Department of Entomology Newsletter | Fall 2020

Bug Bites

Message from Department Head, Sujaya Rao

Sujaya Rao


As we eagerly look forward to what 2021 will bring, we reflect on Fall 2020 which was a mixed bag of online classes and socially-distanced research on UMN campuses. Many in the department worked remotely but connected with others during virtual weekly coffees, seminars, the Fall Welcome, Halloween Movie Night, and the Year End Bug Out. We also connected with our alumni during the new UMN Ento Alumni Social in October, and with our peers during ESA 2020 in November.

Overall, Fall 2020 was more challenging than Spring 2020 but the department continued to thrive and grow! I share with you here the many successes of our students, staff and faculty!

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!


Bee Lab Paid Off!

bee lab logo

Good News! 

We are very proud and very relieved to announce that the Bee Lab within the Department of Entomology has paid off our portion toward building the new Bee Research Lab on Gortner Ave. – just over $2.1M!  

In 2014, the MN State Legislature approved funding for a new Bee Research facility. The State agreed to pay two-thirds of the total cost, and the University was tasked with raising the remaining one-third. A small group from the Bee Lab worked closely with Cynthia Cashman, Amy Alch and Adam Nance from the CFANS Development team, and a number of great people in UMN Foundation to find donors to raise our portion.  And we did it.  

We are eternally grateful to CFANS Development and the UMN Foundation for connecting us with interested donors and for creating beautiful materials to promote the project.  It’s been an incredibly rewarding learning experience. 

Special recognition and thanks go to Dr. Becky Masterman. Becky ran the Bee Squad, the Extension and outreach arm of the Bee Lab, from 2012-2019. Founded in 2010 as a way to accommodate increasing demand for information about pollinators, Becky grew the Bee Squad’s reach and community support tenfold. She generated an enormous social media following for Bee Squad’s educational and hands-on programs that included beekeepers, native bee conservationists, homeowners, businesses, non-profits, war veterans, artists, and many more.  

Bee Squad customers and stakeholders are passionate about bees and habitat needs, and many donate substantial resources to planting for bees or organizing their communities to support bees. Many Bee Squad Customers and supporters also became substantial donors to the new lab facility. I credit Becky’s brilliance as a beekeeper, scientist and communicator for inspiring so many to invest in our new building, which now houses the honey bee lab, the native bee lab, and the Bee Squad team.    

The world of pollinators depends on collaboration: between bees and flowers, researchers and beekeepers, pollinator advocates and land managers, conservationists and farmers. Lastly and very importantly, our Bee Lab donors are our essential collaborators who ensure the work on behalf of bees gets done. 

Thanks to Becky and our donors all who did their part to get the Bee Lab built. 

Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor, Department of Entomology
Bridget Mendel, Bee Squad Program Director

bee lab groundbreaking
Breaking ground for the new Bee Lab
completed bee lab
The new, completed Bee Lab


Select News Spotlight

University continues work on national insect curation project, despite pandemic

Cataloging Minnesota’s native bees 

In 2019, the generosity of donors on Give to the Max Day helped us establish the University of Minnesota Pollinator Bank, a repository and database of Minnesota bees within the Department of Entomology’s Insect Collection. Thank you, donors!

Jeff Hahn Retiring

Jeff Hahn

Congratulations to Extension Educator and Professor Jeff Hahn on his upcoming retirement! Jeff has been the face of entomology for UMN for over three decades. He has been invited across the state for lending his expertise with pests and their management during annual training programs for the landscape and structural pest industries, and the Master Gardener Volunteer Program. He is also much sought after for youth programs including FFA and 4-H. Insect fact sheets by Jeff have been some of the most widely viewed in Extension – they are a tremendous resource for pest management practitioners and the public across MN. Jeff’s contributions have been recognized with numerous awards over his career including the CFANS Distinguished Extension/Outreach Award and the Department of Entomology Community of Service Award. His retirement will leave a huge gap in extension entomology in MN. Congratulations, Jeff!

-Richard Jones, Mark Ascerno, Dave Ragsdale, Bill Hutchison, Steve Kells, Sujaya Rao, heads, Department of Entomology, during Jeff's tenure at U of M

Jeff Hahn to be inducted to Minnesota Pest Management Association's Hall of Fame

Jeff Hahn will be inducted into the Minnesota Pest Management Association’s Hall of Fame in March at the Minnesota Structural Pest Control Recertification Conference. He has supported our industry in many ways including helping and then taking over planning of the conference following fellow Hall of Fame member Dr. Phil Herein for many years before handing over the reins but still supporting Dr. Stephen Kells.

