Department of Entomology Newsletter | Fall 2021

Bug Bites

Message from Department Head, Sujaya Rao

Sujaya Rao


Fall 2021 was a mixed bag of sadness and success for the department. We lost a dear colleague, beloved teacher and mentor, Prof. Len Ferrington; he is greatly missed. In the ‘new normal’, the diversity in courses offered continued to draw undergraduate students across disciplines and led to dramatic increases in enrollments in courses and the Insect Science Minor! We welcomed new graduate students and staff during Fall Welcome, and connected with peers, alumni and friends during Entomology 2021 in October-November, the third Virtual UMN Ento Alumni Social in November and the Year End Bug Out in December. I am pleased to share with you our activities and successes.

Happy Reading! Send us your thoughts and ideas on this format, our successes and events – we welcome your feedback.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!


In Memoriam - Dr. Len Ferrington

Honoring and Remembering Dr. Len Ferrington, Professor in the Department of Entomology. 

Len Ferrington

He was a loving family man, mentor, traveler, exercise enthusiast, cyclist, boating captain, music aficionado, and ballroom dancer - a Modern Day Renaissance Man. He was an active and well-liked Professor and Mentor to hundreds of undergraduate and graduate level students at the University of Kansas and the University of Minnesota. He was most recently recognized with the prestigious Fulbright Fellow award and was planning to perform research in Finland for six months. 

Read more: Obituary

Memorial Gift

The department is coordinating a collective memorial gift at Belwin Conservancy at Afton where, annually, Len organized a field trip for students. The gifts will be used for ecopatch restoration of the beetle-damaged pine grove near the education center, and will include an interpretive sign recognizing Len and the work he did at Belwin. If you wish to contribute to this collective memorial gift for Len, while submitting you donation at, please indicate that it is a part of the UMN Entomology contribution for the Ecopatch.

Congratulations to our Summer & Fall Graduates!


Anh Tran


Tessa Durnin

M.S. in NRSM (Mentored by Brian Aukema in Entomology)

Grace Haynes

Welcoming New Graduate Students

M.S. Entomology 

Ellen Owusu Adjeiwaa

Chan Dolan

Megan Jones

Gloria Melotto

Sally Nelson

Ph.D. in other programs, mentored by Entomology Faculty

Jessica Rootes - NRSM

Undergraduate Education Successes

We continue to expand our undergraduate program and draw students from across the University of Minnesota into the amazing world of entomology. Student enrollment in Entomology courses this year was over 4 times higher than it was in 2016-2017. Across this same time period, the number of students enrolled in the Insect Science Minor increased from 10 to 28! We are also very proud to announce that 11 students are on pace to graduate this year from the Insect Science Minor, a high point for our program!

Our ability to attract new students is really a testament to the quality of our courses. This Fall our faculty offered 4 exciting Freshman Seminar courses. Ann Fallon’s new course “Toxins, Venoms and Drugs from Bugs” and Dan Cariveau’s “Got Bees? Declines and Conservation of Honey bees and Native bees” reached their enrollment caps within days! Our online courses also continued to draw students from across the University, with Matt Petersen’s “Insect Biology with Lab” and “How Insects Shape Society: Pollinators, Pests, and Policy” each reaching their cap of 100 students, and George Heimpel’s “The Six-legged Conquerors: How insects have shaped human history” reaching its cap of 40 students. These courses are a great way to expose incoming students to the fascinating work of insects and inspire them to enroll in the Insect Science Minor.

Insect Science Minor Spotlight

We are excited that the new Insect Science Minor continues to draw students. Enrollment reached a new high of 28 students in Fall 2021! Our students come from a diverse range of programs, but all share the same excitement for entomology and desire to explore the world of insects. 

