Louis M. Roth, ESA Fellow (1952)

Dr. Louis M. Roth (deceased 9 June 2003), a researcher at the U.S. Research and Development Laboratories and Harvard University, was elected as Fellow in 1952. He studied mosquitoes for a large portion of his career, but later focused on cockroaches. His shift to cockroach research led to his status as a world-renowned expert on cockroach behavior, physiology, and systematics.

Roth was born on 14 March 1918. In 1938, he received his B.S. degree from New York University and remained there to pursue his M.S., which he received in 1939. He received his Ph.D. from Ohio State University in 1947. He married Edna Stepak, and they had one son, Marc.

Dr. Roth began his entomology career testing mosquitoes for malaria in the Army Medical Corp during WWII. His work eventually led to heading a malaria survey unit in Okinawa, Japan. After receiving his Ph.D., Dr. Roth gained employment in the entomology laboratory at the U.S. Research and Development Laboratories in Natick, MA. In Natick, he continued to study mosquitoes for the next 30 years with a focus on behavior and physiology, rather than their role as disease vectors.

While in Natick, he became interested in cockroaches because of their importance to the military and the relative ease of their rearing procedures. He continued to study behavior and physiology; however, taxonomy began to play a larger role in his work. He was granted an office at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology after he formally retired from the U.S. Research and Development Laboratories in 1977. At Harvard, he identified 400 previously undescribed cockroach species sent to him from researchers around the world and from his own field expeditions.

He named 20 cockroach genera, often after his friends, and co-authored several books, including The Biotic Associations of Cockroaches, co-authored with Edwin R. Willis, and Cockroaches: Ecology, Behaviour and Natural History, which he wrote with William J. Bell and Christine A. Nalepa. He also published over 40 papers during a period of over 30 years on cockroaches, covering a range of topics including behavior, systematics, physiology, and new species descriptions. He received the Thomas Say Award in 1995, which recognizes outstanding achievement in insect systematics.

His affection for the often-loathed cockroach extended to his personal life; he frequently hid cockroaches in his pockets when attending social gatherings, much to the surprise of the other guests. His devotion to his work was evident in his reluctance to embrace retirement; he continued to work, without pay, seven days of most weeks, arriving at the museum shortly after 5:00 a.m., even into his 80s.

(Updated May, 2012)