Who am I?

My name is Simon Leather. I am an applied entomologist, but by that I don’t mean someone who can identify a huge number of species. I am not a taxonomist. Rather, I am a competent field entomologist who can recognise most insects to Order, some Orders to Family and within some families I am able to recognise individual species, especially if they are of economic importance. I fell in love with insects when I was a child in Jamaica, and discovered the complexity of ant societies, although I was also a great fan of orb web spiders, or crab spiders as my brother and I used to call them.

Gasteracantha sp crab spider

From the very beginning I was much more interested in how insects worked and behaved rather than in collecting and pinning them. My first degree from Leeds University, is in a subject that is no longer taught, Agricultural Zoology, essentially parasitology and entomology related to agriculture. It was at Leeds, in my second year, that I fell in love with aphids. My PhD at the University of East Anglia, was on the ecology of the bird-cherry-oat aphid Rhopalosiphum padi.


I then did a post-doc, courtesy of the Royal Society, in Finland, developing a prediction system for R.padi, followed by a short post-doc back at UEA before a ten year stint with the Forestry Commission where I worked on the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea and the large pine weevil, Hylobius abietis as well as doing advisory work and supervising research students. This was followed by twenty years at Imperial College, based at their Silwood Park campus where I worked on agricultural, horticultural and forest pests. I also conducted a twenty year study on the herbivores associated with sycamore trees and discovered the joy of urban ecology. I have been Professor of Entomology at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, since September 2012. For my full academic profile follow this link http://www.harper-adams.ac.uk/staff/profile.cfm?id=201220
I have been the Editor of EntoPath News, Antenna, and Ecological Entomology and am currently one of the Senior Editors of Insect Conservation & Diversity. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1752-4598
I am also the Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Applied Biology and an Associate Editor of Agricultural & Forest Entomology, Ecological Entomology and until 2014,  Journal of Animal Ecology. I have also written and edited a number of books that don’t make me a lot of money.

Despite all this, I still manage to get out into the field once in a while, although you may not always recognize me 🙂

Simon head in net compressed

I am also a bit of a genealogist and my wife and I founded the Leather Family History Society http://leatherfamilyhistory.org/  in 1991.

I love teaching and outreach, and am deeply concerned about the way most people do not interact with nature and think that the animal kingdom is mainly vertebrate with fur and feathers, hence my decision to start a blog.  My favourite quote about being a scientist comes from Sweet Thursday one of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row novels and is spoken by Doc, a marine biologist and goes like this “I want to take everything I’ve seen and thought and learned and reduce them and relate them and refine them until I have something of meaning, something of use“.

I sort of blogged back in the early 1980s, before the World Wide Web existed within a chat group hosted by the Edinburgh University intranet. I used to post stories of my tropical experiences. I also did a blog for a week as part of National Insect Week 2010.  To prevent me becoming ponderous and pompous, I try and limit myself to 2000 words a post, a sort of macro-micro-blog. I will, however, occasionally treat myself to more, but will never exceed 3000 words. I mainly post on aphids, Aphidology; things that annoy me, Bugbears; things of general entomological interest, EntoNotes; urban ecology and conservation, Roundabouts and more; teaching and outreach, Teaching Matters; occasionally genealogy, Roots; and whatever else occurs to me, The Bloggy Blog. Opinions are my own and any comments are very welcome.

As part of my outreach activities I am very willing to give talks (ranging in length from 30 minutes to an hour) on a number of subjects:

Birds, Bugs and Roundabouts – urban biodiversity and conservation

Aphids are Fab!  Everything you wanted to know about aphids but were afraid to ask

Influential Entomology – Insect in Art, Literature, Economics, Engineering, Science and Medicine

The Good, the Bad and the Plain Just Wrong – Insects in children’s literature

Biodiversity – what does it mean

Current and Future Threats to UK Forestry

Urban Ecology

Landscape Ecology

Running a One-Name Society

As I consider outreach to be part of my job, I do not charge anything except my travel expenses (although a reasonably priced bottle of red wine is always welcome*).  I am willing to travel up to 25 miles or so from Harper Adams University.  I am willing to travel outside the blue circle but that may involve an overnight stay for which which I would have to charge.

