Tag Archives: biological control

Pick and mix 5 – more links to ponder

Another set of links that interested me enough to read (and this week, watch) them all the way through.


Interesting (tongue-in-cheek) post about using Ribwort plantain as a garden flower

Jo Cartmell (@watervole) on how to turn your boring lawn into a beautiful wildflower meadow

Gretchen Vögel asks – Where have all the insects gone?

How ploughing and deep tillage methods are harming earthworms worldwide

We have been telling our students for years that one of the advantages of biological control compared with conventional use of pesticides is that prey are unlikely to evolve resistance to natural enemies.  Well, we were wrong – here is a story about a pest weevil that has done just that  – unfortunately behind a pay wall

Insects and ethics – Some very interesting points, but as much as I love insects which I do passionately, I am very happy, that ethically speaking, they are not classified as animals. Research would be impossible. That said, all insects in my garden live a free and happy life and are never knowingly killed, not even if they are on my bean plants 🙂

A nice article about photographing spiders and also mentions ethics

Here Markus Eichhorn writes about the questionable ethical standpoints of some otherwise reputable scientists from the last century

An interactive blog post about global crop diversity and eating habits – quite revealing, try it and see

An interesting and well produced short video that could be useful if you want to explain how sustainable management of tropical forests helps the planet and why you should only buy FSC certified products


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Filed under Pick and mix

Ten papers that shook my world – Solomon (1949) – quantifying predator efficiency

Solomon, M. E. (1949). The natural control of animal populations. Journal of Animal Ecology, 18, 1-35.*


According to Google Scholar there are 1149 (only 773 in 2013)citations to this paper, an average of 17.1 citations per year, compared with the 12.5 I reported back in 2013.  Although influential, it had a slow start, only 383 citations being recorded for it between 1949 and 1993. Since 2000 it has averaged about 48 citations a year (760 in total), 225 of those since 2013.** To the modern reader this paper comes across as wordy and discursive, more like a popular article than a scientific paper. This does not, however, mean that the science and the man behind the article were not first class. Journals had less pressure on their space in those days and scientists had more time to think and read. If only it were so now. Despite the relatively low number of citations, this paper has had an immense influence on the study of population dynamics, although I will have to confess, that for my generation who were undergraduates in the 1970s, Solomon’s little Study in Biology*** book, Population Dynamics, published in 1969, was our main, if not only, encounter with his work.

Solomon 1

Making sure that nobody could claim my copy of Population Dynamics

Solomon terms

Here Solomon introduces the term functional as in a density related response

Nowadays we remember the paper as the first one to formalise the term ‘functional response’ although the early citations to this paper are in reference to density dependence, competition, population regulation and population variability e.g. (Elton 1949; Glen 1954; Southwick 1955; Bakker 1963). Interestingly, one of the earlier papers to cite Solomon, (Burnett 1951) presented functional response curves but did not mention the term (Watt (1959)). To add further insult to injury, Holling (1959) in the same year, in his classic paper in which he described and numbered the types of functional responses did not even refer to Solomon, rather deferring to Watt’s paper (loc. cit.). Since then, with the likes of Varley, Gradwell and Hassell (1973) and luminaries such as Bob May (May 1978), this paper has been cited often, and justifiably, and continues to influence us to this day, including the author of this eulogy (Aqueel & Leather 2012). This paper as well as being  the first one to formalise the term ‘functional response’ was the first attempt to draw together the disparate conceptual strands of the first half of the twentieth century work on population dynamics in one coherent whole. Truly, a remarkable and very influential paper.



Aqueel, M. A., & Leather, S. R. (2012) Nitrogen fertiliser affects the functional response and prey consumption of Harmonia axyridis (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) feeding on cereal aphids. Annals of Applied Biology, 160, 6-15.

Bakker, K. (1963) Backgrounds of controversies about population theories and their terminologies. Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Entomologie, 53, 187-208.

Burnett, T. (1951) Effects of temperature and host density on the rate of increase of an insect parasite. American Naturalist, 85, 337-352.

Elton, C. (1949) Population interspersion: an essay on animal community patterns. Journal of Ecology, 37, 1-25.

