Serious Fun with Google Trends

No doubt I am behind the curve, but I have only recently discovered Google Trends; a result of attending a Departmental seminar given by a colleague talking about Biochar!

To quote WikipediaGoogle Trends is a public web facility of Google Inc., based on Google Search, that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages. The horizontal axis of the main graph represents time (starting from 2004), and the vertical is how often a term is searched for relative to the total number of searches, globally.”  I was greatly taken by my colleague’s slide showing the birth and development of a new concept


and wondered if this would be a useful tool to look at some entomological topics.  Immediately after the seminar I rushed back to my office, and as you may have guessed, entered the word “aphid” into the search bar and was, after a bit of computer chuntering, rewarded with my first Google Trend output  :-)



I was immediately struck by how closely this resembled real aphid population


data, albeit a more regular and smoother than these examples of real  data.  I found that if you ran the cursor along the data lines the month was displayed, and as I expected, the peak in aphid interest was generally June and May, reflecting their peak abundance in the field.   I next entered


“Ladybird” to see if it coincided with aphid peaks and interestingly found that it had two peaks within each year, May, when they start to become active and October when they start to look for hibernation sites, so as with aphids, the frequency of the search term usage reflects biological activity.  “Butterfly” and “Ant” as search terms revealed that interest in ants and butterflies has remained


fairly constant over the last decade or so, although somewhat to my surprise, ants have had proportionately more searches than butterflies.  Given my worries about the declining interest in plant sciences and the funding problems facing


entomology, I thought it might be educational to compare botany and entomology.

Not an encouraging picture, although at least the decline has plateaued out.  Then, just in case, as in many universities, Botany departments have been replaced with Plant Science departments, and is now taught under that title,


I substituted “Plant Science” for “Botany” and was surprised to see that “Entomology” was searched for about twice as many times as “Plant Science”.

Comparing “Botany” with “Plant Science” reveals that “Botany” was searched for considerably far more than “Plant Science”, despite most universities no longer having Botany Departments. Perhaps they should reconsider their decision to do away with the title?


Keeping with the subject theme and having written in the past about how molecular biology has gained funding and kudos at the expense of whole organism biology (Leather & Quicke, 2010) I compared “Entomology” with


“Botany” and “Molecular Biology” to find, that although overall “Molecular Biology” beats both subjects, interest in the subject has also declined over the last decade. One of my bugbears is the amount of interest and funding that the so called “charismatic mega-fauna” gain at the expense of, in my opinion, the much more deserving invertebrates.


I therefore compared “Giant Panda”, with “Insect” and “Entomology” and was pleasantly surprised to see that “Insect” wasn’t quite overshadowed by “Giant Panda” although somewhat saddened to see that the whole discipline of “Entomology” was not overly popular.

I confess that felt a little frisson of delight when I found that in recent years “Asian giant hornet” has been giving the “Giant panda” a bit of competition :-)



Recently there has been huge debate over the use of neonicotinoids and their possible/probably part they may have in the decline of bees of all sorts (Jeff Ollerton’s blog is a good place to follow the latest news about the debate), so I used “Bee” “Bumblebee” and “Neonicitinoid” as search terms and was


surprised to find that “Neonicitinoid” in this context has not really had an impact, although if you search for “Neonicitinoid” by itself you



can see that there is an increasing interest in the topic.  A corollary to the banning of pesticides or a call for a reduction in their usage as outlined by the EU Sustainable Use Directive, should be an increased interest in the use of alternative pest control methods, such as


This does not, however, appear to be the case, with interest in biological control and IPM being at their highest in 2004-2006 and despite the ‘neonictinoid debate’ no signs of interest increasing, which is something to puzzle about.

It appears that there is definitely something to be learnt from using Google Trends, although it would be more useful if some indication of the actual number of searches could be made available.  A word of caution, make sure that your search term is well defined, for


example a general search using “butterfly” will give you results for the swimming stroke as well as for the insects.

Although you can compare different geographical regions, and also see the figures for related searches,  what does seem to be lacking,


or perhaps I have been unable to find it, is a way to compare different locations at the same time on the same graph.

I would be very interested to hear from any of you who have used this already and also from any of you who are inspired to use this by my post.  Please do feel free to comment.  Have fun!


Estay, S.A., Lima, M., Labra, F.A., & Harrington, R. (2012) Increased outbreak frequency associated with changes in the dynamic behavour of populations of two aphid species. Oikos, 121, 614-622.

Leather, S. R. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2010). Do shifting baselines in natural history knowledge threaten the environment? Environmentalist 30, 1-2.


Filed under EntoNotes, Uncategorized

Do pea aphids rule the world? Joint UK-French Aphid Meeting Paris

Last week (5th to 6th November 2015) I had the great privilege and pleasure to attend an aphid conference in Paris – my favourite insects and my favourite city – heaven!  The conference was mainly organised by our French colleagues from INRA, under the direction of Jean-Christophe Simon with help from Richard Harrington, recently retired from Rothamsted Research, and a tiny bit of input from me.

The meeting was held at the Societe Nationale D’Horticulture De France, a building cunningly hidden away down a long passageway off the Rue de Grenelle which debuts into a small courtyard where I found the main entrance and was reassured by the sight of the


organisers feverishly getting name tags ready (I was very early as had thought it would take longer to walk there than it actually did) and


a suitably amusingly appropriate sign on the door.

I was greeted enthusiastically by Jean-Christophe, caused a bit of a hiatus by having to have my name badge located and was then pointed gently, but firmly at the coffee :-)

The rest of the delegates began to arrive some twenty minutes later or so and shortly after we were ushered into the lecture theatre, which was very full.


After getting over the shock of being told that there was no Wifi available (that put paid to my plans for Tweeting), I settled down to enjoy the morning. The conference began with an invited presentation from Takema Fukatsu from Japan who gave us an overview on symbiosis, evolution and biodiversity.   This was then followed by two shorter talks of 12.5 minutes each leading us into the first coffee break.  One of the great things about this conference was, that apart from the plenary presentation, all talks were restricted to 10 minutes with 2.5 minutes for questions.  This meant that we got to hear 40 (yes forty) talks over the two days and that we had refreshment breaks every 75 minutes, (the coffee was excellent).  The refreshment breaks were half an hour long, and lunch was an hour, thus giving delegates plenty of time to mix and chat about their work.

There were just over a 100 delegates coming from eight different countries, although as one might expect, most were from France and the UK. It was great to see so many people working on aphids, although not all could be described as “aphidologists” sensu stricto, but I am sure that everyone there would be happy to be included under that description as sensu lato :-) Sadly in the UK the number of aphidologists has declined greatly since I was a student, especially those working on their ecology and morphotaxonomy.

