Tag Archives: Finland

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

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

Bean aphids

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

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

Finnish aphid forecasts

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Post script

Michael Way died in 2011 and is greatly missed by all those who knew him well. He examined my PhD thesis, and to my delight and relief, was very complimentary about it and passed it without the need for corrections. I was greatly honoured that a decade or so later I became one of his colleagues and worked alongside him at Silwood Park. He was a very modest and self-deprecating man and never had a bad word to say about anyone. He had a remarkable career, his first paper published in 1948 dealing the effect of DDT on bees (Way & Synge, 1948) and his last paper published in 2011 dealing with ants and biological control (Seguni et al., 2011), a remarkable 63 year span. His obituary can be found here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/science-obituaries/8427667/Michael-Way.html



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

Entomological classics – the pitfall trap

Pitfall arghh I would be amazed if there are any entomologists who have not deployed a pitfall trap or two at some stage in their career. I would also hazard a guess that quite a few non-entomological ecologists have come across the joys of pitfall trap setting and catch sorting as part of their undergraduate training; most field courses seem to include a pitfall trap day, and rightly so.  Pitfall trapping is after all, probably the simplest and most efficient way of collecting data, and not always insects 😉 Pitfall - tapir

Tapir pitfall trap

More seriously though, pitfall traps are a remarkably simple and incredibly versatile way of sampling insects, particularly those that are active on the soil surface (epigeal) e.g carabid beetles. Pitfall forest They can be used in most habitats where you are able to dig into the soil,

Pitfall traps cheap

are very cheap as they can be made from easily obtainable household materials Pitfall traps and can be modified easily depending on your objectives and sampling conditions.  It is very important however, that the lip of the trap is either flush with or below the soil surface.  Not very many beetles or other invertebrates,  are willing to climb up the steep sides  to allow you to capture them. Pitfall - spatial patterns They are also amenable to being deployed in a variety of statistically meaningful ways. (Figure ‘borrowed’ from Woodcock (2005)). Pitfall traps - catch a lot They are of course not perfect.   Some of my students complain that they catch too much!

There has been, and continues to be, much debate about what the catch actually represents.  Are they a measure of activity or of density, i.e. do the trap catches represent the most active and careless beetles, rather than the most abundant?  Southwood (1966) in the first edition of Ecological Methods is fairly dismissive of their use except as a way of studying the activity, seasonal incidence and dispersion of single species and considered them to be of no use whatsoever in comparing communities.  Other authors argue however, that if the trapping is carried out over a long period of time then the data collected can be representative of actual abundance (e.g. Gist & Crossley, 1973; Baars, 1979) and despite Southwood’s comments, they are probably most often used to compare communities (e.g. Rich et al., 2013; Zmihorski et al., 2013;  Wang et al., 2014) For a very thorough account of the use and abuse of pitfall traps see Ben Woodcock’s excellent 2005 article (and I am not just saying that because he is one of my former students). You might expect, given the fact that pitfalls were used by our remote ancestors to trap their vertebrate prey, that entomologists would have adopted this method of trapping very early on, especially given the fact that nature got there first, e.g. as used by larvae of the antlion. Antlion trap

Antlion ‘pitfall traps’.

I was therefore surprised when I started researching this article to find that the earliest reference I could find in the scientific literature was Barber (1931).  I found this very hard to believe so resorted to Twitter.  Richard Jones suggested that a sentence in Pitfall silver sand reference

Notes on Collecting and Preserving Natural History Objects

referring to silver sand pits might be a reference to an early form of pitfall trap.  On further research however, it turned out that sand pits were the results of sand mining operations and were used opportunistically by entomologists.  They worked in a very similar way to Pitfall - St Austell

St Austell Ruddle Moor Sand Pit http://www.cornwall-opc.org/Par_new/a_d/austell_st.php

intercept traps (the subject of a future post).   Interestingly, in some parts of the world, sand pits are now being restored in some places as conservation tools for digger wasp sand bees. Pitfall Bohemia

