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Famous Female Entomologists Part 5: Berta Scharrer’s Twitter Feed

This is Part Five of a five-part series on Famous Female Entomologists, in honor of the 32nd Annual Insect Fear Film Festival (February 28, 2015), the theme of which is Female Entomologists. (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)


By Tanya Josek

Dr. Berta Scharrer (1906-1995) was an extraordinary scientist. Her work was not only thorough, but also groundbreaking. Berta and her husband Ernst pioneered a new discipline in neuroscience — neuroendocrinology. Whereas Ernst always held a fully paid economic position (first in Germany and then in the United States) while working on vertebrates, Berta was forced due to nepotism rules to often work freelance and on more readily-available invertebrates. Berta’s husband Ernst received new job positions every few years, so they moved frequently. This made Berta’s academic career tougher — with every move she had to find lab space, accept the fact that she would not be paid nor have academic status, and prove to her new male co-workers that she was a force to be reckoned with. In addition, her insect models were not considered as interesting as the vertebrate models.

Tanya Josek

Eventually, Berta started to receive recognition for her work. She was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1967, and she was given the National Medal of Science in 1985. Dr. Berta Scharrer did her research because she was driven by the questions she wanted to answer, despite the fact that she had no academic title and never received equal pay for any of her work. After reading about her life, it’s easy to see that Berta Scharrer was a truly phenomenal female entomologist and an inspiration to us all.

I wrote this blog post about Dr. Berta Scharrer in hopes that I can both accurately portray major points in Berta’s life and make the blog interesting to read. Since many entomologists, including myself (@tany4nyta), utilize Twitter to share information, I decided to set up this blog post in Twitter format. If you want more information about this amazing entomologist, click on the Twitter handles and links below. Enjoy!

August 18th 1925
At the University of Munich working in @KarlvonFrisch’s lab! #cantbelieveit #PDHhereicome

September 21st 1928
It’s official, @ErnstScharrer and I are partners in crime. #notrealcrime #doingresearch  #awesomeboyfriend

May 17th 1930
Who just got her PhD? This woman! #takethatsociety #2Xchromosomes #winning #publishingmythesis

June 20th 1934
Got a job at University of Frankfurt – #NoSalary #NoAcademicTitle

September 21st 1935
@ErnstScharrer and I are officially #married #lovethisguy

March 24th 1936
@ErnstScharrer and I have proved neurons are capable of secreting substances! Nerve communication is not #purelyelectrical#teamwork

October 15th 1936
Feeling the full effect of Law for the Restoration of the German Civil Service (#LRGCS). I can’t believe so many people have been fired

January 4th 1937
@ErnstScharrer and I made it to #Chicago with only $4 and 2 suitcases #moremoneymoreproblems #nomorenazis #fightthesystem

January 9th 1937
Finally found lab space at the University! #gettingbacktowork #nosalary #noacademictitle

March 12th 1937
Yes! The custodian found some roaches for me, goodbye #drosophila#newresearchsubject #settingtraps

December 20th 1937
German may be my native tongue, but this year I’ve published two papers in English! This was definitely an #accomplishment

January 4th 1938
Officially working at Rockefeller University in #NewYorkCity! Sadly #NoSalary #NoAcademicTitle

June 3rd 1938
Found Leucophaea maderae (woodroaches) in a shipping container – these guys are larger and slower than American roaches. #newresearchsubjectL_maderae-2869

July 17th 1939
@ErnstScharrer and I have officially started a new field of study: #neurosecretion

May 28th 1940
@ErnstScharrer, my #roaches and I are moving to Cleveland, Ohio #WesternReserveUniversity #cantwaittowork

June 10th 1940
I will be teaching a histology lab and doing research at WRU #takemycourse :D All this…but still  #NoSalary #NoAcademicTitle

November 14th 1941
Finally got “permission” to go to the department seminars…but only if I bring tea for the whole faculty?! #WhatYearIsIt #WomenDeserveBetter

May 18th 1942
In #Colorado! Enjoying some #horsebackriding and working on my #English with my best friend and partner @ErnstScharrer

September 29th 1943
Professors keep blaming me for the roaches in the building. I guess they’ve never taken a basic #taxonomy course #NotAllRoachesAreTheSameroaches

December 1st 1944
@ErnstScharrer & I published a paper comparing invert cardiacum-allatum system to vert hypothalamo-hypophseal system

February 16, 1945
It’s official! @ErnstScharrer and I are U.S. citizens! #partyintheUSA

November 3rd 1945
DYK that removing both an insect’s corpus allatum & corpus cardiacum cause tumors? Find out why in my new publication!

