Data I’m never going to publish – factors affecting sycamore flowering and fruiting patterns

As a teenager I used to have a favourite thinking place, underneath a large beech tree half-way down the school drive.  I used to watch the activities of my school mates, while contemplatively chewing beech nuts (my school friends found this mildly disgusting).

Some years beech nuts were much easier to find than others; although I didn’t realise it at the time, this was my introduction to the phenomenon of masting.  At this point I had better fill you in on the basics of tree reproduction. Like most plants, trees reproduce by producing flowers that are pollinated, depending on the species, by vertebrates, insects or the wind. The fertilised flowers then produce seeds that are housed in what we term fruit or cones, and which in many cases aid their dispersal. Reproduction is energetically a costly process, reserves channelled to reproduction cannot be use for growth and defence.  Trees have evolved three different approaches to this problem. Some trees produce a moderate number of seeds in most years, others have an Irregular fruiting pattern and some, such as beech and oak, have strongly periodic fruiting patterns, “mast” years.  Interestingly (my wife hates me starting sentences off like this), trees that mast are wind pollinated.

Beech (Fagus sylvatica) mast production over a sixteen year period in England. Data from Hilton & Packham (1997

You might wonder why, if reproduction is costly, that some trees are ‘willing’ to expend so much energy in one go.  There are two schools of thought regarding this. One, which I find fairly convincing, is the “predator satiation” hypothesis (Janzen, 1971).  This basically says that the trees, by having on and off years, starve their specialist seed predators in the off years, thus reducing predator pressure by killing lots of them off. In the mast years, there are enough seeds to feed the surviving predators and produce another crop of trees.  A more recent, and less exciting suggestion (to me anyway), is that if the trees have a mass synchronised flowering effort, i.e. a mast year, then the chances of being pollinated are greatly increased (Moreira et al., 2014).

People tend to associate masting with trees that produce heavy fruit, acorns, hazel nuts and beech nuts for example, and I was no exception, so it wasn’t until a couple of years (1995) after I started my mega-sycamore study at Silwood Park that I had a bit of a revelation. I realised that not all of the trees flowered and that there seemed to be a lot fewer seeds that year than I remembered there being the year before. Sycamore seeds come equipped with two little wings (they are wing dispersed) and occur in little bunches (infructescences) so are quite noticeable.

Winged sycamore seed and ‘bunch’ of sycamore fruit

My sycamore study was one of my many side projects set up to satisfy my’ satiable curiosity’ and I had, at the time thought that I had made sure I was measuring everything that could possibly interact with the aphids feeding on the trees. I had, however, somehow overlooked sycamore flower production 🙂 I had taken into account that in some years the sycamore aphid can be present in huge numbers and and I was well aware from the work of my PhD supervisor

Sycamore aphids emerging in spring – some years you can see even more on the newly flushing buds

Tony Dixon, that the aphids can cause substantial losses to tree growth (Dixon, 1971), so had included tree girth and height measurements into my massive data collection list. Strangely, however, despite knowing from my work with

The effect of the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoidis, on leaf area of two sycamore, Acer pseudoplatanus, trees over an eight year period (Dixon 1971).

the bird cherry-oat aphid Rhopalosiphum padi, that even quite low numbers of aphids could have substantial negative effects on cherry production (Leather, 1988), I had totally overlooked sycamore flowering and seed production. I am just thankful, that I only missed three years of flowering data 🙂

The effects of bird cherry aphid infestation on reproductive success of the bird cherry, Prunus padus (Leather, 1988)

Unlike the rest of my sycamore data set, the flowering data collection was actually set up to test a hypothesis; i.e. that aphid numbers affected flowering and seed set. Sycamore is in some ways similar to the well-known masting species such as oak and beech in that it is (jargon coming up) heterodichogamous. All flowers are functionally unisexual and appear sequentially on a single inflorescence. The inflorescences can however be either protandrous, i.e. male anthesis takes place before the stigmas become receptive, or protogynous where the reverse sequence takes place. Where it differs from the typical masting species is that is produces wind dispersed seeds and is wind and insect pollinated; oak, beech and hazel are entirely wind pollinated.  Pierre Binggelli, then based at the Unibersity of Ulster, hypothesised that protandrous trees may suffer less herbivore damage than protogynous trees (Binggeli, 1992). He suggested that protogynous trees, having less energy available to invest in defensive chemistry, are more attractive to insect herbivores, particularly chewers. On the other hand, sycamore trees that have been subject to previous insect infestation have fewer resources available to produce female flowers, become protandrous and avoid infestation by herbivores the following year. Presumably the next year, having escaped insect attack by being protandrous they should become protogynous again. So, if I wanted to test this hypothesis, I needed to learn how to sex sycamore flowers. Despite a handy guide that I came across (Binggeli, 1990), ) I found it almost impossible, to do, so

A. Protogynous inflorescence (female II flowers of Mode G are male II in Mode B). B. Protogynous infructescence, Mode B. C. Protogynous infructescence, Mode G. D. Protandrous inflorescence.
E. Protandrous infructescence. F. Vegetative shoot, G. Flowering shoot (Mode E).
H. Fruiting shoot (Flowering Modes B,C,D & G). (From Binggeli, 1990)

contacted Pierre, who very kindly agreed to check some of my ‘guesses’ for me.  Despite this help, I still found it very difficult so opted (very unwisely as it turned out) to collect fruit samples from each tree, put them in paper bags, and bring them back to the lab for sexing at a later date.  As you have probably guessed, I ended up with lots of paper bags which I then, not very cleverly, stored in plastic bin bags.  This went on for several years as I kept putting off the day when I would have to sit down and sex several thousand bunches of sycamore fruit. Then came the happy disastrous day when I came back from holiday to find out that the cleaners had disposed of my bin bags. To tell the truth I was not that upset as it gave me an excuse to stop collecting the fruit samples and reduced my feelings of guilt about having huge piles of unsexed sycamore fruit bunches cluttering up the lab 🙂 I did, of course, carry on counting the number of flowers on the trees, which was much easier data to collect and analyse.

I reluctantly ended my study in 2012 when I left Silwood Park for pastures new, but despite this I still haven’t analysed all my sycamore data, although I was very happy a couple of years ago when a PhD student from the University of Sheffield (Vicki Senior) volunteered to analyse some of my sycamore aphid data which was published last year (Senior et al., 2020). The winter moth data and orange ladybird data are also being analysed by a couple of my former students and hopefully will also be published by next year.

