See Silkworm Moths and Silk at the Bohart Museum of Entomology Open House

See Silkworm Moths and Silk at the Bohart Museum of Entomology Open House

If you own a silk shirt or blouse, a silk tablecloth, or a silk handkerchief, you may not have thought much about its insect origin.

You will if you attend the Bohart Museum of Entomology Moth Night on Saturday, Aug. 3 at the University of California, Davis. The event, free and family friendly, is scheduled both inside the museum (Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, 455 Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus) and outside the facility.

Starting at 8 p.m., visitors will gather inside the museum to see the displays, talk to the scientists, and engage in a family craft activity (creating silk moth cocoon necklaces). Then as darkness falls, around 9 or 9:30, blacklighting will take place just outside the museum. Visitors will see a variety of insects on a hanging white sheet that's illuminated by a generator-powered ultraviolet (UV) light. 

Free refreshments--hot chocolate and cookies--will be served.

But back to the silk...

Bohart associate Emma Cluff curated a hallway display that links entomology and culture. You'll see moths from the Bohart museum collection, and silk cloth donated by silkworm moth authority Richard Peigler, a biology professor at the University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas.

"He sent us a collection of more than 10 pieces of cloth and several pieces of jewelry that utilize cocoons," Cluff said. "He has sent similar collections of cloth to other research institutions."

"These textiles represent work that has been done for centuries, and in some cases millennia, throughout Asia," Cluff said. "The relationship between these artists and the insects that provide their materials is beautiful and elaborate and we wanted to bring it to light." The hallway display of silkworm moths showcases tasar, tussah, eri and mulberry silk. 

Peigler focuses his research primarily on the taxonomy, phylogeny and biology of wild silkmoths (Family Saturniidae) of the world, particularly ones from eastern Asia. His studies encompass ecology, parasitoids, and host plants of wild silkmoths.  Silk was first developed in ancient China. "The earliest example of silk has been found in tombs at the neolithic site Jiahu in Henan, and dates back 8,500 years," according to Wikipedia.

What's the craft activity at the Bohart about? "Kids will be able to color and string white cocoons and make necklaces or bracelets with them,"  Cluff said.

Several scientists will be on hand to discuss moths and answer questions. They include senior museum scientist Steve Heydon of the Bohart Museum; Jeff Smith, curator of the the moth and butterfly specimens; and Bohart associates "Moth Man" John DeBenedictis and Greg Kareofelas.

The Bohart hosts the annual Moth Night in connection with National Moth Week, July 20-28.  Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species. Some are pinhead-size.  The largest ones are the Atlas moths, which have  a wingspan of 10 to 12 inches. 

The Bohart Museum  houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. Founded in 1946 by Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007), and directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology, it is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America;  the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity; a live "petting zoo" and a gift shop.  The petting zoo features Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks, tarantulas, and praying mantids. The museum's gift shop, open year around, stocks T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.

The Bohart Museum's regular hours have changed for the summer season. As of July 3, the insect museum is hosting 30-minute tours starting at 2:30 and 3:30 pm. No reservations are required and all ages are welcome. Admission is free, but donations are always welcomed. The Bohart is open to walk-in visitors Monday through Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m. It is closed from 9 a.m. to noon to walk-in visits (the insect museum conducts many tours and outreach programs during those times).

More information on the Bohart Museum is available on the website or by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email