Glen, R. (1954) Factors that affect insect abundance. Journal of Economic Entomology, 47, 398-405.

Holling, C. S. (1959) Some characteristics of simple types of predation and parasitism. Canadian Entomologist, 91,385-398.

May, R. M. (1978) Host-parasitoid systems in patchy environments: A phenomenological model. Journal of Animal Ecology, 47, 833-844.

Solomon, M. E. (1969) Population Dynamics. Edward Arnold, London.

Southwick, C. H. (1955) The population dynamics of confined house mice supplied with unlimited food. Ecology, 36, 212-225.

Varley, G. C., Gradwell, G. R. & Hassell, M.P. (1973) Insect Population Ecology: An Analytical Approach. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.

Watt, K. E. F. (1959). A mathematical model for the effect of densities of attacked and attacking species on the numbers attacked. Canadian Entomologist, 91, 129-144.


Post script

A few months ago I was privileged to be given Robert Tillyard’s excellent The Insects of Australia and New Zealand (first published in 1926), by a former colleague of mine.


What made this even more special was that it had originally belonged to the great Maurice Solomon when he was a student, and contained some of his original annotations and revision notes.

Solomon combo



*This is an expanded and updated version of the article I wrote as part of the British Ecological Society’s Centenary celebrations in 2013

**It is probably wishful thinking, but I might be tempted to think that by writing about this influential but somewhat overlooked paper, I increased the number of citations, so had a positive influence 🙂

***The Studies in Biology series, published by the then Institute of Biology (Now Royal Society of Biology), were excellent little books and the series on plant physiology were the main reason that I passed my first year plant physiology module as an undergraduate at Leeds University. I am reliably informed that there are plans to revive the series next year.



Filed under Entomological classics, Ten Papers That Shook My World

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

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, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Maxwell-Lefroy, who among other claims to fame, was the first editor of Annals of Applied Biology http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1744-7348 , 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,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Muffet 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, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Walter_Bates#Taxonomy who is today remembered in the term Batesian

Henry Walter Bates

mimicry  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimicry#Batesian ; 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Henri_Fabre , Karl von Frisch http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._B._Ford  and more recently Richard Southwood  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Southwood   (Methods in Ecology) but initially a Hemipteran specialist and Miriam Rothschild  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Valentine_Riley , but then again, who outside the world of entomology has heard of him?


Filed under EntoNotes

Pest Managers are ecologists too

Over the course of the last decade I have come to the conclusion that British undergraduates have no idea of what pest management actually is.  For the last twenty years or so, I have run a suite of MSc courses, initially at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College and since 2012, at Harper Adams University, the leading land-based university in the UK.  The four MSc courses I run are Conservation and Forest Protection, Ecological Applications, Entomology and Integrated Pest and Disease Management.  These are, as you can see, pretty much specialist vocational courses.  The students who do these courses are highly motivated and come from a range of backgrounds.  Many had established careers in other areas and found those careers lacking.  Others have had a burning desire to embark on advanced training in entomology since they were at school and been deeply frustrated that no undergraduate degrees exist in the UK in that subject. [The last BSc in Entomology in the UK was awarded in 1993 by Imperial College to Andy Salisbury (now Dr Andrew Salisbury and Senior Entomologist at the Royal Horticulture Society’s research offices at Wisley].  Yet others have developed an interest in one of the areas covered by my MSc courses as undergraduates and decided to make a career in those areas, but found that their BSc degrees had not prepared them to the required level in their chosen subject and that they needed the extra training provided by a postgraduate course.  The interesting thing to me is how the absolute interest in integrated pest management has remained at pretty much the same level year on year, at just under 5 with a high of 9 students in 1989 and in 1998 no students at all.  Over the same period the average number of entomologists on the course was twelve. As a proportion of the student body the pest management contingent has ranged from a very disappointing zero to the memorable year, 2004, when there were twice as many pest managers as entomologists, albeit out of total student body of only nine.

