Robert Leslie Usinger (1912-1968)
Robert Leslie Usinger (1912-1968) served on the faculty in the Department of Entomology at the University of California at Berkeley from 1946 until his untimely death in 1968. Dr. Usinger was a native Californian, born in Ft. Bragg (Mendocino Co.) on October 24th, 1912. When Usinger was young his family moved to San Anselmo for a short time and subsequently to Oakland. His interest in insects dated from his earliest years and was nurtured by his mother who, when he was twelve, brought him to Agriculture (now Wellman) Hall to meet entomologists at work there.
The Bay Area young entomologists scene was lively, and during his teens Usinger had contact with many later first-rate entomologists, including E. Gorton Linsley, J. Linsley Gressitt, and John W. MacSwain. Usinger and his friends were also fortunate in having contact with the strong professional entomological community in the area, receiving encouragement from E.C. Van Dyke, E.P. Van Duzee, E.O. Essig, G.F. Ferris and others. Usinger began attending meetings of the Pacific Coast Entomological Society and the Bay Area Biosystematists, groups with which he had life-long dealings, during his teenage years. Usinger's devotion to Hemiptera, particularly the aquatic members, began during these early years due in part to his association with Van Duzee at the California Academy of Sciences. A revision of the scutellerid genus Vanduzeeina, Usinger's first entomological paper, was completed prior to his graduation from high school.
During Usinger's undergraduate years at the University of California he supported himself working in various labs on campus, ranging in focus from termites to chemistry. Along with his undergraduate studies he found the time to experiment with caste determination in honeybees, study bloodsucking in phytophagous (yes, phytophagous) hemiptera (himself the primary blood supplier), investigate the life histories of naucorid bugs, and compile a catalogue of the Enicocephalidae of the world. He also ventured on many field expeditions including a trip through Mexico on a shoestring with classmate Howard E. Hinton where his interests in Cimicidae (bedbugs) began to develop.
Following his graduation, Usinger was invited to spend a year at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu where he made many contacts and found a dissertation project in a tribe of Hawaiian Miridae (plant bugs) which had undergone extensive radiation on the islands. He returned to the continental U.S., by way of Guam, the Philippines, China and Japan, to accept a position at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco . He married Martha Putnam in 1938, received his Ph.D. in 1939 and accepted a position at the University of California at Davis shortly thereafter. In 1943 the war took Dr. Usinger, as a medical entomologist, away from Davis to combat malaria in the pacific region. He returned from service in 1946 and joined the Berkeley faculty. As a faculty member Usinger, with E.G. Linsley, worked to establish a strong program in systematic entomology. He taught courses in systematic entomology and aquatic entomology, as well as numerous graduate seminars. He is said to have been a brilliant teacher and motivated a veritable army of capable students.
Aguilar, P.G. 1968. Riv. Peruana Ent. 11: 1-2, portrait.