Gene Kritsky to Give Founders’ Memorial Lecture

Lanham, MD; March 13, 2012 -- Dr. Gene Kritsky, a professor of biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, adjunct curator of entomology at the Cincinnati Museum Center, and editor-in-chief of American Entomologist, has been selected to deliver the Founders’ Memorial Award lecture at Entomology 2012 – the 60th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) – this November in Knoxville, Tennessee. This year’s honoree is Charles Darwin (1809-1882), whose theory of evolution by natural selection helped to transform entomology from a hobby for collectors to a science.

ESA established the Founders’ Memorial Award in 1958 to honor scientists whose lives and careers enhanced entomology as a profession and who made significant contributions to the field in general and in their respective subdisciplines. At each ESA Annual Meeting, the recipient of the award addresses the conferees to honor the memory and career of an outstanding entomologist. The theme of the 2012 ESA meeting, “A Global Society for a Global Science,” is exemplified by the work and influence of Kritsky and Darwin.

Dr. Gene Kritsky

Dr. Gene Kritsky is the author of over 125 peer-reviewed papers and six books, and is the lead scientist on five traveling museum exhibits. Dr. Kritsky received his B.A. in biology in 1974 from Indiana University, and received his M.S. and Ph.D. in 1976 and 1977, respectively, in entomology from the University of Illinois. His research has made significant contributions to our understanding of the history and evolution of periodical cicadas, the history of entomology, and apiculture. Dr. Kritsky has worked on periodical cicadas for 35 years and is the author of Periodical Cicadas: the Plague and the Puzzle. His specific contributions to our understanding of periodical cicada biology and evolution include his prediction in 2000 of a four-year acceleration of Brood X. That prediction proved true and permitted a detailed survey of off-year accelerations, which verified that such accelerations can result in populations that survive intense predation and are able to sing, mate, and reproduce. With the emergence of these cicadas in 2017, Dr. Kritsky will have documented the origin of a new brood in Ohio. His other findings have included the verification of the plasticity of nymphal cicada growth, the discovery of a 13-year brood in northern Kentucky and southwestern Ohio, and the development of a model to predict when in May a brood should emerge, permitting arboreta, parks, and cemeteries to schedule events accordingly. Finally, Dr. Kritsky, collaborating with Dr. George Poinar, Jr., co-described the oldest definitive fossil cicada nymph.

Dr. Kritsky’s apicultural contributions are focused on the history of beekeeping. He was a contributor to the American Bee Journal, and his most recent book, The Quest for the Perfect Hive, challenges the beekeeping industry to re-examine hive designs and practices for new innovations that could help deal with the many problems facing beekeeping today. The critically successful book was selected by Seed Magazine as a February 2010 “book to read now.” The Capital Area Beekeepers Association review read, "This is one of those books that will become a classic of beekeeping literature for its content, design, illustrations, and pure quality of the writing. No beekeeper should be without it." More recently, Dr. Kritsky completed a major review of beekeeping in ancient Egypt. This research started when he was a Fulbright scholar to Egypt during 1981-1982, and continued with more recent travels to Egypt and Europe. Dr. Kritsky also learned how to translate hieroglyphs to better interpret Egyptian reliefs, leading to a better understanding of how beekeeping was performed over 4,500 years ago. He also corrected earlier reconstructions of beekeeping scenes from two tombs. In addition to bees, Dr. Kritsky examined all the insects that played a role in Egyptian mythology, developing new explanations for their mythological importance. The quality of this work is documented by its inclusion as a reference in the Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt.

As a teacher, Dr. Kritsky has designed the entomology courses at three institutions and coauthored an entomology textbook for undergraduate biology students. He has published over 25 papers with undergraduate student coauthors, and this has encouraged several students to seek advanced entomology degrees. In 1985, Dr. Kritsky received the College of Mount St. Joseph’s highest teaching award, and he received the College’s Alumni Appreciation award in 1999. His efforts to promote science education through the National Association of Academies of Science were responsible for his election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Kritsky’s teaching is not limited to the classroom setting. He has served as a consultant for several television programs, including Sir David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth and Supersense. He has appeared on several news programs, including the CBS Evening News, ABC Evening News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, A&E’s Biography, and CBS Sunday Morning. In 2004, he was America Online’s cicada expert for the Brood X emergence, and his cicada website received over 7 million hits. He also served as the lead scientist for the Cincinnati Museum’s Center’s traveling exhibits “The Weakening Web,” “In the Dark,” and “Beakman’s World.”

