Legendary entomologist Richard M. Bohart, world-renowned for his expertise on wasps and mosquitoes during a 33-year career at the University of California, Davis, has received the International Society of Hymenopterists (ISH) Distinguished Research Medal, one of three ever awarded.
Hymenoptera is an order of insects including bees, wasps and ants.
Bohart, 92, was honored at a special ceremony on Monday, May 15, in Briggs Hall. The reception drew more than 50 former students and colleagues from throughout the United States, including Washington D.C., Kansas, Arizona, Oregon and California.
During his career, Bohart identified more than one million mosquitoes and wasps, many now in the R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology on campus; authored 230 separate publications; and wrote six books on mosquitoes and wasps.
Bohart, who played on the UC Berkeley football team in the 1930s, cast an imposing figure on the UC Davis campus, said UC Davis entomology professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the campus museum that bears his name.
"Everyone was convinced that he ate undergraduates for breakfast," said Kimsey, an undergraduate student in 1972 who later became his graduate student and teaching assistant for his systematics class.
"Even though we all viewed Doc with awe and fear. his enthusiasm is what got me hooked on wasp taxonomy," said Kimsey, "I didn't really have a specific group that I was interested in until I met him."
"All of his students went on to be quite successful," she said. "They dominated the field for a generation."
Kimsey said that Bohart and his first wife, Margaret (who died in January 1994) "were incredibly generous people. They never turned away anyone who needed help, financially or a place to stay. He was very active in the campus community. He was a good role model."
The couple, who had no children of their own, established the Richard and Margaret Bohart Endowment Fund to support the museum.
Retired entomologist Paul Marsh, of North Newton, Kan., who studied under Bohart beginning in 1957, said he is "extremely grateful for his influence on my career and his training and encouragement during my student days at Davis."
Marsh said Bohart's first love was wasps, and his second love was students. "He was always there when we needed advice or direction and always had words of encouragement when needed. No other professor in my college days had this combination of love for insects and for the students as did Dick."
Bohart retired in 1979 and lived in Davis until just a few years ago. He now resides in Hercules, Contra Costa County, with his wife, Elizabeth Arias.
Bohart gratefully received the medal, and quipped that the photo on the invitation, taken four decades ago, didn't look much like him.
The coveted medal has been given only to Bohart; Charles D. Michener at University of Kansas, Lawrence; and Zdenek Boucek at the Natural History Museum, London.
Bohart delighted in meeting his former students and colleagues. "Dick recognized faces and who they were, but couldn't remember all the names," said Robert Washino, chair of the Department of Entomology, who co-authored three editions of Mosquitoes of California with Bohart.
"He saw me and said 'Washino, Washino!'"
James M. Carpenter, curator of hymenoptera at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, described Bohart as a "giant among hymenopterists."
"His combination of publications (both quantity and quality), collection building, and student training (many of whom are distinguished scholars; leading scientists in their own right) is unsurpassed among the world's leading hymenopterists of the last century," Carpenter wrote in a nomination letter.
Bohart, born Sept. 28, 1913, in Palo Alto, received three degrees in entomology, including his doctorate in 1938, from UC Berkeley, where he also played on the Cal Bears' football team with his brother, George.
He served as an instructor at UCLA from 1938 to 1941, before joining the U.S. Navy Medical Corps in 1941. Following military service, he joined the UC Davis faculty as an assistant professor in 1946, later becoming a professor and department chair. He taught several thousand students, including numerous graduate students.
Bohart taught not only entomology, medical entomology and general entomology, but also systematics and agricultural economics.
Bohart chaired the Department of Entomology from 1956 to 1965. He spent his sabbatical on entomological expeditions, visiting museums and collecting insects. In 1960 alone, he visited 21 museums in Europe and eastern United States. His other expeditions took him to South Africa, South America and Australia.
The Bohart Museum, founded in 1946 and dedicated to teaching, research and service, houses some seven million specimens in its worldwide collection. Located at 1124 Academic Surge, it has the seventh largest insect collection in North America and the second largest university collection, after Harvard.
The Bohart collection focuses on terrestrial and fresh water invertebrates and is home to the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity of California's deserts, mountains, coast and central valley.
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The students he trained continue his legacy
Many of Richard Bohart's students became recognized hymenopterists in their own fields.
They include a former chief and research leader of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory, U. S. Department of Food and Agriculture, Washington D. C. as well as four research entomologists with the same laboratory; the former chief of USDA's Bee Biology and Systematic Laboratory, Logan, Utah; the former supervisory research entomologist of the Division of Vector-borne Viral Diseases, Ft. Collins, Colo.; a former dean of the college of agriculture, Universidad de Zulia, Maracaibo, Venezuela; a former chair of the UC Riverside Department of Entomology; professors in various universities throughout the country; and entomologists in state agricultural departments.
Bohart's former students, Arnold Menke of the Ammophila Research Institute, Bisbee, Ariz., and Eric Grissell of the Systematic Entomology Lab, with the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture in Washington, D.C., said he "contributed substantially to the world literature of the order, including two landmark books, Sphecid Wasps of the World (with A. S. Menke) and The Chrysidid Wasps of the World (with L.S. Kimsey)."
"Bohart developed one of the finest collections of western Nearctic Hymenopteria in the world," they wrote in a letter of support. "A great deal of this material was obtained through his own energetic collecting and his support of collecting by his students."
They said that Bohart "began his entomological experiences at age 7 with a butterfly collection," and then studied Strepsiptera (Ph.D thesis) and mosquitoes (Naval Medical Research Unit).