Lewis will cover the life and legacy of African-American entomologist and civil rights advocate Margaret Collins (1922-1996) at his presentation on Tuesday morning, Nov. 2. The long-awaited conference will be hybrid, that is, both virtual and in-person.
Collins will be "the fourth woman and second Black entomologist to be the subject of the Founders' Memorial lecture in the award's 64-year history," according to an ESA news release. (See list of previous recipients.)
'The Termite Man'
Vernard Lewis, who holds a doctorate in entomology (1989) from UC Berkeley, is a recognized national and international authority on drywood termites. He is known for his pioneering research on detection innovations and nonchemical methods of control. Lewis joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1990 and was the university's first African-American faculty-member hired in the 150-year history of the Rausser College of Natural Resources. He retired July 1, 2017 from a 35-year career as an urban entomologist, the last 26 years as a Cooperative Extension specialist. As Lynn Kimsey, director of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology told us in a Bug Squad blog in July 2017: "He was the best; knowledgeable, personable and engaged. I'm really annoyed that he retired."
"He was always the go-to person in Extension when it came to termites, and he had that special personality which enabled him to immediately engage with people," related UC Davis distinguished professor Frank Zalom, a past president of the 7000-member ESA. "I always got the feeling that he genuinely liked what he did, and it showed."
During his career, Lewis focused his research on a variety of urban pests, including not only termites, but ants, bed bugs, cockroaches and wood-boring insects. He authored more than 150 refereed and trade magazine articles and book chapters on termites and other household insect pests. He delivered more than 700 presentations to widespread audiences. Lewis was inducted into the National Pest Management Association Hall of Fame in 2016. Since achieving emeritus, he has been spending his time on university and industry committees and public boards dedicated to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion for underrepresented minorities and women into STEM careers.
In June 2020, Brite Energy Innovators paid tribute to Lewis as one of the world's Amazing Black Scientists. An excerpt: "At UC Berkeley, Lewis famously constructed a 400-square-foot (37-square-meter) wooden building near the campus for investigating pest insect detection and control; The structure was affectionately known as 'Villa Termiti.' Built in 1993, the building temporarily housed rotating communities of bedbugs, termites, beetles and ants, while Lewis and other scientists studied the insects' habits and tested their resistance to different methods of extermination. These included exposure to X-rays, microwaves, liquid nitrogen and fumigation, according to UC Berkeley."
Another excerpt from Amazing Black Scientists: "Lewis also worked to promote diversity in entomology, and participated in outreach programs to introduce underserved youth to life sciences, insects and biodiversity." He was one of 20 researchers featured in ESA's 2015 book “Memoirs of Black Entomologists,” designed to encourage minority students to pursue careers in science.
Margaret James Strickland Collins was known as "The Termite Lady" during her entomological career that spanned five decades. She engaged in extensive research on termites that included identifying a new species, Neotermes luykxi. "Her pioneering studies on the mechanism and evolution of termite desiccation resistance across various habitats provided foundational knowledge for generations of entomologists, field biologists, and ecologists," said Lewis, who wrote about her in a piece published June 1, 2016 in BioOne journal.
His abstract: "Often legends go unrecognized for their achievements in science and the betterment of society. In the case of Margaret Collins, it has been almost 20 years since her passing, and except for appreciation by a small cadre of termite experts, her contributions to entomology have received scant notice. However, her work and legacy have stood the test of time, and even today, she is considered, and often cited as, the definitive source for differences in toleration and resistance to drying among species of termites. At her core, Margaret was a field biologist, and she demonstrated it through her travels and termite collection trips to a dozen countries. Her long and illustrious career included publishing of scientific papers, tenured faculty positions, and service as a curator of the termite collection at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, District of Columbia. Margaret achieved many firsts during her life. She was the first African American female to be awarded a Ph.D. involving entomology at a major university. In addition, she was the first woman graduate student for the legendary isopterist and Professor of Zoology, Alfred E. Emerson. Her passion for termites remains highly visible in her published works. Her passion for her family and her strong support of civil rights for women and African Americans were less visible except to those she knew personally."'
