Noel Krauss "Traveled the world on a bug hunt."



Noel Krauss, Caroline's grand-uncle, died in 1996.  His obituary in the Star-Bulletin read, "As the state's lead 'bug man,' Noel L. H. Krauss got to travel the world looking for insects.  His mission: hunt up parasites and predators with which to conduct biological warfare against alien weeds, insects, and snails."  The Honolulu Advertiser wrote, "His job was to be a pest to the pests of Hawaii."

Today, tourism is the number 1 industry in Hawaii.  A huge part of the reason for that is the climate.  The soft trade winds and generally balmy temperatures, along with beaches galore, have attracted tourists for 100 years.  Katelin developed her honors project here and titled it, "The Billion Dollar Beach: Assessing the Effectiveness of the Marine Life Conservation District at Waikiki."

Unfortunately, many of the factors that attract people also attract pests, and over the years, plants and animals, diseases and pathogens have also intentionally or unintentionally been brought to Hawaii.  In this paradise, many pests found an attractive habitat, and flourished.

Thus, for decades, specialists in the Territory and State of Hawaii worked to identify the natural enemies of these transplanted pests, and bring them to Hawaii as biocontrol agents.  That was Noel Krauss' primary duty over his career.  He had majored in entomology at the University of Hawaii, then received a MS from UC Berkeley.

I came across the first reference to his duties in a newspaper article dated August 27, 1935.  He was being sent to "British Africa" to "search for insects which, when released in Hawaii, will prey upon the Mediterranean fruit flies which for years have done considerable damage to avocados, mangoes, melons, and various other fruit."  He was being supported by tax funds earmarked for Hawaiian agriculture other than sugar.  He later said he spent the 8 months "completely isolated from civilization."

In 1937, he was the assistant entomologist for the Hawaiian Territory's Board of Agriculture and Forestry, and was sent to Mexico to look for biocontrol agents for "pamakani, a rangeland pest."  I'm not sure what pamakani is... there's an endangered plant with this name, and I'm sure that's not it.  Crofton weed?  

I came across a newspaper reference from 1947 when Krauss returned from a trip to Mexico, California, and "the Canal Zone" looking for biocontrols for the pineapple mealy bug (he sent back a species of ladybird beetle).

As you can tell, there was media interest in Noel Krauss' activities.  His name appeared in the 2 major newspapers on a regular basis:


•  Left for "Malaya and surrounding countries" in 1948 to search primarily for parasites of Oriental fruit flies, but "will keep on the alert for anything else which may be of value to island agriculture."  There was a notation that he had searched previously for parasites in Kenya, Zanzibar, and Tanganyika (now Tanzania).

•  Following his year-long trip to Malaya, Krauss went to Australia (Darwin, Brisbane) to continue his search for beneficial parasites, and then to New Guinea (1949).  In 1950, he returned to Australia (Sydney) to look for parasites to control the "giant African snail."  He sent carnivorous snails back to Hawaii.

•  September 7, 1950: "Noel H. L. Krauss, entomologist with the board of agriculture and forestry, who has been in Asia and the South Pacific since April, 1948, is now vacationing in the New Hebrides.  He... will go to Fiji to continue his search for parasites."  It was noted that he had sent a parasite of the African snail that was under study in Hawaii.

•  The editorial for the Honolulu Advertiser, October 3, 1950, stated "Mr. Krauss has earned the three months vacation he says he is going to take now here at home. But the restless urge that drives scientists onward even when they are supposed to be resting is well known.  So it is a reasonable guess that Mr. Krauss will not be wholly idle after the first novelty of being able to do nothing begins to wear off."  Indeed, in 1951, Krauss left for his next adventure:  Fiji, to be there in the right season to collect parasites.

•  After Fiji, Krauss left for an 8 month trip to Zanzibar and Kenya to find natural enemies of  the giant African snail and the rhinoceros beetle, among others.  In 1952, he was reported in Cuba, looking for parasites of insects attacking macadamia nuts, citrus, litchi, avocados, tomatoes, papayas, and sweet potatoes.  The Honolulu Advertiser noted "Unlike South Africa, where there have been recent race riots, there have been no racial troubles in these East African areas.  However, some semi-religious cults, especially among the more primitive tribes in the isolated bush areas, sometimes cause difficulties which require police actions" (July 3, 1952).

•  In 1952, Krauss had a 2 month tour of Guam, Yap, and Palau, collecting 10,000-15,000 insects for the Bishop Museum.

•  In 1953, he was in the Caribbean and Central America, looking for enemies of orchid flies.  He recommended that orchid growers spray their crops regularly with DDT.

•  I just have to summarize things now:  Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (Keawe moth); Belgian Congo (African snail); Fiji, Samoa, Aitutaki, Tahiti, Tonga (insect collecting for the Bishop Museum); Florida (Euglandina snail to eat the African snail); and Cuba, Mexico, and Jamaica (giant African snail, lantana, horn fly).