The focus of the talks and posters, of which there were 21, was predominantly on the interactions of aphids with their host plants and natural enemies. The role of symbionts in these interactions and the molecular mechanisms involved was especially highlighted, in particular those involved with the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum.  Aproximately 40% of the talks were on the pea aphid, and a further 28% on the most pestiferous aphid in the world, Myzus persicae and its ability to develop resistance to pesticides.  Although I find aphid symbionts fascinating, I am a bit concerned that they and the pea aphid seem to be taking over the world!  Given the number of talks, I am not going to review them all.   For those interested the full programme and abstracts can be found here.  Highlights for me were Christoph Vorburger from ETH who gave an entertaining talk about the effect that endosymbionts have in protecting aphids against parasitoids, and making me feel old, Ailsa McLean from Oxford University, whom I first met when she was in her pram (she is the daughter of Ian Mclean with whom I shared a lab when we were PhD students).  I was also very pleased to be chairing the session in which Charles Dedryver (now retired) was speaking about the history of aphidology.  I was less happy that I had to cut his talk short, but my duties left me no other choice :-)  Despite Charles and I exchanging reprints for almost 40 years, this was the first time that we had ever come face to face.

All in all a fantastic conference and many congratulations to the team from INRA for organising it so well. My one concern, which I touched upon earlier was the predominance of the pea aphid as a model organism and the overriding focus on the molecular aspects of the various interactions.  I find it a little worrying that I can find statements in papers such as “This is an exciting time for pea aphid biologists”  (Brisson, 2010), which hardly indicates a broad viewpoint. As a further indication of an overly narrow focus, during the breaks it was noticeable that of the people who ventured outside, I was the only one turning leaves over and looking for aphids, the others were indulging their nicotine habits.


It is important that as aphidologists, entomologists and ecologists we do not lose sight of the big picture.



Brisson, J.A. (2010) Aphid wing dimorphisms: linking environmental and genetic control of trait variation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 365, 60-616


Sensu stricto in the narrow sense; Sensu lato broadly speaking


A non-entomological post script

The added bonus of having the conference in Paris was that my wife had an excuse to pop over for the weekend and I was able to extend my visit. The weather was fantastic and we had a great time eating, drinking and seeing as many sights as we could fit in.  Luckily the weather was glorious.

Cafe Gourmand

My favourite sort of pudding – Café Gourmand (at Le Café Gourmand)

We rode the funicular to the top of Montmartre, something which despite having visited Paris at least once a year for the last 15 years or so, we had never done. Then after visiting the Montmartre Museum, we walked down to the cemetery.  Paris has some great cemeteries and we never miss the chance to see what curiosities we can find.

Dr Pitchal

A psychoanalyst with a macabre sense of humour Dr. Guy Pitchal (1922-1989), Psychoanalyst known for working with many French celebrities — including the singer Dalida, who is buried nearby.


The Great Nijinsky – looking a bit fed-up?


Emile Zola – we came across his magnificent tomb entirely by accident, after taking a wrong flight of stairs.

La Goulue

Cancan dancer extraordinaire, La Goulue (The Glutton).

Moped inventor

Robert Mayet – Inventor of the moped

Looking for somewhere to eat on Saturday evening we came across a number of shops already preparing for Christmas.

Polar bears

Christmas will apparently soon be with us!

Bees Gare du Nord

Bees get everywhere – no idea what this was about but saw it as we were heading for the Eurostar.



Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

Entomological classics – the Window (pane) Flight Intercept Trap

A couple of years ago I received a paper to review in which the authors detailed how they had invented a new trap for sampling and collecting beetles in tropical forests. I was astounded to see that they were describing a window pane trap, something that I had known about since I was a student and which has been used by entomologists worldwide for many years.  I quite politely pointed this out in my review and directed the authors to Southwood ‘s Ecological Methods (1966).  The other referee was less tolerant, her/his report simply read “see Southwood page 193”.  At the time I wrote the review it was firmly stuck in my mind that the technique was as old as the hills, or at least as old the invention of cucumber frames :-)  I certainly thought of it as a Victorian or Edwardian invention.  To my surprise when I started delving into the literature all the Victorian references to window traps turned out to be ways to protect households from invasion from houseflies and other unwanted flying insects; nothing to do with entomological sampling or collecting. E.g. this patent from 1856 where the inventor describes its operation as follows “The flies enter the trap through the passage B, as illustrated, and after satisfying their wants from the baitboard seek to escape, and being attracted by strong light from the glass back they fly in that direction and being headed out crawl up the glass back until they nearly reach the upper edge of the same, when, being still attracted and deluded by light from the glass top, they attempt to fly upward or through the same and in doing so instead of rising, are, owing to the inclination of the glass top, precipitated into the trough of soap suds and drowned, as illustrated in the drawing.

This fly trap is exceedingly simple, quite cheap, and only costs about twenty-five cents, and has been tried and found to answer well the purpose intended.”


Unfortunately not what I was looking for :-)

Despite scouring Google and Google Scholar, to the lengths of even getting to page 30, which apparently no-one does, it seems that the earliest reference to what we think of as a Window (pane) trap was not invented until 1954 (Chapman & Kinghorn, 1955)  to sample Ambrosia beetles (Trypodendron spp.) and other scolytids in Canadian forests.  There is unfortunately no picture to illustrate the trap, but the written description is fairly clear “ a piece of window glass (2 X 2 ft) set in a three-sided wooden frame from which a sheet metal trough is hung. The trough is filled with fuel oil or water….Traps are hung from various types of pole framework  depending on their location, and guy wires are used to keep them from swinging.”  I am pretty certain that this 1954 date is the earliest record as even that vade mecum of the entomologist, Instructions for Collectors No. 4a (Smart, 1949) has no mention of it.

The theory behind the window (pane) trap is that flying insects are unable to see the clear glass (or Perspex), bang into it, and stunned, fall into the collecting trough where they drown to be collected and identified later. A fantastically simple idea, which is why I was surprised that it took entomologists so long to invent it. As far as I can tell from the written description given by Chapman & Kinghorn (1955), the trap was suspended from a ground based framework.  I think that this version I found in Chapman (1962) is probably the original design or at least very close to it.


Chapman & Kinghorn’s original window flight trap? Chapman (1962).

They also used this is a much more ambitious way as shown below.


Multiple Chapman & Kinghorn Window traps in operation (Chapman & Kinghorn, 1958).

This design in a slightly modified version  is shown in Lundberg (1979) and designs very


Ground based window trap in use in a Swedish forest (Lundberg, 1979).

similar to these are still in use.


A modern ground-based window(pane) flight intercept trap.


Despite its efficiency the ‘classic’ windowpane trap has perhaps not been used as much as it deserves, instead, a plethora of alternative designs have been described since the mid-1970s. So for example we have a small-scale tree hanging version, with a four-way window being used to catch forest coleoptera (Hines & Heikkenen, 1977).  Although the small area flight intercept traps were

6 6a

The Hines & Heikkenen (1977) small area window flight intercept trap.

relatively easy to deploy, they obviously just weren’t big enough for some people. In 1980, Peck & Davies, described a large-area window trap used to catch small beetles. This used the central panel of a Malaise trap as the window under which they placed a large metal collecting trough.  Unlike the Hines & Heikkenen trap, this like the original Chapman & Kinghorn trap, was ground-based.  The


The Peck & Davies(1980) large-area “window” trap.

authors, in an attempt to impose order on to the entomological collecting world, urge other coleopterists to adopt a similar trap design.  In 1981 we see a modification to the Hines & Heikkenen


The Omnidirectional flight trap (Wilkening et al., 1981).

trap to improve its efficiency (Wilkening et al., 1981).  Despite the name omnidirectional, implying that it catches insects from all directions,  this trap catches large fast-flying insects in the lower chamber, into which they fall stunned on bumping into the window pane and slow upwards flying insects in the upper chamber.  The authors argue that the original version of the trap did not catch slow-flying insects as they were able to detect the pane early enough to avoid being stunned and then took evasive action by flying up and away from the collecting bottle.  The new improved version takes advantage of this behaviour and traps them in the upper bottle into which they inadvertently fly.

