Dr. Richard L. Hellmich, ESA Fellow (2020)

Richard L. HellmichDr. Richard L. Hellmich, lead scientist with the USDA–ARS, Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research Laboratory, and affiliate professor of entomology at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, was elected Fellow in 2020. He is an internationally recognized leader in the environmental risk assessment of genetically engineered crops and insect resistance management (IRM).

Hellmich was born in Cut Bank, Montana, and raised in Greensburg, Indiana, the oldest of 10 children. He received a B.A. in zoology from DePauw University (1977). An entomology class at DePauw sparked his interest in insects, especially bees. He earned his M.S. (1980) and Ph.D. (1983) from the Ohio State University, both under the direction of Walter Rothenbuhler, studying honey bee behavior and genetics. He then spent eight years studying the reproductive behavior of Africanized bees in Venezuela and Guatemala, while working at the USDA–ARS Honey Bee Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In 1991, he redefined his research at Iowa State University to support his wife's career and then, after three years, started as a research entomologist at his current position. Leaving his bee colleagues was challenging, but he quickly found a welcoming community of corn insect scientists.

Hellmich's research has extended over four decades and has resulted in more than 160 journal articles and book chapters and more than 50 technical articles. He was the first to select for high and low pollen-hoarding honey bees, which has since become a pillar for deciphering honey bee behavior and understanding social evolution. His research with Africanized honey bees was fundamental for helping U.S. queen breeders produce quality honey bee queens in Africanized areas. With his corn insect research, he and a colleague, Gary Munkvold, were the first to show the important benefit of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn in lowering mycotoxin contamination due to reduced insect injury. Working with the EPA and the NC205 Regional Research Committee, he had a leading role in developing practical and science-based IRM strategies for Bt corn.

Hellmich also led a consortium of scientists from the U.S. and Canada to address the monarch butterfly and Bt-corn pollen issue. This collaboration resulted in a journal cover and five papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and had a major impact on EPA policy for Bt corn. For this work, he received the USDA Secretary's Honor Award and was the 2002 ARS Midwest Area Scientist of the Year. Recently, his research has focused on habitat restoration for monarch butterflies and bees.
Hellmich has had 45 international and 61 national invitations to speak and has had regular invitations to be on science advisory panels. He also has co-organized 10 international and 27 national symposia or workshops, many of these for ESA.

Hellmich has been married to Christine Cook for 32 years and is proud that his daughter, Allyse, is pursuing a career teaching biology. He and his wife enjoy traveling, wine tastings, growing butterfly and bee gardens, and video chatting with Allyse and their granddaughter, Sophia.

(updated September 2020)