So what does the sycamore fruiting data show? Well, first, despite sycamore being reproductively somewhat atypical of other masting trees species, I would contend that my 17-year data set of sycamore fruit production looks remarkably similar to the Hilton and Packham beech masting data set. I am thus confident in stating that sycamore is a masting species.

Mean sycamore fruit production at Silwood Park, averaged from 52 trees 1996-2012,

Am I able to link sycamore seed production with aphid abundance, is the fruiting pattern a result of herbivory?  I can’t test Pierre Binggeli’s hypothesis about sex changing trees, because I lost the data, but I can try and see if aphid infestation affects fruit production. The two most common aphid species on the Silwood Park sycamore trees are the sycamore aphid Drepanosphum platanoidis and the maple aphid, Periphyllus acericola.  

Mean sycamore aphid and mean maple aphid loads (average annual counts per 40 leaves from all trees) 1996-2012.

They can both occur in high numbers, but in general, the average numbers of P. acericola are much higher than D. platanoidis. The reason why P. acericola has much higher numbers is a result of its over-summering strategy.

Over-summering morphs of the sycamore and maple aphid. Images from

While the sycamore aphid spends the summer aestivating (basically a summer version of hibernation in that metabolism is reduced and reproduction ceases), the maple aphid produces a huge number of nymphs, known as dimorphs, which over-summer in dense, immobile aestivating colonies.  The sycamore aphid can escape predators by flying off the leaves if disturbed, the maple aphid dimorphs on the other hand, rely on their huge numbers to ensure survival of some of them over the summer to resume development and reproduce as autumn approaches, a form of predator satiation. They thus suffer a huge reduction in numbers compared with the sycamore aphid. (I must publish that one day). This makes drawing conclusions about the of herbivory (aphid feeding) on the trees a bit difficult.

Mean combined aphid load, showing how the number of dimorphs of the maple aphid skew the perceived aphid load.

Given that Tony Dixon showed that sycamore aphids cause a significant reduction in tree growth (Dixon, 1971), I

Relationship between mean combined aphid load (sycamore and maple aphid) and mean sycamore fruit production.

expected to see a negative relationship between aphid numbers and fruit production. What I did find was that there was a significant positive relationship between sycamore aphid numbers and fruit production, i.e. the more sycamore aphids, the more fruit produced, whereas with the maple aphid it was the other way round, more maple aphids, fewer fruit. If I combined the aphid loads, then the relationship becomes significantly positive, the more aphids you get the


Relationship between mean combined aphid load and the number of sycamore fruit produced the following year.

significantly negative relationship between aphid numbers and sycamore fruit production, but as I pointed out earlier this is driven by the preponderance of maple aphid dimorphs in the summer. You might also argue, that rather than looking at aphid numbers and sycamore fruit production in the same year, I should be comparing aphid numbers with fruit production the following year, i.e. a lag effect. I did indeed think of this, and found that there was, for both aphid species, no significant relationship between aphid numbers the previous year and fruit produced the following year. In fact, if I was an undergraduate student I would point out that there was a positive trend between aphid numbers and fruit production 🙂  If I do the same analysis using the combined aphid load, then the relationship becomes significantly positive, the more aphids you get the more sycamore fruit you get the following year which although counter-intuitive fits with the idea that stressed trees tend to produce more offspring (seeds) (Burt & Bell, 1991) and given that we know from Tony Dixon that the sycamore aphid causes a significant reduction in growth (Dixon, 1971) which is an indication of plant stress (Grime, 1979) makes perfect sense. 

Relationship between mean combined aphid load and the number of sycamore fruit produced the following year.

Instead of mean aphid load, perhaps we ought to be thinking about aphid occurrence at crucial times of the year for the tree, for example budburst. If you go back to the top of the page and look at the photograph of the infested buds you can see that there can be a huge number of aphids present at this time of year just when the trees are starting to wake up and put on new growth. Any interference to the uptake of nutrients at this phase of their life cycle could be detrimental to fruit production.  One way to measure this is by looking at the date the first aphids appear on the buds in the expectation that the earlier the aphids start to feed, the bigger their impact on the trees. Sure enough, the earlier the aphids start feeding, the lower the number of fruit produced.

Significant negative relationship between date of first appearance of aphids on the buds and number of fruit produced in spring.

Although all the relationships I have discussed and shown are significant, the amount of variation is explained is pretty low (over 20% but less than 30%). The relationship that explains most of the variation in any one year is the size of the tree, the bigger the tree the more fruit it produces.

Relationship between size of sycamore tree and number of fruit produced (2009).

As a rule of thumb, the bigger a tree the older it is and older trees have more resources and can afford to produce more offspring than younger smaller trees.

In conclusion, what I can say with confidence is that there is significant variability in sycamore fruit production between years and this is, in my opinion, evidence of masting events, and may be linked to the size and timing of aphid load but is moderated by the size and age of the trees. If you have any other suggestions please feel free to add them in the comments.

If anyone is interested in delving into the data in more depth I will be very happy to share the raw data and also the local weather data for the site.


Binggeli P. (1990) Detection of protandry and protogyny in sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus L.) from infructescences. Watsonia,18, 17-20.

Binggeli P. (1992) Patterns of invasion of sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus L.) in relation to species and ecosystem attributes. D.Phil. Thesis, The University of Ulster.

Burt, A. & Bell, G. (1991) Seed production is associated with a transient escape from parasite damage in American beech.  Oikos, 61,145–148.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1971) The role of aphids in wood formation. 1. The effect of the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoides (Schr.) (Aphididae) on the growth of sycamore. Journal of Applied Ecology, 8, 165-179.

Hilton, G.M. & Packham, J.R. (1997) A sixteen-year record of regional and temporal variation in the fruiting of beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) in England (1980-1995). Forestry, 70, 7-16.

Hilton, G.M. & Packam, J.R. (2003) Variation in the masting of common beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) in northern Europe over two centuries (1800-2001). Forestry, 76, 319-328.

Janzen, D. H. (1971) Seed predation by animals. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 2,465–492.

Leather, S.R. (1988) Consumers and plant fitness: coevolution or competition? Oikos, 53, 285-288.

Leather, S.R. (2000) Herbivory, phenology, morphology and the expression of sex in trees: who is in the driver’s seat? Oikos, 90, 194-196.

Moreira, X., L. Abdala-Roberts, Y. B. Linhart, and K. A. Mooney. (2014_. Masting promotes individual- and population-level reproduction by increasing pollination efficiency.Ecology, 95, 801–807.

Grime ., J.P. (1979) Primary strategies in plants, Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, 43,2, 151-160.

