Joseph V. McHugh

Professor, Department of Entomology
Curator, Collection of Arthropods, Georgia Museum of Natural History

Tell us about your academic or career path. How did you get to your current position? 

I had an early interest in entomology and never considered other options. I was fascinated by insects and their diversity. 

In grade school, I already knew I wanted to become an entomologist someday. I earned a bachelor’s degree in entomology at Cornell University, a master’s degree in evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, and a doctorate in insect systematics back at Cornell. 

I knew that UGA had a strong entomology program, and a natural history museum, and many of my colleagues spoke glowingly of Athens. As luck would have it, an insect systematist position opened at UGA right as I was finishing up my graduate studies.

What would you like the public to know about your work?

Insect systematics is a subdiscipline of entomology that operates at a foundational level, often out of sight. 

Systematists discover and describe species, classify them based on evolutionary relationships, maintain an unambiguous nomenclature system for all taxonomic names, curate research collections of specimens, provide identifications, and develop taxonomic resources for other researchers to use.

What are you currently working on, and what is the end goal of that work?

My research program is focused on beetle diversity and classification. The beetle order, Coleoptera, is huge — about 400,000 named species and millions of additional species that are currently unknown to science. 

One out of every four known animal species is some type of beetle, so this one insect group makes up a huge chunk of all life on Earth. Because the beetle order is so large and diverse, systematists must focus on some manageable subgroup. Much of my research is focused on two superfamilies that together include 40 families and about 19,000 species of beetles.

McHugh discusses beetles with children during the 2011 Lemon Aid II Faculty Community Volunteer Day.

McHugh discusses beetles with children during the 2011 Lemon Aid II Faculty Community Volunteer Day.

What is your favorite part about what you do? 

I love to teach about insects. It feels great to share the sense of awe that they inspire. 

I also enjoy being surrounded by bright and enthusiastic students. They energize me.

Honestly, I am proudest of the many accomplishments of my former students and my own children.

What is something your colleagues or students might not know about you — hobbies, interests, secret talents? 

I enjoy Latin music and have a serious addiction to sushi and poke.