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Lifelong interest in butterflies becomes passion for career in world of science


Jacqueline Y. Miller

Allyn Curator of Lepidoptera

Associate Director, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity
McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity

Since she was a child, Jacqueline Y. Miller has been passionate about insects and natural history.

“I collected butterflies as a kid, among other things,” said Miller, who joined UF in 1982.

Miller’s research focuses on the evolution, classification and life history of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). She is especially interested in the skipper and brush-footed butterflies as well as the butterfly moths.

Since 1981, she has canvassed various areas of the world including the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico and Honduras to discover, describe and identify dozens of butterfly and moth species.

Her recent work in Honduras focuses on several moth larvae that feed on the leaves of the cacao tree, which produces the beans used to make cocoa powder, an essential ingredient in chocolate. She and colleague Deborah Matthews observed the little-known Cacao Plume Moth and Metalmark butterfly, among other species, damaging the leaves of this economically valuable plant.

“Honduras potentially holds many of the ‘missing links’ to scientists’ knowledge of Lepidoptera in Central America,” Miller said. “Based on our knowledge of Lepidoptera in the surrounding countries, we estimate 6,000 species in Honduras. Currently we have recorded only a third of those.”

In an effort to protect these creatures, Miller is teaching Hondurans about the importance of preserving insects, conserving their habitats and using them to develop an ecotourism industry.

Miller, author of more than 148 scientific publications including seven books, received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh, a master’s degree in biology from Catholic University and a doctorate in zoology from UF.

She served as the assistant curator of the Allyn Museum of Entomology in Sarasota with her late husband, Lee Miller, for 13 years. The Millers expanded the collection’s size and scope, making it a significant international resource for Lepidoptera research. The collection was donated to UF in 1981 and is now part of the Florida Museum‘s McGuire Center Lepidoptera collections, one of the world’s largest with more than 9 million specimens.

Miller, who has a joint appointment with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, teaches courses through the zoology and entomology and nematology departments. In 2008 she was honored as a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America in recognition of her outstanding research career and contributions to the society, and also received a UF Foundation Research Professorship Award. She received the Southern Lepidopterists’ Society Abbot Award in 2005 for her significant contributions to the study of Caribbean Lepidoptera.

Photo credit: University Photography