Introduce Your Children to Insects

How can you interest your children in insects?

"For me, at least a lot of my interest developed when my parents gave me a net and a butterfly picture book and then gave me enough independence to explore on my own," recalls UC Davis distinguished professor emerita Lynn Kimsey,  who served 34 years as director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology before stepping down on Feb. 1.

"Today parents seem to schedule every minute of their kid's day with scheduled activities," Kimsey said, "and this simply doesn't allow kids to explore, and use their imaginations."

So true. Kids are naturally curious.  When they see lady beetles, aka ladybugs, they check out what they're doing, what they're eating (a menu of aphids and other soft-bodied insects), and how they take flight.

You can ask them questions: What do you think that is? What is it doing? Can you describe it? Do you want it to be your friend? Why or why not? Do you want to write a poem about it? Do you want to photograph it?

They quickly learn that everything eats in the garden. They can watch a honey bee foraging for nectar and pollen, and then get nailed by a praying mantis.  Ditto the butterfly. One minute a butterfly is sipping nectar, and the next minute, it's snared in a spider web.  

And they never forget metamorphosis: how a butterfly egg magically transforms into a caterpillar, the caterpillar into a chrysalis, and then an adult butterfly ecloses from that chrysalis.   "Magic" and "miracles" occur right before their eyes! 

A great example of the natural curiosity of children occurs every year on the UC Davis campus during the "Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work." Mom and Dad show youngsters where they work, and also visit other workplaces. One of the highlights is the Bohart Museum of Entomology  

For the Bohart Museum staff and volunteers, it's a good opportunity to engage in science communication or sci-com. Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator organizes the open houses and leads the team.  At the recent event, the science communicators included doctoral student Em Jochim of the Jason Bond lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; Oliver Smith, a UC Davis entomology student; psychology major Naomi Lila of the UC Davis Entomology Club; Syd Benson, a high school intern from Met Sacramento; and animal biology major Jakob Lopez wearing a quite appropriate "Have a Nice Day" shirt. 

He did and they did.

Everly Puckett, 3, was there with her father, Ryan Puckett with Facilities Management. She wasn't sure she wanted to hold any insects  (Madagascar hissing cockroaches and stick insects) from the petting zoo but her dad encouraged her to touch a stick insect, aka walking stick.

Ten-year-old Mark Blankenship eagerly held a thorny stick insect. His dad, Mark Blankenship, works for Supply Chain Management.

Eight-year-old Hunter Baker was super interested in the insects and wanted to know more about them. His mother, Kate Schaul, works in security at the UC Davis Library.

Sebastian Carrasco, 3, whose mother Nadia works in UC Davis Health, attended with his father, Lizandro. When asked if he wanted to hold an insect, Sebastian hid behind his father. Then he shook his head and said "Bye, Bye!" to the insect. Clever and creative!

Daphne Shuman, 7, whose mother Amy Shuman, works for Students Affairs, loved the Bohart Museum. In fact she loved it so much she attended the event twice, in the morning and in the afternoon.

Mark Blankenship, 10, peered closely at a stick insect crawling on a hand.  His father, Mark, works for Supply Chain Management.

Atlas Scott, 4, attended with his mother Danielle Hoskey who works for UC Davis Health. He decided he'd rather not become acquainted with the stick insects, but he did hold a tomato hornworm. 

Bottom line: they will all remember that day at the Bohart Museum, a day when they were encouraged to look, touch and hold an insect.

And, quite likely, many may enroll in college entomology courses and some may seek entomology as a career.

The Bohart Museum, home of a global collection of eight million insect specimens (plus a gift shop and petting zoo), is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane. Summer walk-in hours are Tuesdays, June 17-Aug, 27, 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. The museum will be closed to the general public from Sept. 1-Sept. 22.

Director is Professor Jason Bond, the Evert and Marion Schlinger Endowed Chair in the Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's also associate dean of agricultural sciences for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

The next open houses are:

Saturday, July 20: Moth Night at the Museum (inside and outside activities) 7 to 11 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 28: Museum ABC's: Arthropods, Bohart and Collecting, 1 to 4 p.m.

All open houses are free and family friendly. Parking is also free. For more information, contact the Bohart Museum at or call (530) 752-0493.