So where did my fascination with insects start?
It was probably with my first ant farm. Observing the precision of insect social behavior is still amazing to me. Also, as I started to read about insects, the success of these animals became very clear. The similarity of today’s insects with their prehistoric relatives has given me the appreciation of just how perfect they are. They have been able to withstand incredible climatic changes over millions of years and are still virtually unchanged. They have withstood a millennia of human attempts to irradicate them, but they still exist and are thriving.
I was always interested in the biological sciences in school. While completing my Bachelors degree in Biology, I took my first entomology course. I was surprised at that point to find you could go on and get a graduate degree in entomology and actually have career working with insects.
I was fortunate enough to be accepted to the graduate program at Rutgers University which gave me a solid grounding in the diversity, physiology, behavior and chemical means to control of insect pests. The regulatory requirements to provide such control was also studied and served to broaden my understanding of the specific requirements necessary to ensure commercialization of both effective and safe means of insect control.
A specific area of pesticide chemistry that was interesting was that of Insect Growth Regulators (IGR’s). These are unique chemicals and offer a completely different way of controlling insect pests without using traditional pesticides that can also affect mammals. Looking deeper, IGR’s mimic insect hormones and work to block an insect from molting and reaching a more mature stage of life. Because mammals do not grow up this way, there is no affect on them. Being insect specific is great, but their long term effectiveness at extremely low levels is also a significant benefit.
Studying insects was great, but starting a career doing the same thing was unbelievable. My career started working in the Black Flag insecticides laboratory. This consumer brand focused on controlling household pests. It was extremely rewarding to be able to visit test locations and then test the effectiveness of new formulas I had developed. There were opportunities to go out in the field to observe insect populations in the wild, examine their behavior and work with colleagues to come up with new and different ways to control pests invading homes and causing harm to humans and pets.
I remember going out into the fields of Georgia to study fire ants. Having grown up in New Jersey, I had never come in contact with them. I wondered how could such a small ant cause any kind of significant harm. So I decided to experience the effect they had buy picking one up and letting it sting my wrist. It was smaller than the typical pavement ant you might see in the narrow cracks in a sidewalk. After I let it sting me, it bothered me a bit, but it did not take much longer for me to feel the burning for which they get their name. The sting was painful for several days and then gradually the raised welt faded away. It gave me an appreciation for the people and animals that may be stung by several if not many fires ants and the need for effective control measures.
While working on control measure for carpenter ants, I carried on with my early interest in ant farms. At her request, I ran trail tubes from the carpenter ant colony in my lab, through the ceiling into the R&D Vice President’s office so she could observe the ants foraging for food up close.
For many people, I would guess the thought of pursuing the field of entomology might seem a bit strange. But everyone has a bug story and I find when at social events, if someone finds out I am an entomologist, the questions start to flow – because everyone hates bugs. And pet owners especially hate fleas and ticks.
A few years ago, I joined Hartz Mountain Corporation. This job has combined my interest in entomology and pest control along with my love for animals. Growing up, my family always had pets. Cats and dogs, a few turtles, fish and birds shared our home. My first job that lasted through high school and into college years, was as a veterinarian assistant. Working along side the veterinarian and assisting with examinations and surgeries was very rewarding. But there were times when we would see a cat and dog suffering from the painful effects for parasites.
At Hartz, I get to continue my research in pesticide chemistry along with bringing a benefit to companion animals and to pet owners. The work we are doing in Hartz R&D is very rewarding to me knowing we are helping pet owners by giving them the means to provide better protection for pets against harmful parasites.
Lance, Research and Development