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Dr. Hugh McGuinness Appointed NMNH Research Associate

Last winter, upper school science teacher Hugh McGuinness was appointed to the position of research associate in the Entomology Department at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) of the Smithsonian Institution. In his new position, Dr. McGuinness will be able to pursue his own research and continue as a taxonomist in addition to teaching at Maret.

Jamaica Bay, 1987. That’s when Dr. McGuinness’s fascination began. Friends were headed out at night with black lights and white sheets to attract moths and photograph them. It was too wild an opportunity to pass up—he had to join them. Since that moment, Dr. McGuinness has made moths the focus of his life’s work. Their beauty and incredible biodiversity are part of the allure, but their ecological significance as a high-quality food source for secondary consumers such as migrant birds also motivates Dr. McGuinness to focus his attention on them.

Now, he is working to revise the genera Crambus and Aethes, diagnosing all of the known species and describing new ones. This process of identification includes defining the genus and determining where one species ends and one begins. So far, he has identified more than 35 species in each genus, but the more he looks, the more he finds.

Recently, Dr. McGuinness coauthored an article on Homochlodes Hulst in the Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society. He also coauthored a section of the North American checklist covering the Geometridae, which will be published by the Wedge Entomological Research Foundation later this year.

The Smithsonian insect collection is one of the largest in the world, comprising more than 35 million specimens. In his 10 years at the museum so far, he has improved the collection in many ways, including incorporating 4,000 specimens of Crambus into the identified collection, as well as thousands of other specimens into genera as diverse as Aethes, Micocrambus, Acrobasis, and Eulithis. He was also the first person to do a complete curation of the North American Notodontidae.

One of the things I love most about working at the NMNH is making the collection better for future researchers. I feel like I am one of a long line of curators who have built and maintained this collection and that I have a responsibility to see it into the future."—Dr. Hugh McGuinness

Before his time at the Smithsonian, Dr. McGuinness worked for the Nature Conservancy as a consultant, conducting surveys of moths to evaluate land management practices and to document the occurrence of rare species. His research included using moths as indicator species in successional habitats, the spread of introduced Lepidoptera, various aspects of Lepidopteran taxonomy and systematics, and documenting Lepidopteran biodiversity on Long Island, NY.