Education & Career

Akito Y. Kawahara received his Bachelor’s degree in entomology from Cornell University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in entomology from the University of Maryland. He was hired as an Assistant Curator at the McGuire Center following a postdoctoral fellowship with Daniel Rubinoff at the University of Hawaii.

Kawahara’s research centers on Lepidoptera phylogenetics, systematics, fossils, life history evolution and genomics. Kawahara’s focal systems are hawkmoths (Sphingidae) and leaf-mining moths (Gracillariidae), but he also studies the biogeography and diversification of the endemic Hawaiian aquatic and carnivorous fancy-case caterpillar moths (Cosmopterigidae: Hyposmocoma). Kawahara has conducted fieldwork in many countries, including Canada, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, France, French Guiana, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mariana Islands, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan and the United States. During these trips, he studied both butterflies and moths for morphological and genomic work. Kawahara led expeditions to Borneo and the lower Amazon and traveled by boat and helicopter to collect Lepidoptera. Similarly, he traveled to remote cliff tops in Kauai, Hawaii, to sample aquatic and carnivorous moths.

Akito Kawahara with Taiwan Sphingidae

Akito Kawahara with Taiwan Sphingidae

Kawahara worked on a 90-minute documentary film, “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” (Argot Pictures, 2009) and is currently working on a short film about nature education in the United States. One of his goals is to educate the public about the importance of natural history. He has organized multiple symposia on Lepidoptera, at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting and the International Congress of Entomology. Kawahara served as a lead author on one of the first comprehensive phylogenetic studies of hawkmoths, co-authored two influential papers on the evolution of Lepidoptera and published a number of taxonomic and evolutionary papers on moths. He regularly collaborates with a team of domestic and international researchers.

Details on Kawahara’s current research can be found at his research website. He is expanding the McGuire Center’s moth collection, both by increasing the number of Museum moth specimens and building a central DNA-based collection of Lepidoptera.