Travel radius

*preferably a Shiraz or Fitou 🙂

36 responses to “About

  1. Do you do talks, eg for local wildlife groups?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Simon,
    where was the picture with the big model ants taken? Is it a roundabout…?
    Interesting blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dave

      yes it is a roundabout in the south of France – actually four ants in total, supposed to be an ant trail – one on one side of the road, two on the roundabout itself and another on the other side of the road; lit up at night so quite effective – the French do some very nice roundabouts


  3. Jes Dagley

    Very interesting blog, Simon! I’m an even greater novice to blogs but will browse here more often! I agree with your main point – and looking back on it this is what made Trees Beyond the Wood at Sheffield Hallam such a great conference in Sept 2012 – a real intimate mix of scientists, arborists, naturalists etc. Only downside was that there were two parallel sessions which split the relatively small conference – a little more time might have enabled one longer single session from which everyone would have gained – although it might have cost more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jes – as a relative Twitter/Blog novice I have been very impressed with a) how useful I have found Twitter, some great contacts and b) how many useful blogs it has led me to.


  4. Jes Dagley

    Yes – Twtter is much more useful and interesting than I thought it would be – I just need a device now to access it more easily! Speak again soon I hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Helga

    Hi Simon. I am interested in talking to you about the Bird Cherry Ermine moth, can please I have your e-mail address so we can get in touch? Many thanks – Helga

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Dear Dr. Leather
    I just read your blog “Red, green or gold? Autumn colours and aphid host choice” as it was featured in our local newspaper (Ottawa Citizen – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada). The theories why tree leaves change colour are intriguing, and I was wondering about another reason, at least for the production of the anthocyanins. How toxic are the anthocyanins? Could it be that they are not a deliberate product of the tree, but an unavoidable by-product of another metabolic process, and the tree is using the shedding of the leaves in the fall as a mechanism of removing these compounds from its system?
    I admit, plant chemistry is not my expertise, I am rather an aquatic toxicologist, and not well-versed in trees, therefore please forgive me if this is an “ignorant” question.

    Uwe Schneider

    Liked by 2 people

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  9. Lisa Kirkland

    Hello from Australia, Simon. I have found your blog to be very helpful, as a budding aphidologist work in pest management for the Agricultural industry. I have been running lab experiments recently on the Russian wheat aphid (Diuraphis noxia) and Oat aphid (Rhopalosiphum padi), and have been trying to work out the best way of introducing the aphids into my test pots of wheat: I was initially cutting leaf segments of infested wheat and lodging these into the leaf nodes of my test wheat and leaving the aphids to transfer to the living plant. However, I have found that it can take upwards of 7 days for the leaf segment to die, and therefore for the aphids to move across – this obviously presents a problem for my experiments if I am testing how they are feeding on wheat grown from treated seed, as they will not be exposed to the living wheat immediately. I have also tried shaking my culture wheat over a tray and spooning clumps of aphids into my test pots – this works very well in terms of establishment on the wheat (though there are some fatalities), but I’ve found it can be difficult to culture the aphids in large enough numbers to use this method (as only a proportion fall off the culture wheat). I’m now researching methods for inducing aphids to fall off the leaves themselves (perhaps if I exposed them to intense light, or heat, or vibration, etc), so that I could access more individuals. Do you have any advice that might help?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi. How many aphids per plant are you introducing and how many plants per treatment? I always use a 00 paintbrush and transfer the aphids very carefully one at a time from the culture to a Petri dish and from thence, again using the paintbrush to the leaf on the test that I want them to be on. Delicate work, but once you get into it very successful. Or you can if you are moving quiet a few to each plant hold your cut leaf segment over the leaf node and very gently use the paintbrush to move the aphids on to the test plants. Hope that helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lisa Kirkland

