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Title: Information Sheet, Dr. Mike Schauff
An Interview with Dr. Mike Schauff at the U.S. National Museum of Natural History, August 2003.
Mr. Matt Minor interviewed Dr. Schauff.
I added information (some within square brackets) to clarify the interview.
E. M. B. 2003.
What inspired you to enter the field of entomology?
I took a kind of a circuitous route there; actually, I did not start out in entomology at all.
I wanted to work in animal behavior.
I got out of the Army and read many books on animal behavior, primarily bird behavior.
I was going to go back to graduate school in animal behavior, and I realized working that with vertebrates I was going to have to do the Jane Goodall thing, living in the forest with the apes.
So I thought that it would be more reasonable in terms of employment eventually to work on insects or some invertebrate as opposed to some vertebrate.
That is how I came to insects; I applied to the graduate school at the University of Maryland in the Entomology Department to do insect behavioral work.
I had taken only one course in entomology, so I knew next to nothing about insects.
I had introductory entomology as a junior at the University of Illinois, and that was about it.
When I went back to graduate school, I had to learn it all from scratch.
What specific kind of work do you do?
I am an insect systematist; I specialize in parasitic Hymenoptera.
What taxonomic groups of arthropods are your assignments?
Primarily chalcidoid families, Eulophidae, Aphididae, Encrytidae, and others which are biological control organisms by and large.
What is the most exciting project you have worked on?
I guess there are couple that come to mind.
One was when I did some work on biological control of invasive mealy bugs, which took me to Belize, Mexico, and the Virgin Islands.
Colleagues and I did a lot of fieldwork in the Caribbean.
That was a lot of fun.
The other one was when I have worked on a couple of projects in Australia.
I have traveled through most of eastern Australia.
What keeps you excited about your profession?
I think it is the ability to travel and go new places and the discovery aspect of it.
It is exciting to know that wherever I go and whatever I do I will find new things that no one has seen before or described.
Every time we come back from the field, we have stuff that we have never seen before.
It is one of those few terrestrial activities where you still have that feeling, "Oh my God, what is this thing?"
Would you like to work on any arthropod group that is currently outside your assignment?
If yes, what is it?
I have always thought that if I started all over again I would work probably on ants.
They are just so cool and are everywhere.
They have incredible behavior and social structure.
If I had to pick a group, it would be ants.
In retirement (if you ever feel like retiring), would you continue work with arthropods?
I hope so, I mean part of my plan is to continue to come down here and work in the collections and do identifications and stuff like that.
Unless my wife drags me off to Florida, I will probably keep working here.
How often do you see changes occurring in species due to environmental changes that occur in your specialty arthropods?
That is a hard thing to know.
The bulk of my work is what we call dead-bug morphology.
Because of where I am and the type of work I do, I am usually looking at a dead bug on a pin.
Most of the revisionary systematics I do is based on museum specimens.
I do field work to collect material, but the first thing I do is kill it.
I do not get a lot of behavioral and distributional data; it is difficult to get those data.
It is hard to get distributional data, because it is hard to find enough specimens to really get a handle on what the true distribution is like and be able to look at hybrid zones.
This is something that can be seen readily in birds and mammals, but it is tough to see in insects, maybe with the exception of butterflies, termites, and ants.
In these animals, we may have a good enough knowledge of distribution to be able to look at that kind of data and do molecular work.
I would say very little in my work.
Is biotic conservation important to you?
If yes, why?
Yeah, well without habitats there are no bugs.
In fact, colleagues and I find that we are often unable to go back to where organisms were originally collected to find more, because there is a K Mart there or something else on the site of interest.
It is very important.
One of the thrusts of what we are doing is describing life on the planet, literally before it disappears because a lot of what is out there now will not be there in 50 years.
It will be gone, which has all kinds of strange ramifications for the planet.
It is a very important piece of what we do, and it feeds into conservation biology to a large degree.
A person does not know what to conserve if he, or she, does not know what is there.
What has been your most "remarkable" bug encounter?
I guess giant termite mounds in Australia.
I was driving, and I came upon the first field of them.
It was such a mind-blowing experience because they are so big.
They stick out of the landscape at heights of about 4 to 6 feet.
They are like concrete.
I had never seen anything like that before, so to come across them in Australia was amazing.
What is the most dangerous bug encounter you have had?
In tropical north Australia, there are a number of poisonous things, in particular spiders, that you have to keep an eye out for but also snakes and plants.
There is a lot of nasty stuff up there.
There is the Cassowary, which everybody knows about.
The Australians tell me that if you scare up one of those things, they will turn around and gut you.
They have big hook-like claws, and they will jump on you and tear you up.
I have had many scary experiences with insects in particular, because I work a lot with aculeate [stinging] wasps, but I am a hymenopterist so those things do not bother me.
I have stood right next to a nest and they were buzzing around; but as long as you do not mess with them, they will not mess with you.
I do not think I have ever been involved with Africanized Honey Bees.
I have not had many bad experiences.
If you had to choose between a vertebrate and an arthropod as a pet, which would you choose.
I would take the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach every time.
These roaches do not eat a lot.
Granted they are not very cuddly, but they do not take much work.
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