Born in Institute, W.Va., on Sept. 4, 1922, Margaret was recognized as a child prodigy at age 6, "as evidenced by her being awarded the privilege to check out books at the West Virginia State College Library," Lewis wrote in the journal article. Following her high school graduation at age 14, she went on to receive her bachelor's degree in biology from West Virginia State College in 1943, and her doctorate in zoology in 1949 from the University of Chicago. Her thesis: Differences in Toleration of Drying among Species of Termites (Reticulitermes).
Collins was one of the first African-American women to receive an advanced degree related to zoology/entomology. "Those of us with collegiate degrees are well aware of the challenges and obstacles that can drain enthusiasm and delay completion, which include lack of funding, being away from home, and difficult and demanding courses and class loads," Lewis wrote. "Margaret had all of these, plus more."
"Upon receiving her Ph.D. in 1950 at the University of Chicago, Collins became the first African-American female entomologist," Lewis noted. "In the mid-'50s while on the faculty of Florida A&M, her invitation to speak at a local predominantly white university on biology and equity was cancelled due to a bomb threat. During the Florida A&M Student Council bus boycott of 1955 to protest racial inequality, Dr. Collins volunteered to drive people to work. These activities led to her being closely watched by the police and FBI."
In 1979, Collins coordinated an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium on "Science and the Question of Human Equality," and later that year, published a book with the same title. The book is "an interdisciplinary look at racism and science, investigating the biological and social realities of individual and group differences," according to the publisher.
Love of Science
Just like Margaret Collins, Lewis shares a love of termites, a love of science, and a love of public service. In the ESA news release, ESA President Michelle S. Smith praised Lewis for his "remarkable career in both research and extension" and as "a role model for current and future generations of insect scientists. His pioneering spirit echoes that of Dr. Margaret Collins, and her story of determination, curiosity, and perseverance will be a perfect complement to our annual meeting showcasing adaptation and transformation in insect science."
The ESA meeting is appropriately themed "Adapt. Advance. Transform."
Yes! "Adapt. Advance. Transform." And let's add one more: "Recognize!"
We're delighted to see this much deserved recognition for two legendary entomologists.
No? Probably can't due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but at least we can honor them every March 19 on Taxonomists' Appreciation Day.
Basically, taxonomy is the science of describing, naming, defining and classifying organisms, both alive and extinct. Each species is part of the tree of life.
The Bohart Museum of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, is among those celebrating this special day.
"Basically we have eight taxonomists, all working on different groups of wasps, bees, flies, moths and beetles," said Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey, a UC Davis professor of entomology who identifies thousands of insects for scientists and the public alike. Plus, spiders, ants and millipedes!
"Clearly we don't really need any taxonomists for things with backbones and maybe not leaves, but invertebrates are so diverse and mostly so small you can't sight ID them; not even with a microscope. In addition, perhaps as much as 50 percent of the invertebrates are undescribed and a much higher percentage, like 99 percent, have never been sequenced. So we do DNA."
The Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million insect specimens collected from around the world, is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It was founded by noted entomologist and UC Davis professor Richard "Doc" Bohart (1913-2017). Bohart was Kimsey's major professor.
Want to know the common and scientific names of insects? The Entomological Society of America maintains a Common Names of Insect Database, described as "an essential reference for anyone who works with insects. It includes more than 2,000 common names and is searchable by common name, scientific name, author, order, family, genus, and species."
For instance, type in "bumble bee" (it's two words) and you'll get the order Hymenoptera, family Apidae, and the genus Bombus, among other information. Search for "California bumble bee" and you'll get "Bombus californicus." By the way, search for "bumblebee" and "honeybee" and you'll get "cannot be found in the database." That's because they are two words: "bumble bee" and "honey bee."
The ESA database is a great scientific database and one that we should celebrate today--and every day--just like the dedicated taxonomists who pore over the organisms, describing, naming, defining and classifying them.
Happy Taxonomists' Appreciation Day!
Fortunately for the entomological world, he switched majors shortly after he enrolled in an insect science course.
As we mentioned in a piece posted on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website, Jay was a third-year physics major in 1981 when—“on a lark”--he enrolled in Professor Harry Kaya's Entomology 100 course.
The professor inspired him, the class enthralled him, and insects captivated him.
In mid-term, Jay changed his major to entomology, and went on to earn two degrees in entomology (bachelor's degree from UC Davis in 1983, and doctorate from UC Berkeley in 1987); join the UC Davis faculty in 1990; and become a UC Davis distinguished professor in 2018.
