Bees and army bands: The remarkable life of TB Mitchell

This is a guest post from our Research Associate, Elsa Youngsteadt

A portrait of T.B. Mitchell in the lab. Image courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries; photographer unknown.

T.B. Mitchell is probably the reason we ecologists in eastern North America can identify our bees. Mitchell joined the faculty here at NC State in 1925 and distinguished himself as a meticulous taxonomist.

Although he died in 1983, more than 30,000 of his bee specimens are housed here in the NC State Insect Museum, where one can occasionally feel a little time warp: The specimen I am examining right now, under the microscope, was alive in 1925. It was cruising from flower to flower along some North Carolina country roadside 91 years ago when Mitchell nabbed it with his net. He pinned it, identified it, labeled it, may have studied it while writing the key I’m now using—and I’m handling that exact bee, comparing it to one of the same species that I caught last week.

Enough of this kind of thing, and you wish you could meet the guy who made the collection. Thanks to lab alum April Hamblin’s idea to propose a Heritage column for American Entomologist, we nearly feel that we have. April, Margarita López-Uribe, Heather Moylett, and I spent the better part of a year, off and on, going through boxes of letters and stacks of theses, reading Mitchell’s papers, and conducting interviews and correspondence—including actual paper letters. The resulting article is published in the fall 2016 American Entomologist. We invite you to read it and get acquainted with this energetic, unflappable gentleman, his scientific contributions, and his remarkable experiences as a musician and entomologist.

2017-06-29T10:28:19+00:00 August 30th, 2016|Categories: Lab Happenings, Natural History and Scientific Adventures, Pollinators|Tags: |

About the Author:

Elsa Youngsteadt
As an insect ecologist, I am interested in plant-insect interactions and their responses to human modified environments. Plants and insects diversified together, producing the fascinating array of interactions we see in the world today—from seed dispersal and pollination to herbivory. My current research asks how urbanization and climate change alter plant-insect interactions, using scale insects and their host trees as a study system. I am comparing scale-insect abundance across urban, latitudinal, experimental, and historical temperature gradients. My other ongoing projects examine arthropod diversity and function across New York City green spaces, and the effects of Hurricane Sandy on New York’s urban insects. Ultimately, my goal is to understand how human activities, including both urbanization and restoration, can be guided to preserve a diversity of plants, insects, and their interactions.