Senior, V.L., Evans, L.C., Leather, S.R., Oliver, T.H. & Evans, K.L. (2020) Phenological responses in a sycamore-aphid-parasitoid system and consequences for aphid population dynamics; A 20 year case study. Global Change Biology, 26, 2814-2828.


Filed under Aphidology, EntoNotes

Let your dandelions and other flowering ‘weeds’ be

This last couple of weeks parts of my daily walks have been accompanied by, the to me, unwelcome din of motor lawnmowers as lots of my fellow villagers strive to turn their lawns into ecological deserts. One of my neighbours has, to my knowledge, cut his lawn five times since the beginning of March, me I’ve done my spring cut and that’s it until autumn.

An ecological desert 😦

This mania for close-cropped lawns, sometimes ‘artistically’ striped, is, I think, the fault of my grandparent’s generation, which took a municipal park attitude to gardens, especially the bit that the neighbours could see; close-cropped, weed-free grass with regimented flower beds, also equally weed-frees. Out of sight, back gardens could be less manicured, and depending on the space available, might include a vegetable garden (also scrupulously weed-free), and a patch of lawn to be used by children for ball games and other activities. Unfortunately they drummed this philosophy into their children, who in their turn, with only a few exceptions (me for one), passed this fetish on to my generation. Sadly, my father, a keen gardener, also espoused this view as did the parents of all my friends. I spent many a grumpy hour removing dandelions and thistles from our front lawn and flower beds at my father’s behest!

So what are these weeds that so many people seem to hate? To those growing crops of economic value, be they agricultural, horticultural or silvicultural, then I guess the following definitions are very reasonable and relatable.

Plants that threaten human welfare either by competing with other plants that have food, timber of amenity value, or by spoiling and thus diminishing the value of a product

Weeds arise out of the mismatch between the habitats we create and the plants we choose to grow in them

Begon, Harper & Townsend (1996)

A plant that originated under a natural environment and, in response to imposed and natural environments, evolved and continues to do so as an interfering associate with our desired plants and activities” Aldrich & Kremer (1997)

There are more tolerant descriptions of weeds available, which are much more in accord with my views:

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered” (Emerson, 1878)

, “A weed is but an unloved flower!” (Wilcox, 1911)

A plant condemned without a fair trial” (de Wet & Harlan, 1975)

I have, as I have mentioned several times already, been doing a lot of walking during the covid pandemic, or should it now be referred to as the Covid Pandemic? At this time of year, Spring, the early flowers of the hedgerows and roadside verges are alreday out; cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spimosa) and closer to the ground, but as equally pretty, daisies (Bellis perennis), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), Lesser Celandines ( Ficaria verna (although some of you may know it as Ranunculus ficaria), and Wood Anemones (Anemonoides nemorosa). The latter two species, although relatively common, are unlikely to be found in the average garden, as they have fairly specific habitat requirements.  Daisies and dandelions on the other hand, are pretty much ubiquitous, although the former do not attract as much opprobrium from the traditional gardener as dandelions do. This is a great shame, as ecologically speaking dandelions are an extremely important resource for pollen and nectar feeding insects.

Given the concerns about the decline of insects in general over the last forty years, we should be celebrating the dandelion, not trying to eradicate it from our lawns. Just feast your eyes on some of the beauties that I have seen over the last few days.

Pollen beetles March 20th 2021

Male tawny mining bee Andrena fulva – Sutton March 25th 2021

Bumble bee, Sutton March 30th 2021

Seven spot lady bird, too early for aphids, Oulton Road March 30th 2021

Peacock butterfly in a very striking pose, Guild Lane, Sutton, April 3rd 2021.

I’m not alone in my love of dandelions 🙂

We shouldn’t forget the humble daisy either. It provides nectar to many butterfly species, including among others, the Green Hairstreak, the Grizzled Skipper, the Small Copper and the Small White. They are also important resources for honey bees (Raquier et al., 2015), bumblebees and hoverflies (Blackmore & Goulson, 2014).

A nice patch of daisies.

Domestic gardens, if managed correctly, have tremendous potential as reservoirs of insects and other invertebrates of ecological importance (Davies et al, 2009). The easiest thing that you can do to help the insects is to reduce the frequency at which you mow your lawn and grass verges. To sum it up in a nutshell, the less you move, the more flowers you get and the more flowers you get the more nectar and pollen feeding insects you make happy, some of which can be rare and endangered (Wastian et al., 2016).  

The less frequently you mow, the more flowers you get. The more flowers you get, the more bumblebees you get (George, 2008).

It is not just flower feeding insects that benefit from reducing your lawn mowing activities; grass feeding insects also benefit from longer grass ( Helden & Leather, 2005) and if, for some strange reason, you are not a great fan of bugs, just remember that the more bugs you have the more birds you will attract (Heden et al.,  2012). So do your bit to save the planet, be like me, only mow your lawn twice a year.


Aldrich, R.J. & Kremer, R.J. (1997) Principles in Weed Management. Panima Publishing Corporation.

Begon, M., Harper, J,L. & Townsend, C.R. ( 1996) Ecology, 3rd Edition, Blackwell Science, oxford.

Blackmore, L.M. & Goulson, D. (2014) Evaluating the effectiveness of wildflower seed mixes for boosting floral diversity and bumblebee and hoverfly abundance in urban areas. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 7, 480-484.

Davies, Z.G., Fuller, R.A., Loram, A., Irvine, K.N., Sims, V. & Gaston, K.J. (2009) A national scale inventory of resource provision for biodiversity within domestic gardens. Biological Conservation, 142, 761-771.

De Wet, J.M.J., Harlan, J.R.  (1975) Weeds and domesticates: Evolution in the man-made habitat. Economic Botany, 29, 99–108.

Emerson, R.W.(1878) The Fortunes of the Republic. The Riverside Press, Boston, USA.

Garbuzov, M., Fensome, K.A. & Ratnieks, F.L.W.  (2015)   Public approval plus more wildlife: twin benefits of reduced mowing of amenity grass in a suburban public park in Saltdean, UK. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 8, 107-119.

George, W. (2008) The Birds and the Bees: Factors Affecting Birds, Bumblebees and Butterflies in Urban Green Spaces, MSc Thesis, Imperial College, London.

Helden, A.J. & Leather, S.R. (2005) The Hemiptera of Bracknell as an example of biodiversity within an urban environment. British Journal of Entomology & Natural History, 18, 233-252.

Helden, A.J., Stamp, G.C. & Leather, S.R. (2012) Urban biodiversity: comparison of insect assemblages on native and non-native trees. Urban Ecosystems, 15, 611-624.

