Richard M. Bohart
Professor of Entomology, Emeritus
1913 – 2007
Richard M. “Doc” Bohart inspired hundreds of students during his 32-year career at the University of California, Davis. He was the reason many students chose entomology as a major. He had a passion for entomology, which began when he was very young and continued well beyond retirement.
Doc’s passion was collecting, identifying, and classifying Strepsiptera mosquitoes and wasps. During his career, he identified more than one million specimens, many of which are housed in the R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, a teaching, research, and public service facility that he founded on campus in 1946. Doc contributed substantially to the world literature of the insect Order Hymenoptera, which included two landmark books, Sphecid Wasps of the World (with A. S. Menke), and The Chrysidid Wasps of the World (with L.S. Kimsey), as well as 230 journal articles and four other books on wasps and mosquitoes, including the 2nd and 3rd editions of The Mosquitoes of California (the 2nd with Stanley B. Freeborn and the 3rd with Robert K. Washino). During his career, he described more than 200 new species and genera of insects.
Doc was born in Palo Alto, Sept. 28, 1913. He began collecting butterflies at age 7 and he and his brother George “Ned” Bohart collected butterflies for a local collector to earn pocket money. He attended UC Berkeley, receiving three degrees in entomology culminating in his doctorate in 1938. He and his brother George played on the UC Berkeley football team.
After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Bohart had several academic positions, which were interrupted by the onset of World War II. He taught and studied sod pests at UCLA from 1938 to 1941. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps in 1941, serving as lieutenant commander of the Pacific Area and Washington D. C. He joined the UC Davis faculty in 1946 and chaired the Department of Entomology from 1956 to 1965. Bohart taught general entomology, medical entomology, systematics, and agricultural entomology; he is best known for the summer field course that he taught, first at Tanbark Flat near Los Angeles as ENT 49, and later at Sagehen Creek Field Station near Lake Tahoe, as ENT 109. He retired in 1980 as an emeritus professor.
His interest in insects spanned his whole life. When he was young, he and his brother collected butterflies and were determined to collect every species in California. In graduate school he did his thesis on the twisted-wing parasites (Order Strepsiptera), and published his first scientific paper on this group in 1936. In his position at UCLA, he studied sod pests and published a number of papers on the topic. He once swore that mosquitoes were the one group he would never study, yet once he joined the Navy that is exactly what they had him do. As a result, he became an expert in the taxonomy of mosquitoes in the Pacific Basin and ultimately California, publishing a number of works on these insects. E.C. van Dyke at the California Academy of Sciences inspired Doc’s love for wasps. The taxonomy of wasps in the families Sphecidae, Chrysididae, and Vespidae dominated the later two-thirds of his research career.
He had many successful students who went on to dominate the field of insect systematics for a generation. These students include a former chief and research leader of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory, with the United States Department of Food and Agriculture located at Washington D.C., along with four research entomologists with the same laboratory; the former chief of United States Department of Agriculture Bee Biology and Systematic Laboratory located at Logan, Utah; the former supervisory research entomologist of the Division of Vector-borne Viral Diseases located at Ft. Collins, Colorado; a former dean of the college of agriculture at Universidad de Zulia, Maracaibo, Venezuela; a former chair of the UC Riverside Department of Entomology; along with professors in various universities throughout the country, and entomologists in state agricultural departments.
Dr. Bohart spent his sabbaticals in the field visiting museums and collecting insects overseas. In 1960 alone, he visited 21 museums in Europe and eastern United States. His other collecting expeditions took him to South Africa, South America, and Australia.
His teaching and collecting activities resulted in the development of one of the finest collections of stinging wasps in the world in the Bohart Museum of Entomology. A great deal of this material was obtained through his collecting and that of his students. During his tenure, the museum collection grew from 500 specimens to 7 million, a span of some 60 years. Chancellor James Meyer dedicated the entomology museum in his name in 1983. The R. M. Bohart Museum moved into a new building in 1994 and was dedicated by Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef.
Scientists around the world have named a large number of insects after Dr. Bohart. He has nearly 100 species and subspecies named after him, as well as, at least four genera of wasps (Boharticus), flies (Bohartia), beetles (Bohartina), Strepsiptera (Bohartilla), and even a family of Strepsiptera the Bohartillidae.
Dr. Bohart lived in Davis for more than three decades with his first wife, Margaret, who died in January 1994. They had no children. He remarried in 2000 to his second wife, Elizabeth Arias.
Doc received a number of awards during his career. In 1951, he was awarded a Pacific Science Fellowship for a mosquito survey of the Marianas and Ryukyus Islands. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1960. The UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences awarded him with the Award of Distinction in 1997. “The Award of Distinction is the highest recognition presented by the college to individuals whose contributions and achievements enrich the image and reputation of the college and enhance its ability to provide public service.” In 2006 he received the International Society of Hymenopterists Distinguished Research Medal, one of three ever awarded.
Doc was a hard-working, gifted entomologist. Even in his 60s he could still throw a football across a football field. He expected the best from his students, and was always there when they needed support, a place to stay or funding. His generosity was legendary. He died February 1, 2007 in Berkeley at the age of 94.
Lynn S. Kimsey
Robert K. Washino