Sand pit restoration – Bohemia.  http://www.outdoorconservation.eu/project-detail.cfm?projectid=17

  But, I digress.  My next port of call was The Insect Hunter’s Companion (Greene, 1880) which I felt certain would mention pitfall traps.  To my surprise, in the 1880s, entomologists intent on capturing beetles, either pursued them with nets, turned over stones and logs, removed bark from trees, used beating trays or even dug holes in the ground, but never used pitfall traps!  So all very active and energetic methods – no sit and wait in those days 😉 So it seems that Barber’s 1931 description of a pitfall trap does indeed commemorate the first scientific use of a pitfall trap. Barber trap

The Barber trap (Barber, 1931).

Despite their late addition to the entomological armoury and despite the many criticisms levelled at their use, they continue to be perhaps the most widely used method of insect sampling ever; for example if you enter Beetle* AND pitfall* AND trap*  into the Web of Science you will return 1168 hits since 2000, which is more than one a week.  If you further refine your search to exclude beetle but add insect* you can add another 320 hits. If by some chance you have never used a pitfall trap, then I heartily recommend that you set one or two up in a convenient flower bed or even your lawn, and then sit back and wait and see what exciting beasties are roaming your garden.

Post script

Since this post was published I have discovered an earlier reference to the use of pitfall traps (Hertz, 1927).  Many thanks to Jari Niemelä  of Helsinki University for sending me a copy of the reference and many thanks to my eldest daughter for translating the relevant bit, which follows –  “The traps were made of meticulously cleaned tin cans (the rectangle ones used for e.g.  sardines) dug into the ground so deep that the top of the tin was absolutely level with the ground…… it is an ideal way to catch the beetles; with their careless way of running around, they easily fell into the deathtraps, and had no time to use their wings (if they have any)”.  The phrase deathtraps is particularly fine.  The majority of the paper is about the species he caught in different locations and he highlights the fact that he caught seven very rare species using this method.

So this is now the oldest known reference to the use of pitfall traps in the literature, although he does mention that he was using this method to catch beetles in 1914.  But if anyone comes across an earlier reference do let me know.



Baars, M.A. (1979) Catches in pitfall traps in relation to mean densities of carabid beetles. Oecologia, 41, 25-46.

Barber, H.S. (1931) Traps for cave inhabiting insects.  Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, 46, 259-266.

Gist, C.S. & Crossley, J.D.A. (1973) A method for quantifying pitfall trapsEnvironmental Entomology, 2, 951-952.

Greene, J. (1880) The Insect Hunter’s Companion: Being Instructions for Collecting and Describing Butterflies, Moths, Beetles, Bees, Flies, Etc.  

Hertz, M. (1927) Huomioita petokuoriaisten olinpaikoista.  Luonnon Ystävä, 31, 218-222

Rich, M.C., Gough, L., & Boelman, N.T. (2013) Arctic arthropod assemblages in habitats of differing shrub dominance. Ecography, 36, 994-1003.

Southwood, T.R.E. (1966) Ecological Methods, Chapman & Hall, London.

Wang, X.P., Müller, J., An, L., Ji, L., Liu, Y., Wang, X., & Hao, Z. (2014) Intra-annual variations in abundance and speceis composition of carabid beetles in a temperate forest in Northeast China. Journal of Insect Conservation, 18, 85-98.

Woodcock, B.A. (2005) Pitfall trapping in ecological studies.  Pp 37-57 [In] Insect Sampling in Forest Ecosystems, ed S.R. Leather, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Zmihorski, M., Sienkiewicz, P., & Tryjanowski, P. (2013) Neverending story: a lesson in using sampling efficieny methods with ground beetles. Journal of Insect Conservation, 17, 333-337.


Post post script

Pitfall traps are even more versatile than you might think. Mark Telfer has developed a nifty subterranean version http://markgtelfer.co.uk/beetles/techniques-for-studying-beetles/subterranean-pitfall-traps-for-beetles/  and at the opposite end of the spectrum, pitfall traps have also been used in trees to sample spiders (Pinzon & Spence, 2008).

