- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
"Him" is Vernard Lewis, who terminated termites, bugged bed bugs, and controlled cockroaches.
As Pamela Kan Rice, assistant director of News and Information Outreach, University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) wrote in her wonderful feature story this week on his retirement:
"He built a villa for termites, delighted school children with giant cockroaches, did “time” at San Quentin State Prison, traveled the world looking at insects and, in 2016, Vernard Lewis was inducted into the Pest Management Professionals' Hall of Fame. On July 1, UC Berkeley's first African American entomologist retired from a 35-year career as an urban entomologist, the last 26 years as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist."
We asked Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, and integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology and a past president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA), for their comments:
"Vernard was The Expert for anything termite in California," Kimsey said. "He was the best; knowledgeable, personable and engaged. I'm really annoyed that he retired."
Can you imagine anyone building a home, Villa Termiti, just for termites? Or, rather, to do research?
Wrote Pam Kan-Rice:
"In the early 1990s, the UC Cooperative Extension specialist needed a place to test drywood termite detection and control methods. The College of Natural Resources wasn't keen on infesting a building with destructive pests near UC Berkeley's historic buildings, but ultimately allowed Lewis to construct the Villa Termiti in Richmond, about six miles north of campus."
"Villa Termiti has since hosted ants, subterranean termites, wood-boring beetles, and bed bugs for subsequent research projects."
Lewis, born in Minnesota and the oldest of 10 children, gleefully recalled his fascination with bugs when he moved from Minnesota to Fresno to live with his grandparents for six years. “California has a lot more bugs because Minnesota is frozen six months out of the year,” he said wryly. “During recess, while other kids were kicking balls, I was catching grasshoppers and feeding them to harvester ants.”
Lewis was also known for mentoring young scientists at UC Berkeley and stimulating children's interest in science. He joined the Oakland Unified School District's City Bugs project to educate K-12 school teachers and students about insects, life sciences and biodiversity.
He liked to bring live props and engage his audience. He recalled the time in 1993 when he brought a Madagascar hissing cockroach to show to 300 students at Claremont Middle School, Oakland. You guessed it. The center of attention escaped and both the cockroach and the kids ran for cover. (Well, they ought to visit the Madagascar hissing cockroaches in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. The roaches are part of the insect museum's live "petting zoo.")
Vernard Lewis led a fascinating and productive life. Be sure to read Kan-Rice's entire piece on Vernard Lewis on the UC ANR blog.
You'll note that:
- He showed his can-do attitude with: “My high school counselor said I wasn't bright enough to go to college. I took offense to that,” said Lewis, recalling his high scores on IQ tests administered in the 1950s and 1960s. “I asked him what was the best university in the country. He said, ‘UC Berkeley,' so I decided to go there.”
- He went on to receive three degrees from UC Berkeley: his bachelor of science degree in agricultural sciences in 1975; his master's degree in entomology in 1979; and his doctorate in entomology in 1989.
- He was fondly known as "Killer" at San Quentin Prison because as head of vector control (contract work), he exterminated bed bugs and cockroaches there from 1986 through 1988.
- The ESA featured him in its book “Memoirs of Black Entomologists,” published to spotlight African-American entomologists and to encourage black students to pursue careers in the life sciences.
Bottom line: UC ANR has lost a great scientist, researcher, collaborator, colleague and friend to retirement. Lynn Kimsey is still annoyed that he retired, but the termites, bedbugs and cockroaches--not so much.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The Extension apiculturist, aka "honey bee guru," officially retired at the end of June after a 38-year academic career. A native of New York, he joined the faculty of the UC Davis Department of Entomology (now the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology) in 1976 after receiving his doctorate in entomology from the University of Minnesota.
He's known not only as the "honey bee guru," but “the pulse of the bee industry" and as "the go-to person" when consumers, scientists, researchers, students, and the news media have questions about honey bees.
Mussen was just named the recipient of the 2013-14 Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Extension from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), a well-deserved honor.
For nearly four decades, he has devoted his research and extension activities toward the improvement of honey bee health and honey bee colony management practices.
His nominators wrote that what sets Dr. Mussen apart from his Extension-specialist peers are these seven attributes:
- His amazing knowledge of bees
- His excellent communication skills in a diverse clientele, including researchers, Extension personnel, legislators, commodity boards, grower organizations, pesticide regulators, students, news media, and beekeeping associations at the national, state and local levels,
- His eagerness to help everyone, no matter the age or stature or expertise, from an inquiring 4-H'er to a beginning beekeeper to a commercial beekeeper
- His ability to translate complicated research in lay terms; he's described as “absolutely the best”
- His willingness—his “just-say-yes” personality---to go above and beyond his job description by presenting multiple talks to every beekeeping association in California, whether it be a weekday, evening or weekend, and his willingness to speak at a wide variety of events, including pollinator workshops, animal biology classes, UC activities and fairs and festivals
- His reputation for being a well-respected, well-liked, honest, and unflappable person with a delightful sense of humor; and
- His valuable research, which includes papers on antiobiotics to control American foulbrood; fungicide toxicity in the almond orchards; the effect of light brown apple moth mating pheromone on honey bees; the effects of high fructose corn syrup and probiotics on bee colonies; and the invasion and behavior of Africanized bees. He is often consulted on colony collapse disorder and bee nutrition.
"Without question, Eric is the No. 1 Extension person dealing with honey bees in the nation, if not the world," said MacArthur Genus Awardee Professor Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Apiculture/Social Insects at the University of Minnesota. "Research colleagues, beekeepers and the public are all very lucky to have him.”
"I am basically all pro-bee,” Mussen told the American Bee Journal in a two-part feature story published in September of 2011. “Whatever I can do for bees, I do it...It doesn't matter whether there is one hive in the backyard or 15,000 colonies. Bees are bees and the bees' needs are the bees' needs.”
That says it all in a nutshell--or a bee hive.
What next? Eric Mussen will be around the UC Davis campus--his office in Briggs Hall and the bee lab at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility--to help the new apiculturist, Elina Lastro Niño of Pennsylvania State University get adjusted when she arrives in September. She's known for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics. (See news story on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
We rather expect that Mussen will continue to be involved with the bees. Maybe he'll write a book on California beekeeping, or update the one he co-authored years ago.
That could very well "bee."
Great job, Eric Mussen! A tip of the veil!