Lerman, S.B., Contostac, A.R., Milamb, J. & Bang, C. (2018) To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards. Biological Conservation, 221, 160-174.

Requier, F., Odoux, J., Tamic, T.,Moreau, N., Henry, M., Decourtye, A. & Bretagnolle, V. (2015)  Honey bee diet in intensive farmland habitats reveals an unexpectedly high flower richness and a major role of weedsEcological Applications, 25, 881–890.  

Wastian, L., Unterweger, P.A.& Betz, O. (2016) Influence of the reduction of urban lawn mowing on wild bee diversity (Hymenoptera, Apoidea). Journal of Hymenoptera Research, 49, 51–63.

Wilcox, E.W. (1911) Poems of Progress and New Thought Pastels. London: Gay & Hancock, 1911.


Filed under EntoNotes

Pick & Mix 59 – countryside and colonialism, climate change, urban greening, native trees, natural history and public rights of way

Corinne Fowler on colonialism’s imprint on the British countryside.

I’m a climate scientist – here’s three key things I have learned over a year of COVID

Ancient leaves preserved under a mile of Greenland’s ice – and lost in a freezer for years – hold lessons about climate change

Why entomologists kill – understanding the need for collections

In case of emergency — break glass – Richard Jones on the trials and tribulations of trying to copy a bank note 🙂

Torino – showing the world how to make a green city

Perfectly explains why I prefer real books to e-books – The Multisensory Experience of Handling and Reading Books

Plant native, save insects – also in the UK it will benefit birds as well (if you want a copy email me)

Time to make nature studies a compulsory school subject – before it’s too late – and here is a blog post by me about the same subject from last year

Britain’s ancient footpaths could soon be lost forever, and here is a blog post by me about the same subject written a few weeks earlier – ahead of the curve that’s me 🙂


Filed under Pick and mix

Bee’s knees, a gnat’s whisker, knee-high to a grasshopper, a flea in your ear and other insect idioms

Idiom a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual word

I’m fond of saying that I have been an entomologist since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, which I automatically expect my audience to understand means since I was very young.

Knee-high to a grasshopper?

What I didn’t know was that this well known phrase only dates from about 1850 and replaced the earlier knee-high to a mosquito or bumblebee or splinter. I can find no explanation as to why this change occurred; perhaps it was because someone felt sorry that the Orthoptera didn’t have any idioms associated with them as opposed to the Hymenoptera which dominate the insect idiom world.  “Rightly so” I can hear the Hymenopterists exclaiming, “after all there are more of them than any other Order” (Forbes et al., 2018).


When I go into the Entomology Lab I expect it to be a “hive of activity” where everyone is as “busy as a bee” and there is a “real buzz”.

Strangely enough, despite the hymenopteran references I would hope that my students are all working on aphids, but then some people would say that I have “a bee in my bonnet” about them and I will definitely be making “a beeline” to the aphid cultures shortly after I arrive as I think that aphids are the “bee’s knees” when it comes to insects 🙂 I can get quite

waspish” when I hear people making disparaging remarks about aphids although I would never describe myself as getting as “mad as a hornet” over the matter. In fact I love aphids so much that if someone asks me why I do, I will never say “none of your beeswax” and you might think that I “have ants in my pants”  as I wait for an opportune moment to explain about the “birds and the bees” when applied to aphid reproduction.


Erica McAlister author of The Secret Life of Flies will tell you that flies are where it’s at and it is certainly worth being “a fly on the wall” when Erica starts talking about flies in general.

Unless you have “the attention span of a gnat” you will be enthralled by her anecdotes. The only “fly in the ointment” is that some of her flies have absolutely disgusting habits.  Erica herself, “wouldn’t hurt a fly”, no matter how unsavoury its lifestyle. I have heard it said, that sometimes, the less strong-stomached members of her audience, can be seen “dropping like flies”.  I confess that I am a bit worried that if Erica reads this I will come within a “gnat’s whisker” of being slapped in the face 🙂 Speaking of gnats, I just found this expression in a detective novel published in 1932 (Wilkinson, 1932) “antiquated gnat of a custom”, but have not been able to find out exactly what it means and its origin – any suggestions welcomed.


No one could describe me as being as “gaudy as a butterfly” as my usual attire is a pair of blue jeans, a shirt with rolled up sleeves and a pair of desert boots, although I do have some butterfly-themed clothing.

Gaudy as a butterfly – nope

The previous sentence reminds me that I have written about dress codes in an earlier post,  and the role this might have in curing the feeling of “having butterflies in one’s stomach” before giving a talk. Speaking of nervousness coupled with shyness, something many of us feel in social situations, which can cause some of us to imbibe liquids containing alcohol, I find that even after a few drinks I am not much of a “social butterfly”, a garrulous drunk is probably the best description 🙂

Everything got a little bit hazy


Now you might think that the Coleoptera, having, at the moment, the most species described would have provided us with a plethora of beetle inspired idiomatic expressions. Sadly as I “beetle along” in my “beetle crushers” I very soon come to the end of their influence on idiomatic English.  Just to make any coloepterist who might be reading this feel a bit better, the narrator in Rudyard Kipling’s Stalky & Co (a humorous novel about late Victorian schoolboys) is nicknamed Beetle, possibly because Kipling, like me, could be described as “beetle-browed”.

Beetle-browed, although my wife has been known to describe them as looking like furry caterpillars

Siphonoptera (Mecoptera)

Leaving the beetles behind us we come across the Siphonoptera, the fleas. Some people might say I have “a mind like a flea” but did you know that fleas have been recently re-classified as parasitic scorpionflies (Tihelka et al., 2020), which might make those people who say they “wouldn’t hurt a flea” think twice about using that phrase or the term “fleabag”.

Insects in general

As someone whose favourite insects are Hemipteran, I would love to say that the greatest number of insect idioms are provided by the true bugs, but that would be untrue. In general, when non-entomologists use the word bug, they mean insects in general, a particular “bugbear” of mine. I would go as far as to say that it really “bugs me”. In fact, I’d love to put “a bug in someone’s ear” about it and if I came across a journalist using bugs correctly I’d certainly go “bug-eyed”. I’m writing this in my warm centrally-heated house, feeling as

Not only snug as a bug but an example of one of my bugbears!

snug as a bug in a rug” although once this pandemic is over I’m pretty sure that the “travel bug” will bite me, and I’ll be heading off to France to enjoy great food, good wine and plenty of sunshine.


Forbes, A.A., Bagley, R.K., Beer, M.A. et al. (2018) Quantifying the unquantifiable: why Hymenoptera, not Coleoptera, is the most speciose animal order. BMC Ecology, 18, 21.