In 1988, my fellow editor, Yves Basset, then at Griffiths University in Australia, now at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, decided to combine a Malaise trap with a Hines & Heikkenen trap to produce what he called a composite interception trap (Basset, 1988),


The Basset composite interception trap (Basset, 1988).


The Basset composite trap in action.


Despite this ingenious trap, trapping forest canopy insects obviously continued to occupy the minds of forest entomologists and in 1997 another pair of entomologists working in Australia came up with yet another design for a flight intercept trap, this time one that could be suspended at different heights in the canopy and left for long periods of time (Hill & Cermak, 1997). The novelty of this trap


The Hill & Cermak modified Window trap


as far as I can make out is the use of multiple collecting chambers (ice cream tubs) and a plastic instead of a Perspex, ‘window’.

Entomologists are forever tinkering and ‘improving’ with sampling methods, so it should not be a surprise to find a group of entomologsist from the USA describing the ultimate in a composite trap,  this time a combination of four different traps, the cone, the Malaise, the yellow pan trap and the flight intercept trap (Russo et al., 2011). Interestingly, the authors describe this as a passive trap,


The ultimate composite insect trap (Russo et al., 2011).

but as it incorporates a yellow pan trap, which actively attracts insects, this is not strictly true.

Returning to the more conventional flight intercept trap design, Lamarre et al (2012) compared their very slightly modified window pane trap with Malaise traps in tropical forests in French Guiana and


According to the paper, the first attempt to develop a standardised Window pane trap.

concluded that their model was more efficient and “should be used as an alternative and standardised method for future empirical studies”  a bold statement indeed, as they did not compare their trap with any of the other traditionally used window pane traps described above.

And finally and right up to date, and in the best entomological tradition of using cheap easily obtainable materials, yet another variant on the flight intercept trap; this time using plastic bottles – pop, soda, water, cider, beer, take your pick J (Steininger et al., 2015).


The simple, effective and accessible bottle window intercept trap.

I am sure, however, that as I write, some ingenious entomologist out in the field somewhere, is thinking of yet another modification to the window (pane) flight intercept trap to make my post out of date!



Basset, Y. (1988) A composite interception trap for sampling arthropods in tree canopies.  Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, 27, 213-219

Chapman, J.A. (1962) Field studies on attack flight and log selection by the ambrosia beetle Trypodendron lineatum (Oliv.) (Coleoptera: Scolytidae). Canadian Entomologist, 94, 74-92

Chapman, J.A. & Kinghorn, J.M. (1955) Window flight traps for insects.  Canadian Entomologist, 87, 46-47.

Chapman, J.A. & Kinghorn, J.M. (1958) Studies of flight and attack activity of the ambrosia beetle, Trypodendron lineatum (Oliv.) and other Scolytids. Canadian Entomologist, 90, 362-372

Hill, C.J. & Cermak, M. (1997) A new design and some preliminary results for a flight intercept trap to sample forest canopy arthropods.  Australian Journal of Entomology, 36, 51-55

Hines, J.W. & Heikkenen, H.J. (1977) Beetles attracted to severed Virgina pine (Pinus virginiana Mill.). Environmental Entomology, 6, 123-127

Lamarre, G.P.A., Molto, Q., Fine, P.V.A. & Baraloto, C. (2012) A comparison of two common flight interception traps to survey tropical arthropods.  ZooKeys, 216, 43-55

Lundberg, S. (1979) Fångst av skallbaggar med hjälp av fönsterfällor. Entomologisk Tidskrift (Stockolm), 100, 29-32

Peck, S.B. & Davies, A.E. (1980) Collecting small beetles with large-area “window” traps.  Coleopterists Bulletin, 34, 237-239

Russo, L., Stehouwer, R., Heberling, J.M. & Shea, K. (2011) The composite insectrrap: an innovative combination trap for biologically diverse sampling.  PLoS ONE, 6, e21079.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0021079

Wilkening, A.J., Foltz, J.L., Atkinson, T.H. & Connor, M.D. (1981) An omnidirectional flight trap for ascending and descending insects.  Canadian Entomologist, 113, 453-455



Apropos of the ultimate composite trap, I came across this combination four-way window-yellow pan trap combination some years ago, but have not been able to find a published inventor of it.  I should also add that flight intercept traps are also sometimes known as impac traps.


*Vade mecum, a handbook or guide that is kept constantly at hand for consultation.



Filed under Entomological classics, EntoNotes

Underinvestment is not going to produce STARS – BBSRC take note

Earlier this year, the BBSRC at the stroke of a pen, deprived several strategically important and vulnerable research skills and capabilities areas in biosciences of approximately £9 000 000 per annum  by funneling iCASE funding to a number of universities already awash in cash and with little or no interest in vulnerable skill-sets. Now, the BBSRC in a feeble attempt to remedy this seriously misjudged action, has announced their new STARS programme. I quote from their website

“Our STARS programme aims to support the development of strategically important and vulnerable research skills and capabilities in the biosciences. Awards are available to develop postgraduate-level training in areas of significant need for clearly defined academic and industrial sectors”


Reasons for such additional support include, but are not restricted to:

A lack of training and/or capability in specific areas, or a need to up-skill individuals within a specific area

An identified need to attract researchers into the area

A need to build capacity in a new or emerging research area

A need to transfer technical and commercially relevant skills to/from industry


Delivery of training may be achieved by one or more of the following methods:

Research Experience Placements Summer research placements for undergraduate students in the middle years of their studies, to attract them into further research in a strategically important or vulnerable research area

Skills schools in strategically important and vulnerable research areas, including: Development of new skills schools

Expansion of existing institutional/regional activities for national reach

Expansion of existing activities for participation by BBSRC-funded researchers at any level (PhD, postdoctoral researcher, research fellow, research leader)

Development and delivery of training resources through other mechanisms, such as development of e-learning modules or other online resources



Up to £250k is available per year to support training activities through the STARS programme. There will be three calls per year. Awards are flexible and may be used to support strategic and vulnerable skills for a short, discrete period or for up to three years of recurrent funding.