MSc Entomology and IPM students

MSc Entomology and IPM students

Pest managers are in great demand from industry –biological control and agrochemical companies have more positions than there are suitably qualified graduates; yet undergraduates seem reluctant to train in this area.  I think that there are two root causes for this problem; a lack of exposure to the subject as undergraduates and a misunderstanding of exactly what pest managers are and what they actually do.  Mention pest management to most people, not just students, and their first reaction is rats, cockroaches and Rentokil operatives spraying.



The mythical spray man

The mythical spray man

A pest!

A pest!

Yes pest control does involve poisoning vermin and spray operations against domestic insect pests, but that is only one very minor, albeit important, aspect of pest management.  Pest management, or as it is more formally known, Integrated Pest Management, is the intelligent selection and use of pest control measures to ensure  favourable economic, ecological  and sociological consequences.  Yes this does include the use of pesticides but only as part of an integrated programme that could include biological control, the use of resistant plant varieties, and the diversification of the farm landscape through conservation headlands, and cultural methods such as crop rotation or inter-cropping.   Even scare-crows, traditional or modern, can be part of an IPM programme. The list goes on and all this is backed up by a detailed knowledge and understanding of the biology and ecology of the pest species, their natural enemies and the habitats that they live in.

Conservation headland

Conservation headland

Traditional scarecrow

Traditional scarecrow



Biological control

Biological control

The idea of pest management is not an entirely modern one ; Benjamin Walsh a British born pioneer applied entomologist  working in the USA, said in 1866, and I quote,  “Let a man profess to have discovered some new patent powder pimperlimplimp, a single pinch of which being thrown into each corner of a field will kill every bug throughout its whole extent, and people will listen to him with attention and respect.  But tell them of any simple common-sense plan, based upon correct scientific principles, to check and keep within reasonable bounds the insect foes of the farmer, and they will laugh you to scorn”.  I consider this to be the first modern reference to integrated pest management.


Pest managers do not just work in domestic and urban situations.  Most pest managers, as opposed to pest control operatives work in agriculture, forestry and horticulture, safeguarding our crops and ensuring global food security.  Pest managers, because of the complexity of the problems facing sustainable crop production in the modern world, have to have a much greater depth and breadth of knowledge than pure ecologists.   Although many pest managers have entomological backgrounds, they also have a more than nodding acquaintance with plant pathology, nematology and pesticide application and chemistry.  They also need to have a good grasp of the economics of both pest control and the farming/cropping system that they are working in.  They must fully appreciate what is feasible and appropriate in the context of the farmer’s/forester’s year, budgets and targets in terms of yields and profits.  There is no point in coming up with the ideal ecological or conservation solution that cannot be implemented because of the constraints of the real world.  Pest managers, even those working in academia, interact closely with their end-users, to ensure a reduction in pest numbers and abundance, not necessarily eradication, which is acceptable to growers, society and the natural world.   As Lorna Cole said on Twitter on September 8th 2013….

Lorna Cole

So when you hear the word pest management in future, don’t just think spray, think conservation headlands, beetle banks, biological control, crop rotation, resistant varieties, chemical ecology, forecasting, monitoring , cultural control, holistic farming, multi-purpose forestry, sociology, economics and sustainability.  These are the elements of the armoury most commonly used by pest managers, not pesticides as so many people mistakenly think.

So for prospective students, don’t be put off by the word pest, if you want an exciting, satisfying and possibly international career, embrace the application of ecology and make a difference to the world.   Become a pest manager.  Without integrated pest managers food production will never be sustainable or as ecologically friendly as it now is.

Post Script

Sadly, even to this day (it was much worse when I started my career), there is a perception among some academics that being applied is second best; on one memorable occasion I was introduced to some visitors by one of my colleagues as, “this is Simon Leather, he’s an ecologist, ALBEIT, an applied one”


Post post script


For those interested in joining the MSc course in Integrated Pest Management based at Harper Adams University here is the appropriate link.  I should also add that unfortunately we are NOT able to offer three annual Scholarships funded by the Horticultural Development Council, HDC, of £5000 each to particularly deserving students as despite ALL our graduates finding employment in the industry they felt that the scheme was not working!