Tihelka , E., Giacomelli, M.,Huang, D., Pisani, D., Donoghue, P.C.J. &  Cai, C. (202o) Fleas are parasitic scorpionflies. Palaeoentomology,3, 641–653.

Wilkinson, E. (1932) The Division Bell Mystery, George Harrap & Co Ltd, London. Reprint available via the British Library Crime Classics series



a bee’s dick – a very small amount

a hive of activity – a place/situation where everyone is busy

ants in your pants/antsy – agitated or restless due to nervousness or excitement

as busy as a bee – very busy

as mad as a hornet – very angry

bee’s knees – an excellent person or thing, of the highest quality

birds and the bees – a euphemism for the basic facts about reproduction as told to a child

none of your beeswax – none of your business

to have a bee in one’s bonnet – to be preoccupied/obsessed with something

to make a beeline – to move swiftly and directly towards something or someone


dropping like flies – dying or collapsing in large numbers, giving up on or pulling out of an endeavour

fly in the ointment – a small problem which nonetheless spoils the whole plan

fly on the wall – an unnoticed witness

wouldn’t hurt a fly – used to emphasize how inoffensive and harmless a person or animal is


as gaudy as a butterfly – very colourful

social butterfly – a person who is socially dynamic, successful at networking, charismatic, and personally gregarious

to have butterflies in one’s stomach – to feel nervous/anxious/excited in your stomach


Beetle along – hurry, scuttle

Beetle-browed – having shaggy and projecting eyebrows

Beetle crushers – large shoes/boots

Siphonoptera (Mecoptera)

a flea in (someone’s) ear – an unwelcome idea or answer

mind like a flea – jumping from one idea to another

fleabag – a dirty or shabby person or animal, typically one infested with fleas or a seedy and dilapidated hotel

wouldn’t hurt a flea – gentle and kind

Insects in general

as snug as a bug (in a rug) – very comfortable/cosy

bug-eyed – with bulging eyes, astonished, amazed

to bug someone – to annoy someone

to put a bug in someone’s ear about something – to give someone a hint about something

travel bug – a strong desire to travel; an obsessive enthusiasm for or addiction to travellin;


Filed under EntoNotes

Protecting and valuing our public rights of way

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have, because of the covid pandemic, been doing a lot of walking recently. As a result I have discovered a lot of public footpaths and bridleways in the immediate neighbourhood, some of which are much more well-trodden and accessible than others.

The one of the left only became visible after I hacked back the vegetation 🙂

I’ve always been an advocate of the “great outdoors” albeit, as a child, having to be occasionally chased outdoors by my parents when they thought I had been reading too much 🙂 There is plenty of evidence that contact with nature is good for our mental and physical health (e.g. Hartig et al., 2014; Shanahan et al., 2016; Lackey et al., 2018) and this had never been more evident since the global pandemic locked so many of us into restricted areas. I’m very lucky, I’m stuck in a small hamlet in a rural area of Staffordshire.

My walking area

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, walking in the countryside became a popular and inexpensive form of recreation for less well-off city dwellers. The popularity of this activity led to the formation of several local walking or ramblers groups. Access to the countryside was, however, frustrated by the activities of landowners who taking advantage of the Enclosure Act, fenced off their land and often took ramblers to court for trespass.   In 1932, Benny Rothman, of the Young Communist League, frustrated by this, organised a mass trespass of Kinder Scout in the Peak District (regarded by the government as an act of civil disobedience).  As a result this of this and with support from leading politicians of the day, a number of new public rights of way came into being, including, the, to me, iconic Pennine Way. More recently, the Country Side Rights of Way Act of 2000, has reinforced the concept of the right to roam and the UK now allows more access to the countryside than most countries of the World. Note that the Scandinavian countries are even more liberal when it comes to the freedom to roam, something that I was immensely grateful for when doing fieldwork in Finland, as I often found myself stumbling into someone’s back garden while hunting down bird cherry trees in the winter gloaming 🙂 We are fortunate in the UK, that there exists a well-mapped, and in many cases, well sign-posted, 260 000 km of public footpaths and bridleways available to use.

A well maintained example of public footpath ‘furniture’.  The footpath itself in this case has not been reinstated by the farmer and is not very visible.

I suspect that most people, even those that use public footpaths and bridleways are unaware of who is responsible for marinating (left this in so that Emily’s comment makes sense) managing this remarkable network, so here goes.

The Highway Authority (via the local council) and the landowner (or occupier) are the two bodies with the most responsibilities.  Parish councils have some duties, but not all are compulsory and the people who use the paths and bridleways are also expected to follow some simple rules. I’ll go through what these are, one by one. 

Highway Authority

The Highway Authority via the local council must:

keep the surface of the public path network in good repair and control vegetation (other than crops) growing from it maintain bridges over natural water courses, including farm ditches

signpost rights of way from metalled roads and provide additional signs and waymarks as necessary along the route

 protect the public’s right to use and enjoy rights of way

secure the removal of obstructions, including ensuring that paths over cultivated land are reinstated and marked out after they have been disturbed

ensure that there are no intimidating notices that would deter the public from any paths

As far as I can tell, although for example, Staffordshire County Council in which I live, has a department that deals with footpaths and bridleways, councils are  not very proactive in any of the above, relying on members of the public to report any issues. For example, there are several signposts in the village in which I live that are in very poor condition, and yet in the seven years I have lived in it, the only ones that have been repaired are the ones that I have notified the council about. The take home message here is, don’t assume the council will do something about of their own bat, you need to report it, don’t assume that other users will.  Even some of the most used paths in my area have broken stiles and when I logged on to the council site, I found that I was the first person to report them, despite some of them having been in disrepair for a couple of years.

provide a minimum 25% contribution towards any costs incurred by a landowner in maintaining stiles or gates on public rights of way

One of the formerly obstructed and broken stiles that I reported last year. Now much more usable.

Next, the landowners.  According to the Staffordshire County Council web site, “The vast majority of landowners fulfil their legal duties to keep paths on their land open, safe and accessible by keeping routes clear and maintaining stiles and gates, but some don’t. The majority of the 2,000 calls we receive every year is about problems on private paths.”  All I can say is that those of us living where I do are very unlucky in that the local farmers are either not aware of their responsibilities or are deliberately ignoring them. I have listed their duties below with a commentary base donmy personal experiences over the last eighteen months.