Ben Ziegler (Major: Plant Science)

Ben Ziegler

"Shhhh, don’t tell my major professors, but the Insect Science Minor classes were the fun ones. I looked forward to every class that I took in the minor, because they were not only fun, wide-ranging, and interesting, but I knew they’d make me a more knowledgeable and useful team member in my Plant Science future. Learning how to identify, protect, and manage different pollinators, pests, and potential food sources opened up my worldview on how insects, plants, and people interact. I wouldn’t have gained any of this knowledge without the tremendous instruction and passion of the entomology department. They’re a real standup bunch of people that offered the freedom to explore what interested me in the world of insects and great facilitation to carry out my weirdo project ideas. I can’t wait to get out there and use my insect science skills! Thanks, Entomology Department!"



Insect Science Pathways Scholarship

We were excited to announce the launch of the Insect Science Pathways Scholarship! The goal of this program is to attract a diverse community of undergraduate students to the Insect Science Minor and help them become future entomologists. This program was generously supported through the financial support of current and former Department of Entomology Department Heads and has raised almost $12,000 to date. Currently we are working towards a funding goal of $25,000, which would allow us to offer multiple scholarships each year. Please support this program and give to the Insect Science Pathways Scholarship today!

Our first scholarship was awarded this Fall to Munira Adan, a junior Liberal Arts major at the University of Minnesota. Munira was drawn to the Insect Science Minor after enrolling in 2 entomology courses this fall. She is enrolled in 3 entomology courses for the Spring and will complete the Minor requirements in a year! Congratulations, Munira!

Munira Adan

“I choose to join the Insect Science Minor because the minor provides the opportunity to think critically and learn about something that I’m passionate about. I was able to find a nurturing environment with the department, and from this knew that I wanted to pursue an Insect Science minor. I hope to become a well-rounded individual with a positive outlook, and know that having an Insect Science Minor will help me achieve that.”


Give to the Entomology Pathways Scholarship today!


ESA Achievements & Honors

Congratulations to faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and alumni who received ESA awards, student competition prizes, and other honors during Entomology 2021!  


  • ESA Fellow
    • Dr. William Hutchison 

ESA Early Career Professional Recognition Symposium

  • Dr. Amelia Lindsey. Symposium: Parasite-mediated losses of sex in parasitoid wasps

Graduate Students

  • ESA student competition - 10-minute oral presentation
    • Dominique Ebbenga - First Place, P-IE Horticulture and General
    • Michelle Boone - First Place, P-IE Conservation and Invasive Species

ESA student competition - Poster

  • Hailey Shanovich - First Place, P-IE Behavior and Ecology

Undergraduate Students

  • ESA student competition - Virtual Poster
    • Eiley Kuhlmey - Second Place, P-IE and SysEB


  • ESA Distinguished Achievement in Teaching
    • Dr. Rebecca Simmons, Professor, Department of Biology, University of North Dakota
  • ESA Rising Stars of Entomology
    • Daniela Pezzini, PhD, Entomology, North Carolina State University

Alumni Spotlight

Adela Sarahí Oliva Chávez

Adela Sarahi Oliva Chavez

Dr. Adela Sarahí Oliva Chávez was a recent seminar presenter in the department. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. Her work was recently highlighted in an online spotlight by her university:

Adela came to the University of Minnesota through the MAST program, and completed both her Master’s (2008) and her PhD degrees (2014) in the tick lab under the mentorship of Prof. Uli Munderloh and Prof. Tim Kurtti. In her Master’s thesis, she showed that the tick-borne cattle pathogen Anaplasma marginale uses different variants of outer membrane protein 2 (MSP2) to infect bovine red blood cells, different tick cell lines and mammalian cell lines. At the time, it was thought that A. marginale only undergoes antigenic variation in cattle, so this was an unexpected and novel finding. For her PhD thesis, she analyzed the functions of two different proteins encoded by the related Anaplasma phagocytophilum, using mutagenesis, cell biology and molecular approaches. She initiated a collaboration with scientists at the Seattle Structural Genomics Center for Infectious Disease to solve the crystal structure of an enzyme encoded by one of the genes for which she had a mutant, a first for this pathogen.