The former UC Davis physics major is now a newly inducted Fellow of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), a global honor accorded to only 10 persons annually.
Marshall Johnson, a 2006 ESA Fellow and an emeritus Cooperative Extension specialist and researcher at UC Riverside, nominated Rosenheim for the award. “Jay was my postdoc at the University of Hawaii,” Johnson said. “He did a great job and I have kept my eye on his career ever since."
“I would say that Jay is the most astounding entomologist that I know, given his broad interests and creative manner in studying biological/ecological questions,” Johnson said. “He is also an excellent human being.”
And it all began four decades ago in a UC Davis classroom. This is what occurred.
“About a month or so before the course was to be taught, I received a call from this physics student, Jay Rosenheim, who wanted to take Entomology 100,” recalled Kaya, now an emeritus professor and himself an ESA Fellow (2007) for his international contributions to insect pathology and nematology. “I asked a few questions on why he wanted to take the course. He said he always loved insects but he said he did not have the prerequisites for the class--no college biology-- but he was keenly interested in insects and really wanted to take the class.”
Kaya was actually teaching the class for Professor Robbin Thorp (1933-2019), a bee specialist on sabbatical. “At the time, I had a 25 percent teaching appointment in entomology and a 75 percent research appointment in nematology,” Kaya said. “When Martin Birch, the department chair, asked me to teach the course, I told him that I hoped he could find someone else, but he came back and said I would be the best to teach it.” Birch assigned two of Thorp's graduate students, Evan Sugden and John Skinner, as teaching assistants for the twice-a-week entomology lab.
“Jay also worked briefly in my lab as an undergraduate as well,” Kaya related. “I should add other superlatives as outstanding and world-renowned entomologist. In my view, it did not matter who taught the ENT 100 course. Jay is simply an outstanding individual and has contributed so much on his own merit. Plus, he has a great personality.”
A native of Yorktown, N.Y, young Jay developed an interest in biology while exploring the vernal pools behind his Hudson River Valley home.
His insect interests not only led to his being elected an ESA Fellow but a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; recipient of teaching awards from the Associated Students of UC Davis and the UC Davis Academic Senate; and the Distinguished Student Mentoring Award from ESA's Pacific Branch. He has authored more than 160 peer-reviewed publications, and mentored nearly 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, now in the private sector, conservation nonprofits, journalism, or academia.
And it all began when a physics major named Jay Rosenheim asked to enroll in Professor Harry Kaya's entomology class.
The UC Davis winners are Erin Taylor Kelly of the Geoffrey Attardo lab, Hyoseok Lee of the Christian Nansen lab, Jill Oberski of the Phil Ward lab, Lacie Newton of the Jason Bond lab, and Clara Stuligross of the Neal Williams lab.
- Kelly won first place for her poster, “Metabolic Snapshot: Using Metabolomics to Compare Near-Wild and Colonized Aedes aegypti,” in the Physiology, Biochemistry and Ecology Section.
- Lee won first place for his entry, “Predicting Spring Migration of Beet Leafhoppers, Circulifer tenellus (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae) from Natural Overwintering Sites into Tomato fields in California" in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category of the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Behavioral Ecology Section
- Oberski won first place for her entry, “Why Do Museum Collections Matter?” in the Graduate Infographics category, Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section.
- Newton won second place for her entry, “Integrative Species Delimitation Reveals Cryptic Diversity in the Southern Appalachian Antrodiaetus unicolor (Araneae: Antrodiaetidae) Species Complex,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section, Genomics.
- Stuligross won second place for her entry, "Larval Pesticide Exposure Reduces Adult Wild Bee Reproduction,” in the Graduate 10-Minute Papers category in the Plant-Insect Ecosystems, Pollinators 2 Section.
The first-place winners received a $75 cash prize, a one-year membership in ESA and a certificate, while the second-place winners won a year's membership and a certificate.
One that is drawing a lot of attention--and rightfully so--is the Oberski poster, "Why Do Museum Collections Matter?" (See below.) The Bohart Museum of Entomology, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is one of the many outstanding insect museums in the world. Directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor and former department chair, the Bohart houses a global collection of nearly eight million insect specimens.