Filed under Bugbears, EntoNotes

Desperately seeking sources: the quest for the original citation

From 1993 until 2012 I taught a final year course at Imperial College called Applied Ecology.  The relevant part of the course blurb used to say:

Course Outline:  Applied ecology, philosophy and concepts.   Nature Conservation, Nature Reserves (history and philosophy), SSSIs, legal aspects, SLOSS, butterfly case studies.  Mammal conservation, issues and dilemmas.   Forestry and woodland management, effects of afforestation, effects on pest and disease incidence, conservation. Habitat creation and management.  Waterways and fisheries. Agroecosystems, agricultural practice and objectives, crop history and evolution, pest incidence. Organic farming, effects on pest incidence, weeds, workshops.  Pest management and the environment, residues, niche replacement, biocontrol, resistance, social and economic effects, IPM in harmony with conservationists. Sampling, forecasting and monitoring. Workshops and mini-conference. Visit to London Zoo (Captive breeding programme).

Those of you with eagle eye vision may have noticed that one of the topics covered was biocontrol; for those of you with vision more like mine, I have highlighted the word biocontrol in bold. As most of this course was material that I had lived and breathed either since I was an undergraduate, or as part of my professional research career (except for the rivers and lakes), I was in the enviable position of not having to do a lot of background research to prepare lectures and source material.  It was quite literally, sitting there in my head.  This did of course lead to some sloppy habits.  For example, as an undergraduate my crop protection lecturer at Leeds (the late Dr Noel Gibson) when telling us about biological control and its history, mentioned that the Chinese had, long ago, introduced ant nests to citrus orchards and to enhance their activities, stretched bamboo poles between trees.  So to my lazy self, this was a fact and thus when preparing my slide on the history of biological control I put it down as a fact without acknowledging any source [something I happily tell students and others off for not doing!].

bological control slide

I sort of felt guilty about this but always said in the lecture that this is what my lecturer had told me when I was an undergraduate and as none of the students ever asked me for the actual reference I let it slide.  Then one year (2006), I was reading a science fiction novel by a Scottish novelist, Kenneth McLeod, who just so happens to have a degree in zoology.  The book, as far as I remember, described the attempts of earth colonists attempting to establish crops on an alien planet.  Their crops were being devastated by pests and the xeno-biologist said, and I quote very loosely, as this was back in 2006, said (and I am sure you have guessed it already) “I remember my lecturer telling me when I was an undergraduate about how the Chinese used to facilitate biological control by running bamboo poles between orange trees so that the ants could be more effective”.  “Wow”  I said, and “Wow” again, because Ken McLeod had put a reference in a footnote, to Wheeler (1910).  So there was my source.  I now had a mission. Despite the fact that I had accepted the story as fact since 1976, I felt an urgent need to see the reference for myself.  Using the internet I tracked down a copy of Wheeler in an antiquarian book shop in Amsterdam and ignoring the sarcastic comments of my wife, purchased it on-line and waited impatiently for it to arrive.  As we were now in the Christmas vacation it didn’t arrive until the New Year.  I ripped open the parcel and was the proud owner of a copy of Wheeler’s Ants ; interestingly, the copy I now owned had once been in the library stock of Cornell University, so had made rather a long journey to end up in Bracknell almost a hundred years later.


I started to read it; luckily I didn’t have to go very far as there on page 9 was the story of the Chinese ants in black and white; unfortunately, it appeared that Wheeler was not the primary source, he was indulging in yet another bug-bear of mine, quoting someone,

Wheeler page 9

McCook (1882), who had quoted someone else (Magowan), without giving the original source.  So now I had to track down McCook!

McCook refs

Luckily, since Wheeler had actually cited McCook, I was able to do this successfully using the inter-library loan service.