Adela grew up on a cattle farm in Honduras, and most of her family members, including her grandfather, were farmers. However, her father has a degree in computer sciences and engineering, so she is not the first person in her family to go to college. As a kid, Adela spent much of her free time out in the fields, and often came home covered in ticks. This is where she saw firsthand the devastating effects ticks had on the health of cattle. Some of her family’s cattle were so weak from anemia induced by bovine anaplasmosis that they would collapse in the field. That is when she resolved to use science to find a solution to prevent or cure tick-borne diseases, and to ease suffering.  

Read more about Adela in Profiles in Diversity.

Rebecca Barr Simmons

Rebecca Barr Simmons

Rebecca (Becky) Simmons is the recipient of the 2021 ESA Distinguished Award for Teaching award. Congratulations, Becky!

Becky graduated with her Ph.D. from the Department of Entomology in 2001. Prior to her time in the department, Becky became fascinated with tiger moth behavior while working on her MS with Dr. Bill Conner at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. As she was finishing her degree, Becky called Dr. Susan Weller for advice on choosing a mentor and graduate program that where she could combine her interests in insect behavior with tiger moth phylogenetics. Susan told Becky to keep talking. Soon Becky and her husband, Kevin, moved to the Twin Cities, so she could pursue her Ph.D. as Susan’s first graduate student.

Rebecca Barr Simmons award

While at UMN, Becky collaborated with Dr. Rob Venette on a risk assessment involving a South American pest moth genus; he helped write a grant proposal that funded a three-year post-doctoral position with the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (USDA/ARS) in Beltsville, MD, and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH; Smithsonian Institution) in Washington, DC. During these three years, Becky used both morphological and DNA data to find cryptic species within the Copitarsia complex. Becky traveled to Central and South America several times for this project to collect these species, including Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Peru. Becky also continued to work with tiger moth taxonomy and systematics as side projects during that time and remains a research associate at the NMNH.

Becky and Kevin, along with their son Gareth, moved back to the Midwest in 2004 when Becky accepted a position at University of North Dakota as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. At UND, Becky teaches Evolution along with a variety of courses including General Biology, Senior Capstone Seminar, Advanced Evolutionary Analysis for graduate students. While Becky continues her work in lepidopteran systematics, she also has advised students and collaborated on projects involving feral pigs, wild horses, bats, and shorebirds. She has advised/co-advised four Ph.D. students and eight M.S. graduate students on these diverse projects. Recently, Becky has started examining the gut microbiome in native pollinators in the Northern Great Plains with undergraduates in her lab, focusing on comparing symbionts of syrphid flies with those of native bees.

Becky’s work also involves increasing the diversity of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. She is a co-investigator and educational coordinator for two consecutive NSF-S-STEM awards that total nearly 1.6 million dollars. The US MASTER program provides financial support and personalized mentoring for talented, minority students in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental Sciences & Geography, Mathematics and Physics & Astrophysics. As the educational coordinator, Becky teaches a book-club style seminar course that focuses on a new theme each fall. Students perform a group project in the following spring semester that allows them to work with the topic in a research environment. Becky works with students as they apply for scholarships and graduate programs in their disciplines. To date, Becky has worked with over 90 students in the US MASTER program over eleven years.

Becky is also an active member of the Entomological Society of America. She served as Treasurer (2008-10) and President (2021) for the Systematics, Evolution and Behavior Section. Becky’s undergraduate and graduate students present their research at each annual meeting. Becky also enjoys volunteering for the Entomology Games Committee and has co-authored articles for the American Entomologist. 

Becky is grateful for the mentorship she received from the faculty and students in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota. She hopes that she can honor people that helped her by guiding students as they pursue their professional goals in Entomology and other disciplines. 


