The pest professor: Meet Dan Suiter, UGA’s Orkin Professor of Urban Entomology

Suiter has spent nearly 40 years studying roaches, termites, ants, bedbugs, and other insects that make their way into human territory

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Termites are just one of Dan Suiter’s areas of expertise.

Photograph by iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dan Suiter has a superpower: He can walk into a restaurant and tell if it has rats or roaches, just by the smell. “Rat urine is kind of pungent,” he says. “Roaches are more musty.”

Suiter didn’t acquire his powers by getting bitten by a radioactive bug. The newly appointed Orkin Professor of Urban Entomology at the University of Georgia—endowed, yes, by the Atlanta-based pest control company—has spent nearly 40 years studying roaches, termites, ants, bedbugs, and other insects that make their way into human territory.

His fascination began early. “All entomologists have a story of growing up kicking over logs,” he says. Suiter did his log-kicking in the woods of South Florida, where his father took him hunting and fishing. He once spelled entomology (correctly) in a spelling bee, but he didn’t know what the word meant until an invertebrate-zoology professor at Palm Beach Junior College (now Palm Beach State College) told him there was an entire academic field devoted to studying insects. “And here I am, this many years later, because of that conversation,” Suiter says.

Suiter pursued a PhD at the University of Florida, which is also where he met his future wife, Lisa Ames—in an entomology class. For his dissertation, Suiter researched a tiny wasp that eats cockroach egg cases, a natural form of roach control. These days, though he still does some lab research, his work is mostly teaching and collaborating with the pest control industry. At UGA’s Griffin campus, he regularly leads seminars that use a model home with three-foot-high walls to show exterminators how houses are constructed and how termites and bedbugs find their way in.

As a member of the UGA Extension faculty, Suiter is also available to answer questions from any Georgian about residential pest control. All they have to do is call up their local agent—there’s one in every county—and they’ll be connected to an expert at UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “That’s the cool thing about Extension,” Suiter says. “You extend knowledge. If someone has a question about pigs, it’ll go to a swine specialist and they’ll get answers. If you have an urban pest problem, it’ll probably come to me.”

The Orkin professorship comes with a $500,000 endowment, which Suiter plans to use to hire one or two more graduate students. They’ll study, among other urban pests, the Asian needle ant, an invasive species (with a painful sting) that’s most active in July and August. But a more immediate concern is termites.

“We’re right in the termite belt,” he says. “The southeast U.S. is warm and humid and wet—a perfect recipe for termites.” He recommends that homeowners have their houses inspected annually but leave the actual extermination to a professional. “You need someone experienced,” he explains. “Palmetto bugs and fleas you can do yourself, but not termites and bedbugs.”

This article appears in our July 2023 issue.

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