McCook 1882

So now I had the citation for Magowan.  Unluckily it was in rather an obscure newspaper, The North China Herald.  This posed a bit of a problem and slowed my search down.  Luckily in recent years, there has been a huge international effort made into digitising newspapers and I was finally able to track down an electronic archive holding the relevant issue and

North China Herald front page

eventually find the relevant page.  Success, after almost seven years I had finally tracked down the original source of the ‘fact’ that I had been retelling for all those years. I felt quite

North China Herald page zoom 363

proud of myself , although my wife, who is not a scientist, says that this is yet another example of how weird we scientists are.  On the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed that I had only tracked it down to 1882 as I am sure that this must be an ancient agricultural practice with its roots, many hundreds, if not thousands of years in the past.  Perhaps my next self-imposed mission impossible, will be to find the oldest mention of the practice.

 Post script

Today, I just happened to be looking for a book in my office, when I noticed one of my old course texts, Van den Bosch & Messenger (1973),

Van Den Bosch    Inside van den Bosch

which I notice cost me £2 in 1976, actually quite a lot of money as my student grant was just over £600 in total.

Flicking the book open I soon found the page with the Chinese ant story on it and a citation to the 1882 McCook paper.  So, if I had thought to look at my old text-book I could have saved myself the expense of buying Wheeler’s book, which was not cheap.  But then if I had, I would never have discovered Wheeler and I would have missed all the fun of chasing the references down, so I think it was worth it overall.


McCook, H.C. (1882) Ants as beneficial insecticides. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia, 34, 263-271.

 van den Bosch, R. & Messenger, P.S. (1973) Biological Control, Intertext Books, New York & Leighton Buzzard.

Wheeler, W.M. (1910) Ants: Their Structure, Development and Behavior, Columbia University Press, New York & London.


Filed under Bugbears, EntoNotes, Teaching matters

Ordeal by Inaugural

I gave my inaugural lecture last week, 9th May, which was a very interesting experience indeed and one that I seem to want to share.  Some of you may be wondering exactly what an inaugural lecture is.  Theoretically an inaugural lecture or address is the first lecture given by a newly created Professor.  In reality, they are usually given some months, or in some case a year or so after appointment.  They are a long-established feature of university life and are highlighted as being events of some consequence to the university or Department of which the ‘newly’ appointed Professor has become a part.

They are very much regarded as being celebratory;  here for example from the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research  The School’s Inaugural Lecture series provides an opportunity to celebrate these achievements with each lecture representing a significant milestone in an academic’s career.

The normal format is for a lecture of about 45 minutes followed by a celebratory wine reception.

And here from University College, London

Lectures will be followed by a reception.
Inaugural lectures are an opportunity for UCL professors to exhibit to the wider UCL community, and the public outside UCL, a flavour of their intellectual activity and research. For professors appointed from outside UCL, an inaugural lecture is an opportunity for colleagues to welcome them to UCL. For newly promoted professors they are an opportunity for colleagues to recognise and celebrate the achievements that have led to their promotion.

And here from my former Institution, Imperial College London

  • For new professors, the lecture provides an opportunity to present an overview of their research career so far, update colleagues on current and future research plans, and introduce their research to wider audiences.
  • For Departments, the event is a chance to recognise new Professors and host a celebratory event to bring Department staff together. It also provides an opportunity for Departments to engage with broader audiences inside and outside College, to establish new collaborations, strengthen existing relationships and catch up with alumni.

I could go on, but I think that this is enough to give you the idea.  Basically a chance for me to celebrate my appointment and to highlight to my new colleagues and the outside world what I am all about.

I was of course delighted to become the UK’s only Professor of Entomology, here at Harper Adams University last September, but at the same time felt a little frisson of fear at the thought of delivering my inaugural.  I have never found it that easy to blow my own trumpet (I was rather a shy child), so the thought of standing in front of an audience and doing just that was a little daunting to say the least.  I do, however, feel that one should always take the opportunity to publicise entomology a possible so agreed to give it a go.  Those of you know me, will know that suits and ties are not my thing; desert boots, rolled up sleeves and blue jeans are my usual attire and have been for the last 40 years.

Simon Leather - expedition to Trinidad & Tobago 1975     Simon Vortis

Although I have of course, had to dress somewhat more formally for events such as graduation ceremonies.

