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New Article Explores the Life of “The Man Behind the Bees of the Eastern United States”

The North Carolina State Insect Museum holds more than 34,000 bees collected by T.B. Mitchell, including this one (Megachile tuberculata). Photo by Heather Moylett.

By Elsa Youngsteadt

T.B. Mitchell is probably the reason we ecologists in eastern North America can identify our bees. Mitchell joined the faculty here at NC State in 1925 and distinguished himself as a meticulous taxonomist.

Elsa Youngsteadt

Although he died in 1983, more than 30,000 of his bee specimens are housed here in the NC State Insect Museum, where one can occasionally feel a little time warp.

The specimen I am examining right now, under the microscope, was alive in 1925. It was cruising from flower to flower along some North Carolina country roadside 91 years ago when Mitchell nabbed it with his net. He pinned it, identified it, labeled it, and may have studied it while writing the key that I’m using now — and I’m handling that exact bee, comparing it to one of the same species that I caught last week.

Enough of this kind of thing, and you wish you could meet the guy who made the collection. Thanks to lab alum April Hamblin’s idea to propose a Heritage column for American Entomologist, we nearly feel that we have.

Mitchell at his desk. Photo courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries.

April, Margarita López-Uribe, Heather Moylett, and I spent the better part of a year, off and on, going through boxes of letters and stacks of theses, reading Mitchell’s papers, and conducting interviews and correspondence — including actual paper letters. The resulting article is published in the fall 2016 American Entomologist.

We invite you to read it and get acquainted with this energetic, unflappable gentleman, his scientific contributions, and his remarkable experiences as a musician and entomologist.

Read the article at:

T. B. Mitchell: The Man Behind The Bees of the Eastern United States

Elsa Youngsteadt is a research associate in the Frank Lab at North Carolina State University. Her current research focuses on how urbanization and climate change alter plant-insect interactions, using scale insects and their host trees as a study system. Follow her on Twitter at @elsa_y.


  1. I think the article can be defined as A history of bees in the eastern US and really enjoyed this.
    Hope we’ll get new information about entomological world. Thanks a lot @ET

  2. I feel that one day, when stupid mankind sprays all the bees dead and neonics finish the kill.
    The spraying and the use of DEET is creating neurotoxin of deadly proportions and birth defects are the result, in suseptable populations. HELP STOP THE TOXIC CHEMICAL SPRAYING!

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