Maggot Art at UC Davis Picnic Day: Just Me and My Maggot

Do you like to blend science with art, or is there a budding young artist in your family?

Then you may want to create Maggot Art, a hands-on activity offered by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology during the 109th annual UC Davis Picnic Day celebration on Saturday, April 15.

Just call it "Me and My Maggot."

Maggot Art will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Briggs Hall courtyard. You dip a maggot into water-based, non-toxic paint (your choice of colors), watch it crawl on a piece of white paper, and voila! Maggot Art! It's suitable for framing--or at least a spot on your refrigerator door. 

Like all Picnic Day activities, it's free and open to the public. Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty, and doctoral student Grace Horne, a fellow of the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP) and a member of the lab of urban landscape entomologist Emily Meineke, are coordinating the entomological activities.

Maggot Art has been a traditional part of the UC Davis Picnic Day since the early 2000s.

Rebecca O'Flaherty, a former graduate student of Bob Kimsey's, coined the educational teaching curriculum,  "Maggot Art," back in 2001 when she was studying at the University of Hawaii. She was rearing blowflies for her forensic research and wanted an activity to draw the interest of elementary school students.  She also wanted to generate interest and respect for forensic entomology.  

Her Maggot Art quickly drew national interest. The CSI television show featured one of her works, “Ancient Offering,”  which hung on the permanent set in Gil Grissom's office. O'Flaherty also exhibited her work at art shows, including a two-month exhibition at the Capital Athletic Club, Sacramento, in 2007.

And the maggots at UC Davis Picnic Day? "The maggots are Calliphora vacinia, the blue bottle fly," Kimsey said. "Realize that there are likely close to 100 species that can be called blue bottle flies. This particular one is very large as an adult and has huge larvae that are perfect for Maggot Art."

"Although at certain times of the year, it is active in California, particularly around cities, it is not as common as others and I do not have a colony," he added. "There has been a lot of very famous research in entomology done on this species, particularly at University of Massachusetts and Harvard under Vincent Dethier, whose research has provided profound insights into human biology." 

The maggots are on order from Knutson's Sporting Goods, an Internet purveyor based in Brooklyn, Mich., which sells them as live fish bait and as research tools. "Maggots are one of the most popular bait used by ice fisherman in the United States," the company says on its website.

The Department of Entomology and Nematology's "bug" exhibits will be at two sites:

  • Briggs Hall, home of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, Kleiber Hall Drive, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and
  • Bohart Museum of Entomology, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The theme is "Bugs, Boom, Bang!" The insect museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, a live "petting zoo" (including Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas).

The line-up of entomological events at Briggs Hall includes:

Cockroach Races
Briggs Hall entrance
11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cheer the roaches (American cockroaches) as they race in a specially made race track, encouraged by an air pump.

Bug Doctor
Briggs Hall Entryway 
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
Meet an entomologist and talk about insects! Bring an insect to identify.  

Dr. Death
Room 122 of Briggs Hall
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey will display and discuss his work. 

Entomology at UC Davis 
Room 122 of Briggs Hall
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Displays of insects, including bees, ants and more
Graduate students, faculty and emeriti will staff the tables

Scavenger Hunt
Room 122 of Briggs Hall
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There will be several drawers of insects that people can look through to see if they can spot the insects on the check list

Briggs Hall courtyard
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fly Fishers of Davis will show you how to tie a fly.

Insect-Themed T-shirt Sales
Briggs hall entryway
9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Members of the Entomology Graduate Student Association (EGSA) will be selling popular insect-themed t-shirts, including "The Beetles" 

Mosquito Control
Briggs Hall entrance
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District will be providing information on mosquitoes and how to protect yourself

Other Creepy Crawlies
122 Briggs Hall
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
UC Davis doctoral candidate Emma Jochim of the Jason Bond lab and others will display live arachnids, myriapods, tarantulas, scorpions, millipedes and more 

UC  Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) 
Briggs Hall Courtyard
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Learn about pests and how to control them from UC IPM scientists. The staff will be giving away lady beetles, aka ladybugs.

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, headed by director Amina Harris and affiliated with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will host a honey tasting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the courtyard of Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, 392 Old Davis Road. "Come taste and learn about UC Davis honey and honey varietals from North America," she said. "Honey available for purchase."

The UC Davis Picnic Day, a campuswide open house, is billed as "one of UC Davis' most revered traditions and serves as the university's annual open house for prospective and current students, families, alumni, staff, faculty and the greater Davis and regional communities."