Bohart Museum Open House: Collecting Insects and Making Insect Collecting Jars

Visitors at the Bohart Museum of Entomology open house learned about such "household vampires" as mosquitoes, fleas, lice, ticks and bedbugs, and many also participated in the family arts-and-crafts activities.

The artsy-craftsy activities, a traditional part of all the Bohart Museum open house, are also educational and informative. At the Sept. 23 open house,  UC Davis entomology students introduced visitors to (1) collecting tiny insects and then viewing them under a microscope and (2) making insect collecting or "kill" jars.

Bohart intern Melody Ruiz, a third-year entomology major at UC Davis, demonstrated "Clear Packing Tape Art" as a way to collect tiny insects and view them under a microscope, while UC Davis entomology senior Sol Wantz, president of the Entomology Club, showed participants how to make insect collecting jars or "kill" jars. 

For the collecting jar or "kill" jars, Wantz explained:

  1. Get a clean wide-mourth jar with a lid
  2. Add some plaster to the bottom
  3. Add some water so it is like pancake batter
  4. Swirl it around to mix
  5. Let air dry (15 minutes to a day)
  6. Add a teaspoon of poison-like nail polish remover (acetone or ethyl acetate). The plaster absorbs this.
  7. Add in a tissue so the insects don't bump into each other.
  8. Add an insect or insects.
  9. Seal the jar and the insect(s) should die within a few minutes
  10. They are ready to be pinned for a collection

An 11-part YouTube video series by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology explains "How to Make an Insect Collection."  The "kill jar" procedure is here.

The Entomology Club, advised by forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, meets Thursdays at 6 p.m. in 122 Briggs. The meetings are open to all interested persons, Kimsey said.

Ruiz staffed the "Clear Packing Tape Art" table and provided insect nets. She noted that clear packing tape is a good way to collect and see tiny insects. "Use a strip of clear packing tape. Put the sticky side down on your pillow, couch, clothes, skin, etc. Then place that same tape onto a white piece of paper. Write down the date, where it was collected from, and your name. Look at your project through a microscope." 

Also popular at the open house was the Lepidoptera specimen collection, curated by entomologist Jeff Smith; and the live insect petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, aka "hissers," and stick insects, aka "walking sticks."

The Bohart Museum, directed by UC Davis distinguished professor Lynn Kimsey, houses a global collection of eight million insect specimens, plus the insect petting zoo and an insect-themed gift shop. The museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane,. UC Davis.

The next open house, themed "Monarchs," is set for Saturday, Nov. 4 from 1 to 4 p.m.  All open houses are free and family friendly.  For more information, contact the Bohart Museum at or telephone (530-752-0493.

See previous Bug Squad blog on the Household Vampires