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An Entomologist’s Life

Alumnus Riley Tedrow protects U.S. Marines and sailors


Photo of a smiling man holding a python.

Riley Tedrow with a Woma python. | Photo courtesy of Riley Tedrow

As a Case Western Reserve undergraduate, Riley Tedrow, PhD, discovered a new species of praying mantis. Now he’s a medical entomologist with the U.S. Navy in Australia, safeguarding U.S. troops from illness—or worse. 

“My job is to protect marines and sailors from insect-borne diseases,” said Tedrow (CWR ’15; GRS ’19, biology), a lieutenant and insect specialist leading the Preventative Medicine Department for Marine Rotational Force Darwin. “I am also responsible for protecting them from snakes, spiders, lizards, birds and crocodiles.” 

Tedrow teaches service members how to protect themselves. And that’s particularly important in Australia, home to the world’s most venomous snakes, mosquitoes that carry two types of encephalitis, and crocodiles that regard humans as food. 

Snake Lesson One: leave them alone. “Most people are bitten when they’re trying to kill a snake or catch it, because they saw too many wildlife shows,” he said. 

But service members could accidentally step on or near a snake and get bitten. The venom of Australia’s brown snakes and death adders can kill within hours without medical intervention. So he teaches Snake Lesson Two: the emergency lifesaving Pressure Immobilization Technique. “It’s wrapping the limb with a sturdy bandage that prevents venom from flowing through the lymphatic system to the rest of the body,” he said. “That can buy us enough time to helicopter them to a hospital.” 

Then there are mosquitoes, the tiny bugs that pose a huge potential danger to military operations. Mosquitoes were so endemic in the Pacific Theater during World War II that at times there were more casualties from malaria than from combat. The Navy deployed its first entomologists in 1941 to support Marines in the Pacific, launching the Navy entomology corps, according to Entomology Today.

Tedrow has considerable expertise in malaria. In 2018, he developed a molecular test to identify mosquito species and malaria parasites. He then worked with Gavin Svenson, PhD—an adjunct assistant biology professor at CWRU and now also chief science officer at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History—and Peter Zimmerman, PhD, a pathology professor at the university’s School of Medicine—to create a new trap to collect mosquitoes. He deployed the traps in remote villages in Madagascar. 

In 2014, during a research trip Svenson led in Rwanda, Tedrow discovered the praying mantis species, which he and Svenson later named Dystacta tigrifrutex, or bush tiger mantis. 

Photo of two people together with one plucking ticks from a shrew

Riley Tedrow plucks ticks from a shrew with his colleague, Hanayo Arimoto, at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Alaska. | Photo courtesy of Riley Tedrow

Tedrow’s path to the military began when a U.S. Army entomologist came to CWRU to discuss work opportunities. 

A Navy scholarship supported his doctoral work at CWRU. After graduation, Tedrow was commissioned as a naval officer and deployed to a global health mission on a small ship in the Pacific Ocean. And then the pandemic hit. 

Tedrow had done high-volume molecular testing for his PhD thesis. That gave him skills to conduct large- scale COVID-19 testing. So he was helicoptered onto the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to run its testing system and protect the huge ship from infection. 

He committed to the Navy for four years but finds the work so fulfilling he plans a military career—and credits the knowledge and collaborative experience gained at CWRU for making it possible. 

And despite all the potential hazards, his boyhood love of bugs and snakes is clear when he works with troops. “I’m trying to instill reverence for all the creepy crawlies that exist out here,” he said.

Page last modified: January 16, 2024