Monthly Archives: January 2014

Not all Aphids are Pests

Unfortunately when you mention the word aphid most people’s first thought is PEST!  It is true that they are perhaps the most important insect pests of crops

Larson             Punk aphid

in temperate regions of the world, and that in the UK they are serious pests of cereals, sugar beet, beans, vegetables and glasshouse crops.  It has been estimated that crop losses due to feeding damage and/or virus transmission exceed £100 million per annum .  On the other hand this is down to only about 250 species which out of a total of 5000 described species is not very many (about 5%).  Not only are most aphids playing useful roles in ecosystems acting as food sources to other insects, arthropods and dare I say it, vertebrates 😉 . They also play an important part in the decomposition cycle (Choudhury, 1985).  The thing that most people don’t realise is that some aphids are incredibly rare. Some are rare because of their close associations with rare plants, others rare because of a complex relationship with ants and some for no apparent reason at all.  For example, there are two aphid species that live on bird cherry (Prunus padus),  Rhopalosiphum padi, an extremely common aphid, host-alternating between bird cherry and grasses, and a major pest of cereals in temperate countries (Leather et al., 1989) and Myzus padellus, host-alternating between bird cherry and members of the Labiatae (Galeopsis spp. (Hemp nettle)) and Scrophulariaceae (Pedicularis spp. and Rhinanthus sp., members of the snapdragon family).  In all my many years of sampling bird cherry I have never seen Myzus padellus, yet their life-cycles and habits are strikingly similar, so why is the latter so rare?  No one knows.

Similarly, on birch we find, not very often because it is so rare, Monaphis antennata , which unlike most aphids, lives as a nymph (immature) on the upper side of birch leaves, possibly


to escape natural enemies as the much more common species of birch aphids, Euceraphis punctipennis and Betulaphis quadrituberculata like the majority of leaf-feeding aphids, both live on the underside of leaves, which is where aphid predators normally forage (Hopkins & Dixon 1997). I have seen this aphid once, shown to me by the late Nigel Barlow  when he visited me at Silwood Park in the late 1990s.  Despite repeated visits to the same trees that we found Monaphis on, I have never seen it again.  So far no one has been able to explain why it is so rare (Hopkins et al., 1998).  Interestingly enough, apart from keys and identification manuals, it has rarely been written about; Web of Knowledge reveals only four research papers on it.

There are many more rare aphids hiding out there, a number of which have only ever been seen by the entomologist who first described them and no doubt even more who have not yet been found, as is the cases with many more insect species  – not enough insect taxonomists, not enough funding.

Choudhury, D. (1985) Aphid honeydew – a re-appraisal of Owen and Wiegert’s hypothesis. Oikos, 45, 287-289.

Hille Ris Lambers, D. & Rogerson, J.P. (1946) A new British aphid from Prunus padus L.  Myzus padellus sp n. (Hemiptera, Aphididae). Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London, 15, 101-105

Hopkins, G.W. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1997) Enemy-free space and the feeding niche of an aphid. Ecological Entomology, 22, 271-274.

Hopkins, G.W. & Dixon, A.F.G. (2000)  Feeding site location in birch aphids (Sternorrhyncha: Aphididae): the simplicity and reliability of cues.  European Journal of Entomology, 97, 279-280

Hopkins, G.W., Thacker, J.I., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1998) Limit to the abundance of rare species: an experimental test with a tree aphid. Ecological Entomology, 23, 386-390.

Leather, S.R., Walters, K.F.A., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1989) Factors determing the pest status of the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L.) (Hemiptera: Aphididae), in Europe: a study and review. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 79, 345-360.


Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

The Dead Entomologists Society

The late and the great: who are the most influential dead entomologists?

In the run-up to the Christmas holidays an ex-student of mine, Andy Salisbury, now at RHS Wisley, and I were discussing who were the most influential dead entomologists ever.  We had begun our discussion discussing Harold Maxwell-LeFroy,, who among other claims to fame, was the first editor of Annals of Applied Biology , the founder of Rentokil and former Professor of Entomology at Imperial College.  He was also famous for having killed himself accidentally whilst trying out a pesticide.

Lefroy conversation

Dead entomologists

Up until the early part of this century he was commemorated in the Biology Department at Imperial College’s Silwood Park Campus with a laboratory named after him; sadly with the move into the new Hamilton Building this no longer exists.

We agreed that the great Alfred Russel Wallace was the most influential entomologist of all time; we felt that claiming Darwin as an entomologist, although famous for his beetle collecting, and despite being a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, might be a step too far.  So after Wallace, who was the most influential dead entomologist?

