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Local Heroes / Wayne Gall

A natural scientist for all seasons



Gall now serves the US Department of Agriculture as entomologist and identifier, with a laboratory at the Peace Bridge.

Photos by kc kratt

 

The profilees featured in this month's issue may not have instantly recognizable names, but to us they’re famous. They do tireless work—often volunteered or minimally compensated—to support what makes life in Western New York (or anywhere) worth living: adequate housing, personal safety, good medical care, access to arts/culture, a healthy natural environment, and so much more. Meet one of our heroes: Wayne Gall.

 

Over my thirty years as a Western New York nature columnist, I have come to know many of those involved in conservation activities here. The roster is long. Among them are Joe Allen, Bob Andrle, George Arthur, Larry Beahan, Jacques Berlin, Meaghan Boice-Green, Bill Broderick, Larry Brooks, Jay Burney, Peter Dow, Robbyn Drake, Donna Fernandes, David Hahn-Baker, David Hartney, Jill Jedlicka, Tom Kerr, Garner Light, Richard Lippes, Steve McCabe, Paul McClennan, Pat McGlew, Jajean and Ana Rose-Burney, Dick Rosche, Chuck and Kristen Rosenburg, Linda Schneekloth, Lorne Smith, Nancy Smith, and Margaret Wooster.

 

To me, however, one name stands out: Wayne Gall. And I believe that every one of the people I’ve listed would agree.

 

To whom do you turn when you need a leader for a field trip? For a speaker on a wide range of subjects? For a course in medical entomology? For a Science Olympiad events coordinator? For assistance in identifying insects being brought into the United States at the Peace Bridge? For advice on bed bug infestations in residences? For a STEM program for high school students? For serious thinking about the future of the Buffalo Museum of Science and Tifft Nature Preserve? For identification not only of insects, his specialty, but reptiles and salamanders, birds, wildflowers, ferns, and trees? Many questions, one answer: Wayne Gall.

 

Wayne Gall is a true Western New Yorker, a native of Lancaster where he continues to live within a stone's throw of where he was brought up. His father and brother were avid hunters and anglers, and Wayne joined them in wrangling snapping turtles, gigging frogs, and catching Northern pike. He was especially impressed with a strange amphibian that the Gall boys hauled in while ice-fishing on Lake Erie off Sturgeon Point. It was a mudpuppy, a permanently aquatic salamander whose bushy red gills protrude behind its head. Gall has retained the excitement of participating in outdoor activities generated in those family years throughout his lifetime.

 

After completing parochial elementary and high school, Gall enrolled at the University at Buffalo to study marine biology. His interest had been piqued by the well-publicized adventures of Jacques Cousteau. At UB, he was fortunate to connect with professor Jack Storr. Under Storr's tutelage, he participated in a field course in the Bahamas and environmental monitoring on Lake Ontario at Rochester Gas and Electric’s Ginna Nuclear Power Plant.

 

 Over those undergraduate years, his interests progressed from marine biology to freshwater invertebrates to entomology, and he earned an entomology master's degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1980.

 

Returning to Buffalo, Gall first worked for the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning as senior environmental quality technician, mostly responding to oil and chemical spills. Most important, however, during this period he extended his interests and gained skills by attending the Buffalo Museum of Science's outstanding adult education courses. He studied under recognized masters: botany with Norm Zika, ornithology with Bill Vaughan, and field ecology with David Bigelow. Those skills he has enhanced and passed on to his students and colleagues.

 

With those collective experiences on his resume and references supplied by Zika, Vaughan, and Bigelow, it is no wonder that Gall was selected as the museum’s first administrator/naturalist at Tifft Nature Preserve in early 1983.

 

Gall earned his doctorate in zoology from the University of Toronto. From September 1987 to February 1994, he split his time each week between Buffalo and Toronto, conducting his doctoral research at the Royal Ontario Museum, then serving as research fellow at Tifft and later associate curator of invertebrate zoology at the museum in Buffalo. This meant a seven-day work week for those six-and-a-half years.

