After Hours: Bands to Bugs

Kevin Rice's passion for music helped lead him to entomology

Entomology wasn’t always a passion for Kevin Rice. In fact, a career in that field wasn’t even on Rice’s radar growing up. Rice, an assistant professor in the Division of Plant Sciences, received his bachelor’s in biology from the University of North Carolina at Asheville before earning his master’s in entomology (Auburn University) and Ph.D. in entomology (The Ohio State University).

His first love, though, was music.

The Rice family, who immigrated from Ireland, includes numerous professional musicians. Rice’s father was a part of the Irish Guard’s Band in England before joining the West Point Military Academy Band. Rice was born in New York – and was groomed from an early age to be a musician.

“From a young age, I decided I was going to be a professional musician,” Rice said. “I practiced four to six hours a day. I honestly wasn’t very good in school. I did the bare minimum. I put everything into music.”

Rice’s father played the clarinet and saxophone. The younger Rice took up the clarinet early on. That experiment didn’t last long, though.

“I played the clarinet for about three months and gave up,” Rice said. “I wanted to play the drums.”

“From a young age, I decided I was going to be a professional musician. I practiced four to six hours a day. I honestly wasn’t very good in school. I did the bare minimum. I put everything into music.”
―Kevin Rice

Percussion instruments stuck for Rice. After graduating high school, Rice went back to Ireland to begin his musical career. He lived in Belfast, playing numerous shows around the area, including at the Grand Opera House, as well as smaller venues like weddings and hotels.

Rice was part of Latin bands, jazz bands and rock bands.

“I made a functioning career out of music,” Rice said.

After nearly two years of playing in Ireland, Rice moved back to the United States to see if he could forge a music career in the states.

“It was a lot more difficult to succeed in the United States,” Rice said. “There aren’t as many music opportunities as there are in Ireland. There seems to be more of an appreciation for music in Ireland, as there is a lot of live music at festivals, shows and bars.

“I was able to be a part of rock bands in California, North Carolina and Arizona in the United States. Eventually, though, I realized I needed something steadier.”

Rice enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, working toward a degree. He quickly found that his passion for music could be used in the biology world.

“In one of my first classes, my professor was studying katydid sound production,” Rice said. “He thought several morphologically identical katydids were producing different songs.

“When the professor found out that I played drums and other percussion instruments, and that I owned and had experience with recording equipment, he pulled me into his lab. He had me analyze and compare katydid songs using music software.”

Rice was soon joining the professor in the field to conduct behavioral experiments.

“I instantly fell in love with entomology,” Rice said. “I was so amazed with all of the questions that weren’t answered yet. I would ask my professor multiple questions – and these weren’t scientific questions, but fairly basic observational questions. He encouraged me to research and follow-up on my observations.”

Rice did post-docs at Pennsylvania State University and with the USDA before joining MU in January. His research focus for both was studying invasive insects, looking at their biology and ecology in an attempt to manage them better.

While Rice has only been at Mizzou for five months, he has already begun a few projects. One of those projects is developing an attract-and-kill management strategy for Japanese beetles using pheromone lures and insecticide impregnated nets, similar to the nets used for malaria. The goal is to see if they can kill enough beetles, reduce economic damage and decrease chemical control applications.

Rice, who plays drums professionally and dabbles with the guitar at home, played in a rock band during his post-doc with the USDA.

“I still love to play,” Rice said. “It just has to be a little more low-key.”