November 19th 1945
Another publication: Removal of corpus allatum=improper egg development in adult L. maderae females #pushingoutpapers

August 1st 1946
@ErnstScharrer, my roaches & I are off to work University of Colorado Med School! #nosalary #noacademictitle #ThisIsGettingOld

December 12th 1946
Just found out that I have received the Guggenheim fellowship! #recognition #MoneyForResearch

December 13th 1947
Woo! I received the US Public Health Service Fellowship! #MoneyForResearch #MakingItRain

August 15th 1950
Finally! The University has given me an academic title #itsabouttime. Unfortunately some things don’t change #nosalary

May 27th 1955
Off to Albert Einstein College of Medicine! @ErnstScharrer is founding chair of the Dept. of Anatomy & I have a full professorship! #finally

August 20th 1955
My L. maderae roaches have arrived! #timetowork

August 19th 1960
@ErnstScharrer & I will be giving lectures at Columbia today summarizing our research comparing neurosecretion in verts & inverts #comewatch

July 3rd 1961
The lectures @ErnstScharrer and I gave at Columbia are going to be the basis for a new book called Neuroendocrinology!

May 8nd 1963
Our Neuroendocrinology book has been #published!

April 19th 1965
Off to #Miami with @ErnstScharrer to the annual anatomy meetings, time for some #warmweather

April 24th 1965
The ocean has claimed the life of my best friend, my partner in life – @ErnstScharrer #loveyouforever

June 1st 1965
Although the loss of my husband has been hard, I will be acting chair in the anatomy dept & getting back to research finally with a #salary

January 10th, 1966
My new paper looking at the ultrastructure of blattarian prothoracic glands using #scanningelectronmicroscopy is out

December 29th 1967
I have been elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and American Academy of Arts and Sciences #whatayear

October 16th 1970
Invertebrates cant have problems with neurosecretion or can they? Find out in my new paper co-authored by M. Weitzman

May 31st 1972
Looking at cytophysiological features of cockroach hemocytes using an electron microscope in my newly published paper

May 19th 1978
I’ve officially earned the title Professor #emerita#StillHaveResearchToDo

February 12th 1981
Working w/@GeorgeStefano Georg Hansen & Bente Hansen looking at invertebrate neurosecretory cells & neuropeptides regulate the immune system

December 29th 1983
I can’t believe that this past year I was awarded Schleiden Medal of the Leopoldina and @RonaldReagan awarded me National Medal of Science

April 12th 1991
I have a cockroach named after me – Escala scharrerae! Thank you @LouisMRoth for the honor

November 15th 1994
My home state of #Bavaria has given me the Order of Merit for my work all these years  #honored #dreamcometrue

January 8th 1995
It’s time I actually cut down on my work, I’m officially #retiring. Now, I must say goodbye to my beloved roaches :’(  #goodbyesweeties

Tanya Josek is an M.S. graduate student at the University of Illinois. Her main research focuses on tick sensors, specifically the Haller’s organ. She is currently looking at the morphology of the Haller’s organ, the receptors present in the organ, and how to utilize this organ for Bioinspiration. Additionally, she has a passion for education and loves to participate in many outreach events — one of her favorites being UIUC’s own BugScope. In her spare time she volunteers at UIUC’s community Fabrication Lab, where she helps local Champaign-Urbana residents with various projects as well as work on her own glass and wood projects. Follow her on Twitter at @tany4nyta.


  1. Great post, perfect for upcoming Women’s History Month. It’s unfortunate that she never received the kind of praise for her work she would have received had she been male.

  2. Thanks you so much for recalling the struggles and accomplishments of Dr. Scharrer. She was one of the greats indeed. A wonderful contribution to a wonderful series. However, having met Dr. Scharrer when she was at Einstein, I find it difficult to imagine that she would indulge in the egocentricty of having a Twitter feed. In spite of her tremendous accomplishments she remained a humble, generous scientist, dedicated to her craft. There is no need to embellish a remarkable career and life by resorting to a pseudo-first person account.

    • You might be surprised, Cliff. Many entomologists are using Twitter directly for their projects (for example, asking people to report sightings of invasive species), and many others are using it as a science communications tool. ESA had symposia on this topic at the 2014 Annual Meeting, and we expect more in 2015. Twitter is a tool, Cliff — like a hammer or a car. Its usefulness depends on the user and what is done with it.

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