Meet Sol Wantz, President of the UC Davis Entomology Club and a Wild Bee Researcher

Meet Sol Wantz, who serves as president of the UC Davis Entomology Club, a curator intern at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, and an undergraduate student researcher in the laboratory of pollination ecologist Neal Williams, a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology professor.

Ask her why people should be interested in insects, and she'll tell you. There's no "yecch" factor here: just the "ahh!" and "wow" factors.

Which is as it should be!

"First of all, bugs are just really cool!" says Sol, in her third year as an entomology major. "Second, they are extremely important in just about every aspect of life, even if most people don't like to think about that. Just as an example, almost all the food we eat was either directly or indirectly insect-pollinated. Fruits are obvious, but even all the meat we eat comes from animals that ate plants that were pollinated by insects. My field of study, wild bees, is especially important in this exact context because they cannot pollinate every crop. For example, alfalfa and tomatoes are two of our most common crops that cannot be pollinated by honey bees."

Sol, who grew up in the Bay Area community of Belmont, is the first entomologist in her family. "My parents and brother all love insects, but I am the only one hoping to make a career out of entomology. My dad is a forensic economist, my mom is a photographer, and my brother works as a distributor in the car wash industry."

What sparked her interest in entomology? 

"My parents were extremely interested in all kinds of 'creepy crawlies.' Growing up, we had 13 snakes, 3 tarantulas, lizards, giant millipedes…if you name it, we probably had it! Since insects were such an important presence in my childhood, I've always found them both interesting and comforting. When I was only 6 years old I learned that entomology could be job, and that's when I decided I wanted to be a professional entomologist when I grew up."

The UC Davis Entomology Club draws about 25 people to its weekly meetings, held on Thursdays at 6 p.m. in 122 Briggs Hall. (See Instagram account). "But this quarter a few of our meetings have had 40-plus," Sol said. "Every week, I lead a bug-themed activity, which ranges from professional pinning demos, guest speakers, and arboretum field trips, to movie nights, bug-themed trivia, and show-and-tell nights. At least once or twice a quarter, we do an overnight camping trip in Pope Valley to look for bugs. This fall, our camping trip had 25 insect-enthusiasts, which was a ton of fun but definitely a hassle for me to plan!"

Sol is passionate about her research. In the Williams lab, she is working on a project led by graduate student Elizabeth Reyes-Gallegos that is focused on comparing the functional traits of wild bees to floral functional traits. "Early this quarter, we finished our first field season sampling at plots at the Bee Biology Facility (Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road), so we are still in the early stages of the project," Sol said. "Since spring quarter, I have been working very closely with just about every bee we have collected because I have been dissecting their proboscises as well as pinning and labeling them. Because I have worked so closely with the bees' 'tongues,' I will be branching off slightly from Elizabeth's main focus to look for intraspecific variation in tongue lengths and body size. Currently, I am working closely with Elizabeth and Neal to fully flesh out this project."

"As for how I began working on this project, I joined the Williams Lab because I was interested in ecology and conservation since there are very few arthropod conservation efforts," Sol said. "I was initially drawn to Elizabeth's project because it was pretty field-intensive, which I have always enjoyed. As the project has progressed, I have found that I also enjoy microscope work, especially microdissection. Although we are still quite far away from an overall project outcome, I am excited to take the next steps, which in the immediate future will be identifying and photographing each specimen."

At the Bohart Museum, Sol is involved in general curation: pinning, labeling and integrating specimens into the collections. She is currently organizing the Orthoptera collection, which includes grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets. And she's beginning species identification of katydids (Tettigoniidae).

Sol is a fixture at the Bohart Museum open houses. "I started volunteering with the Bohart in winter of 2022 at the Biodiversity Museum Day," she related. "In the months following that, I became a regular volunteer at their outreach events. This was also before I became president of the Entomology Club, but during that time I was helping out as much as I could with various club outreach opportunities, like birthday parties or campus festivals. In July of 2022, the Bohart hired me as an undergraduate intern and I have been working there ever since!"

Another project: Sol is spearheading the Bohart Museum's open house on "Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids," from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 3 in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus. (See Bohart Museum schedule)

How would she describe herself to a stranger? "I am an ambitious, hard-working, and outgoing future career entomologist with a special interest in wild bees and katydids. I love to explore the outside looking for bugs, and have dreams of traveling the world for that very purpose. When I don't have insects on my mind, I like to spend my time playing violin, drawing, and surrounding myself with my friends and family."

She's played the violin for about 11 years; in high school she volunteered to teach fourth and fifth graders how to play the instrument.

Sol is glad she chose UC Davis to study entomology. "Overall, I really like how UC Davis is inclusive and welcoming. I also love that we have the arboretum, which has some really great places to find bugs. And of course, I'm especially glad that entomology is a major here and I absolutely love the little entomologist community we've built."

From a childhood loving insects to a senior majoring in entomology at UC Davis, to a researcher studying wild bees to a curator working in the Orthoptera collection at the Bohart Museum, what's next? 

"After I graduate from UC Davis, I would like to go to graduate school and study systematics," Sol related. "Although I am also extremely interested in ecology, I have developed an interest in systematics and museum work over the last year. Ultimately, I think I would like to become a professor of entomology and maybe someday run my own lab."

Professor Sol Wantz...That has a nice ring to it!