Childhood interest leads to rewarding career

Linda F. Benedict, Bogren, Richard C.

Gregg Henderson’s interest in insects began when he was a young boy. “I would make ant farms, and along the sidewalks of my suburban New Jersey landscape, I would develop wars between different pavement ant colonies based on their territories,” he said.

Henderson had recognized ants’ territorial behaviors and how they established territories and their limits. But his interest in social behavior eventually turned to people, and he majored in psychology and biology at Rutgers University.

Following graduation, he went to work at the University of Pennsylvania as a technician and took courses in animal behavior and psychology on the side. These interests led him back to school to study behavior. “Not bird behavior, not fish behavior, not human behavior, but ant behavior – especially fire ants,” he said.

Although he had never studied entomology before graduate school, Henderson earned his master’s degree at Washington State University and his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he specialized in the ecology of ants.

During his graduate studies at Wisconsin, he discovered that paper wasps produce a compound, methyl palmitate, that repels ants and mosquitoes. This led to a patent for using methyl palmitate to produce ant and mosquito repellents.

S.C. Johnson and Son, the company that produces Off, Raid, floor waxes and other consumer products, provided financial support for Henderson to do further research on this concept, and after graduation, he served as a consultant to the company.

Even though his specialty was ants, he joined the LSU AgCenter faculty as a termite researcher in 1990. “Termites are very different from ants,” he said.

He found himself working with pest control companies and the chemical industry. And based on his experience with ants, he began developing termite baits.

“I decided I needed to address the specific problems and concerns of homeowners,” Henderson said.

He obtained samples of the insecticide sulfluramid from S.C. Johnson and developed it into the first termite bait tested in the United States in a major city – New Orleans.

Henderson’s work with bait led to the pop-up bait station, one of his 20-plus patents. “I got goose bumps the first time I saw the product in Lowe’s,” Henderson said when it was licensed for home use.

Henderson’s most recent provisional patents are for bacteria that can be added to bait to kill termites.

Rick Bogren is a professor and science writer with LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article was published in the fall 2012 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)

1/17/2013 10:51:06 PM
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