He has been a regular attendee at MPMA’s (Minnesota Pest Management Association) Minnesota Pest Management Agencies meetings, giving his input or updates about pest trends or new pests, and has served on several committees surrounding legislation. And importantly he not only helped our industry of 225 companies and over 1000 applicators, he also helped the general public. 

We will miss him and his contributions!

-Todd Leyse, President, Adam's Pest Control, Inc. 

Welcoming New Graduate Students

M.S. – Entomology

August Kramer

Ph.D. – Entomology

Emily Althoff
Laura Fricke
Cody Thorpe

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

Alyssa Gooding – EEB
Katrina "Katie" Klett – NRSM

New Career Chats for Graduate Students

In recent years, our graduate students have visited diverse agencies to learn about entomology-related careers, and how to prepare for them. Due to COVID-19, visits were not possible; instead we used the opportunity presented to bring together professionals from different agencies for a virtual Career Chat. Our focus was on non-profits; presenters represented small and large agencies located locally and nationally. The positive feedback has led to organization of a second Career Chat in Spring focused on government-related careers.

Fall 2020 Achievements & Honors


Congratulations to our undergraduates, graduates, staff, and faculty for their selection for fellowships, awards, student competition prizes, and other honors and achievements at UMN, nationally, and internationally!

We are pleased to announce that thanks to Lori and Shaun Cox, owners of Roots Return Heritage Farm, a new graduate research award, the Cox Family Graduate Research Award has been created. 

National ESA Awards

Twenty-five UMN Entomologists presented live and on-demand presentations, posters and infographics, and participated in the Student Debate and other activities during the virtual ESA in November 2020. UMN students did a great job and won prizes in several competitions. 

The joint UMN/The OSU Team were the winners of the Topic 1 Debate on molecular vs morphology for insect id and classification. The team also won the prize for Overall Best Debate Team! Team members from UMN were Anh Tran and Michelle Boone. 

ESA Student Competition Winners


  • SysEB
    Ismael Ramirez (2nd Place)

Oral Presentations

  • P-IE, Invasive species
    Jake Wittman (1st place)
    Dominique Ebbenga (2nd Place)
  • SysEB, biodiversity
    Julia Leone (PhD EEB) (2nd Place)

Other Awards presented during ESA 2020

  • Larry Larson Graduate Student Award for Leadership in Applied Entomology, sponsored by Corteva Agriscience
    Hailey Shanovich, Ph.D., University of Minnesota, Natural Resources Science and Management Graduate Program, Brian Aukema, Advisor
  • Award of Excellence in Integrated Pest Management
    Bill Hutchison, Professor, University of Minnesota, Department of Entomology
  • ESA Distinguished Achievement Award in Extension
    Christina DiFonzo, Professor, Michigan State University; University of Minnesota, Department of Entomology Alumna 

University of Minnesota Department of Entomology

  • Cox Family Graduate Research Award 
    Michelle Boone

More Undergraduates Drawn to Entomology Courses

Our approaches for drawing undergraduates to entomology courses are bearing fruit! The department generated 3.5 times more student credit hours in content courses in Fall 2020 compared with Fall 2016. By extending courses offered with Liberal Education designation from Biological Sciences and Technology and Society in 2016, to Civic Life and Ethics, Environment, History, and Global Challenges, we have drawn students from colleges typically unrepresented in our courses such as Carlson School of Management, Nursing, Education and Human Development, Design, Engineering and the Honors program. By offering Insect Biology online, enrollment in 2020 (Spring and Fall) increased ten-fold compared to 2015. 

This August, the course named How Insects Shape Society: Pollinators, Pests, and Policy (ENT 1001) was listed in UMN’s News and Events as one of the ‘Ten courses that will blow your mind’. Designated as a Civic Life and Ethics liberal education theme course, it explores the ways in which insect activities, both positive and negative, create ethical choices in society. It presents topics that force you think about your actions and challenges you to support your decisions with information derived from reputable sources. 

Insects and…ethics? Sure, why not? How Insects Shape Society: Pollinators, Pests, and Policy (ENT 1001) is a new course that explores the complex interactions people have with insects, and the profound effect insects have in shaping human society and culture. However, this course is designed to be more than just an introduction to insects in our lives. Designated as a Civic Life and Ethics liberal education theme course, it explores the ways in which insect activities, both positive and negative, create ethical choices in society. It presents topics that force you think about your actions and challenges you to support your decisions with information derived from reputable sources. As an example, it is fine that you buy foods with a non-GMO label on them, but that may also mean you are subsequently supporting increased use of insecticides to deal insect pests in agricultural systems. Increased insecticide use could then have unintended non-target consequences that threaten ecosystem services.

