The Bee Man: Jerome G. Rozen Jr., Ph.D.

Jerome (Jerry) Rozen is a world-renowned entomologist and bee expert at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. And he’s a great friend of the Huyck Preserve. He joined the board of directors in the mid-1980s but his affiliation with the Preserve began long before that. Let me tell you how I met him.

I met Jerry in 1983 at the Mountain Research Station in Nederland, Colorado (near Boulder). I was attending my first OBFS meeting (Organization of Biological Field Stations) and, as a member of the Preserve’s board of directors, was representing the Preserve because we had no executive director at the time.

Jerry was representing the AMNH and its Southwestern Research Station located in Portal, Arizona. When I mentioned that I was from the Huyck Preserve, he regaled me with stories about the Preserve, his research on solitary bees, and the joys of working with and training young scientists. He clearly loved what he was doing and had such infectious enthusiasm and a wonderful sense of humor. Right away I started thinking that he’d make a great board member. When I returned from the OBFS meeting, I recommended that he be considered for the Preserve’s board of directors. He was indeed voted on as a board member in 1984 and has been deeply involved ever since. He was also on—and later chaired—the Scientific Advisory Committee, which chooses scientists to be awarded research grants to support their work at the Preserve. He’s generously hosted the winter board meeting at the museum each year. And, of course, he has continued his bee research at the Preserve.

I had no idea that he was such a famous entomologist when I met him. He’s so modest and down-to-earth. I loved the story he told about his 1978 discovery of a rare solitary bee species—Macropis nuda—on the Preserve. Nests of other Macropis species had been discovered in Russia in the 1920s, but no one had found any in North America…until Jerry did. Solitary bees don’t build hives like honeybees and other social bees do. Instead, each female solitary bee builds a tiny nest—containing one or more brood chambers—in the ground, packs each chamber with food, and then lays her egg in it. The eggs develop into larvae, and then emerge as adults the following spring.

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The Macropis nuda solitary bee.

Jerry knew that M. nuda loved a flower called yellow loosestrife. In the 1970s, one of his Cornell entomologist buddies told him about there being lots of the yellow loosestrife flowers at the Huyck Preserve. Jerry figured there was a good chance he’d find the M. nuda there, too. So he and a Rutgers University student who was working for him went to Rensselaerville to search for the bees’ nesting sites. Sure enough, they discovered one on the Huyck Preserve—near the Ordway house on Pond Hill Road. It was the first nesting site of this rare bee found in North America. Later, Cornell scientists discovered another nesting site, with about 50 nests, near the Lake Myosotis dam. In the 1990s, when work was being done on the dam, Jerry requested that a temporary barrier be set up to protect the site from the construction. The construction crew was happy to oblige.

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The Epeoloides pilosulus bee that parasitizes the M. nuda nest is rare. In 2014, Cornell entomologist Bryan Danforth (who was also a researcher at the Huyck Preserve) found one specimen at the Huyck Preserve. The specimens shown here, from the AMNH collection, were collected in Flatbush, Long Island in 1894, a year before Jerry’s grandmother gave birth to twins, one being his father. CREDIT: Stephen Thurston, AMNH

He is also interested in cleptoparasitic bees that sneak into the nests of solitary bees and secretly lay their own eggs there. They are also called cuckoo bees because their behavior is like that of cuckoo birds who lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. A cleptoparasitic female bee waits until the host female leaves the nest to gather provisions for the brood cell, sneaks into the nest to lay her own egg in the cell wall, and then departs swiftly. The host female returns with provisions, lays her egg on them, and seals the cell. The cleptoparasite egg hatches first and the larva, which has large grasping mandibles, assassinates the host egg and then consumes the provisions. Nasty business. Jerry once likened the cleptoparasitic bee larva to monsters hiding under the bed. I haven’t had a good night sleep since.

The Epeoloides pilosulus bee that parasitizes the M. nuda nest is rare and has been found in only a few locations in the northeastern United States and adjacent parts of Canada.In 2014, Cornell entomologist Bryan Danforth (who was also a researcher at the Huyck Preserve) found one specimen of E. pilosulus at the Huyck Preserve. “Learning that, I visited the Preserve within the last few years with the hope of finding it at the nesting site,” said Jerry. “Although M. nuda females were nesting, no parasites were found flying and none of the brood cells held their immatures. The only specimen of the cleptoparasite that I—or at least someone in my party—collected was from eastern Pennsylvania several years ago.”

obfs brochure-crop-160pxJerry and I continued to go to OBFS meetings almost every year through the 1990s. He eventually became president of the organization (1990). He and I had fun working together to create OBFS’s first brochure—called “Biology on the Spot: The Unique Value of Biological Field Stations.” The museum contributed the design, field stations around the country provided photos, and Jerry and I helped write the text.

