Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Wasp Wednesday: Recent Mentors

I suppose that “recent” is a relative term, but I am delighted to report that the following gentlemen are all still alive and continuing to make very valuable contributions to science. They inspire me and make me a better entomologist and writer.

Arnold Menke, Eric Grissell, myself, Justin Schmidt

I was privileged to have the opportunity to work on a private contract to help curate the national butterfly collection at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) in April and May of 1986, where I got to meet two fine scholars working there on behalf of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Dr. Arnold Menke is a world authority on wasps, especially the thread-waisted wasps in the genus Ammophila. He currently has nearly all my specimens of that genus, in fact, as he is working on a much-needed revision of those caterpillar hunters. He retired to Bisbee, Arizona in the 1990s where he also enjoys railroad history and photography.

Dr. Edward Eric Grissell (he goes by “Eric,” too, which can cause confusion at Arnold’s annual hamburger roast) is an expert on tiny parasitic wasps in the suborder Chalcidoidea. Since many of those wasps are enemies of agricultural pests, Eric was a very busy man figuring out which species could help control food-destroying insects. Today, Eric is also “retired,” but writes full-time about insects and gardening. He has produced several outstanding popular books including Thyme on my Hands, Insects and Gardens: in Pursuit of a Garden Ecology, and Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens, all published by Timber Press.

Another remarkable individual is Justin Schmidt, known famously as the “King of Sting” for his exploits in assessing the effects of insect and arachnid venoms on willing human subjects, but mostly himself. He created the “Schmidt Sting Pain Index” to quantify and describe (in prose usually reserved for connoisseurs of wine) the type of pain inflicted by stinging insects. He worked for many years at the federal Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, before deciding to pursue his own projects full time. I greatly admire his endless curiosity, and ability to devise experiments to divine answers to his questions.

Matthias Buck

Last, but certainly not least, is Dr. Matthias Buck, currently the Assistant Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. I first met him online as I recall, since he freely shares his expertise on Eventually we met in person at a meeting of the Entomological Collections Network. His specialty is vespid wasps, which includes the yellowjackets, hornets, paper wasps, mason wasps and potter wasps. One of his most amazing projects is the co-creation of the Identification Atlas of the Vespidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata) of the Northeastern Nearctic Region, along with Stephen A. Marshall and David K. B. Cheung. Matthias has all my Polistes paper wasps, and has already found examples of an undescribed species among them.

I can honestly say that it is an honor to know these men both as scientists and human beings. I will be forever grateful to them for sharing their knowledge and encouraging me along the path that I have chosen.

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