The landowner or occupier of land must:

keep rights of way clear of obstructions

Hollow laughter on my part!

cut back vegetation encroaching from the sides and overhanging the path, so that it does not inconvenience the public or prevent the line of the path from being apparent on the ground. (On bridleways, horse riders should be allowed 3 metres [10 feet] of headroom)

Again, not much signs of this – I take a pair of secateurs with me on my walks

ensure that all field-edge public paths are never cultivated

The two examples that I know and use, were both cultivated this year and the previous one

ensure that cross-field footpaths and bridleways are cultivated (i.e. ploughed or disturbed) only when it is not convenient to avoid them and are properly reinstated after disturbance

keep paths clear of crops to ensure that they do not inconvenience users

Not something I have seen in the local area – all reinstatement is done by users walking over the ploughed field. Our local landowners are not exactly the best “stewards of the countryside”.

Two examples of paths not reinstated after cultivation by the farmer – Luckily these are well used by me and others so soon became apparent.

maintain any stiles or gates on a public path in a safe condition

Again, ample evidence that landowners are not very proactive in doing what they are supposed to

ensure that bulls are not kept in a field crossed by a path unless they do not exceed 10 months old or are both not of a recognised dairy breed and are accompanied by cows or heifers

I’m not sure what they mean here by recognised dairy breed.  Do they mean pedigree herds or just recognisable breeds? Many of the fields I crossed last year were stocked with dairy cattle accompanied by bulls. Also, several fields that I had to cross last year were stocked with fair sized bullocks, although they may have been under 10 months

ensure that any warning notices are displayed only when a bull is present in a field

I have seen no warning notices in the local area, not even for electrified fences

never keep any animal which is known to be aggressive in a field to which the public has access

I haven’t been chased yet, followed by curious bullocks, which can be a bit intimidating at times, but not chased.  I do know that some of my neighbours with less agricultural experience than me, avoid using paths when the fields are full of livestock.

ensure that no misleading signs are placed near rights of way that might discourage access.

I am happy to report that I haven’t seen any of these in my area.

Parish councils

Another stakeholder with somewhat fewer duties, but with a very important role to play is youjr local Parish council.  They can do any of the following.

maintain any footpath or bridleway within its area which is maintainable at public expense

I guess this will depend on their budget

erect lighting on any footpath or bridleway. Although the number of public paths likely to require lighting is small, lighting can be important on paths leading to a village or bus stop for example

erect notices, with the consent of the landowner, on or near a footpath or bridleway, warning of local dangers

create new footpaths and bridleways by agreement with the landowner over land in their own and adjoining parishes if satisfied that the creation would be beneficial to all or, any part of, the parish or community

This would be very useful and welcome

signpost and waymark public paths on behalf of, and with the consent of the highway authority. A highway authority can give permission for other persons such as parish councils to erect and maintain signposts on its behalf

Again this would be very useful and welcome in our area – I am, however, not sure if their budget could cover it.

provide seats and shelters at the side of public paths

These would be very welcome – so far none in our immediate area 🙂

You the user

Finally what about me and other users? As a user of public rights of way you have a duty to treat the pathways and surroundings with respect.

“The public’s right over a highway is a right of passage. Path users must keep strictly to the line of the path and must not loiter.

This one is a bit odd, does it mean that you shouldn’t have a picnic sitting on the actual path or stand still at a particular viewpoint? 

On public rights of way, you can:

Take a pram, pushchair or wheelchair if practical

Take a dog (on a lead or under close control)

Dog owners are one of my bête noires.  Thankfully most that I meet, either have their dogs on a lead or if not, hurriedly put one on. There are, however, a few whose definition of under close control, differs markedly for mine.  I don’t consider dogs that rush up and jump up at you as being under control, no matter how much their owner tells you they are just being friendly. That also goes for those dogs that hurtle towards you and then run round and round you barking.  It might also be nice if dog owners didn’t let their dogs defecate on the footpath but a good distance away from it.  Some people bag it up, which as the bags are plastic is not that environmentally friendly, especially if they don’t actually take it home with them.

I often wonder about dog owners 😦

Take a short, reasonable detour to get round any illegal obstruction.”

Sometimes this latter instruction is not that easy especially as in one case the farmer had blocked the stile, with barbed wire so I had to try and find another way to regain the path which meant walking across some of his crops.

Farm gate obscura
Once, open and shut daily,
Now long forgotten

I have now found eight of these – while they may not have been public rights of way, they did once allow access to the fields.  They are also, indicators of the way in which over the last fifty or sixty years, fields have been enlarged by the removal of interior hedges to cater for ever larger farm machinery.

Hedgerow remnants

Lines of trees such as those in the middle of fields are usually an indicator that there was once a hedge and that two fields have been combined into one larger field – hence the presence of defunct gates hidden inside roadside hedges.

Those gates that have survived have then had to be enlarged to cater for the larger machinery.

What can you do to help?

The UK government has set a deadline of 1 January 2026 for all historic paths to be registered for inclusion on official maps. You, as a footpath user can use existing paths and petition your local Parish Council or County Council for new paths to be registered. Very importantly, make sure that you report obstructions to existing paths when you come across them.  Don’t expect others to do so, the more of us who report blocked paths and broken stiles, the more chance there is that they will be unblocked and repaired. Also go to your local council web site and download the footpath map of your local area.  You will be surprised at how many there are, and how many have been hidden by the landowners. We need to make sure that these hidden gems are revealed.

If you want to protect and enhance our public footpath network, please consider joining the Slow Ways project, their aim is to create a network of walking routes that connect all of Great Britain’s towns and cities as well as thousands of villages. You can find out more here.

Enough writing, time to get out and do some walking.


Hartig, T., Mitchell, R., de Vries, S. & Frumkin, H. (2014) Nature and health, Annual Review of Public Health, 35, 207-228.

Hey, D. (2011). “Kinder Scout and the Legend of Mass Trespass” (PDF). Agricultural History Review59, 199-216.

Lackey, N.Q., Tysor, D.A., McNay, G.D., Joyner, L., Baker, K.H. & Hodge, C. (2019) Mental health benefits of nature-based recreation: a systematic review, Annals of Leisure Research,

Shanahan, D., Bush, R., Gaston, K., Lin, B.B., Dean, J., Barber, E. & Fuller, R.A. (2016) Health benefits from Nature experiences depend on dose. Scientific Reports, 6, 28551


Filed under Roundabouts and more, Uncategorized

Pick & Mix 58 – rewards, trophy hunting, allotments, ecosystem health, moths, grizzly bears and parakeets

Risk it for the Biscuit – The Landscape of fear – how the promise of a better meal can make some animals take an extra risk.  Link to the original paper here

Nice article by one of my former students, Tom Oliver Nature: how do you put a price on something that has infinite worth?

