BERKELEY — When Vernard Lewis was a little boy, he hunted grasshoppers and fed them to harvester ants. When he brought home bugs he’d trapped in jars, his grandmother told him to “release those creatures.” Lewis did — on the living room floor. His defiance earned him a whipping, but that didn’t stop him.
Lewis would follow his early passion to become a respected global urban entomologist — an expert in household and structural pests. During a colorful 35-year-career, the 66-year-old Hayward resident has taken the war against termites to the slums of Pakistan and Chile, tangled with bed bugs and mass murderer Charles Manson in San Quentin, chomped on Rice Krispies treats made with mealworms, and built a state-of-the-art “villa” where insects can check in but never leave.
For the past 26 years, Lewis has been a specialist at UC Cooperative Extension, University of California’s agricultural experiment station. He retired from that post last month, but it’s no cause for celebration for termites.
“I retired from my academic position, but I didn’t retire from the profession,” said Lewis, who will stay on as an emeritus professor and consultant.
Lewis’ work has focused on eradicating structural pests — mostly termites, bed bugs and beetles. Over the years, he’s published 150 papers, given hundreds of presentations and chaired the United Nations’ termite dream team: the Global Termite Expert Group. He also ran his own pest control company. Last year, Lewis was inducted into the Pest Management Professionals Hall of Fame. He is one of the rare African-American entomologists in North America and the first at UC Berkeley.
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