Reference Pinzon, J. & Spence, J. (2008) Performance of two arboreal pitfall trap designs in sampling cursorial spiders from tree trunks.  Journal of Arachnology, 36, 280-286


Post post script And for those of you who have had to suffer sitting through the Pokémon movie as I did many years ago, there is also a Pokémon version of the antlion! Pitfall Pokemon


 and don’t forget Winnie the Pooh and his heffalump trap 😉  Hopefully you will use them more carefully than he did. Pitfall trap - Heffalump


Filed under EntoNotes

The Seven Ages of an Entomologist – Happy 60th Birthday to Me

Today I turned 60 – an event which has come as a bit of a surprise to me as inside I still feel about 17 😉 I thought, given the occasion and the fine example set by Jeff Ollerton‘s recent birthday blog post  that it seems a good time to reflect on my career in particular and academic careers in general. Despite there already being at least two other excellent articles about the “Seven Ages”, Jerry Coyne’s, The Seven Ages of the Scientist and Athene Donald’s The Seven Ages of an Academic Scientist, I felt no qualms in adding my own modest contribution to the genre 😉

Given my own career trajectory it turns out that I need more than seven ages, so as an entomologist I feel justified in adding five larval or nymphal instars to the traditional progression.


The Larval Stages

The Infant (first instar)

According to Shakespeare “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”, which spending the early part of my childhood in colonial Ghana is actually very apt,

Simon babe in arms

although the photograph below shows a very contented baby indeed.

Simon - baby

I have no entomological memories from this time, although given that then it was normal practice to leave babies outside in their prams, I am sure that I was exposed to the whole range of flying Ghanaian insects. There is some evidence of an early interest in nature and entomology in the picture below where I seem to be investigating a small white butterfly whilst indulging in some early forestry work.

Simon Ghana

My first real biological memory, is however, non-entomological, the blue whale skeleton in the Natural History Museum London in 1958 when my parents were on home leave.


The Schoolboy (second instar)

 In 1960 my father was moved to Jamaica to work in the Department of Agriculture as a Plant Pathologist and this is where I started my formal education. Shakespeare describes the schoolboy as “whining schoolboy with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school”.

Simon, Mark & Spences

I certainly had a satchel and it is from this period of my life that I have my first definite entomological memories. We lived in a suburb of Kingston, 32 Gardenia Avenue in Mona Heights. My father kept bees and I spent a lot of time playing with ants, conducting behavioural experiments with crab spiders and having close encounters with wasps and apparently in this picture from 1961, helping with my father’s very luxuriant garden; he grew a great variety of ornamental plants as well as fruit and

Simon 1961      Simon & Pussy cat


vegetables, including grapes, bananas, passion fruit, papayas, peanuts and breadfruit as well as coffee and more traditional vegetables. My final school report from my time in Jamaica shows a prescient comment from my biology teacher;

School report

School report bit


Secondary school (third instar)

My father’s next posting was to Hong Kong to work for the Ministry of Agriculture; his office was in the New Territories but we lived in Kowloon (Wylie Gardens) where I attended King George V School. Biology was again my favourite subject but apart from cockroaches and ants my entomological experiences were very limited.

Simon - schoolboy           Before braces – 1966

Simon braces

Keeping my mouth shut to hide my orthodontic appliances 1968.


Boarding school (fourth instar)

In 1968 my father returned briefly to the UK before his next posting to Fiji and I was sent to a state school, Ripon Grammar School, which had a boarding section. I was to spend five relatively happy years there and despite the competing interests of girls and sports, further developed my interest in invertebrate zoology, due in the main part to my zoology teacher ‘Brian’ Ford. I have many happy memories of pond dipping, searching for Cepea nemoralis and generally fossicking around in hedgerows.

Simon Fiji 1970

When on school holidays in Fiji I found time to investigate the local insect and amphibian fauna; our house seemed to attract toads in huge numbers which my brothers and I used to competitively collect in buckets for later release.