Kritsky has published on Darwin for 35 years, and he has worked closely with members of the Darwin family on a number of projects. During 2001-2002, he spent his sabbatical at Cambridge University working with the Darwin Correspondence Project to transcribe Darwin’s research notes for The Descent of Man, a publication with numerous insect references. This project led to his appointment as a contributing editor of the American Museum of Natural History’s Darwin manuscripts project, and Dr. Kritsky’s Descent transcription has been published online by AMNH. In 2008, he published a review of the 19th-century entomological reaction to Darwin’s Origin of Species in the Annual Review of Entomology. Dr. Kritsky’s work on Darwin has received international attention with features appearing in Scientific American, Discover, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel. His ESA publication on Darwin’s Madagascan hawk moth was selected by several organizations as one of the top zoology news stories of 1993. Dr. Kritsky curated the exhibit “Charles Darwin: a Portrait Biography” in 1985; it has been on exhibit for the past 27 years, including at the ESA meeting in Dallas and the AAAS meeting in Los Angeles. It was exhibited for extended periods at over 20 museums, including the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and in Darwin’s bedroom at Down House. It is currently on extended loan to the University of Nebraska State Museum. In 2009, Dr. Kritsky curated the exhibit “Darwin’s rEvolution” for the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History as part of the celebration of the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth.

Charles Darwin

Although some may not think of Darwin as an entomologist, in fact he published numerous articles on insects, used entomological examples to support his theories of species origin and sexual selection, and made countless references to insects in his books. Fifty years ago, the Annual Review of Entomology featured an article on Darwin’s contributions to entomology, in which the authors noted that the Origin of Species contains about 50 references to insects, including Darwin’s own observations on the similarity of British and Brazilian fresh water insects, the importance of insects as pollinators (a topic he later expounded on in his book, On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects), and the evolution of cellmaking in honey bees, among other topics. The authors asserted that, “Darwin’s direct contributions to entomology during his lifetime were outstanding,” adding that his theory of evolution “has had a profound impact on the direction of entomological research.” Darwin drew on insects extensively for The Descent of Man and cited 85 entomologists whose work encompassed the globe. In Insectivorous Plants, he discussed the types of insects captured by the various plants. Darwin also advanced research in the discipline by reviewing favorably and encouraging the work of his entomological colleagues H.W. Bates, Alfred Russel Wallace, and John Lubbock. A list of publications resulting from the insects Darwin collected, including those from his five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, is available online.

Darwin’s interest in insects extended back to when he was ten years old and noticed insects along the English coast. By the time he entered Christ College in Cambridge, he was an avid collector, hiring young boys to procure specimens for his collection. He had a special cabinet built to house his beetle collection, and provided new county records for James Francis Stephen’s Illustrations of British Insects. He maintained a friendly but fierce competition for insect collecting with his cousin, and collected with the Reverend Frederick William Hope, who established the entomology professorship at the University of Oxford. Darwin was a charter member of the Entomological Society of London (later the Royal Entomological Society) and was an honorary member of the Entomological Society of France. He had direct contact (correspondence and/or personal meetings) with previous ESA Founders’ honorees C.V. Riley, J.H. Comstock, and B.D. Walsh.

Darwin continued this avid interest in collecting while traveling around the world on the HMS Beagle. It was during this time that Professor Hope wrote to Darwin that he had been named a charter member of the newly formed Entomological Society of London. Upon reading this, Darwin informed his cousin, “I look at the Orange Cross [the society’s crest] as the emblem of Entomological Knighthood.”

After his return to England, Darwin began to use insects as evidence for his research on species. To verify his assumptions, Darwin wrote to entomologists all over the world with questions about species diversity, honey bee comb construction, insect-plant associations, and insect sexual dimorphism. With the publication of his On the Origin of Species in 1859, he included numerous insect examples to support his views on ecological relationships, instincts, and speciation. This work inspired entomologists like no other work before or since. Henry Bates used it to develop his theory on mimicry. Benjamin Walsh, the Founders’ Memorial Award honoree for 1987, was a classmate of Darwin’s, and was inspired to apply Darwin’s work to his own research. Walsh became one of Darwin’s strongest allies in the 1860s and his greatest American proponent, challenging Louis Agassiz at every opportunity.

Darwin’s impact on entomology in the U.S. grew during the 1860s. Charles V. Riley, the second ESA Founders’ Memorial Award honoree (honored in 1959), visited Darwin at Darwin’s home outside of London. Riley peppered his annual reports with numerous observations that supported Darwin’s views. The third Founders’ Memorial Award honoree, John H. Comstock (honored in 1960), corresponded with Darwin and also sent Darwin his cotton report. Darwin corresponded with many of the early American entomologists, including Alpheus Packard and Samuel Scudder, inviting the latter to visit him in England. Darwin’s influence on many of the later Founders’ Memorial Award honorees can be seen in their writings. Vernon Kellogg (honored in 1973) and Herbert H. Ross (honored in 1981) wrote textbooks on evolutionary biology. Robert E. Snodgrass (honored in 1969) and T. D. A. Cockerell (honored in 1978) both applied evolution to their work on insect morphology and paleoentomology, respectively. Darwin’s entomology was not limited to On the Origin of Species. His book On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects documented insect-plant coevolution, and The Descent of Man included two chapters discussing sexual dimorphism in insects. For Darwin, entomology was a global science, and American entomologists are still feeling his impact today.

The Entomological Society of America (ESA) is the largest organization in the world serving the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and people in related disciplines. Founded in 1889, ESA today has more than 6,000 members affiliated with educational institutions, health agencies, private industry, and government. Members are students, researchers, teachers, extension service personnel, administrators, marketing representatives, research technicians, consultants, and hobbyists. For more information, please visit