Acclaimed biologist promotes public appreciation for insects

JNM_cutAlthough insects are ubiquitous and have a crucial role in the balance of the planet’s ecosystems, many humans fear or have an aversion to them.  Dr. Jeremy McNeil, Professor, Department of Biology at Western University, met this attitude first hand when he showed his neighbours’ 7 year-old son a hornworm caterpillar from his garden. The young boy stared for a minute and then squashed it in the palm of his hand. When asked why, he replied “Insects are not nice.”

This interaction sparked nearly 40 years of public outreach, where Dr. McNeil has attempted not only to educate the public about insects (and hopefully reduce insecticide use) but also to instill a real appreciation for the natural world around us.  Dr. McNeil continues his campaign in a public talk Are humans really smarter than insects? on Tuesday, November 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus lecture theatre.

In this talk, he will compare insects to humans, and show that they have a lot in common, such as making paper, building solar panels and “houses,” as well as applying the same physics principles for snorkeling and scuba diving.

Dr. McNeil, was born in England, but was mainly educated in North America.  He was professor for 30 years at Department of Biology at Laval University in Quebec City until he took early retirement the end of 2002. At this time, he received a Humboldt Prize and spent 2003 at Hamburg University. In 2004 he accepted a position as a professor in the Biology Department at Western University, and in 2008 also became the Scientific Director of the Biotron, a research facility on campus, set up to study different aspects of climate change.

Dr. McNeil’s research interests are in behavioral and chemical ecology, studying fundamental aspects of mate choice, seasonal migration, as well as plant-insect and host-parasitoid interactions from an interdisciplinary perspective. With his students and collaborators, McNeil has published more than180 papers in primary international journals and more than 10 book chapters. He has received many national and international awards, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and this year he was named to the Order of Canada for his work in studying the reproductive biology in insects and for his dedication to increasing public appreciation of science.

The Science in Society Speaker Series (a joint project by Okanagan Science Centre and the Okanagan College) is sponsored by the Best Western Vernon Lodge, Starbucks Coffee, Cooper’s Food, and the Vernon Morning Star.

Admission is $7 in advance or $10 at the door. For advanced tickets call the Okanagan Science Centre at (250) 545-3644. To subscribe or obtain more information about the Science in Society Speaker Series, visit

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