Entomology History

Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. with honey bees.

The Department of Entomology at UC Davis began as an offshoot of the Department of Entomology and Parasitology at UC Berkeley. Entomology at Davis was closely entwined with the department at Berkeley for more than 50 years before it separated and became autonomous. Much of this early record is fascinating and it demonstrates how entomology has always been an integral part of teaching, research and extension on the Davis campus—in effect the department and the campus came of age together.

The very first record of entomology being taught at Davis occurred when Professor C. W. Woodworth(from UC Berkeley) spoke to the State Farmers' Institute on Oct. 30, 1907 at Davisville on the "Whitefly Situation in California." This was a forerunner to the Farmers' Short Courses (three to six week courses) which began in the fall of 1908. Professor Woodworth was in charge of the lectures in entomology and assisted by Earl L. MorrisW. H. Volck, and J. S. Hunger—all these individuals commuted to Davis. General lectures on Introductory Entomology, Horticultural Pests, and Pest Control, were given regularly between 1908-1912. In 1912 and 1914 H. J. Quayle also contributed special lectures on crop pests and their control.

A two-year non-degree program was established in entomology at Davis in 1913. L. J. Nichols was one of the instructors who taught general entomology courses and beekeeping from 1913-1915. During the period 1915-1920, A. Coleman was listed as a staff member in entomology and E. R. deOng taught many of the general entomology courses (listed as Entomology 01, 01A, 02, 03, and 04). G. H. Vansell helped with the instruction of these courses beginning in 1920 and in 1922 he became the first instructor to establish residence in Davis. This marked a turning point for entomology at UC Davis and reflected the growing popularity and importance of teaching in the discipline.

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Stanley Freeborn 

The first degree in entomology offered at Davis was in 1923-24 at which time S. B. Freeborn (the namesake of Freeborn Hall) was transferred from Berkeley to Davis to head up this new and expanding program. At this time a course was also offered in Veterinary Parasitology—a major interest of Professor Freeborn.

During the period 1928-1932, E. O. Essig commuted from Berkeley once a week during the fall to lecture in the course Economic Entomology. He was assisted by H. F. Wymore, who also taught the two-year (non-degree) courses during 1928-34. This non-degree program reached a peak enrollment of 169 students in 1946. In 1929, the first graduate student assistantship was established and was held by S. F. Bailey.Professor Bailey would later become chair of the Department.

During the period 1928-1942, the department grew very slowly. In 1933, Professor Freeborn moved to UC Berkeley and became Assistant Dean. M. A. Stewart replaced Freeborn, but was also transferred to Berkeley (in 1939) and became Dean of the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley in 1956. J. E. Eckert assumed the title of 'Local Chairman'—this was the title of the administrator of the department up to 1953 when the official title of vice chairman, Berkeley-Davis was established. During the early part of World War II, the vice chairman was the only faculty member in residence. Between 1943-1945, the department grew substantially with the permanent transfer of L. M. Smith, E. M. Stafford, and W. H. Lange from field stations to Davis. After the war, S. F. Bailey became vice chair. This time period saw tremendous growth in the department, in part because of the return of many World War II "GI" students. Over the next 15 years, the department achieved many milestones, including the establishment of a separate entomology curriculum in 1950 when full instruction was offered leading to the BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees. The first Ph.D. in entomology at Davis was conferred in 1962.

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Richard Bohart 

As the Davis campus began to declare it administrative independence from Berkeley under Provost Freeborn (later Chancellor) in 1952, the Department of Entomology began to assert its independence from entomology at Berkeley. R. M. Bohart became vice chairman in 1957 and the following year the system of rotating chairs in the College of Agriculture was instituted. In the spring of 1960, entomology moved into new quarters in Robbins Hall—ending many years of transience and hopeful planning.

In 1962, when entomology at Berkeley reorganized into four major divisions: Entomology, Insect Pathology, Biological Control and Parasitology (which included the former Department of Biological Control), the Davis entomologists were made a "section" of this new department, headed at Berkeley. However, at this time entomology was functioning smoothly and was fully integrated with the Davis campus. On July 1, 1963, the Department of Entomology at Davis was officially created breaking all administrative ties with the Berkeley-Davis department.