In April 1993, I went out to Tucson, Arizona, to observe—and help—Jerry in his field research. He would spend hours in the desert searching for bee nests, the bees themselves, and the cleptoparasitic bees that invaded their nests. It was fascinating to watch him work. When he found a nest, he’d put a clear plastic cup, upside down, over the opening so he could see what kind of bee emerged—the host or the intruder. I remember there was one area that had a least a dozen plastic cups covering nest openings. He also made molds of the nests by slowly pouring a plaster-of-Paris concoction down the opening. After it dried, he’d carefully dig up the nest. The mold had formed a perfect 3-D impression of the underground tunnel.

When Jerry’s children were young, they and his late wife, Bobbie (nickname for Barbara), would accompany him to the desert to help. At the end of the day, he’d reward the children with ice cream; he and his wife enjoyed a special cocktail treat called a Simla Special. The drink is named for the William Beebee Tropical Research Station, established in 1949 in Simla, Trinidad. The cocktail is made up of dark rum, lime juice, and sugar with ice, and, according to Jerry, is best consumed while looking over the jungle in Trinidad’s Arima valley at sunset.I got to sample a Simla Special one time. (I’m sure I would have liked it more had I been in an exotic place like Trinidad.)

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Jerry is demonstrating—to students in the Bee Course in Arizona—how to excavate the nests of solitary bees. Behind him is Corey Smith, a scientific assistant who works with him at AMNH.

I visited the Southwestern Research Station that same spring (1993). What a spectacular place! Jerry still runs a nine-day Bee Course there every summer for biologists, grad students, state and federal agencies, and other professionals from all over the world.

Jerry also impressed me with the way he could pick up a bee with his hands without getting stung. Well, he usually didn’t get stung. “It’s easy if one know that certain bees do not sting and [that] male bees never sting,” he says. “You simply have to know your bees.”He once told a reporter for the New York Times (2009) how he’d collect flowers and bees in a net and then put the net over his head to get a good look. But, he explained, they don’t like being compressed—one time an angry bee nailed Jerry right between the eyes!

He did his undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania (two years) and the University of Kansas, earning his B.A. in 1950. He got his Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley in 1955 and did his postdoctoral training at the University of Kansas, with Charles D. Michener, a leading expert on bees and later the author of Bees of the World. Although Jerry’s thesis and training was on bees, he first worked as an entomologist—studying beetles—for the U. S. Department of Agriculture at the Smithsonian Institution (1956-1958), and then as an assistant professor at Ohio State University (1958-1960). He returned to specializing in solitary and cleptoparasitic bees when he joined the AMNH in 1960 as Chair of the Entomology Department (1960-1972) and Associate Curator. Later he was appointed Curator (1965-present), then also Deputy Director for Research (1972-1986), and was responsible for the operations of the museum’s field stations—Lerner Marine Lab in Bimini, Kalbfleisch Field Research Station on Long Island, the affiliation with the Archbold Biological Station in Florida, and the Southwestern Research Stationin Arizona. He has held leadership positions in a number of professional organizations including OBFS, the Entomological Society of America, the Society of Systematic Biology, and other organizations. He is still a curator at the AMNH and continues his research on the nesting biology of bees and their evolutionary relationships and has traveled all over the world: the United States, Trinidad, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Namibia, South Africa, Switzerland, Austria, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Costa Rica, and Belize. His work has greatly expanded the museum’s holdings of bees. Thanks to Jerry, the AMNH has one of the largest, if not the largest collection of bees of any institution in the New World.

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Jerry checks the M. nuda nesting sites whenever he’s visiting the Huyck Preserve. Former board member Laura Carter accompanied him on one of his recent expeditions.

Jerry certainly has an impressive worldwide reputation as a bee expert, museum administrator, and field-station-operations director, and has made many contributions to the scientific world. We are glad he’s been part of the Huyck Preserve family for so long. (It was so much fun when he and Bobbie came to Preserve meetings and told stories of where they’d been and what they’d discovered.) And we are grateful that he has so generously shared his expertise and knowledge to help make the Preserve, its board, and its Scientific Advisory Committee strong.

Having never lost a shred of enthusiasm for his subject Jerry absolutely lights up when he’s talking about his bees. One of these days, maybe I’ll learn how to pick up a bee without being stung. Jerry, how do you do that anyway?

About L. Stephenson Carter

L. Stephenson Carter is a science writer/editor and was also on the board of directors of the E.N. Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville, NY.
This entry was posted in Biological Research, Huyck Preserve, insects, arachnids, Natural History, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Bee Man: Jerome G. Rozen Jr., Ph.D.

  1. Pingback: Table of Contents | lscnews

  2. Tom Lyons says:

    When I finished this, Laura, what came to mind was — Rosen is to bees as Wilson is to ants. Amazing scientists, amazing work, amazing educators and amazing mentors to us all. What a gift Jerry has been and is to the Preserve and its mission. You (and your blog) Laura are also gifts through such wonderful documentation of science within the Huyck Preserve. Thank you. Tom

  3. susan arbit says:

    great article Laura.

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