Bockler waspWasp for which teacher is named. Don BocklerDon Bockler

Legendary Arlington High School science teacher Don Bockler is gone but hardly forgotten. His name lives on through the persistent work of former students -- and through the name of a wasp.

A new species has the recently approved scientific name Lanthanomyia bockleri. You can call it the "Bockler Wasp."

The award-winning teacher who died in 2008 at 65 lives on with a lot of help from AHS graduates Margaret Dredge Moore of Arlington and Tabatha Bruce Yang of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, at the University of California, Davis, and its nonprofit BioLegacy Program.

In 2012, Moore and Yang led an effort locally to have a new species of insect named in Bockler's honor. It raised more than $2,000 from 95 donors for the endowment of the Bohart Museum, after senior scientist Steve Heydon had discovered the tiny wasp in Chile.

AHS 1993 graduates Yang and Moore, who have known each other since first grade and were lab partners in Bockler's AP biology class, saw it as a wonderful tribute to "Doc Boc," the teacher's nickname.

In an email July 25, Moore wrote that Bockler was "incredibly passionate about science education, so we were thrilled to have this opportunity create a memorial for him in science history. The success of the project is a tribute to the lasting impact he had on hundreds of students.

"We received many messages from former students working professionally in the sciences: physicians, researchers, academics and teachers, all crediting Don as their mentor and inspiration to pursue the sciences in their careers.

Spent hours outside classroom

"'Doc Boc' was equally important to humanities-leaning students like me because he cared about us so deeply as individuals, showing true concern for our well-being, our learning, and our futures. He spent hours with us outside the classroom: advising the environmental club we started (S.A.V.E: Students Against the Violation of the Environment), taking us on trips to observe nature and gather biological specimens, and as a counselor on our winter solo camping expeditions.  I don't know how a teacher could have given more to his profession and to his students."

The donors were primarily former Arlington High School students of Don's, Moore wrote July 23. Parents, teachers, personal friends and professional colleagues also contributed. Some larger gifts finished the project, notably one from the Urban Ecology Institute, based in Chestnut Hill.

"Tabatha had the idea for the project and asked if I wanted to help," wrote Moore, an independent nonprofit consultant. "She is the inspiration; I've put my experience in nonprofit fund-raising to use as the 'operations' person for the project."

During the past 18 months, Heydon worked on the scientific paper establishing the discovery of the species, and it was published early this year, in Zootaxa, a worldwide journal for zoological taxonomists.

"Once an article goes through the scientific-review process and is published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the name of the new species is official and immortalized in the scientific literature," Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum, said in a news release.

 Kimsey described species-naming as "a unique, lasting form of dedication" and "a great honor both for the person giving the name and for the individual or other honoree whose name is being given to the species."

Yang comments

Tabatha Bruce YangYang

Margaret D. MooreMooreYang, education and outreach coordinator at the Bohart Museum, said in the release that Bockler "was fascinated by evolution and nature and he would have been proud.”

Like many other Bockler students, she credits him for influencing her decision to pursue a career in science.

Bockler, a member of the Massachusetts Hall of Fame for Science Educators, taught science for 32 years, including a short time in Peru and Puerto Rico before joining the Arlington High School faculty in 1972. He retired in 2003.

His former students and teaching colleagues said the naming of the insect is a fitting tribute to a teacher who lived for and loved science and instilled the enthusiasm in his students. Wrote one colleague in an email to Yang and Moore: "His students were blessed by his passion and devotion to inquiry learning. As a friend and mentor, he left an indelible mark on my career as a teacher and scholar… Most importantly, he helped us all believe in the value of our work."

Bockler's obituary in The Boston Globe reported that he "found his place among the subjects he loved and the students he taught. During his career he led classes in all levels of biology, environmental science, and earth science."

He was past president of the Massachusetts Association of Biology Teachers, was a reader for the AP biology and Environmental Science exams and presented at state and national conferences. He received an award for Excellence in Environmental Education in 2003 and was recognized by Tufts University for excellence in mentoring practice teachers.

In retirement, he continued working in science education, writing curricula for the Urban Ecology Institute, home-schooling science students and becoming a teaching assistant at Harvard University Extension.

Background about wasp

Heydon said Lanthanomyia is a genus whose species are restricted to central and southern Chile and adjacent parts of Argentina.

The new species is found in the Nothofagus forests of Patagonian Chile, including Chiloe Island. It belongs to a family of parasitic wasps called the Pteromalidae.

"Unlike other related species, this one has a unique dorsal attachment of the head to the thorax. If you see a specimen of Lanthanomyia with the neck attaching close to the top of the head, you know it is bockleri," Heydon said in the release. "Adults are reared from galls on Nothofagus and are thought to be parasites of gall-forming weevils."

The Bohart Museum established its BioLegacy program "to support species discovery and naming, research and teaching activities of the museum through sponsorships," Kimsey said.  

"At a time when support for taxonomic and field research is shrinking, researchers find it increasingly difficult to discover, classify and name undescribed species. Yet there are thousands yet to be discovered. Taxonomy is the basis of all biology and without species discovery and naming much of the world's biodiversity will remain unknown and therefore unprotectable."

The Bohart Museum of Entomology posts information about naming rights and insects needing names on its BioLegacy website. A minimum sponsorship of $2,500 is requested. Participation in the BioLegacy Program is open to the public (of legal age) and scientists in research organizations. Taxonomists are expressly invited to join the BioLegacy Program. The Bohart Museum is a nonprofit organization and donations are tax-deductible.

The BioLegacy Program provides donors the opportunity to sponsor and give a scientific name to a newly discovered insect species. The Bohart Museum, dedicated to teaching, research and public service, houses nearly eight million specimens and is the seventh largest insect collection in North America.  It is named for noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007).


This story was published Friday, July 25, 2014. (The Advocate's version of this story was published July 31.)