Joe Parker, Entomologist, Collector


New assistant biology professor Joe Parker is an entomologist interested in the mechanisms underlying evolutionary change, particularly those that involve symbiosis, the intimate, cooperative relationships between different species. In particular, he looks at rove beetles (Staphylinidae), a species-rich group of organisms that have repeatedly evolved symbioses with ants.

Recently, Parker talked with Caltech magazine about how his fascination with insects took off when he was a child growing up in Wales: “I’ve been obsessed with insects fanatically since I was 7 years old. When you’re that age you’re impressed by big, flashy insects, which to this day I still sometimes find hard to resist collecting.

“At home in Wales I have a big insect collection I accumulated as a kid, and I used to keep all of these tropical species in my bedroom: scorpions, tarantulas, giant African land snails, hissing cockroaches, katydids. I had maybe 10 aquariums with tungsten light bulbs heating all these tropical insects in the cold Welsh climate. I used to go to sleep at night with the aquarium light bulbs blazing, hiding under the covers so I could sleep!

“Over time I became more focused on beetles in particular. Then, when I was 16, I collected my first specimen of these rove beetles that have this symbiosis with ants. Suddenly, all the other insects seemed a little bit less interesting.”

—Judy Hill