The Boston Globe
June 15, 2003, Sunday ,THIRD EDITION
LOUIS ROTH, ENTOMOLOGIST NOTED FOR COCKROACH STUDIES
BYLINE: By Emma Stickgold, Globe Correspondent
SECTION: OBITUARY; Pg. A30
Most people go to great lengths to get rid of cockroaches. Dr. Louis M. Roth collected
thousands of them.
He spent the first half of his career as an entomologist studying mosquitos, then
switched to cockroaches, naming species after his close friends, secreting live
insects to parties, and researching them at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative
Dr. Roth, 85, who was considered one of the world's foremost authority on cockroaches,
died Monday of heart failure at Metro West Medical Center in Natick.
"I collected these in the Amazon on a Harvard expedition in 1967," he proudly told the
Harvard Gazette last year of the cockroach Schultesia, which he named for the late
Harvard botanist Richard Schultes. The article went on to describe him opening another
box of mice-sized Malagasy insects. "Do you hear them hissing? They hiss in defense and
they hiss when they copulate or when they court."
Even in his 80s, Dr. Roth arrived at the museum a little after 5 a.m., usually working
seven days a week, although he was retired and received no pay. He often said he got to
work early to beat the traffic from his Sherborn home, but those who knew him knew
"He said he just couldn't stand not doing what he wanted to do: his work," said his wife,
Edna (Stepak), who came to share her husband's conviction that the insects were "beautiful."
Dr. Roth, a Brooklyn native, attended New York University, receiving his bachelor's degree
in 1938 and his masters in 1939.
... , he earned a doctorate from Ohio State University, then moved to (Massachusetts) to
work for the entomology laboratory at the US Research and Development Laboratories in Natick.
"I looked around and I decided that cockroaches were an easy insect to rear and it was an
important problem for the military," he told the Gazette.
Dr. Roth wrote dozens of papers on his newfound interest, but found quickly that "when he
did the sexual behavior research, the Army didn't like it," his wife said. So he wrote the
papers at home, and then "later on, when it became important, the Army wanted credit."
When he retired from the Natick labs in 1977, Harvard University gave him office space in
its Museum of Comparative Zoology, and it was there that he received thousands of
cockroaches from around the world.
Dr. Roth drew hundreds of diagrams identifying 400 new species of the insects and named 20
genera. His calmness around cockroaches impressed many, as he deftly picked them up with
his bare hands. "People liked him - they knew he was a curmudgeon, but very likeable in
spite of that," his wife said.
Dr. Roth often carried one of his small creatures in his pocket to social gatherings, and
at an opportune moment, tapped its edge, causing a little head to pop out and startle
those around him. ....
For the complete obituary consult The Boston Globe archives.
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