UMN ENTO Alumni Social

UMN Ento Alumni Social

The 3rd Virtual UMN Ento Alumni Social was held on November 5. In lieu of the annual mixer at the ESA meeting, we hosted a Zoom gathering with 26 attendees. We remembered our dear colleague Prof. Len Ferrington, and shared updates on the Insect Science Pathways Scholarship launched earlier this year, and growing enrollments in our courses and undergraduate Minor. Students, faculty and alumni who received awards and recognitions during Entomology 2021 in Denver were recognized. Attendees interacted with Marla Spivak (Distinguished McKnight Professor and MacArthur Fellow) and Amy Alch (CFANS Senior Development Officer) in "The Bee Lab Buzz" breakout room, with Becky Simmons (Alumna and recipient of ESA Distinguished Award in Teaching) and Matt Petersen (Teaching Assistant Professor) in "Buzz about Teaching", and Laura Fricke (grad student recipient of Diversity of Views and Experiences Fellowship (DOVE) and CFANS Compact Second Year Funding) and Sujaya Rao (Department Head) in "Grad Fellow Buzz". Mark your calendars for the 4th Virtual UMN Ento Alumni Social to be held on April 1, 2022.

Year End Bug Out

The Department of Entomology hosted a virtual Year End Bug Out on December 10. Organized and emceed by Tammi Pekkala-Matthews, the exciting event included a Scavenger Hunt led by graduate student Dominique Ebbenga, a chance to exhibit your general and entomology knowledge in Trivia led by graduate Correy Hildebrand and emeritus professor Roger Moon, and amazing Bug Art organized by undergraduate Emily Klesel and Teaching Assistant Professor Matt Petersen. Overall, a very enjoyable experience!

Upcoming Events

Minne-College 2022, sponsored by the University of Minnesota Alumni Association

Open to all alumni and friends. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022, 12:30 pm to 5:15 pm. Virtual and in-person in Naples Florida.

Minne-College 2022 features a presentation by Sujaya Rao - Edible Insects: Food Security, Human Health, Environmental Stewardship, & New Business Opportunities

Stay tuned for details related to the following events which we hope will be in-person, covid-19 permitting:

Celebrate Entomology & Hodson Alumni Talks - Spring 2022

The Great Minnsect Show - Spring 2022

4th Virtual UMN Ento Alumni Social - April 1, 2022

Upcoming Retirements

After successful careers in the Entomology department, five faculty members will be retiring at different times in 2022 – Ken Ostlie at the end of January, David Andow at the end of Spring semester, Tim Kurtti in early summer, and Prof. Uli Munderloh and Prof. Ralph Holzenthal at the end of the year. Stay tuned for information on opportunities to celebrate their careers and wish them well in their retirement! 

Research News Spotlight

How One Entomologist Works to Bridge Molecular Mechanisms With Evolutionary Processes

American Bumblebee Population Dramatically Declines

Small Wonders

Small Wonders logo

Small Wonders is a monthly feature that profiles insects and other arthropods found in Minnesota. These articles are intended to inform interested laypersons and generate interest in entomology! Look out for our upcoming Small Wonder, the winter midge, Diamesa mendotae


Alumni, get involved! The UMN Alumni Association recently developed and funded the Maroon and Gold Network, a free, online platform for career-related advice and networking that has grown to more than 5,000 alumni and students in 44 countries and 46 states plus Washington DC! 

Join the Maroon & Gold Network today!

Hodson Graduate Alumni Award

The Hodson Graduate Alumni Award, named in honor of Dr. Alexander Hodson, Department Head from 1960-1974, recognizes and honors an outstanding alumna or alumnus of the Department of Entomology. It will now be awarded every other year. Stay tuned for the call for nominations in early spring 2022.

Support Us

Your support will help us achieve our mission of providing world-leading research and education that inspires society to value the environmental contributions of insects and their relatives, and to use best management practices to protect our food, health, and environment.


Newsletter Archive