Simon Leather graduating Leeds 1977    Graduation 2010 011

It was thus a great relief to find out that unlike the University of Limerick  whose inaugural lectures are a ceremonial occasion, and academic robes are worn by the inaugural professor and the rest of the platform party. Those attending the lecture do not wear academic robes, Harper Adams had a more relaxed attitude to dress.

Once agreed, events took on a life of their own.  I had to draw up a guest list of a couple of hundred people; who to invite, who not to invite?  I needed a title for the lecture to go on the invitations and also to decide what sort of food and drink to have and when to have it.  Luckily we have a fantastic Events Team (thank you Sarah and Sandy) at Harper Adams and this all went very smoothly.

Inaugural invite front

Inaugural invite back

Of course when I started to prepare my lecture, I found that the title I had chosen was far too restrictive.  Having taken quite a long time to achieve my Professorship, I had a lot of work to discuss and a lot of students and collaborators to acknowledge.  So, in the end I decided to change the title and go for the prosaic exactly what it says on the tin approach.

inaugural title page

Even so, I still has to leave some things out such as my saproxylic insect work (sorry Ig and Sarah). Then I was faced with the real challenge.  How to make it accessible to my audience which was very mixed, ranging from relatives, non-scientists, former colleagues, ex-students and scientists from a variety of disciplines.  Panic began to set in, but as a keen family historian and lover of history in general, I have always found it interesting to know where people have come from and how they got where they are, so I started with my ancestry

ancestry slide

and my childhood and how I got interested in entomology in the first place.

Jamaica slide

Then I talked about a bit my early research, reliving the days of hand-drawn figures in papers as exemplified by my first real publication (I really should have used Letra-Set and not a stencil for that figure) and then worked my way on from there

First paper slide

highlighting and acknowledging as many people as possible e.g.

Keith Day slide


Biofuel slide


Forestry slide

and of course not forgetting the roundabouts

Roundabout slide

before eventually a final section dealing with a slightly more in-depth summary of my more recent work.

Organic slide

I then ended by outlining what I had planned for the future.

Future slide

Eventually after a couple of months and much heart-ache I had a lecture of 95 slides, and only 55 minutes to deliver them in!  Actually at an average of 30 seconds per slide just about right. Then I began to worry about getting the level right and having to resist the temptation to keep tweaking things.  As the day loomed, the tension began to build.  I have to confess that I agonised and stressed over this lecture more than any I have ever given, including my first ever conference talk.  It was the thought that I might forget to thank people and that my audience might find it boring that really worried me.  I knew that I couldn’t actually mention everyone by name so compromised with a mega-thank-you slide at the end for all my students, past and present.

Thanks slide

The big day arrived and guests began to roll-up for the pre-lecture food and drinks, and very pleasant it was too, although I didn’t actually eat and drink very much, having to make sure I was sober enough to deliver a coherent lecture.  The lecture theatre was full and I knew how to work the AV equipment and had also run through it a couple of times to get the timing right so was all geared up to go.  Then our Vice-Chancellor introduced me and blew my trumpet for me, which was embarrassing and pleasurable at the same time, but which actually increased my nervousness. Once I got going it seemed to go alright although I know I was nervous as I almost drank all of the glass of water that I had made sure was to hand.  I always tell my students, don’t be afraid to have a drink of water when giving a talk, nobody will think the worse of you, and I certainly took my own advice that evening.  Then it was over, except for having to answer a few questions and then the traditional humorous

Simon Inauguarl q&a

micky-taking vote of thanks from ex-colleague, collaborator and friend Professor Denis Wright, followed by puddings and cakes and more wine.  I forgot to say the whole thing was filmed so I have that to look forward to; I guess I will be able to send a copy to my Mother who was unable to attend.  Thank you Janine @JanineHarperVJ for making that possible and for taking some great photos.

In summary, a bit of a trial, a definite rite of passage, but really nice to see old friends and colleagues and all in all, actually a great experience, although I don’t think I would want to do another one.

I should also thank everyone who sent me emails and tweets before and after the event.  I greatly appreciated your kind thoughts.  And finally, many thanks to all those who attended and laughed in the right places.  Thank you for a great evening.


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