Every scientific field of study has its pioneers. Whether it is physics, biology or engineering, there are numerous American Nobel Prize winners that the public is familiar with. Names like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are associated with physics, but what about entomology? We do not often hear about brilliant entomologists, but who knows why? There have been a few notable individuals who have largely shaped the study of modern entomology. But one individual in particular stands out. The insect control industry is dominated by control methods that were studied thoroughly by one single guy. This guy’s name is Vernard Lewis, and he was especially focused on developing new methods of termite control. Lewis earned his doctorate in entomology and he is a former employee of the University of California Cooperative Extension; currently Lewis is an emeritus professor. In addition to exploring alternative methods of termite control, Lewis studied the efficacy of termite control methods that had been common during his time.
The bulk of Lewis’ work has been dedicated to stamping out structural insect pests. Bed bugs and wood-boring beetles were a big part of Lewis’ research, but termites were always priority. Lewis has published more than one hundred and fifty papers that are related to termites and termite control. Lewis was also chosen to head up a team of termite control professionals for the United Nations. This group became the UN’s Global Termite Expert Group. The team became known as the “dream team”, and they were tasked with helping developing nations avoid termite-related issues in their crops and structures. Starting in 1993 Lewis was given a grant so that he could develop alternative termite control methods. Lewis explored sticky-traps, microwaves and high heat as methods of termite control, but eventually Lewis concluded that full-building fumigations made for the most reliable form of termite control. According to Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis, nobody knows as much about termites as Lewis does, and she referred to him as the “iconic urban entomologist”. Lewis has recently retired at the age of sixty six.
Do you think that termite control methods are easier to develop now than they were during the nineties given the rapid advancements in technology that have taken place since then?
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