STEM-Talk: Dr. Barbara Thorne, conehead termite expert, on biology, control of these highly social insects

STEM-Talk episode 150 featuring termite biologist Dr. Barbra Thorne is now available on IHMC’s website as well as popular podcast apps. In her interview, Barbara talks about the invasive conehead species, a Central and South American termite that has invaded South Florida.

Dr. Barbara Thorne STEM-Talk

Barbara is a research professor and professor emerita in the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland. Since 2012 she has served as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services science advisor on the state’s Conehead Termite Program. She also chairs the National Scientific Advisory Committee for the Conehead Termite Program.

Barbara’s research focuses on the biology of termites, which are highly social insects that form complex colony structures. She earned her Ph.D. in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology in 1983 from Harvard University where she studied with the late Dr. E. O. Wilson, a renowned biologist and naturalist.

In this episode, Barbara discusses:

— How she had no interest in bugs until college when she went to a summer Bug Camp where she read E.O. Wilson’s book, “The Insect Societies.”

— The 15 years she spent in E.O. Wilson’s lab at Harvard.

— How she began working in the field of applied termite biology.

— Her research into targeted applications for the control of termites.

— Her papers on the eusociality in termites and how the existence of social insects was something that stumped Charles Darwin.

A TED-Ed video lesson about the conehead termite queen, one of the longest living insects in the animal kingdom.

— The work she is doing in Florida to target and control the invasive conehead termite, which is causing serious damage in the state.

IHMC is a not-for-profit research institute of the Florida University System where researchers pioneer science and technology aimed at leveraging and extending human capabilities. IHMC researchers and staff collaborate extensively with the government, industry and academia to help develop breakthrough technologies. IHMC research partners have included: DARPA, the National Science Foundation, NASA, Army, Navy, Air Force, National Institutes of Health, IBM, Microsoft, Honda, Boeing, Lockheed, and many others.