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UC Davis Centennial
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Photo: Richard Bohart shows a box of exotic butterflies that are housed inside the entomology museum he founded. (UC Davis archival photo)

Richard Bohart shows a box of exotic butterflies that are housed inside the entomology museum he founded. (UC Davis archival photo)

Looking Back

Namesakes: Richard ‘Doc’ Bohart

One would guess that the R.M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, with the seventh largest insect collection in North America, would be named after an entomologist. In fact, Professor Richard Bohart founded the teaching, research and public-service facility in 1946 — and he contributed myriad mosquitos and wasps to its 7 million specimens. Located on the first floor of Academic Surge on the Davis campus, the museum is also home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity of California’s deserts, mountains, coast and Central Valley.

Richard “Doc” Bohart identified more than 1 million mosquitoes and wasps during his career as an entomologist teaching at UC Davis. He died in 2007 at the age of 93.

Just two years earlier, the entomology professor emeritus was still discussing the life cycle of wasp and bee parasites, expeditions to islands around the world and his running battle with ants, which, given the chance, would eat his mosquito larvae and other specimens.

“I have always been an entomologist, from the time I was a little kid,” Bohart said in a 2007 interview at his Davis home. Before he got his first net, Bohart used to chase and catch butterflies with a window screen. He went on to become an authority on mosquitoes and wasps. He was a UC Davis faculty member from 1946 to 1979, chairing the entomology department from 1958 to 1968.

He traveled around the world to collect specimens, published more than 200 scientific papers and six books, and helped develop the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology, which today, with more than 7 million specimens, is the seventh largest insect collection in North America and the third largest university insect collection.

Bohart has other namesakes. When he turned 70 in 1983, the Pan-Pacific Entomologist journal dedicated an issue to him; former students and colleagues named two new insect genera and 15 species after him.

A fair number of the specimens in the Bohart Museum were collected by Bohart himself. But he also added to the collection through a sort of service fee–paid in bugs.

When other entomologists and collectors asked for his help in identifying and classifying specimens, Bohart reserved the right to keep up to 10 percent.

The other collectors didn’t always like it, Bohart recalled, but most agreed to his terms.

After all, he was known worldwide for his expertise on insect taxonomy and systematics — or insect family trees–especially for wasps. And his services were otherwise free.

Kathleen Holder is interim editor for the UC Davis Magazine.

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