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Noted entomologist to receive science excellence award

PHILADELPHIAThe Academy of Natural Sciences today announced it will give its highest science award to a noted behavioral ecologist who has done more than anyone to document one of the most economically important groups of insectsgrasshoppers.

Dr. Daniel Otte, arguably the world's authority on grasshoppers and a world authority on crickets, will receive the prestigious Joseph Leidy Award for scientific excellence on Thursday, Nov. 12, at the Academy, where he has worked as curator of entomology for 35 years. The event is free and open to the public and will include an illustrated presentation by Otte.

Established in 1923, the Leidy Award periodically is given by the nation's oldest natural history museum to recognize exemplary publications, explorations, discoveries or research in the natural sciences. Past recipients include Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson and evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant.

Otte, 70, of Swarthmore, is the founder and principal author of Orthoptera Species File, an online catalog of information on all of the world's grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and their relatives, some 24,570 species and counting. With the world's largest collection of grasshoppers and crickets and an outstanding library, the Academy pioneered in the task of placing a catalog of all known species of a major group of insects on the Internet. To Otte, it was a labor of love and his proudest moment in a lifetime of accomplishments.

"These insects are part of the ecosystem, part of the food web," said Otte. "I think they are just as important as we are. They are part of the whole fabric of life."

At a time of climate change and habitat destruction contributing to mass species extinction, making a list of what insect species exist and which have gone extinct is essential. Otte is so tuned in to his critters of choice that he can walk into a forest anywhere in the world and gauge its environmental health by which crickets are chirping. He is widely respected as a scientific illustrator, and he has recorded so many cricket calls that he can recognize and imitate hundreds.

Adventures of a grasshopper and cricket lover

Otte, tall and athletic-looking despite his age, has spent four decades traveling the worldand risking life and limb in the processto study, categorize and classify insects. One of six children of Lutheran missionaries, Otte was raised in Zululand, (now kwaZulu-Natal) South Africa, where the bush was his playground. He attended boarding school at Deutsche Schule in Hermannsburg, and Echowe High School in Zululand.

Following family tradition, he made his way to Iowa where he attended Luther College as a freshman, then transferred to the University of Michigan in the early 1960s, thinking he would study mammal behavior. Instead, a professor, noted entomologist Richard Alexander, suggested North American grasshoppershistorically, one of humankind's major competitors and, thus, an economically important insect. Otte packed his notebook and tape recorder (there were no video cameras), and he never looked back.

"At the time, a lot was known about grasshoppers, but little of the knowledge was summarized, and there were no catalogs to the fauna," Otte said. "I decided to write a comprehensive manual to all of the species." Little did he know where this path would lead.

During his remarkable career, Otte so far has described more than 125 new genera and more than 1,500 new species of crickets, grasshoppers and other insects. He has faced hostile soldiers in Botswana, rubbed elbows with poisonous plants in Fiji, and fallen off a cliff in Hawaiiall to collect insects. He has added thousands of new specimens to the Academy's entomological collection and to other institutions around the world. He has vastly expanded the knowledge of insects through his publications, including more than 300 scientific articles and 18 books on the taxonomy, evolution, systematics, biology, and behavior of Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and locusts). His latest book, Caribbean Crickets (The Orthopterists' Society, 2009), is the first comprehensive assessment of crickets in the Caribbean islands and includes descriptions of 585 species, of which 458 are new to science.

He taught biology at the Universities of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Montana and Texas and also biologic illustration at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. In 1975 he joined the Academy as curator. He also is the founder and principle author of Mantodea Species File, an online catalog and database on preying mantises, with taxonomic information on more than 2,400 species. He also is founder and principle author of Phasmida Species File, an online catalog and database on stick and leaf insects, with taxonomic information on more than 2,940.

For most Academy scientists, the best part of their job is the field work, and Otte already has his next big adventure planned. He's off to the Rockies and South Africa, two of his favorite collecting spots, in preparation for the third volume of his The North American Grasshoppers.


Contact: Carolyn Belardo
The Academy of Natural Sciences

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