Insects influence society through their roles in agriculture, human and animal health, and ecosystem processes by forcing us to make choices relating to our food choices, vaccination practices, and home pesticide use. Insects make up more than half of the living organisms on this planet and play vital roles in ecosystem processes. Even so, insects are often swatted, stomped, squished, and otherwise misunderstood. Rather than telling students how to deal with insects, this course aims to teach them how to gather information that will help them make informed decisions and better understand the consequences of their actions. Ultimately, understanding the good and bad aspects of insects can help us better understand how their actions help shape our society. 

Insect Science Minor

This Fall the undergraduate program made a significant step forward in recognizing the diversity of activities conducted under the umbrella term of entomology. The name of the program is now the Insect Science Minor. This is far more than a change in name only. Rather it recognizes the importance of insects across diverse fields of study, and also recognizes the interests of the students enrolled in the minor. Our students are interested in insect-plant interactions, insect conservation, and insects as vectors of disease (to name a few) and come from Colleges across the University of Minnesota. To further recognize these diverse interests we created four new areas of concentration nested within the minor: Conservation and Biotic Assessment, Medicine and Global Health, Agriculture and Plant Protection, and Pollinator Ecology. Students can choose to take courses within each concentration area, or explore courses across different disciplines of study. 

Ultimately our goal is to allow students to choose their own entomology path while making sure they have the core content needed to fully understand the importance of insects in our world. This restructuring is just the start of more changes to come! As our enrollment continues to grow we are now moving to provide our students with experiences beyond the classroom. We are developing independent research opportunities, internships, and professional development programs.

Insect Science Minor Spotlight

Andrew Suruine

Andrew Suruine

Andrew is an aerospace engineer with the aerospace engineering major, has had an interest in entomophagy from an early age. He brought his aerospace and entomology passions together. and applied and received a UROP scholarship to explore using edible insects as a martian food. He's continuing this project beyond the UROP, and is developing insect rearing kits for broader audiences. 


Emily Klesel

Emily Klesel

"I initially heard about UMN’s Department of Entomology and the Insect Science minor through classmates within the Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology program who, like me, related more to small, “creepy-crawley” animals more than large, furry ones. I was so excited to learn more about bugs that I signed up for 3 entomology classes my first semester as an Insect Science minor, of which I solidified my passion for insects in. 

My favorite class so far as an Insect Science minor has been ENT 5051 Scientific Illustration of Insects. In this class, I was able to finally merge my love for insects and art into one practice. I also feel as though I really started to find my voice while illustrating insects in this class, both as an artist and as someone who’d like to be an entomologist someday. I would love to continue to illustrate insect for the scientific community after graduation as well as create fine art that tackles issues within entomology. 

Drawing by Emily Klesel

As an undergraduate student and someone eager to continue learning about the world of insects, I have found the Department of Entomology to be very accessible and open to undergrad involvement. Every experience I’d had with a professor or department member has been super positive. The small size has granted me the opportunity to meet so many different kinds of entomologists and really made me feel accepted in to UMN’s insect community. I can’t wait to take the knowledge and experiences I’ve had in the department to new opportunities after graduation!"




ENTO alumn Social

UMN ENTO Alumni Social

In October, we hosted the 2020 UMN Ento Alumni Social. If you missed the event, you can watch it here. Alumni, please take our survey


ENTO Fall Welcome

Fall Welcome

In November, we hosted a virtual department 'Fall Welcome'. We used our time to socialize and connect with each other. You can watch the event here


movie night - MIMIC

Movie Night

In November, we virtually hosted our second entomology-themed horror movie night, featuring Guillermo del Toro's second film: Mimic. Stay tuned for the next one! 


year end bug out

Year End Bug Out

In December, we hosted our annual end-of-the-year celebration virtually: the Year End Bug Out! We used breakout rooms to host a variety of activities, including an art show, games featuring insect puns, Pictionary, and story telling!

Small Wonders


Small wonders logo

Small Wonders is a monthly feature that aims to to generate curiosity in our local arthropods and interest in entomology. January marks the one year anniversary of Small Wonders. All are encouraged to write an article! This year, staff, extension, graduate students, and undergrads all contributed! Contact if you'd like to contribute and write about your favorite Minnesota arthropod. 

Read about latest Small Wonder, the common scorpionfly.


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!

In Memoriam

John Witter

John Witter

An alumnus of our department, John Allen Witter was known for being one of the happiest, most enthusiastic and optimistic people you could ever meet.

He moved to the University of Minnesota where he received his Ph.D. in 1971 with a major in Entomology and a minor in Forestry. His dissertation focused on the ecology and population dynamics of the forest tent caterpillar. 

During his 39 years at U of M, he was very active and enthusiastic as both a researcher and teacher. 

Read more

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