According to the web site and after an incredulous email by me to the BBSRC, it turns out that this magnificent windfall is expected to fund 30 projects – do the sums and this averages out at just over a princely £8000 each! My colleagues and I felt (and still feel) that this really does not show a serious commitment by the BBSRC to vulnerable research skills and capabilities. Rather, it shows complete disdain and contempt for the areas that they claim to be concerned about;

“We welcome applications for support of any research capability within our remit, but particularly those highlighted in the Review of Vulnerable Skills and Capabilities, published in January 2015 (see downloads) and especially in relation to capabilities within the following areas:

Maths, statistics and computational biology

Physiology and pathology of plants, animals and microbes

Agriculture and food security”


Beggars, however, cannot be choosers and so my colleagues and I duly downloaded an application form and submitted an application to run a one-week summer school in crop protection (entomology, plant pathology, plant nematology and weed science) for three years for 15 undergraduate students per year. Notwithstanding the small sums of money available, the form required inputting a disproportionate  amount of information; asked for a business plan and detailed information, concerning in the case of a taught summer school, details of lecture content and delivery, and financial support or other from interested parties and the institution providing the service. In terms of person-hours the delivery of such a course far outweighs the paltry sum of money available; in fact the time taken to put together the application itself, if costed at FEC (full economic costs), would also eat substantially into the monies potentially available. I could borrow more from my bank as a personal loan with considerably more ease, less paperwork and probably with a considerably greater chance of success.

BBSRC you cannot be serious!


Post script

In case anyone wonders why I have chosen to illustrate this post with a photograph of a somewhat sceptical looking elderly gentleman, let me explain. The picture shows my late father, Robert Ikin Leather (1924-2007) who is a perfect example of one of the vulnerable skills set that our proposed summer school would highlight and attempt to remedy. He was a traditional agricultural plant pathologist who could go out into the field, recognise symptoms and diagnose diseases, as well as identifying them in the laboratory and conducting field research. He is no longer with us, as are the majority of people who shared his skills. Plant pathology in the UK is in dire straits as are weed science, plant nematology and to a slightly lesser extent, entomology. To reiterate my earlier point underinvestment in training and research in these areas is not the way to solve the problem.


Filed under Bugbears

When frustration becomes serendipitous – My second most cited paper

For most of the 1980s and the early 1990s I worked for the UK Forestry Commission as a research and advisory entomologist. As a civil servant I was subjected to a lot more rules than I am now as a university academic. The most frustrating set of rules in my mind, were those associated with publishing papers. The initial consultation with a statistician before your experiment was planned and any subsequent collaboration with the analysis was very sensible, and I had no problems with that part of the process at all. Our statisticians were very good in that they helped you decide the analysis but expected you to learn GenStat (the Forestry Commission standard statistics programme) and do it yourself unless you were really stuck.

The next bit was the frustrating part. When it came to writing papers you first submitted your paper to your line manager. They then read your paper, very frustrating indeed for me, as my immediate boss considered papers a very low priority and it could be several months before he got around to passing it back with comments and suggestions. Then it was passed to a member of one of the other department such as silviculture, tree breeding or pathology for them to read and make comments. The idea behind this being that it helped make the paper accessible to a wide audience, again a good idea. The problem at this stage was that once again your paper was likely to be a low priority, so yet more delay. Once that was done you then had to submit your paper to the Chief Research Office for him to read and comment on, so once again yet more delay. This meant that quite often it was a year before you actually were able to submit your paper to a journal, which could be deeply frustrating to say the least.


In 1986 a new journal to be published by the British Ecological Society was announced, Functional Ecology. In those days, the dreaded Impact Factors had not yet raised their ugly heads, and one tended to publish in journals relevant to your discipline, or, as in this case, the fancy took you.  I thought it would be cool to publish in the first issue of the first volume of this new journal.  I therefore set to work, with the help of one of our statisticians to produce a paper about life history parameters of the pine beauty moth, from a more ecological point of view and not from the more applied view-point of it as a forest pest (my job remit). I was very proud of the paper and confess to having got somewhat carried away in the discussion, so much so, that it was suggested by all who read it in the very lengthy internal appraisal process, that most of the discussion should be cut as being too far away from the main story. As the process had taken so long already I decided to go with the flow and eventually submitted my paper about a year after first writing it, incidentally giving my statistician a co-authorship. It was accepted and did indeed appear in the first volume of Functional Ecology, albeit the last of the year (Leather & Burnand, 1987)! It has to date (14th October 2015) being cited 53 times, by no means a disgrace, but certainly not my second-most cited paper.

I mentioned earlier that I was really proud of my discussion and I decided that I was going to publish it regardless. I reworked it slightly and submitted it to Oikos as a Forum piece, taking the calculated risk of not submitting it through the official Forestry Commission system. My reasoning was, that a), it was unlikely to be read by anyone in the Forestry Commission, being a very ecological journal, and b), if challenged I would say that it had already been seen by the powers that be, albeit not officially. To my relief it was accepted as is (Leather, 1988) and my immediate boss never mentioned it. To my surprise and delight this is now my second-most cited paper, having so far acquired 207 citations and still picks up a reasonable number of cites every year. I guess that I should actually be grateful to all those internal referees who insisted that I cut my discussion down so drastically.


Leather, S.R. (1988) Size, reproductive potential and fecundity in insects: Things aren’t as simple as they seem. Oikos, 51, 386-389.

Leather, S.R. & Burnand, A.C. (1987) Factors affecting life-history parameters of the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea (D&S): the hidden costs of reproduction. Functional Ecology, 1, 331-338.


Post script

In case you wondered, my most cited paper is an Annual Review paper, written with one of my former PhD students, Caroline Awmack, and now has almost a thousand citations (994 as of today).


Awmack, C. S. &Leather, S. R. (2002). Host plant quality and fecundity in herbivorous insects. Annual Review of Entomology 47, 817-844.


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Filed under Bugbears, Science writing, Uncategorized

Can hawkmoths remember being attacked?

As our summer holidays are usually in the south of France or Italy I expect to see a plethora of insects whilst sitting on a sun-lit patio with a glass of wine or beer to hand. I am rarely disappointed, this year (2015) swallowtails being very common. Also present, although not as abundant as I have seen in some years, was the European hummingbird hawkmoth, Macroglossum stellatarum, perhaps my favourite moth. Given that they were foraging so close to my watering hole, it seemed a great opportunity to use my new camera. I was able to capture images of the swallowtails, who obligingly remained still at the crucial moment I took the picture.


Swallowtail butterfly, Super-las-Illas, France, August 2015

I was however, unable to get a decent still shot of the hawkmoths so had to resort to the video mode.


Hummingbird hawkmoth, Super-las-Illas, France, August 2015. For the live action version see here

It was whilst trying to get a successful shot of these incredibly active insects that I thought I might catch one and slow it down in the fridge and thus be able to get a nice close up picture. As usual I had forgotten my butterfly net (one year I will actually remember to pack it) so had to improvise with a T-shirt and stick. Needless to say this was not very successful and I only managed a glancing ‘strike’ on my chosen victim. Not surprisingly he/she flew off. What was surprising was that the flower bed remained hawkmoth-free for about an hour or so. Once they returned I had yet another unsuccessful attempt at capturing one, and again noticed that they disappeared and did not return for another couple of hours. Intrigued I repeated my unsuccessful capture attempts (deliberately this time) over the next few days and found this behaviour repeated. So, no problems if I stood there and filmed/watched them, but if I tried to catch them, off they went (I was unable to see where) not to return for a couple of hours. I hypothesised that they must be able to ‘remember’ being attacked and that this was a predator-avoidance mechanism.

