Charles D. Michener, ESA Fellow (1944)

Dr. Charles D. Michener was made a Fellow of ESA in 1944.
He is best known as a specialist on the systematics and evolution of bees, including their social and nesting behavior.

Michener was born on 22 September 1918 and raised in Pasadena, California. With the encouragement of his parents, particularly his zoologist mother, he became interested in natural history and spent time in the nearby desert and mountains, drawing and painting. His first major efforts at age 10 were watercolors of native flowers. When finding new species of flowers became difficult, he started drawing insects, at first in pencil, later in ink. Thus before leaving high school he knew the orders and many families of insects, both by appearance and morphology, and had interacted with professional entomologists, T.D.A. Cockerell and P.H. Timberlake, in the field and their laboratories. He published his first papers on bees in 1935. Michener entered the University of California, Berkeley in 1936. Although an undergraduate, he worked among graduate students, and was encouraged to continue working on bees. He graduated with a B.S. in 1939 and received a Ph.D. in 1942. His thesis, with supplements, was published in 1944, a work that has influenced bee classifications for many years. From 1942–1948, he was assistant curator of Lepidoptera at the American Museum of Natural History, undertaking a major reclassification of saturniid moths. He also served in the U.S. Army, from 1943–1946, mostly investigating chigger mite biology and control in Panama. In 1948, he moved to the University of Kansas' (KU) Entomology Department as an associate professor, becoming professor and department chair in 1949. He continued as chairman at KU from 1949–1961 and from 1972–1975, retired in 1989, but continues doing research and publishing on bee systematics.

He has trained over 80 M.S. and Ph.D. students. Students and associates have co-authored many of Michener’s 453 published papers and books. His major works on bees range from the 1944 paper based on his Ph.D. thesis, to his 2007 book, The Bees of the World. Behavioral and life history studies were also major facets of Michener’s work. These included field and laboratory work on allodaoine bees (Old World, mostly tropical) and halictine bees (sweat bees), groups with solitary as well as social species, studied because they illustrate stages in the evolution of social behavior and the worker caste.

Michener has received numerous awards and honors including: John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowships in 1955 and 1966; Watkins Distinguished Professorship, KU, 1958–1989; elected member, U.S. National Academy of Science, 1965; and in 2000, the Hawkins Award of the Association of American Publishers. He has served as president of the Kansas Entomological Society, Society for the Study of Evolution, American Society of Naturalists, and International Union for the Study of Social Insects.

Without the help and cooperation of his late wife, Mary, who traveled with him to every continent except Antarctica, usually with their four children, his work would have been reduced in quantity and quality. 

(updated March, 2015)