I think that this depends on how you define influential – for entomologists of my generation and the one before us, i.e. those born between 1930 and 1960; Imms and Wigglesworth are probably the two who most influenced us mainly because they were our recommended undergraduate texts  (those were the days when you could do entomology  in the UK as an undergraduate);

Wigglesowrth & Imms compresed

today I guess these have been replaced by Chapman’s The Insects: Structure and Function and Gullan & Cranston’s Outline of Entomology.  But of course outside the field of entomology who remembers Imms and Wigglesworth?  So we should, I think, be looking for entomologists whose influence has extended more widely;  a slightly tongue in cheek contender would be Thomas Moufet, who is possibly apocryphally, remembered for the nursery rhyme about his daughter Little Miss Muffett and more substantiated, for his compilation of the Theatre of Insects, but he was mainly a man of

Moufet book

medicine and more interested in spiders than insects in general.  A contender widely known outside the entomological world would be H W Bates, who is today remembered in the term Batesian

Henry Walter Bates

mimicry ; as a former President of the Royal Entomological Society (1868-1869) I think that we can safely claim him as an entomologist.

Other entomologists that have had an influence  on the rest of the non-entomological world, albeit not widely known outside the biological or medical sciences are Fabre and his Lives of  various insects , Karl von Frisch for his work on honeybees, especially in deciphering the waggle-dance,  E B Ford for his work on ecological genetics and for inspiring Kettlewell’s work on Biston betularia,  and more recently Richard Southwood   (Methods in Ecology) but initially a Hemipteran specialist and Miriam Rothschild for her work on a range of entomological subjects but very famously for her work on fleas.

The acid test of course, is how many living entomologists the man or woman in the pub can bring to mind when asked, let alone those that have joined the Dead Entomologist’s Society. Perhaps it is the fate of entomologists to be largely overlooked, much like the small but highly important organisms we work on 😉

I would dearly love to hear your thoughts on which the most influential dead entomologists are.  I am well aware, that my list is very Euro- and UK-centric.  So let’s see some nominations from the rest of the world, suitably justified of course!

Post script

Getting my vote as a contender for an American entomologist of great influence, albeit British-born, would be Charles Riley, sometimes known as the Father of Biological Control , but then again, who outside the world of entomology has heard of him?


Filed under EntoNotes

A Year of Not Forgetting the Roundabouts

Exactly a year ago (January 1st 2013), and with some trepidation, I launched my blog, Don’t Forget the Roundabouts.  I recently wrote about why I joined Twitter, and concluded that it had been a worthwhile and educational experience.  So how about the blog?  To me this was even scarier than going on to Twitter.  It took me some time to come up with a title, and I finally opted for the one you see above this post.  This celebrates my interest in urban ecology, my fascination with the architecture, decoration and biodiversity of roundabouts in general

Cantaur compressed

and my belief that we should concentrate the majority of our conservation efforts on small and local issues in our own back-yards  I am not saying that international conservation is a bad thing; I just think that there is a lot of scientific imperialism/colonialism (e.g., and;year=2007;volume=5;issue=2;spage=147;epage=183;aulast=Adams ) out there as well as a huge amount of taxonomic bias, driven by ex-situ conservationists with agendas driven by charismatic mega-fauna.  I think that local conservationists and indigenous populations should be primarily responsible for their own conservation efforts, but also of course, not forgetting their global responsibilities.

Writing a fully fledged blog, as opposed to tweeting, is to me a big deal.  Twitter is pretty ephemeral but a personal blog is out there and relatively easy to find.  I have therefore felt that when I write about science, which is mainly what appears here, that I need to research the literature thoroughly and get my facts right. After all, what I write about aphids may be found by a researcher or student who because I have published extensively on aphids, may take it as gospel without checking sources, despite my warnings  I find that preparing a scientific post takes as much background research as writing a full-blown paper for publication, in fact sometimes it takes longer because I find myself delving into some really obscure literature from the distant past That said, it has all been great fun and I have learnt a lot and found a lot of really interesting blogs out there; something I never really looked at until I started blogging myself.

So what have I learnt from blogging?  Well, not everyone finds aphids as interesting as I do, but I will continue to plug away at trying to convince you all that aphids really are the greatest insect group in the world 😉  That said, my most popular post was about aphids, found mainly by people using the search term, ‘do aphids bite people’ and looking at the traffic data it shows a fairly good correlation with the times that aphids are likely to be most abundant, although I am not convinced that they are all out there biting people.

Not all aphids are vegans

Otherwise my most popular posts are those that have dealt with more general issues, such as the PhD viva experience which shows a steady number of hits at about an average of one a day once you discount the initial launch peak.

 Are PhD Examiners really orgres

I have published 39 posts, reached people in 112 countries, with the top ten being dominated by the English-speaking countries of the world, and

Country views

had over 14,000 views with an average of 39 per day and sixty people subscribe to my blog as official followers.

Annual summary again

My most viewed day was 451, won by my recent blog on joining the Twitterati.  My ambition is to have a post that is actually read by all my followers on Twitter!  My two most frequent commenters and bestowers of likes are Emily Heath and Jeff Ollerton   My most frequent referrer was Chris Buddle

My thanks and best wishes to them all, and of course, to all my other readers and followers.  I would really like feedback from all of you to help me improve my efforts during 2014.

A Prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.


Filed under The Bloggy Blog, Uncategorized