I knew that adult lepidoptera in general are able to ‘remember’ host suitability for oviposition sites and alter their concept of a good quality host depending on the suitability of the previous host plants that they had landed on and the number of eggs left in their reproductive tract.

Host acceptability model

A very simple model to illustrate the trade-off between host plant acceptance, egg load and time in lepidoptera. I thought I had published this figure somewhere but apparently not :-)

Adult lepidoptera such as the green-veined white butterfly, Pieris napi (Goulson & Cory, 1993) and the Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus (Rodrigues & Weiss, 2012) are also able to remember (retain) learned information about suitable feeding resources e.g. those flowers that are likely to give them the most nectar and this is also true for the hummingbird hawkmoth which is able to remember flower preferences even after hibernation (Kelber, 2010).

Although adult lepidoptera have a number of predator avoidance mechanisms, e.g. mimicry, aposematism, unpalatability or innate behaviours (e.g. Roper & Redston, 1987; Bowers, 1980; Greig & Greenfield, 2004; Stevens, 2005) I have been unable to find any reference to them being able to ‘remember’ being attacked and then avoiding the area for some time afterwards. There are, on the other hand, many papers about predators learning to avoid distasteful lepidopteran prey but nothing about adult lepidoptera learning to avoid predator-rich areas. This would seem a ‘sensible’ trait to evolve so I am surprised that no one seems to have tested its existence. Please let me know if you have ever come across any references to this sort of behaviour or feel free to conduct the experiment formally.


Agnew, K. & Singer, M.C. (2000) Does fecundity drive the evolution of insect diet? Oikos, 88, 533-538.

Bowers, M.D. (1980) Unpalatability as a defense strategy of Euphydryas phaeton (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Evolution, 34, 586-600.

Goulson, D. & Cory, J.S. (1993) Flower constancy and learning in foraging preferences of the green-veined white butterfly Pieris napi. Ecological Entomology, 18, 315-320.

Greig, E.I. & Greenfield, M.D. (2004) Sexual selection and predator avoidance in an acoustic moth: discriminating females take fewer risks. Behaviour, 141, 799-815

Kelber, A. (2010) What a hawkmoth remembers after hibernation depends on innate preferences and conditioning situation. Behavioral Ecology, 21, 1093-1097

Rodriques, D. & Weiss, M.R. (2012) Reward tracking and memory decay in the Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus L. (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Ethology, 118, 122-1131

Roper, T.J. & Redston, S. (1987) Conspicuousness of distasteful prey affects the strength and durability of one-trial avoidance learning. Animal Behaviour, 35, 739-747

Singer, M.C. (1984). Butterfly-host plant relationships: host quality, adult choice and larval success. In The Biology of Butterflies (ed. by R.I. Vane-Wright & P.R. Ackery), pp. 81-88. Chapman & Hall, London.

Stevens, M. (2005) The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera. Biological Reviews, 80, 573-588





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Midwinter Madness – The Snow flea

Between 1982 and 1992 I worked as a research and advisory entomologist for the UK Forestry Commission based at their Northern Research Station just outside Edinburgh. For the first five years of my time there I worked almost exclusively on the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea. The pine beauty moth is

snowflea 1

a native insect that became a pest of a non-native tree, Pinus contorta, then a tree that was widely planted over northern Britain. The majority of planting in Scotland was in the north and this meant that my study sites were in Sutherland and Caithness and Aberdeenshire. My main experimental forest was west of Aberdeen in the Spey valley (very handy for the whisky trail) in the Elchies block of Criagellalchie Forest.

snow flea 2

My experimental forest with nearby distillery marked ;-)

In Mid-January 1984, I headed north to do some maintenance on my head capsule collecting funnel traps.

snowflea 3

In those days, snow was a perennial hazard, even in the south of Scotland and as I progressed northwards the drifts at the side of the road became increasingly higher. When I reached the forest gates, it was obvious that I was not going to be able to drive to my site. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and the snow glistened. A perfect day for a walk, albeit one of 10 km. Luckily, the weather had been sunny for the last couple of days so the snow was mostly hard enough to walk on. Only in a few places did I break the surface and find that I was standing on about a metre depth of snow. Two hours later as I was approaching my field site, squinting against the sun bouncing off the white untouched snow, I saw black spots moving on the surface. My immediate thought was that I was suffering the first stages of snow-blindness, but as I got nearer I saw that the black dots were actually insects. At first sight I thought I was hallucinating, was this some strange bizarre form of life perhaps an aphid-fly hybridization experiment gone wrong? On closer examination I realised that I was looking at wingless Mecopterans.

snow flea 4

Male snow flea, Boreus hyemalis


snow flea 5

Female Boreus hyemalis, note the sting-like ovipositor.–John–Snow_Flea_Boreus_hyemalis.html

Although I was familiar with Scorpion-flies, I had never seen these critters before.

snow flea 6

The aptly named Scorpion fly Panorpa communis :

I collected a few to send off for identification and confirmation and carried on into the depths of the forest to check on my funnels. On returning to civilization a day or so later I sent my specimens off to the Natural History Museum and shortly after was informed that I had they were the snow flea, Boreus hyemalis and that I had extended the recorded range of this particular species, albeit only by a few miles.

snow flea 7

My record – it lasted 10 years as the furthest north before M.S.C. Elliott recorded it in February 1994 in Easter Fearn in the north-west Highlands.

Boreus my record

Distribution of Boreus hyemalis in 1994; my record, then the furthest North.


snow flea 9

Current recorded distribution of Boreus hyemalis – obviously widespread – just lacking people willing to go and look for it in the winter :-)

So what is a snow flea. It is of course, not a flea, being a Mecopteran or Scorpion fly, albeit non-winged.  In Britain there are three species with wings (in the genus Panorpa), the larvae and adults both being predatory on other insects. The adult snow flea is about 5mm long, and lives among moss on which it feeds as both a larva and adult (Withycombe, 1922, 1926). Interestingly, the BugLife site states that they are predatory in both the larval and adult stage. I am not sure where they got this information as they do not cite a reference and all the published literature I have seen indicates that they are moss feeders (Withycombe, 1922, 1926; Fraser, 1943; Hågvar, 2010). Indeed, Wthycombe (1922) conducted a series of experiments on the larvae and conclusively demonstrated that they were unable to complete their development unless fed on moss, although the adults will apparently also feed on dead insects.

