Entomologists are biological scientists who specialize in the study of insects, both in the field and laboratory settings.
Most entomologists specialize by studying a specific species or group of insects such as bees, butterflies, beetles, or ants. An entomologist who works with bees could choose to narrow their focus to specialize in working with a single species, such as honeybees. They can then specialize even further by studying behavior, nutrition, reproduction, disease transmission, or pest management issues related to their specific species of interest.
Other options for employment include pursuing career paths such as forensic entomology (using insect evidence to assist police investigations) or entomological paleontology (studying insect fossils and evolution).
Entomologist Duties & Responsibilities
The job generally requires the ability to perform the following duties:
- Develop and conduct experimental studies with insects in controlled or natural surroundings
- Collect and analyze biological data and specimens
- Study the characteristics of insects, including interactions with other species and their environment, reproduction, population dynamics, diseases, and movement patterns
- Research, initiate, and maintain breeding programs for insects
- Estimate, monitor, and manage insect populations
- Write research papers, reports, and scholarly articles that explain findings
An entomologist’s specific duties can vary widely based on the nature of their employment. Entomologists involved in research may be responsible for designing research studies, caring for the insect subjects, supervising laboratory assistants, recording data, analyzing data, preparing reports, and publishing study findings in professional scientific journals for peer review. Researchers may be involved in commercial, private, or government work and fieldwork often involves extensive travel.
Entomologists involved in education may be responsible for teaching courses, grading exams, designing lab activities, supervising student research, mentoring graduate students, and pursuing their own research goals.
Entomologists employed as college professors seek to publish their research findings, as success in publishing is usually a requirement to secure tenure. Other entomological educators may be employed in public education positions at zoos, museums, or health organizations.
An entomologist 's salary can vary depending on location, level of education, experience, and employer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers a salary range for wildlife biologists, the broader category in which entomologists are included:
- Median Annual Salary: $62,290
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $99,700
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $39,620
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
Education Requirements & Qualifications
Entomologists with graduate level degrees tend to have more options for employment in the field, and graduate degrees are usually required for senior research positions or college teaching roles.
Entomology degrees usually involve coursework in insect anatomy, physiology, reproduction, behavior, genetics, taxonomy, life cycles, evolution, population dynamics, parasitology, ecological impact, biological control, and toxicology. Additional coursework for the degree may include classes in statistics, general biology, ecology, and chemistry.
- Education: Entomologists must achieve (at minimum) a Bachelor’s degree in entomology or a related field in the biological sciences. Once they have completed their undergraduate degree and a related internship, most entomologists go on to pursue graduate level studies at the M.S. or Ph.D. level. Undergraduate entomology programs are offered at a number of major colleges and universities. Many other colleges offer minors in the field that also prepare their biological science students to pursue this career path at the graduate level.
- Certification: The Entomological Society of America is a membership group that bills itself as the largest entomological society in the world. The ESA offers two certification paths: board certification and associate certification. Board certified entomologists (BCEs) must pass two comprehensive exams and generally have completed entomology degrees at the graduate level. Associate certified entomologists (ACEs) must pass one comprehensive exam. (These entomologists tend to work in the pest control field.)
Entomologist Skills & Competencies
To be successful in this role, you'll generally need the following skills and qualities:
- Comfort with insects: Entomologists shouldn't be squeamish around insects and must be willing to handle them and their byproducts.
- Observation skills: The field often requires observing and noting details about insects' behavior, appearance, and environment.
- Communication skills: They must be able to explain their findings in writing and verbally to academics, students, policymakers, and other stakeholders, depending on the exact job.
- Critical thinking skills: Entomologists must be able to draw conclusions from data collected from research, observation, and experiments.
The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics projects that employment in the field of wildlife biology, in general, will grow 8 percent through 2026, which is close to the overall employment growth of 7 percent for all occupations in the country. Entomologists holding graduate degrees, especially doctoral degrees, will continue to have the greatest number of employment opportunities in the field.
Entomologists may find employment with universities, laboratories, research groups, zoos, museums, private or governmental agricultural entities, military agencies, public health organizations, biotechnology firms, and other organizations.
Most zoologists and wildlife biologists work full time, but the work hours will vary by type of work and employer. Educators, for example, may do most of their work during the school year. Researchers may work long or irregular hours, especially when doing fieldwork.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People who are interested in becoming entomologists can also consider some these related careers and median salaries:
- Conservation scientist or forester: $60,970
- Animal care or service worker: $23,160
- Biological technician: $43,800
- Environmental scientist: $69,400