Research and teaching activities have grown steadily since 1946 when there were seven academic and five non-academic staff. For example in 1956 and 1963, there were 12 and 21 academic and seven and 28 non-academic staff, respectively. In 1997, there were 28 academic faculty and 40 academic staff. Over the same period of time, graduate student numbers have been 3, 20, 39 and 55. In 1997, we also served serve as the home department for an additional 17 graduate students from other graduate groups on campus and we administer the Plant Protection and Pest Management Graduate Group with another ten students. Undergraduate enrollment in the entomology major has fluctuated over the years with no students in 1946, 14 in 1956, 21 in 1963, and 11 in 1996. Agricultural Extension personnel officially joined the department in 1960 which greatly strengthened the department. Today we have four faculty members with all or part of their appointments in extension.

Course offerings were enlarged dramatically in 1963 and curriculum emphasis shifted from Agricultural Entomology to a more fundamental biological approach underlying ecology and physiology to match increasing sophistication in the entomological profession. In the 1990's we have continued to evolve and the strength of Entomology at UC Davis is our broad and numerous contributions to the Davis campus in both teaching and research. Not only do we teach our entomology specific courses for a limited audience, but more importantly through our General Education and upper division courses and our participation in Biological Science 1B, the Department of Entomology garners more student contact hours than most departments in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Ever increasing enrollments in a diversity of courses attests to the quality and pertinence of our course offerings.

Research in the Department of Entomology spans the full gamut from basic to applied and molecular to ecological. The diversity and number of extramural grants derives from an aggressive and multi-faceted faculty working on a wealth of fundamental and applied problems. The broad interests of the faculty also drive our imaginative teaching program. In fact, few, if any, departments of entomology in the nation boast the range and extent of teaching, the diversity of faculty expertise (which leads to an ideal blending of basic and applied research/teaching) and the level of grant support of our department.

In November 2007, the UC Davis Department of Entomology was ranked No. 1 in the country by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Milestones in the History of the Department of Entomology, UC Davis

1906-1916

  • the Farmer's Short Courses, focusing on entomology, were initiated in Davisville
  • a two-year non-degree program in entomology was established

1916-1926

  • first entomology instructor establishes residence in Davis (for many years, instructors commuted in from UC Berkeley)
  • first degree in entomology offered. S. F. Freeborn leads the program

1926-1936

  • enrollments in courses continued to expand, as did the number of instructors
  • first graduate student assistantship offered
  • zoology program separated from entomology

1936-1946

  • transfer of three Berkeley staff members from field stations to Davis. Dr. Harry Lange was one of these.
  • tremendous growth in the Department, in part because of the return of many World War II "GI" students

1946-1956

  • separate insect collection with a curator was established
  • department moved to its own building (old Vegetable Crops renamed Entomology)
  • with the addition of more courses, Davis was able to offer BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in the Entomology
  • fund for the Departmental library established
  • under Provost Freeborn, the Department of Entomology becomes largely autonomous from UC Berkeley
  • transfer of two staff members from UC Berkeley
  • staff at the Salinas field station assigned to UC Davis
  • Nematology administration separated from Entomology (but not graduate students)

1956-1966

  • staff member at the Shafter field station transferred to Davis (Tom Leigh)
  • move into Robbins Hall
  • more experiment station projects and positions transferred to UC Davis from UC Berkeley
  • medical entomology first taught

1966-1976

  • dedication of Briggs Hall, the home for Entomology

1976-1986

  • construction of Bee Biology facility (now the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility) on the west side of campus
  • transfer of positions from UC Riverside to UC Davis
  • dedication of the R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology

1986-1996

  • teaching responsibilities dramatically increase; assume responsibility for Biological Science 1B
  • Director of the Mosquito Control Research Laboratory at Kearney transferred to UC Davis
  • relocation of a position from UC Riverside to UC Davis
  • successful recruitment of a Target of Diversity candidate in arthropod vectors of plant disease
  • R. M. Bohart Museum moved to new quarters in Academic Surge.
  • establishment of the Evert and Marion Schlinger Chair in Insect Systematics
  • establishment of the Center for Vector-Borne Diseases with the Vet School. Director to have a joint appointment between the Department of Entomology and the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Cell Biology in the Vet School.

1997-present

  • first off-campus hire in the department in many years. Mosquito biologist position filled at Kearney.
  • Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility being revitalized