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Bioscience Careers

Entomologist

  • Photo: UC Kearney Agricultural Center

An entomologist is a scientist who studies insects. Entomologists have many important jobs, such as the study of the classification, life cycle, distribution, physiology, behavior, ecology and population dynamics of insects. Entomologists also study urban pests, forest pests, agricultural pests and medical and veterinary pests and their control. These scientists may work with beneficial insects like honeybees, silkworms, ladybird beetles and parasitic wasps. Entomologists are researchers, teachers and consultants and can work for private companies, universities or government agencies.

About 8,000 men and women work as professional entomologists in the United States, which includes teaching about insects; working as extension entomologists (public educators who provide information on insects and their management in agricultural and urban environments); raising bees; enforcing quarantines and regulations; performing insect survey work; consulting on integrated pest management topics; selling insecticides; controlling pests; and conducting research on insect classification, taxonomy, biology, ecology, behavior and control. The greatest number of entomologists are employed in some aspect of economic or applied entomology that deals with the control of harmful insects. There also are tens of thousands of amateur entomologists and hobbyists who study insects without pay and who provide valuable information on insect distributions, seasonal activity patterns, identification, life cycles and behavior.

Career Opportunities

Entomology careers in research involve studying and understanding the anatomy, habits, life histories, physiology and classification of insects and investigating various types of chemical and biological controls. Increasingly, basic information is required to supply answers to complex questions and problems involving insects.

Research Opportunities

Many entomologists are involved with research in integrated pest management. IPM uses all suitable pest control techniques to keep pests below economically injurious levels. Each pest control technique must be designed carefully so it is environmentally sound and is compatible with producer and user objectives. But IPM is more than chemical pesticide management — it also includes biological, cultural and sanitary control practices. Once sound, reliable information on insect control is gathered from research, the results are given to farmers and other people who deal with insect pests.

Teaching Positions

There are many teaching opportunities for entomologists at colleges and nonprofit educational institutions and organizations. For example, the Cooperative Extension Service in each state plays an important role in providing information on insects and pest control to homeowners, farmers and others. Entomologists at CES work closely with individuals and businesses to help solve their insect problems. Another important extension job is the survey entomologist, who reviews all important crops in a given state or area for possible insect outbreaks and alerts farmers and growers before a major problem arises.

Government Work

Many entomologists work for government agencies. For example, U.S. regulatory entomologists help prevent the entrance of harmful, destructive pests from foreign countries. Both federal and state governments have set up plant and animal quarantine agencies. All plants, fruits, vegetables, artifacts, baggage and animals are examined at international ports of entry, and these inspections are performed under the supervision of trained entomologists and other scientists. Entomologists also impose strict quarantines in areas where introduced insects have established a foothold. In some cases, roadblocks and inspection stations are erected to prevent the spread of pests. Most states have laws and regulations requiring the inspection of nursery stock, many types of agricultural produce, logs and bee hives. Many states also have laws regulating the activities of pest control operators (exterminators) and pesticide applicators. Entomologists help enforce those important laws and provide technical information and counsel for those in this type of insect control work.

Medical and public health entomologists work for federal, state and local public health departments and deal with pest control problems. Entomologists engaged in public health work in different areas of research and in the control of house flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, lice, fleas, ticks and many other pests that pose a health hazard or nuisance problem.

Military entomologists work for various branches of the armed forces and supervise pest control operations at a large number of military bases in the United States and abroad. Research work and the protection of military personnel against insect-borne diseases and parasites are important aspects of entomology in the military service.

Forensic entomology is a new field of study. Entomologists in this specialty area use their knowledge of insect life cycles and behavior to help police solve crimes.

Agricultural entomologists work to protect valuable crops from insect pests. Annual losses to agricultural insect pests are enormous and in some areas can result in up to a 25 percent loss in yield. Agricultural entomologists, pest management consultants and pest scouts all are involved in research and control of crop pests.

The rapid growth of the forest products industry has set the stage for forest entomology. The United States uses an enormous amount of lumber, pulp and paper products annually, yet yearly losses from forest insects also are substantial. Forest entomologists work to protect these valuable resources from insect pests.

Commercial Sector Work

Commercial entomologists work for industry rather than public agencies. These jobs can involve field-service work, research, insect-control services and insecticide sales. Selling insecticides is part of the large agribusiness industry that supplies farmers and growers with goods and services.

Some entomologists work to control pests affecting shade trees, lawns, ornamental plants, homes, warehouses, stores, hotels and restaurants. Other work includes spraying farm crops and orchards as well as urban areas for flies and mosquitoes.

Commercial entomologists also can work as private consultants to the pesticide industry, pest control operators and agribusiness (pest management services, for example). Entomologists in this field can establish their own company, can work for a small business or can work for a large commercial company.

Education/Training

Individuals interested in a career in entomology should prepare themselves by taking classes in math and science (biology, zoology, botany, ecology and chemistry), by becoming familiar with the steps of the scientific method and by practicing keeping records and presenting information, data and conclusions. They should conduct investigations of the insect world; visit libraries and stores to find interesting educational books, videos and software about insects; look for summer jobs with companies, universities, state experiment stations or government agencies that deal with insects; or simply spend the day with a museum curator, beekeeper, pest control operator or other professional entomologist to help provide insight into entomological careers and the decision to enter a career in entomology. Training also is available through youth groups such as scouts, 4-H, science and bug clubs and the Young Entomologists’ Society. Through organizations such as the Young Entomologists’ Society, young insect enthusiasts can interact with others interested in insect study, trade insect specimens and information, publish interesting information on insects and read about the latest discoveries in insect study.

Most universities do not have a specialized entomology department but instead offer courses in entomology. Many entomologists receive a general undergraduate degree in biology or zoology and then specialize in entomology at the postgraduate level. Research positions in universities, the government and industrial organizations require either a master’s degree or in most cases, a Ph.D. For individuals interested in leading a research team or teaching at the university level, a Ph.D. is required.

Certification

The Entomological Society of America offers two certification programs: the Associate Certified Entomologist and the Board Certified Entomologist. The BCE is geared toward individuals who are formally educated in entomology, while the ACE is geared more toward individuals with hands-on training and professional development in the field of structural pest management.

Salary

Average Entry-Level

$29,260 per year

Average

$47,740 per year

Average Higher-Level

$71,270 per year