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Alumnus Wins National Entomological Competition

Tommy McElrath ’10 and a team of fellow University of Georgia graduate students took first place in the 2012 Linnaean Games, a national question-and-answer competition hosted by the Entomological Society of America.


Tommy, who is working towards his Ph.D. in entomology with a focus on systematics and classifications of the Coleoptera beetle, says the games looked like fun, and that he sought no class credit for participating. “We were just excited to be there,” he says. “This was my first year competing.”


The games include teams from eight colleges, divided at first into four branches: eastern, southeastern, southwestern, and pacific. Tommy’s team won the southeastern branch in March and went on to win the national meeting this fall.


“The questions were supposed to be ones that any entomology graduate student or undergraduate could have come across,” says Tommy. “Each of us tried to focus on one or two areas; systematics and taxonomy were my subjects. Keeping that all in my head and learning all that trivia – it’s good review, and it’s good for the department.”


Tommy majored in biology at Covenant. “I honestly really liked the whole idea of Covenant – thinking like a Christian and learning science from a Christian perspective,” he says. During a summer between semesters, he took his first entomology course at the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies. “Dr. Wenger urged me to take one of those courses,” he says. “I’ve always liked creepy crawly things, and I fell in love with the subject there.


“I really love most insects,” he says. “99 percent of insects are either neutral or beneficial, and then that one percent or less than one percent annoys us or plagues us to no end, causing all sorts of problems.” Cockroaches, for example, belong in the latter category, though Tommy is quick to note that cockroaches are not beetles, and therefore are not part of his Ph.D. focus. “Most of the beetles that I study are about one to two millimeters long – the small brown ones,” he says. “They’re kind of cute, actually.”


Click here to watch a video of the 2012 Linnaean Games final.