As Oberski writes: "Cabinets of curiosity and natural history museums are the original basis of our knowledge of global biodiversity. Such collections, however, are more than just well-organized dead organisms. Museums are enormous libraries of identified species, localities, and dates, constantly updated and reorganized based on the best new information. These data inform countless fields of research, and can even answer future questions no one has yet thought to ask. Most importantly, they preserve irreplaceable type specimens, which are a crucial part of species description. Now that many of these insect collections are being digitized and accessed from around the globe, why is it necessary to maintain them as physical materials? While many datasets do lend themselves well to digitization, insect specimens experience significant data loss. Most commonly, photographs are taken of the specimens, but photos are usually inadequate for discerning taxonomic features. Even high-resolution 3D scans are no substitute for direct observations. Finally, museums are centers of education and public outreach. Through collections, biology students and communities can physically experience global insect biodiversity they might not otherwise see, regardless of location or mobility. The “wow” factor of magnificent specimens is most powerful in person. As our lives become increasingly computer-oriented, we must recognize that to enjoy and study nature, no digital replacement will suffice."
Oberski, who joined the Ward lab in 2017, holds a bachelor of arts degree, cum laude, from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., where she majored in biology and German studies.
The Entomological Society of America, headquartered in Annapolis, Md., and founded in 1889, is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. They include educators, extension personnel, consultants, students, researchers, and scientists from agricultural departments, health agencies, private industries, colleges and universities, and state and federal governments. It is a scientific and educational resource for all insect-related topics. For more information, visit www.entsoc.org.
(See in-depth piece on the four other UC Davis recipients on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website)
If you're a graduate student in entomology and competing with your team in the Entomology Games, a college-bowl type trivia game hosted by the Entomological Society of America, it's not only good to know your insects but you ought to have an interest in sports, crime-fighting insect figures, and cartoons.
Take this year's Virtual Entomology Games, won by Alabama's Auburn University, with Purdue's Boiler Bugs scoring second. A tiebreaker question determined the winner.
Tiebreaker Question: Gary Larson is known for using insects as a source of humor in his acclaimed comic strip "The Far Side." A survey of 4,300 "Far Side" comics revealed that exactly how many contained some sort of entomological reference?
The correct answer: 359 comics. Auburn guessed 650, but the Boiler Bugs responded with a whopping 1477. Locally, the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology team answered with a more conservative 500. (See Bug Squad blog about the UC Davis team.)
A Quarterback, a Vigilante and a Paranormal
- "Even though this new wasp species is distinctly not fossorial, LSU grad student Ilgoo Kang elected to name it after what Heisman-winning quarterback?" The answer: Joe Burrow.
- Keye Luke, Jay Chou, and Bruce Lee have all portrayed Kato, the crimefighting partner of what fictional vigilante? The answer: The Green Hornet
- Although this year's festivities were postponed due to COVID-19, the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, normally hosts an annual festival that commemorates the 1966 sightings of what paranormal figure? Answer: Mothman
Just who is the Mothman? According to Wikipedia, it's part of West Virginia folklore. Mothman is "a creature reportedly seen in the Point Pleasant area from November 15, 1966, to December 15, 1967. The first newspaper report was published in the Point Pleasant Register dated November 16, 1966, titled "Couples See Man-Sized Bird ... Creature ... Something." The national press soon picked up the reports and helped spread the story across the United States."
So, according to Wikipedia, the "Mothman was introduced to a wider audience by Gray Barker in 1970 and was later popularized by John Keel in his 1975 book The Mothman Prophecies, claiming that there were supernatural events related to the sightings, and a connection to the collapse of the Silver Bridge."
Of course, you need to keep up with entomology meetings and legendary entomologists as well to compete in the Entomology Games. Some of this year's questions:
- What four-word phrase is the theme of next year's International Congress of Entomology? Answer: "Entomology for Our Planet"
- What taxonomist was named an ESA Fellow in 1924 in honor of her numerous contributions to the classification of Microlepidoptera? Answer: Annette Frances Braun
- Thaddeus Harris is often called the "father of economic entomology" in the US. What other 19th century entomologist is known as the "father of economic entomology" in Canada? Answer: James Fletcher
- What Harvard professor wrote the 1795 book "The Description and Life History of the Cankerworm" and is sometimes referred to as the first American entomologist? Answer: William D. Peck