Entomology

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Mike Richardson, Entomologist, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Honolulu, Hawaii
Demonstration of how an entomologist catches small insects. Two tubes are connected with wire mesh covering one end in the middle. Suck on one end to collect the insects, then blow them out into a vial. Be sure the mesh is secured before sucking…

While on a hike, Sam and I spotted a huge moth about 5cm in length. After researching the moth on the internet and at the library, I couldn’t identify it. I called around and eventually connected with Mike, pictured above. He suggested it was probably an introduced variety – not native to Hawaii. I was intrigued by his job and asked if we could come meet him and learn more about what he does. The following are notes from our “interview,” conducted on April 11, 2008.

Mike has always been interested in bugs. He earned his undergraduate degree in Biology and Entomology at New Mexico State University. He came to Hawaii to earn a Master’s degree in Entomology at UH-Manoa and began work as a USFWS entomologist in 1998. His territory includes all the Hawaiian islands as well as Guam. His specific duties include work within the listing program whereby insects are designated endangered or threatened. He also makes recommendations for the recovery programs to help the insects regain a healthy population.

The industries which hire entomologists include pest control (namely termite control – a $400 million industry in Hawaii alone!), food service (food storage), forensic entomology, medical and military applications.

We talked about specific insects and their role here in the islands. Ants are the most troublesome. There are now at least 42 species of ants – all introduced. Ants are not native to the islands. They now typically arrive via shipments of plants and materials to nurseries. If you want to minimize the likelihood of centipedes around your island home, do not use bark mulch in your plant beds and remove loose lumber and wood material. Arthropods are often driven by moisture – they either come into your home or leave your home depending on the moisture level outside. They’ll come in if it has been really wet, or if it has been really dry. They don’t like to live in too much moisture because they are susceptible to fungus on their bodies. So they’ll come inside if it has been raining heavily. But they do need some moisture to survive, so extremely dry weather might drive them into your home as well.

Mike’s other interests include rock climbing and hiking. He owns the only complete climbing shop in the Pacific, Climb Aloha. Turns out he knows my uncle, Tom Rohrer, who is also an avid climber renowned from Yosemite’s Golden Age. Small world! Mike adopts bugs and critters of all kinds, as well as his latest adoption – a baby pig named “Jane.” She had been orphaned somehow, so Mike and his wife brought her home. We enjoyed stopping by to meet her and Sam was able to give her a bottle of milk. (She is a voracious eater!)

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Recommended reading:
Nischida Gordon’s “What’s Bugging Me?” and “What Bit Me?” (University of Hawaii Press)

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