History of Entomology

Edward H. Smith

Cornell University (Emeritus) Ashville, North Carolina

Janet R. Smith

Asheville, North Carolina

This brief history traces the interactions of humans and insects dating from the adoption of agriculture and its inherent ecological disruptions. Humankind's early preoccupation with survival focused on insects as relentless pests, competitors for food and fiber, threats to health and comfort. The high hopes following World War II for relief from the bondage of insects through the use of chemical insecticides such as DDT proved unrealistic. The reassessment that followed led to a concept based on ecological principles which is referred to as integrated pest management (IPM). In this system, multiple control technologies are used, with the additive effect being to hold insect injury at acceptable levels while avoiding excessive environmental insult. The age-old struggle continues; entomologists are now armed with the lessons of the past; advances in insecticidal chemistry, bio logical control, and cultural methods; and visionary new technologies based on genetic modification of plants and animals. Simultaneously, the rise of the environmental movement and ecological awareness has placed insects in a new context, highlighting their essential role in biodiversity on which the viability of the Earth depends. The vision for the 21st century calls for compatibility between insect control and conservation; both are prerequisites to human well-being. Stewardship of the Earth is the greatest challenge ahead and one that places awesome responsibility on the shoulders of entomologists.

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