Insects and a Short History of
the People Who Study Them
Entomology is defined in most dictionaries as that aspect of zoology
that deals with the study of insects -- in other words, living creatures
popularly known as bugs.
Historically, the study of insects was not a separate field of study.
Insects were studied along with plants and other animals as one aspect
of biology. One of the first and, to this day, one of the greatest biologists
was Aristotle. Aristotle was a great observer, and he included some insects
in his writings. However, in the time that Aristotle lived (384 - 322
B.C.), there were no magnification instruments. This meant that it was
more difficult to observe the small insects than it was larger creatures,
such as fish, birds and whales!
Some 1,800 years after Aristotle, individuals known as naturalists began
to study living things. None of the early naturalists specialized in insects,
but several were very interested in these six-legged arthropods. For instance,
Aldrovandi, while working at a university in Bologna, produced an elaborately
illustrated treatise on insects. Shortly thereafter in 1634, Thomas Moufet
published his "Theatre of Insects" in Latin. The book was published
in English in 1658 and still exists. It was the first book devoted entirely
Karl Linnaeus is well known as the developer of the system of classification
of living things that we use today. Linnaeus named a number of insects
during the course of his work. Charles Darwin was a keen observer of insects
throughout his career. The amazing diversity of insects in form and function
certainly influenced the thinking of Darwin, leading to his landmark book
"The Origin of the Species."
It is not clear when a scientist first focused his energies entirely
on insects. By the late 18th century, a number of European naturalists
were active and some are today called entomologists. In the United
States, F. V. Melsheimer, a Lutheran clergyman, made
the first important collection of insects and wrote the first entomological
work. His publication was the only one available in the United
States for 25 years. Melsheimer has been called the
father of American entomology.
Another early entomologist was Thomas Say who began his career in the
Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. He served as a naturalist on
the Long expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Eventually, he moved to the
socialist community at New Harmony, Indiana, and in 1824 published the
first volume of his "American Entomology."
Up until the mid-1800s, most entomologists were not trained in that field.
Entomologists were many times working in other fields. Physicians and
ministers were common occupations of people known today as early entomologists
in this country. That began to change with the introduction of entomology
courses at major universities.
One of the first teachers of entomology was H. A. Hagen at Harvard. He
trained a number of graduate students who developed the first university
courses in entomology in the United States.
One of his students was John Henry Comstock. Comstock started teaching
entomology at Cornell and is considered the first teacher of entomology
in the United States. The syllabus
of his lectures was first published in 1876 and was the prototype of his
textbook, "An Introduction to Entomology."
Comstock trained a number of entomologists who themselves went out to
teach entomology at other universities. Today, most colleges and universities
have entomology courses taught by entomologists. After all, entomology
is the study of insects.