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Around The Fleet

Navy Entomologists : More Than Just Bug Nerds

Navy bug docs keep the creepy crawlies at bay

Bugs. Six-legged, eight-legged ... never a good surprise to find in a house. What usually induces a blood-curdling shriek from many draws a few bold, curious Sailors in like ... well ... a moth to a flame.

For the Sailors assigned to Navy Environmental Preventative Medicine Units (NEPMU), the battlefield is microscopic. Disease is a very real enemy to the Navy and the latest developments in entomology, the study of bugs, helps keep the threat at bay.

While most Sailors want nothing to do with bugs, Navy entomologists actively search for them, along with rodents or disease vectors. They do this to prevent the spread of new disease to military forces.

There are currently only 38 entomologists on active duty and about seven in the Reserves. These bug experts have played a critical role in military medicine since 1941, when the first entomologists were commissioned in response to arthropod-borne diseases during World War II.

It may seem strange; after all, bugs don't usually live in the ocean. But they do live on Navy vessels. Navy entomologists help combat cockroaches, bed bugs, spiders and any of their creepy crawly cousins.

Every day is a surprise, said Lt. Ryan Larson, entomologist at NEPMU 6. A ship may have a pest or bug problem, or possibly an entomologist is needed for a humanitarian mission or a hurricane response.

"When this happens, we are trying to stop a chain by going into an area to provide control. Whether applying an insecticide application as a last resort or providing habitat modifications such as cutting down grass or removing a water source," said Lt. Cmdr. Toby Palmer, entomologist at NEMPU6.

If the need arises for a plan to control vector-borne diseases or education of service members about insect related threats, entomologists are there. Erase that image of a group of people dressed in camouflage, armed with a butterfly net, and replace it with an image of highly educated members of the Navy who have master's or doctoral degrees in entomology or a closely related field.

Navy entomologists have to be ready at a moment's notice to support the deployed war fighter and are stationed in Bethesda, Md.; Pearl Harbor; San Diego; Atlanta; Jacksonville and Gainesville, Fla.; Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va.; Lima, Peru; and Cairo, Egypt.

If you are interested in becoming a Navy entomologist you have two options. One is a direct accession and the other is through the Health Sciences Collegiate Program (HSCP.)

To be a direct accession, you must have your master's degree or PhD in entomology. However, through HSCP the Navy will provide financial incentive to obtain your master's degree or PhD. For more information you can contact the Navy Entomology Center of Excellence (NECE) at

Learn more about the Navy's entomology program.