Dr. Jerry Powell was honored on July 30, 2017, at the Lepidopterist Society annual meeting in Tucson, Arizona, with a symposium organized by John Brown, Dan Rubinoff, and Dave Wagner. Speakers included students and colleagues who roasted and toasted Jerry, who sat with his wife Liz in arm chairs at the front of the room. A general theme throughout the presentations (besides Jerry’s demanding and often gruff facade) was how he influenced the trajectory of each person’s career. Others who chimed in remotely, either by Skype or email, included: Dan Janzen, Jim Liebherr, Cheryl Barr, and John De Benedictis.
Jerry is known largely for his work in Lepidoptera, particularly microlepidoptera (ie. small moths). His publications (>240) include Moths of Western North America, (Field Guide to) California Insects, the biology and systematics of spruce budworm, Lepidoptera of the California Channel Islands, yuccas and yucca moths, insects of California sand dune habitats, and a long list of collaborations on various moth groups, including the taxonomy, systematics, and biology of Tortricidae, Heliodinidae, Ethmiidae, Prodoxidae, Pyralidae, and many others. He described as new 227 species of Lepidoptera, and collected over 440 holotypes in various groups. Over 40 species of insects have been named for Powell in seven orders to-date (Hemiptera x1, Neuroptera x1, Diptera x9, Coleoptera x4, Hymenoptera x5, Trichoptera x1, Lepidoptera x22). A true “vacuum cleaner” collector, Powell has contributed many hundreds of thousands of specimens to the Essig Museum of Entomology, where he still curates the Lepidoptera collection a few hours every day.
Speakers also reminded the audience of their favorite Powell quotes and phrases: “If it was easy someone would have done it already”, “Science moves forward by creeps and jerks”, “chowdered”, “corked”, “good grief”, “One larva; two larvae / NO EXCEPTIONS”, Powell’s Law: “No biologist studies anything found within 100 miles of where they live.”
Although Jerry’s main research focus has always been the insect fauna of western North America, especially California, what was evident from the comments of speakers and other contributors is Jerry’s depth and breadth of knowledge in both insects and plants (and their interactions), and his influence on the careers of entomologists throughout the country and on most continents. Perhaps just as telling is a comment made by a citizen scientist helping to digitize label data from the Essig Museum specimen collection through our Notes From Nature portal who quipped, “Who is this Jerry Powell? Is he some sort of vampire? He has been collecting for over 60 years!”