These are true winter-active insects, adults emerging in October and November when they mate and lay their eggs the eggs at the base of moss plants), Polytrichium commune being the preferred host (Fraser, 1943). The eggs start to hatch in November and the larvae forage within the moss clumps, pupating towards the end of the summer, emerging as adults after 6-8 weeks.  The adults, which are wingless, thus come out in the coldest months of the year, usually between October and April.  They are most easily seen when walking or jumping on the snow surface. Considering that the adults are winter-active they have a surprisingly high super-cooling point (-6.5oC) (Sömme & Östbye, 1969), especially when compared with the cereal aphid, Sitobion avenae, which has a super-cooling point of -24oC but rarely survives English winters (Knight & Bale, 1986). The BugLife site wonders “how they (snow fleas) manage to jump up to 5 cm without muscular hind legs” but Burrows (2011) found that their jumping prowess is by virtue of large depressor muscles within the thorax which enables them to jump distances of up to 10 cm with a take-off velocity of 1 m s-1, indicating a force of about 16 times their body weight.  So aptly named in this respect too.

The Snow flea is not found (or at least has not been recorded) in the mild south-west of Britain, seeming to prefer areas with a harsher winter. Climate warming may thus pose a threat for this intriguing and little studied insect. Perhaps it is time for us all to venture out in mid-winter and start scanning the surface of snow drifts in heathland areas for these elusive creatures before it is too late.



Burrows, M (2011) Jumping mechanism and performance of snow fleas (Mecoptera, Boreidae). Journal of Experimental Biology, 214, 2362-2374.

Fraser, F.C. (1943) Ecological and biological notes on Boreus hyemalis (L.) (Mecopt., Boreidae). Journal of the Society for British Entomology, 2, 125-129

Knight, J. D. & Bale, J. S. (1986). Cold hardiness and overwintering of the grain aphid Sitobion avenae. Ecological Entomology 11, 189-197.

Sömme, L. & Östbye, O. (1969) Cold-hardiness in some winter active isnects. Norsk Entomologisk Tidsskrift, 16, 45-48

Withycombe, C. L. (1922). On the life history of Boreus hyemalis L. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, 1921, 312-318.

Withycombe, C. L. (1926). Additional remarks upon Boreus hyemalis L. Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 62, 81-83.


Useful link

For more images and observations see–John–Snow_Flea_Boreus_hyemalis.html



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By the side of the River Liffey – ENTO’15 Dublin

This year, the Royal Entomological Society’s biennial symposium was held at Trinity College, Dublin (September 2nd-4th). This was the first time that the Society has held its symposium meeting outside the UK. The symposium theme this year was Insect Ecosystem Services, whilst the Annual Meeting which ran alongside the symposium meeting this year, was divided into nine themes, Biocontrol, Conservation, Decomposition, Insect Diversity and Services, Multiple Ecosystem Services, Outreach, Plant-Insect Interactions, Pollination and just in case anyone was feeling left out, Open.


The meeting convenors, Archie Murchie, Jane Stout, Olaf Schmidt, Stephen Jess, Brian Nelson, and Catherine Bertrand, came from both sides of the border so that the whole of Ireland was represented.

As a number of us were going from Harper Adams University we decided to use the Sail-rail option (any mainline station in the UK to Dublin for £78 return). We were thus able to feel smug on two levels, economically and ecologically :-) We set out on the morning of Tuesday 1st September from Stafford Railway Station, changing at Crewe for the longer journey to Holyhead.


Andy Cherrill, Tom Pope, Joe Roberts, Charlotte Rowley and Fran Sconce look after the luggage.

Just over two hours later we arrived at Holyhead to join the queue for the ferry to Dublin.


In the queue at Holyhead.

Two of my former students were supposed to join us on the ferry but due to a broken down train, only one of them made it in time, Mark Ramsden being the last passenger to board whilst Mike Garratt had to wait for the next ferry.


Tom Pope and Mark Ramsden relaxing on board the ferry.

We arrived at Trinity College in the pouring rain, but still got a feel for some of the impressive architecture on campus.




I never quite worked out what this piece of art was about, although the added extra made me smile.


The bedrooms were very self-contained – the bed was rather neatly built into the storage although it did make me feel like I was sleeping on a shelf.


After settling in we found a pleasant pub and sampled some of the local beverages.


Despite the beverage intake, I was up bright and early on Wednesday morning, in fact so early, that I was not only first at the Registration Desk, but beat the Royal Entomological Society Staff there.


After setting up our stand we were able to enjoy the programme of excellent plenary talks and those in the National Meeting themes. There was a great deal of live tweeting taking place so I thought I would give you a flavour of those rather than describing the talks in detail.  For the full conference experience use Twitter #ento15

Dave Goulson from Sussex University,  was the first of the plenary speakers and lead off with a thought-provoking talk about the global threats to insect pollination services.


I was a bit disappointed that John Pickett, who was chairing the session cut short a possibly lively debate between Lin Field and Dave Goulson about pesticide usage.

The next plenary speaker was Akexandra-Maria Klein from Freiburg speaking about biodiversity and pollination services.


The third plenary speaker was Lynn Dicks from Cambridge asking how much flower-rich habitat is enough for wild pollinators?


I was the fourth plenary speaker, talking about how entomology and entomologist have influenced the world. I deliberately avoided crop protection and pollination services.


I was very pleased that my talk was on the first day as this allowed me to enjoy the rest of the meeting, including the social events to the full.

The following day, Jan Bengtsson from SLU in Sweden spoke about biological ontrol in a landscape context and the pros and cons of valuing ecosystem services.


Jan was followed by Sarina Macfadyne from CSIRO, Australia, who spoke about temporal patterns in plant growth and pest populations across agricultural landscapes and astounded us with the list of pesticides that are still able to be used by farmers in Australia.


The next plenary speaker, Charles Midega – icipe spoke about the use of companion cropping for sustainable pest management in Africa and extolled the virtues of ‘push-pull’ agriculture.


The last plenary of Day Two was Jerry Cross of East Malling Research who enlightened us about the arthropod ecosystem services in apple orchards and their economic benefits. He also highlighted the problems faced by organic growers trying to produce ‘perfect’ fruit for the supermarkets.


The third day of the conference plenaries was kicked off by Michael Ulyshen from the USDA Forest Service – who reviewed the role of insects in wood decomposition and nutrient cycling. My take-home image form his talk was the picture of how a box of woodchips was converted to soil by a stage beetle larvae completing its life cycle.


The last plenary of the morning was Craig Macadam from BugLife who explained to us that aquatic insects are much than just fish food and play cultural role as well as an ecological one.


The afternoon session of the last day was Sarah Beynon, the Queen of Dung Beetles who enthralled us with her stories of research and outreach . It was a testament to the interest people had in what Sarah had to say, that the audience was till well over a hundred, despite it being the last afternoon.


The final plenary lecture, and last lecture of the conference, was given by Tom Bolger from the other university in Dublin, UCD. Hi subject was soil organisms and their role in agricultural productivity.


I know that I have only given you a minimal survey of the plenary lectures, but you can access the written text of all the talks in the special issue of Ecological Entomology for free.

I did of course attend a number of the other talks, and had to miss many that I wanted to see but which clashed with the ones that I did see.

Eugenie Regan gave a great talk on her dream of setting up a Global Butterfly Index.


