Athens, Ga. – As a professor of entomology in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Nancy Hinkle has followed bugs into some interesting places: the woods, cow pastures, chicken houses and even into the minds of those who are plagued by imaginary mite infestations. Recently, her colleagues, including other veterinary entomologists throughout the U.S., honored her journey with a Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented during the Livestock Insect Workers’ Conference held last month in Kalispell, Mo.
“It’s most meaningful, because it comes from my colleagues,” Hinkle said. “There’s nothing better than having the affirmation and approbation of one’s colleagues.”
At least eight different entomologists nominated Hinkle for the award. Each noted Hinkle’s dedication to the field, her varied research and extension interests, and the ease with which she communicates with the public and farmers.
“Like many other positions, either research or extension, the limits of the job can largely be determined by the person holding the position,” said Jerry Hogsette, a Florida-based USDA entomologist, in his nomination letter. “Nancy certainly pushed and went way over the expected limits of her job.”
Hinkle’s award is an affirmation of the impact UGA has made on the study of entomology across the nation, said Ray Noblet, director of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ department of entomology.
“We knew when we recruited her from the University of California at Riverside that she would drive a nationally-leading program in veterinary entomology,” Noblet said.
While Hinkle has studied the way mites, fleas and other insects affect people, her main focus has always been the interaction between bugs and birds-primarily chickens. She is researching ways to keep housefly populations down in layer operations, keep the darkling beetles out of broiler houses and prevent Northern fowl mites from causing misery at chicken breeding farms.
Both housefly swarms in layer houses and darkling beetle infestations in broiler houses are environmental problems that affect the production and safety of those operations but cause little harm to the chickens.
The Northern Fowl Mite, however, affects chickens’ health and the productivity of a farm. The mites tend to congregate around the genital tract openings of the birds, producing irritation and causing roosters to lose interest in breeding. Her study of these mites led Hinkle into a field that she never thought she’d study-human psychology. In the past few years, she’s written papers on Ekbom Syndrome, a condition that makes people believe they are infested with mites or small bugs. She said it was a topic that fell into her lap after years of studying bird mites in Georgia.
“People who get these invisible bugs often believe that they are bird mites,” she said. “So, they call someone who is an expert in bird mites, and in Georgia, that happens to be me.”
After receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Florida, Hinkle worked at the University of California Riverside before joining the faculty of UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in 2001.