Bugging Parras

Approximately 8 million specimens of insects surrounded me during my visit to the UC, Davis, Bohart Museum of Entomology. Fortunately, they were all dead, with the exception of a few monstrous looking walking sticks, a tarantula, and other large insects that look more like animals and not insects. (If you can make eye contact, they are no longer insects in my book.) My purpose for the visit was to learn more about Parras McGrath’s internship experience. I was quite impressed by the museum, and Parras’ wealth of knowledge of insects.

A tour was definitely on the agenda. You have to see this place to believe it exists. There are countless drawers of specimens, approximately 2.5 million pinned specimens. So my first question, before we even began the tour, “Is there a live praying mantis here, and is it locked up?” I’m not sure if he was lying, but Parras informed me that it was indeed locked up. Ok, I felt better about continuing the tour! Parras took me through quite a few aisles, taught me about the different species of wasps, butterflies, and bees, where they were collected, and how they were captured and identified. I saw samples from New Britain, and North Korea (collected during the Korean War). I also saw many species of bees and wasps, and insects from the Galapagos Island. I was really impressed by the amount of time and care it must take for Parras, and others at the museum, to sort through newly collected insects. The process may seem easy; put a pin through the insect, and call it a day. However, that is far from the truth.

Every species of insects has a header label. That label lets us know what species the insect is, where it comes from, the date is was collected, and other information. The research involved, as well as knowing precisely how to mount the specimen to the board, takes time and care.  This is the best possible way to categorize the specimens and keep them organized in drawers. To the average person, including myself, if it looks like a bee, it must be a bee.  To Parras, however, the differences between species are clear. There are visible differences that he can identify, as well as microscopic differences that we would never be able to detect with the naked eye. It is incredible how Parras can see differences in hair, wings, and formations of pits on a tiny little insect, in order to distinguish one species from another. For example, the Sunset Moth looks like a butterfly, when it is actually a moth. The only difference is that the moth does not have clubbed antennae.  After my visit with Parras, I will never look at bees, moths, or any insect the same again.

This visit was quite informative. I was very engaged throughout the tour.  I highly recommend you visit the UC, Davis, Bohart Museum of Entomology.  But if you are afraid of walking sticks, don’t go!

Thank you, Parras, for showing me around and teaching me that not all bees are bees.

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