One of my PhD students, Joe Roberts, gave an excellent talk on his first year of research into developing an artificial diet for predatory mites.


Katie Murray, a fomer MREs student of mine, now doing a PhD at the University of Stirling, gave a lively talk on Harlequin ladybirds and the problems they may be having with STDs.


Rudi Verspoor, yet another former MRes student gave us an overview of a project that he and Laura Riggi, have developed on entomophagy in Benin.


Peter Smithers from Plymouth University gave an amusing and revelatory talk the ways in which Insects are perceived and portrayed. Some excellent material for my planned book on influential entomology ;-)


Chris Jeffs, yet another former MRes student gave an excellent presentation about climate warming and host-parasitoid interactions.


My colleague (and former MSc student) Tom Pope bravely volunteered to step into a gap in the programme and gave an excellent talk about how understanding vine weevil behaviour can help improve biological control programmes.


Jasmine Parkinson from the University of Sussex, and incidentally a student of a former student of mine, gave an excellent and well-timed talk about mealybugs and their symbionts.


Charlotte Rowley from Harper Adams gave an excellent talk about saddle-gall midge pheromones.


Another former student, Mike Garratt, now at Reading University, gave an overview of his work on hedgerows and their dual roles as habitats for pollinators and natural enemies.


There were also excellent talks by Jessica Scrivens on niche partitioning in cryptic bumblebees, Relena Ribbons on ants and their roles as ecological indicators, Rosalind Shaw on biodiversity and multiple services in farmland from David George on how to convince farmers and growers that field margins are a worthwhile investment. My apologies to all those whose talks I missed, I wanted to see them but parallel sessions got in the way.


Richard Comont, whose talk I missed, very recognisable from the back ;-)


I leave you with a selection of photographs from the social parts of the programme including our last morning in Dublin before catching the ferry home on Saturday morning.



The Conference Dinner – former and current students gathering.


Tom Pope signs the Obligations Book – his signature now joins those of Darwin and Wallace.


Archie Murchie with RES Librarian Val McAtear.


The youngest delegate and his father; I hope to see him at Harper Adams learning entomology in the near future.


Entomologists learning how to dance a ceilidh.


Moving much too fast for my camera to capture them.


Academic toilets – note the shelf on which books can be placed whilst hands are otherwise occupied.


On site history.


Impressive doorway in the Museum café.


The Natural History Museum was very vertebrate biased.


They certainly didn’t way know the best way to mount aphids.


I was, however, pleased to see a historical Pooter.


On our final day the sun actually made an appearance so our farewell to Ireland was stunning.

And finally, many thanks to the conference organizers and the Royal Entomological Society for giving us such a good experience.  A lot to live up to for ENTO’16 which will be at Harper Adams University.  We hope to see you there.


As a result of being tourists on Saturday morning we were exposed to a lot of gift shops and in one I impulsively bought a souvenir ;-)



Filed under EntoNotes, Uncategorized

Ten papers that shook my world – Way & Banks (1964) – counting aphid eggs to protect crops

The previous papers in this series (Southwood, 1961; Haukioja & Niemelä 1976; Owen & Weigert, 1976), were all ones that had an influence on my post-PhD career. This one in contrast, had a direct effect on my PhD as well as on my subsequent career, and was, I guess, greatly influential in the publication of the first book to deal with the ecology of insect overwintering (Leather, Walters & Bale, 1993). In 1964 Mike Way, one of the early proponents of Integrated Pest Management (in fact considered to be the father of UK IPM), was working on control methods for the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae.

Bean aphids

Mike had recently joined Imperial College from Rothamsted Research Station where he had been leading research on ways to reduce pesticide use by farmers and growers.   During his time at Rothamsted he had worked closely with a colleague, C.J. Banks on the black bean aphid including studies on the overwintering eggs. As they said in the introduction to their paper, published four years after their experiments; “During the British winter A. fabae survives almost exclusively in the egg stage. Egg mortality might therefore be important in affecting size of populations of this species and in predicting outbreaks”. They investigated the effects of temperature and predators on the mortality of the eggs on the primary host, spindle, Euonymus europaeus, and concluded that the levels of mortality seen would not affect the success of the aphids the following spring. By 1968 (Way & Banks, 1968) they had followed up on the idea and began to feel confident that aphid populations on field beans could be predicted from the number of eggs on the winter host; spindle bushes. The publication of this paper stimulated the setting up of a long-term collaborative project monitoring Aphis fabae eggs on spindle bushes at over 300 locations throughout England south of the River Humber, and monitoring aphid numbers in about 100 bean fields per year.   In 1977 the results were finally published (Way et al., 1977) and the highly successful black bean aphid forecasting system was born. This was further refined by using the Rothamsted aphid suction trap data (Way et al., 1981).

This was also the year that I began my PhD at the University of East Anglia, working on the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi. In the course of my preparatory reading I came across Way & Banks (1964) just in time to set up a plot of bird cherry saplings which I monitored for the next three winters, the first winter’s work resulting in my first publication (Leather, 1980). I subsequently went on to develop the bird cherry aphid forecasting system still used in Finland today (Leather & Lehti, 1981; Leather, 1983; Kurppa, 1989).

Finnish aphid forecasts

Sadly, despite the great success of these two systems there has not been a huge take-up of the idea, although the concept has been looked at for predicting pea aphid numbers in Sweden (Bommarco & Ekbom, 1995) and rosy apple aphids in Switzerland (Graf et al., 2006). Nevertheless, for me this paper was hugely influential and resulted in me counting aphid eggs for over 30 years!


Bommarco, R. & Ekbom, B. (1995) Phenology and prediction of pea aphid infestations on pas. International Journal of Pest Management, 41, 101-113

Graf, B., Höpli, H.U., Höhn, H. and Samietz, J. (2006) Temperature effects on egg development of the rosy apple aphid and forecasting of egg hatch. Entomologia Experimentalis et applicata, 119, 207-211

Haukioja, E. & Niemela, P. (1976) Does birch defend itself actively against herbivores? Report of the Kevo Subarctic Research Station, 13, 44-47.

Kurppa, S. (1989) Predicting outbreaks of Rhopalosiphum padi in Finland. Annales Agriculturae Fenniae 28: 333-348.

Leather, S. R. (1983) Forecasting aphid outbreaks using winter egg counts: an assessment of its feasibility and an example of its application. Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Entomolgie 96: 282-287.

Leather, S. R. & Lehti, J. P. (1981) Abundance and survival of eggs of the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi in southern Finland. Annales entomologici Fennici 47;: 125-130.

Leather, S.R., Bale, J.S., & Walters, K.F.A. (1993) The Ecology of Insect Overwintering, First edn. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Owen, D.F. & Wiegert, R.G. (1976) Do consumers maximise plant fitness? Oikos, 27, 488-492.

Southwood, T.R.E. (1961) The number of species of insect associated with various trees. Journal of Animal Ecology, 30, 1-8.

Way, M.J. & Banks, C.J. (1964) Natural mortality of eggs of the black bean aphid Aphis fabae on the spindle tree, Euonymus europaeus L. Annals of Applied Biology, 54, 255-267.