Wow, this is a blistering review to say the least – Review of a book I have not read and have absolutely no intention of wasting money on!

A very balanced account of trophy hunting and the misinformation that surrounds it

Nottingham’s allotments – a valuable resource

Ecofusion is the new normal – Should we embrace our non-native species

Ecologist Yvonne Buckley asks “Can you tell the health of an ecosystem by looking inside its flowers?”

Why urban gardens are crucial for conserving bees and butterflies – and how you can help them

Grizzly bears and moths

Polly want a city? Population boom sparks call for cull of London’s invasive parakeets

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Is it time to abolish Vancouver?

How about that for a clickbait title?  I was going to call it “Editors of journals with number based referencing systems – use your power to change the system” but in these days of impact factors I thought I would emulate those journals with exceedingly high IF scores, which seem to specialise in non-informative, yet grabby paper titles, and many of which persist in using my bête noire, the Vancouver style of referencing.

The hated (by me) Vancouver style

So why am I sounding off now? Well, I was just about to submit an invited review, but thought I had better read the instructions to authors first 🙂  To my horror, I discovered (yes, OK, I should have read the instructions to authors before starting to write the paper) that the journal in question wanted the references formatted in Vancouver style. I don’t have much time for even vaguely sensible numbered citation styles such as the Chicago system, but as you will already have gathered, the Vancouver style really, really, annoys me.

Source –

Defenders of the system (and I am sure there are some) might point out that in these days of reading online,  journals such as Science,  that use this awful system have active links to the numbers within the text which bring up the citation in a separate box. This does, however, involve moving your mouse/cursor/finger to it instead of reading it instantly. As a reader I find this unsatisfactory to say the least. I like to see the authors as I read the text.  It may seem picky, but this gives me instant context.  As someone who has been around a while and usually knows the field quite well and, as a field ecologist, blessed with an excellent memory, seeing the name and date, gives me a pretty good idea of the accuracy of the citation context. Displaying references in non-alphabetical order also gives me brain ache. I visualise my brain in two ways, first as a series of file record cards and then as a series of filing cabinet drawers in which the folders (memories) are arranged alphabetically and by date. I then mentally find the right folder and on reaching the appropriate record access it.  My office may be (in)famous for its chaotic appearance, but my brain

My office – the perfect working environment (I know where everything is) 🙂

is obsessively and very neatly arranged and catalogued 🙂 as are my bookshelves and offprint collection. The office is a different matter.

As a referee, where, in my opinion, you most definitely need to know the citation context, you do not have the click and display facility that readers of the published paper have. This makes checking references onerous, frustrating and very annoying.

As an author the situation is even worse, although I guess those folk who have sophisticated cite as you write systems will laugh knowingly and make comments about being stuck in the past. What really is frustrating to me is that I have to

Stuck in the past – me?

go through the paper line by line and manually convert the author date citation in the text (I have to use that system when composing, to keep track of what I am referring to) to numbers and then if I find that I have to add a new reference or if Referee 3 demands that their papers are cited, renumber everything.  Arghh!!

It would be so much simpler if all journals used the same system, preferably that used by the journals of which I am an Editor, and as an example and to to gratuitously draw your attention to another of my bugbears, in the text, (Leather 2004) and in the reference list, Leather, S.R. (2004) Reinventing the wheel – on the dangers of taxon parochialism and shallow reference trawling! Basic and Applied Ecology, 5, 309-311.

One reason given for using the Vancouver and Chicago systems is that it saves space. This might have held some water in the days of print journals and page budgets, but now that most journals are electronic and page budgets no longer exist, it is not a valid excuse. I therefore implore my fellow editors, reviewers and authors to join me in condemning the Vancouver system and to convince their publishers to abolish Vancouver, the system that is, not the city, which I am sure is a beautiful place and well worth preserving and visiting.


Filed under Bugbears, Science writing

Not just sailor aphids, but an aphid ship too – Insect Class Gunboats

Some of you may have come across Reaktion Books and their Animal series, which as well having the usual vertebrate suspects has a refreshingly large number of invertebrate titles, for example, Moth, Ant, Mosquito just to name those gracing my shelves. I had, at one time, the ambition of adding to the collection with Aphid :-). Unfortunately, one of the requirements for inclusion in the series is what one might call a cultural dimension, and despite being fabulously awesome, aphids have not, as yet, made a huge impact on human culture.  In spite of assiduous searching on my behalf, I have not, as yet*, managed to find many instances of aphids making it into the wider human consciousness beyond their undeserved (in my opinion) reputation as mega-pests.

My count to date is a post card, a children’s book, a postage stamp, a sculpture and two poems. Sadly, I don’t feel I can count coloured plates from entomological texts, no matter how beautiful 😦

Punk aphid postcard – adapted from the cover of an issue of New Scientist published in 1977, when our PhD group at the University of East Anglia had our fifteen minutes of fame 🙂

To my knowledge, the only children’s book (or any work of fiction for that matter), with an aphid as the main character.

The World’s classiest stamp – thank you Slovenia for recognising the importance of aphids 🙂

An artist who appreciates the beauty of aphids – Aphid on rose – Beth Biggs.

Of the two poems that mention aphids, Charles Goodrich’s is, in my opinion, the winner, so I have reproduced it in full. I am much less enamoured of Greenfly from Giles Goodland’s collection celebrating insects, The Masses, so have not shared it with you.

A Lecture on Aphids by Charles Goodrich

She plucks my sleeve.
“Young man,” she says, “you need to spray.
You have aphids on your roses.”

In a dark serge coat and a pill box hat
by god it’s my third grade Sunday school teacher,
shrunken but still stern, the town’s
most successful corporate attorney’s mother.
She doesn’t remember me. I holster
my secateurs, smile publicly,
and reply, “Ma’am,

did you know a female aphid is born
carrying fertile eggs? Come look.
There may be five or six generations
cheek by jowl on this “Peace” bud.
Don’t they remind you
of refugees
crowding the deck of a tramp steamer?
Look through my hand lens-
they’re translucent. You can see their dark innards
like kidneys in aspic.

Yes, ma’am, they are full-time inebriates,
and unashamed of their nakedness.
But isn’t there something wild and uplifting
about their complete indifference to the human prospect?”

And then I do something wicked. “Ma’am,” I say,
“I love aphids!” And I squeeze
a few dozen from the nearest bud
and eat them.

After the old woman scuttles away
I feel ill
and sit down to consider
what comes next. You see,
aren’t sweet
as I had always imagined.
Even though rose wine is their only food,
are bitter.