•  In 1956, he was sent on a year-long, round the world trip to find enemies for Hawaii's pests.  A big focus was the giant African snail, as well as the rangeland plant lantana.  There's a note that, as parasites are sent to Hawaii, reporter Jack Fraser wrote, "...they're carefully studied to see whether they attack useful plants... to separate the 'good-uns from the bad-uns."  Alas, the concept of good versus bad in 1957 is not the same 50 years later.  In the photo to the left, cannibal snails (either Gonaxis or Euglandina) have been shipped to Hawaii.  Later, the cannibal snails will be found preying on Hawaii's native snails, to the extreme detriment of the population of native snails.

•  1957: Mexico, Cuba, Florida, England, Portugal, Morocco, Belgium Congo, East and South Africa, India, Burma, Philippines, and finally Wake Island.  "In Florida, Mr. Krauss gathered a snail, the Euglandina rosea.  Pinky-colored, about three inches full size, the Euglandina loves to eat Giant African snails, the scourge of Windward Oahu."

•  1958:  Malaya, to find parasites of a worm (a liver fluke) which makes the livers of local cattle inedible.

•  1965:  "Noel Krauss [actually, in this article, "Krauss" was misspelled as "Krause" throughout], a soft-spoken Honolulan, was in Cuba when Fulgencia Batista staged a revolution in the 1950s.  And he was in Thailand during a revolt.  Krauss is forever traveling and in the past 21 years has been away from home a total of about 15 years.  The 54-year old, 6 -foot-3 Krauss is not really a soldier of fortune.  But he's involved in a war - biological warfare against unwelcome insects, plants and snails with invade the Islands."  "After spending a lifetime dealing with insects, Krauss has a certain attachment to them.  And while he doesn't minimize their potential danger - recognizing that throughout history insect-caused pestilence and famine have killed millions - Krauss says, "Between man and insects, it's pretty much a toss-up as to which is the greatest threat to humanity."  The author of this article was Bill Cook with the Honolulu Advertiser.

•  1967:  Noel Krauss retires.  "I don't consider it work," smiled the six-foot-three scientist.  "And I enjoy traveling."  Asked about his experiences, he said, "There hasn't been anything startling.  The work itself is very interesting.  I don't need much else."  The article continued, "He had forgotten about a couple of typhoons (in Hong Kong and Manila), two revolutions (when he was in Thailand and Cuba) and a bout with malaria in Kenya, East Africa."

•  1976:  Noel Krauss, in an interview, defines himself as an "itinerant entomologist."  He travels, on his own, to collect insects for the Bishop Museum.  "He takes along very little: his personal effects and 20 pounds of gear (an insect net made of unbleached muslin, cardboard pillboxes, tubes of chemicals."  "He loves especially the vast sweep of the Pacific - the Solomons, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Tahiti." When asked why he doesn't seek financial support for his travels, he explains, "I sort of avoid that sort of thing because you get into the income tax thing and that sort of thing." [?]  "Besides, most institutions and museums are hard pressed for funds these days.  The lack of financial support for the Bishop Museum is a disgrace."

•  1984:  In an article, it is noted that "Krauss has given all his insects to museums.  He has no idea how many he's collected during his lifetime.  But there are at least half a million just at the Bishop Museum, said Gordon Nishida, manager of the entomology department collection."

He died in 1996, with remembrance of his former title, the state's (and territory's) exploratory entomologist.



•••••

Addendum.  In June, 2019, I read an article in The Atlantic about Oahu's native tree snails, and the impacts of the rosy wolfsnail on their populations.  I responded with this letter:

Biologist David Sischo laments the intentional introduction of Euglandina rosea, the rosy wolfsnail, to Oahu, and their impact on the native endangered tree snails, Achatinella.  “It’s not their fault,” Sischo said. “But I hate them.”  Author Ed Yong writes, "Hawaii’s Department of Agriculture deliberately introduced Euglandina rosea to the islands in an ill-advised bid to control another, previously introduced snail."

That other snail was the Giant African snail, Achatina fulica.  Its impact on Oahu agriculture in the early 20th century can't be overstated, and biologists were sent to scour the world looking for parasites and predators of the Giant African snail, with the local newspapers covering all new developments.  In 1956, Hawaii's exploratory entomologist Noel Krauss (my wife's great uncle) sent a box of rosy wolfsnails to Hawaii to be tested as a biological control agent. This prompted one reporter with the Honolulu Advertiser to write, "...they're carefully studied to see whether they attack useful plants... to separate the 'good-uns from the bad-uns'."  The concern then was impacts on pineapples, sugar cane, and home gardens.  No one considered potential impacts on Oahu's tree snails.  So at the time, it was not an "ill-advised bid" to control Giant African snails.  It was very well advised, perhaps ground-breaking, within the protocols of the time.  

Alas, the concept of good versus bad in 1956 is not the same 50+ years later.  Yesterday's solutions are today's problems.  Rats and wolfsnails are devastating the tree snails (as is habitat destruction).  I hope we learn from the past, but I am also very aware that, 50 years from now, some of our current natural resource management practices (forest and fire management, gray wolves, livestock grazing, wild horses) will probably be labeled, "ill-advised."  As the baseline for comparison shifts, so does the target of our criticism.

Robert Schmidt, PhD
Certified Wildlife Biologist

Comments