        Hi Simon, thanks very much for your response. We do use paintbrushes when culturing small populations or are doing laboratory experiments where relatively few aphids are need. However, I am running ‘microcosm’ experiments where we grow several crop plants in large tubs as a ‘semi-field’ test (i.e. a step between a lab bioassay and a field trial) – this means that I often need to add 100-200 aphids into each tub, and so shifting aphids across by paintbrush becomes too time consuming to be feasible. My tests yesterday indicated that if I cut a leaf segment and place it in a petri dish within a cold-room (4 deg C) for 10 minutes, they are much more likely to fall off the leaf when tapped gently – this means I can then tip them into the tubs and they will find their way onto the plants without being able to sit on the excised leaf segment. Heat and light didn’t prove effective, though blowing on them gently also helped. I obviously need to take care not to damage their mouthparts when tapping, so the cold room method might be the best bet for me. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. So many topics that I enjoy! We look forward to following you.

    -Emma and Tom

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lin Marie deVincent

    Hi Simon, I have a friend who is experiencing an aphid infestation in her home in Napa, CA, USA. We have been desperate to find someone who knows how to help. They are biting her & her cats too. This is not a joke. My friend is experiencing much distress due to the aphids reproducing & returning in spite of her thorough cleaning. We think they came in on orchids she bought at a farmers market. We took a sample of a small black spot to the Napa Agricultural Commission & he is the one who identified it as an aphid. However, he insisted that aphids don’t bite. Finding you may be the answer to our prayers. Can you please help us? Lin Marie deVincent.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Cathy Swan

    Hi Simon – I putting together our 2019 WI programme and would love to have you as a speaker! Would you be able to email me on cathybictonwi@btinternet.com to see if we could arrange that? Many thanks! Cathy

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. Helen Pugh

    Hi Simon
    I went to Harper from 1994-1998, I recently went back for a reunion and saw The Zoology with Entomology Course.
    My Nephew is 15 and would like a career within Entomology ( he mentions Forensic ) his school doesn’t do A levels, so I’m trying to work out with my sister, what subjects he should be looking at for A levels and which direction he should be following, he is on the autistic spectrum but a very bright lad, but needs extra time in exams etc and keeping focused.
    I would love to get him to an open day at Harper to discuss options with someone from the course, any help you could give myself and my sister would be greatly appreciated, we are only in Staffordshire so not a great distance
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Biology definitely, chemistry is very useful, especially if he wants to do something forensic (there are not many jobs in forensic entomology) – agricultural, forest, taxonomic, ecological and conservation entomology have better job prospects. We are running EntoSci20 at Harper this year – an event for 14-18 year olds. It is possible to come as a parent and child, but mostly done by school parties – perhaps if you and/or his parents draw this event (free) to his school? You can find details here https://www.harper-adams.ac.uk/events/293/entosci20 We (The Harper Adams Ento team) will also have a stand at the Big Bang Fair next year.

      Liked by 1 person

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  17. helenkormos

    Hi! I am looking to encourage Rushmoor Borough Council to improve biodiversity locally. To date they have been very keen on ornamental planting, mowing and ripping out the plants every few months. They are open to me piloting a new planting scheme on a local roundabout, yay! I wondered if you had any more details on a mix of plants to support biodiversity or can put me in touch with someone? I was also hoping to approach schools and colleges to do a before and after study of the creatures living on the roundabout. Do you know of anyone living around Farnborough who might help, guide or mentor me in this?
    Kind regards and thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Dear Simon Leather,

    Dr Craig Eisemann and I co-wrote a post entitled “Do Plants and Insects Coevolve? 🥀🐝🌺🦋” published at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/do-plants-and-insects-coevolve/

    We would be interested if you would like to consider contributing some of your photos or even certain story about specific example(s) of insect-plant coevolution.

    Happy mid-July to you!


    • In principle, yes, can you email me?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Simon,

        The said post is a dynamic web document published at the said link. It would be best to use a desktop or laptop computer with a large screen to view the rich multimedia contents available for heightening your multisensory enjoyment at my blog, which could be too powerful and feature-rich for iPad, iPhone, tablet or other portable devices to handle properly or adequately.


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