“But what about the ship?” I hear you cry.  To cut a long story short, I was looking for images of Aphis species for a lecture, when up popped a picture of a ship, HMS Aphis. I of course immediately jumped down the internet rabbit hole in pursuit and found to

HMS Aphis

my delight that during the first World War, the Admiralty commissioned a class of ships, the Insect Gunboats, for the Royal Navy designed for use in shallow rivers or inshore. Twelve of these were commissioned between 1915 and 1916. They were, in alphabetical order, not in order of commission, Aphis, Bee, Cicala, Cockchafer, Cricket, Glowworm, Gnat, Ladybird, Mantis, Moth, Scarab, and surprisingly, given the huge number of candidates to choose from, a non-insect, Tarantula.

I haven’t been able to discover why someone decided to call them the Insect class or why they choose the names they did.  Most

HMS Aphis, ship’s badges – very pleased to see the siphunculi, somebody did their research.

of them are not particularly pugnacious species with the possible exceptions of the Bee, Gnat, Ladybird, Mantis and the non-insect Tarantula.

Not sure which species of ladybird this is supposed to represent but felt that as an insect often associated with aphids it deserved a mention 🙂

Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera and Diptera

HMS Glowworm – a shame that this is symbolic rather than the actual insect 😦

Sadly, none of the Insect gunboats have survived, HMS Aphis was scrapped in 1947, in Singapore of all places, and the last one, HMS Cockchafer, was sold for scrap in 1949.

Pleased as I was to discover HMS Aphis, I am still a long way off having enough cultural references to convince Reaktion Books that Aphid is a possible title in the series. The Secret Life of Aphids, is however, a real possibility :-).  Finally, if you were puzzled about the sailor aphids I mention in the title, you can satisfy your curiosity by clicking on this link.

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Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

Pick & Mix 57 – insect decline, rewilding death, blister beetles, chicken nuggets, fraudulent honey and much more

How we can help reverse insect decline

Nature emerging from the industrial wastelands

Why keeping one mature street tree is far better for humans and nature than planting lots of new ones

Blister and oil beetles

Chicken nuggets grown in a lab have just been approved for sale for the first time in the world! So what is lab-grown meat and is it even worth it?  Watch the video here

Biodiversity: why foods grown in warm climates could be doing the most damage to wildlife

Honey fraud – a bigger problem than you might think

Royal Jelly Isn’t What Makes a Queen Bee a Queen Bee -Everything we thought we knew about royal jelly is backward.

Charley Krebs – On an Experimental Design Mafia for Ecology

Rewilding death – not as macabre as you might think

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Filed under Pick and mix

Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider – a cornucopia of wit and information

I have always been a fan of Steve Heard’s writing, be it pitcher plant mosquitoes (Heard, 1994ab) or his never boring, frequently amusing blog, Scientist See Squirrel, so I was very pleased to find his latest book in my Christmas stocking 🙂 As expected it is a great book, very reminiscent of Steve’s blog, amusing and informative.  This is only a brief review as I don’t want to detract from Steve’s sales by giving away too many spoilers.

The first two chapters are on the need for universally agreed names and the history of naming organisms. These are followed by a series of what you might call biographical chapters, in which the importance of particular individuals to their disciplines are highlighted, and why and whom honoured them by naming species after them.  Many of the individuals I had not heard of before, so kudos to Steve for delving deep into the history of non-entomological disciplines. Steve also addresses the vexed question of what we should do about those Latin binomial (the technical term) names that celebrate the less savoury members of society, such as the beetle Anophthalmus hitleri. There is also a chapter on insult naming, the moth Neoplapa donaldtrumpi for example, and

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, a moth with a golden comb-over and very small genitalia. Photograph Dr Vazrik Nazari cc. by 4.0.

another on naming species after your one true love. Steve also asks us what we think about naming species after celebrities, a good thing or a bad thing? Should taxonomists be above this sort of thing and confine themselves to purely descriptive names? There are, however, as Steve points out,  just too many species to do this sensibly, and scientists, despite the way in which we are often portrayed, are human beings with likes, dislikes and favourite artists, authors and super stars 🙂

There are two very important chapters in this book, that in my opinion, raise it from being an enjoyable romp through history via taxonomy to a much more thought-provoking work*.  These are respectively, Chapter 15, The Indigenous Blind Spot and Chapter 18, Names for Sale, to a truly thought provoking work.  Incidentally, all the chapter names in the book are truly inspired, Gary Larson’s Louse, Harry Potter and the Name of the Species and The Name of Evil to give you a flavour.

 The Indigenous Blind Spot deals with the way in which the indigenous peoples who were, and still are, instrumental in the collection of new species from what, we as privileged northerners, see as exotic locations.  Yes, the countries are often commemorated in the names, but as Steve points out there are only a handful of species that recognise the indigenous field assistants. Unfortunately, this attitude persists in many areas of ecology and conservation, despite the relatively recent recognition of it as a problem (Baker et al., 2019; Eichhorn et al., 2020; Hart et al., 2020).

Names for Sale discusses the ethics of taxonomists naming species in return for money.  On one hand, the idea of commercialising taxonomy might appear to be trivialising the discipline, but when one considers how little money relatively speaking, comes from scientific funders (Ebach et al., 2011; Britz et al., 2020) anything that helps support the discipline is welcome.

If you want to know who has the most species named after them, and it may not be whom you think, then buy the book.  I promise you, you won’t regret it.


Baker, K., Eichhorn, M.P. & Griffiths, M. (2019) Decolonizing field ecology.  Biotropica, 51, 288-292.

Britz, R., Hundsdörfer, A. & Fritz, U. (2020) Funding, training, permits—the three big challenges of taxonomy.  Megataxa, 1, 49-52.

Ebach, M.C., Valdecasa, A.G. & Wheeler, Q.D. (2011) Impediments to taxonomy and users of taxonomy: accessibility and impact evaluation.Cladistics, 27, 550-557.

Eichhorn, M. P., Baker, K. and Griffiths, M. (2020) ‘Steps towards decolonising biogeography’. Frontiers of Biogeography, 12, e44795 (7 pp).

Hart, A.G, Leather, S.R. and Sharma, M.V. (2020) Overseas conservation education and research: the new colonialism? Journal of Biological Education, 55

Heard, S.B. (1994) Imperfect oviposition decisions by the pitcher plant mosquito (Wyeomyia smithii). Evolutionary Ecology, 8, 493-502.

Heard, S.B. (1994) Pitcher-plant midges and mosquitoes: a processing chain commensalism. Ecology, 75, 1647-1660.


Filed under Book Reviews