In honor of black history month, we wanted to pay tribute to Charles Henry Turner (1867 –1923) who was a trailblazer in entomology. His research was ground-breaking in the area of insect learning and behaviors. He was the first person to prove that insects can hear and distinguish pitch, that cockroaches can learn by trial and error, and that honeybees can see color. He was also the first African-American to receive a PhD in Zoology from the University of Chicago.
Charles Turner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1867. After receiving his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1907, Dr. Turner settled with teaching biology at various high schools and ended up relocating to St. Louis, Missouri to focus more on his research. Even with very little access to research and lab facilities, Dr. Turner was able to conduct experiments and was the first to prove that:
- Insects could hear and distinguish pitch;
- Insects have the ability to learn by trial and error and can modify their behavior based on past experience; and
- Honeybees can identify certain colors, patterns and smells.
Throughout his 33-year career, Dr. Turner published over 70 research papers and was considered an expert in insect behavior patterns. Some of his papers included “Hunting Habits of an American Sand Wasp”, “Habits of Mound-Building Ants”, “Psychological Notes on the Gallery Spider”, and “Experiments on the Color Vision of the Honeybee”.
Charles Henry Turner was passionate about helping African Americans in his community gain access to educational and social services. He led a life committed to civil rights and was a leader of the civil rights movement in St. Louis. After his death in February of 1923, several schools in St. Louis have been named in his honor.
- “Charles Henry Turner Biography”, https://www.biography.com/people/charles-henry-turner-21302547
- “Charles Henry Turner (1867 – 1923)”, http://www.african-american-scientists.com/bios/charles-henry-turner.html
- “Charles Henry Turner: Contributions of a Forgotten African-American to Honey Bee Research*”, http://psychology.okstate.edu/museum/turner/turnerbio.html
- “Charles Henry Turner: American Scientist”, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Henry-Turner