Way, M. J. & Banks, C. J. (1968). Population studies on the active stages of the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae Scop., on its winter Euonymus europaeus L. Annals of Applied Biology 62, 177-197.

Way, M. J., Cammel, M. E., Taylor, L. R. &Woiwod, I., P. (1981). The use of egg counts and suction trap samples to forecast the infestation of spring sown field beansVicia faba by the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae. Annals of Applied Biology 98: 21-34.

Way, M.J., Cammell, M.E., Alford, D.V., Gould, H.J., Graham, C.W., & Lane, A. (1977) Use of forecasting in chemical control of black bean aphid, Aphis fabae Scop., on spring-sown field beans, Vicia faba L. Plant Pathology, 26, 1-7.


Post script

Michael Way died in 2011 and is greatly missed by all those who knew him well. He examined my PhD thesis, and to my delight and relief, was very complimentary about it and passed it without the need for corrections. I was greatly honoured that a decade or so later I became one of his colleagues and worked alongside him at Silwood Park. He was a very modest and self-deprecating man and never had a bad word to say about anyone. He had a remarkable career, his first paper published in 1948 dealing the effect of DDT on bees (Way & Synge, 1948) and his last paper published in 2011 dealing with ants and biological control (Seguni et al., 2011), a remarkable 63 year span. His obituary can be found here


Filed under Aphidology, Aphids, Ten Papers That Shook My World

Post card from Catalunya Nord – Summer Holiday 2015


If three years can be construed as a tradition then this is my traditional holiday blog post! This year we spent three weeks in Catalan France, in the Pyrénées-Orientales.  We have usually travelled south by putting our car on the train and having a relaxing and interesting overnight journey letting the train take the strain. Unfortunately there seems to be a conspiracy against motor-railers and yet another of our train options was closed this year.   As I like to bring back a few bottles of wine with me, the hire-car option is not very attractive. We thus had to do the ferry and drive option. We caught the ferry from Portsmouth on a Friday night and arrived early the next morning in Caen.



We were then faced with the long drive to Maureillas-las-Illas, a small town close to the Spanish border. We split the journey in half and spent the night in a very picturesque B&B run by an aged Italian lady in a tiny village in the Charente-Maritime,


not far from the town of Saint-Genis-de-Saintonge, near Pons, which had rather an unusual roundabout which I immediately added to my collection ;-)


Pons itself was a rather nice little town which just happened to be having a medieval fete when we arrived.


We eventually arrived at Maureillas-las-Illas and were then faced with a 20 minute drive up a single track mountain road to Las Illas and finally up a dirt track to our holiday villa in Super Las Illas (a seven minute walk from the Spanish border) where we to be based for the next three weeks.


There was of course a pool, with a lovely view, although given that we were at 900 m, it was not the warmest pool we have ever


experienced even on a sunny day J

In terms of wildlife, it was not as prolific as some places we have stayed, although the pool collected the usual suicidal millipedes, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera and even some grasshoppers and the odd shield bug or two. I also rescued a small lizard which then seemed to become very attached to me, at one stage even taking refuge in my hair.


There were the usual impossible to photograph humming-bird hawk moths and numerous swallowtails


which I did manage to snap. I also discovered that one of my favourite entomological shirts was a great hoverfly attractant, although despite the design, did not fool any of the butterflies.


We were not far from Ceret, which we had visited five years ago and were happy to renew our acquaintance with its narrow streets, Picasso fountain and many cafés.


We also came across this street celebrating Charles De Gaulle’s exhortation to the French people in 1940, although I was saddened to see that vandals had been at work, albeit appositely.


We also visited Amelie-les-Bains and Prats de Mollo La Preste, the former apparently famous for urinary tract cures!   In Prats we saw


multi-storey graves and also a great painting of one of the gates of the old walled town on a house opposite the actual gate


Unusually we only had one trip to the coast, Port Vendres where we enjoyed a sunny morning and a very long lunch.



On our return to the villa we might have been forgiven for thinking that we had somehow been transported back to an English autumn.


We also we went to Vernet-les-Bains and surrounding areas, looking at potential places to retire. We knocked quite a few houses off the possible to buy list; it is amazing how different the pictures that estate agents put on their sites are from the real thing.   It was nice to be in Vernet again, although once again Gill found the hilly streets a bit tough going.


Since our last visit the old communal lavoir has been very nicely restored both externally and internally.

16  17

Vernet also has a nice arboretum scattered through the town and parks, so you often come across signs like this. I was pleased to see that one of my favourite trees (Prunus padus, bird cherry) gets a mention.


We also visited Elne a very pretty sleepy little town with a small cathedral.  Nearby we found a nice artist’s centre where we had lunch and a local artisanal Catalan beer,




and for the entomologists, some horse-chestnut leaf miner damage



Gorges de la Fou is well worth a visit and as well as being geologically impressive, is also signed botanically.



It turned out that the obligatory safety hats were made in the UK.


We also visited Thuir – mainly famous for Byrrh (but they also prepare and bottle other fortified aromatic wines including Cinzano, Ambassadeur, Vabe and Dubonnet). Unfortunately the tour didn’t have any manufacturing going on but there were free samples at the end, which as a responsible driver was a little frustrating.



We visited Perpignan a couple of times.   Both times we were blessed with lovely hot sunny weather. Plenty of canal side cafes, the castle of the Kings of Majorca is worth a visit, with great views from the top, although a bit of a climb to get there.




We also came across these giant flower pots which is certainly an interesting way to grow urban trees.



Closer to home was the Cork museum in Maureillas-las-Illas .   It is very interesting although quite small, and even if you watch the video and visit the shop, where I bought a cork post card, the visit is easily done within an hour. I really liked the mini-sculptures in cork depicting the making of cork. There were also examples of cork ark and furniture.


And of course, not forgetting the biggest cork in the world.


On Day One of our marathon motorway trip on our way back to catch the ferry we stopped at the most fantastic motorway service station (Aire) ever – jazz band, environmental messages, great gift shop, a restaurant, a cafeteria, and a sandwicherie, plus lots of water (it was on the Canal du Midi). Perhaps our motorway service areas could take a lesson from Vinci.









We broke our return journey in the Charente-Maritime again, this time staying in a glorious B&B in Forges. Nearby was the town of Surgeres which provided me with yet another roundabout for my collection.



The next morning, as La Rochelle was not far way, we took the opportunity to have coffee there and to do a bit of sight-seeing. A very picturesque place indeed and it would have been nice if we could have stopped longer. It is now on our list of places to come and revisit.



We left La Rochelle late morning and continued our trip towards Caen, where we arrived in the early evening with plenty of time to do a bit of sight-seeing.  We came across this very shiny statue of Joan of Arc.  We then sat in the sun at the head of the canal and had a very good dinner.


Then sadly, it was off to the ferry port to wait to be allowed to board as the sun set on our holiday ;-(


Post script

This year we invested in Télépéage, which allowed us to sail through the toll booths on the motorways instead of queuing and scrabbling for the right money – well worth the investment.


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