculture, he is also studying how habitat restoration affects pollinator communities and pollination.
Earlier California studies, involving Clare Kremen of UC Berkeley, Neal Williams and other colleagues, showed that wild bees make honey bees better pollinators; that is, the presence of wild bees makes the honey bees work harder.
Regarding the MSU study, the research team planted surrounding bueberry fields with a mix of 15 native perennial wildflowers, hoping to increase the wild bee population and thus improve pollination in the blueberry fields.
And yes, that's exactly what happened.
"In the first two years as the plantings established, we found little to no increase in the number of wild bees," Isaacs related in the press release "After that, though, the number of wild bees was twice as high as those found in our control fields that had no habitat improvements."
To quote from the press release: "Once the wild bees were more abundant, more flowers turned into blueberries, and the blueberries had more seeds and were larger. Based on the results, a two-acre field planted with wildflowers adjacent to a 10-acre field of blueberries boosted yields by 10-20 percent. This translated into more revenue from the field, which can recoup the money from planting wildflowers."
Isaacs was quick to point out that the researchers are not suggesting that growers cease using honey bees for pollination services. But with 420 species of wild bees in Michigan alone, he says, it makes sense to attract the "free" wild bees. Indeed, it does.
This study could have major implications for not only research in California, but nationwide.
An Osmia (family Megachilidae) pollinating a flower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, is one of the bees that Neal Williams' lab is studying. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of Osmia lignaria on phacelia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)