 

His studies focused on the evolutionary relationships of caddisflies. We know those insects as weak-flying, moth-like insects along waterways (the infamous “sandflies” along the Niagara River), but they spend most of their lives underwater as larvae. Utilizing silk that they extrude from their lower lip, caddisfly larvae are indeed underwater architects. Gall studied a group whose larvae famously construct portable tube-cases from detritus or small mineral particles that they gather from the bottom of streams and ponds.

 

Upon successfully defending his Ph.D. dissertation in February 1994, Gall was appointed curator of entomology at the Science Museum, under director Ernst Both, and soon became chairman of the curatorial department. Among the few dozen scientists and naturalists that Gall recruited as speakers at the museum, none were more noteworthy to him than Edward O. Wilson (the “ant man” of Harvard) and Roger Tory Peterson, the world-renowned ornithologist and artist.

 

In September 2000, a new CEO ushered in a different era at the museum. With the goal of cutting fixed costs and raising admission revenues to ostensibly improve the museum’s fiscal health, museum administrators reduced support for collections and scholarly work. Strategic planning shifted to science "edutainment." Gall saw the writing on the wall, and resigned in October 2001. Within the next three years or so, the full-time curatorial staff of Gall’s era (four other curators, the registrar, and a curatorial assistant) were involuntarily terminated or, in one case, had resigned to seek a museum opportunity elsewhere.  

 

In April of 2001, Gall received a call from his entomological colleague at the New York State Department of Health, Jacques Berlin, who was planning to retire, and encouraged Gall to apply for his position. This led to an appointment in November 2001 as regional entomologist for the NYSDOH. Gall provided technical support to county health departments and clinicians in seventeen western counties of New York. Much of his work involved surveillance for deer ticks and mosquitoes and their associated disease agents, in-service training, and identification of arthropods of public health importance—including such unsavory creatures as bed bugs, head lice, scabies mites, bot flies, and spiders. He also taught two graduate courses in the Biology Department at SUNY Buffalo State and UB’s School of Public Health: medical entomology, and insect biodiversity. Perhaps Gall’s most acclaimed accomplishment was identifying the larva of a sheep nose bot fly that had been removed from the eye of a US soldier based in Afghanistan. For this, and having two caddisflies named in his honor (Goera galli and Psychomyia galli), Gall was recipient of the NYSDOH Employee of the Year award in 2005.   

 

Gall retired from that position recently, and now serves the US Department of Agriculture as entomologist and identifier, with a laboratory at the Peace Bridge.

 

Gall credits his wife, Sue, now a retired school nurse, with nurturing their family during the difficult years when her husband was working on his doctorate. The couple has three children: Jeffrey, Jennifer, and Jonathan. Jeffrey is a Penn State Ph.D. in meteorology, Jennifer graduated from UB Medical School and is now Chief of Dermatology at the VA Medical Center in Buffalo, and Jonathan is a recent graduate of UB’s Pharmacy School. 

 

My personal indebtedness to Gall is extensive. He has never been too busy to respond to requests for information or assistance. Although I spent several years volunteering in his museum entomology department, my favorite time with him was when I audited his aforementioned medical entomology course. Although much of the course dealt with the details of arthropod-borne diseases, there were also case studies he recounted that could compete with science fiction. In one case, a WNY resident had a non-healing wound along his eyebrow. Now, as in that episode in the film Aliens, an insect seemed to be bursting out—at least the man could see something retracting in and out when he looked in the mirror. This case culminated in surgical removal of a one-half inch long larva of a rodent and rabbit bot fly (identified by Gall). While tracing the man's activities, Gall found that he had cleared vegetation to erect a ground blind for deer hunting at his country property immediately before this strange lesion appeared. After being laid in low vegetation, the bot fly egg probably hatched in response to the heat of the man’s hand, and the man unknowingly transferred the once tiny larva to his eyebrow when wiping his sweaty brow.

 

We all are indebted to the intellectual curiosity, conservation activism, and scientific achievements of Wayne Gall.

 

Gerry Rising writes a nature column for Spree.

 

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