Sixth form (final instar)

In my two final years at school sport and girls continued to play a larger part in my life than entomology although I see from the fly-leaf of my books from that time that I owned and had read both volumes of Ralph Bucshbaum’s Life of the Invertebrates and also Darwin’s Origins.

Second fifteen

Ripon Grammar School 2nd XV – I am third from the left on the front row.

 Careers advice when I was at school was not very sophisticated and if you did Biology ‘A’ Level and were a school prefect, it was automatically taken that you were either destined to be a Doctor, a Vet or a Dentist.

School House Prefects1973

I was no different and despite my misgivings, duly applied for and was accepted at Birmingham University to read Medicine. As luck would have it, things did not work out as planned and after a less than happy year at Aston University in Birmingham, in 1974 I left Birmingham and moulted into a proto-entomologist at the University of Leeds.


The Undergraduate

The discovery that learning can be fun and that there might actually be a career in doing something that you enjoy.

I did a now extinct degree (although I have plans to exhume it), Agricultural Zoology, essentially a year of vertebrate zoology, with two years of invertebrate zoology, essentially applied entomology, parasitology and nematology. I loved it and thrived on it and grew my hair even longer.

Simon - undergraduate

I decided to become an entomologist in my second year and discovered the wonders of aphids at the same time. It was also round about this time that I decided I was going to become a university academic and started to work a lot harder; the logical end point of someone with a mother who was a secondary school biology teacher and a father who was a research scientist.


The Postgraduate

Discovering that being on “the road to find out” (Cat Stevens) is exhilarating

Simon - PhD student

I did my PhD at the University of East Anglia in Norwich – Aspects of the Ecology of the Ecology of the Bird Cherry Aphid, under the supervision of Professor Tony Dixon. A totally fantastic time, despite the ‘second year blues’ which all PhD students seem to go through when they think that they don’t have enough data. I was lucky enough to be in a large research group, at one stage there were thirteen of us in the lab, so there was always plenty of help and advice available. In addition we had the excitement of conferences and the first unsteady steps towards learning to lecture, mainly demonstrating in undergraduate practicals; I spent a lot of time pithing frogs for physiology classes (don’t ask) and also tutoring first year students in mathematics. We also played a lot of squash and enjoyed our social life; for those of you who know Norwich, The Mitre pub on Earlham Road, was our regular haunt.


The post-doc

Discovering how to run a research lab

I did two brief post-docs, the first in Finland, under the auspices of the Royal Society and the

Simon Finland 1981

second back at the University of East Anglia funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Council, both working on cereal aphids. At this stage of my career I started to learn how to supervise postgraduate students; the first port of call in a busy lab after the senior PhD student has failed to supply an answer is always the post-doc as the lab head is inevitably very busy. I also got my first real opportunity to lecture undergraduates, which turned out to be a lot harder than I had thought it would be even when talking about my own research.


Interlude or host alternation

 The Research Scientist

 Discovering that directed research on its own is not enough

Copy of Simon SSO

In a normal academic career, the next stage after post-doc is an appointment as a University Lecturer. In the early 1980s university lectureships were in short supply and many of us who would normally have gone into an academic career found ourselves either having to go abroad as lecturers at Commonwealth universities (I was offered but turned down a lectureship at Kano University in Nigeria) or joining research institutes. In 1982 I joined the UK Forestry Commission’s Northern Research Station where I spent ten years as a forest entomologist, answering enquiries, conducting directed research and giving the occasional guest lecture. I was however, lucky enough to be able to gain some PhD supervisory experience and after ten years, the last five which were increasingly frustrating, was lucky enough in 1992 to be appointed to a Lectureship at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College.  In retrospect this was the last time I was able to spend about 90% of my time at the bench and in the field doing ‘hands on’ research, but I have never regretted moving into academia – the opportunity of being able to pass on what you have discovered and hopefully enthuse and motivate a new generation more than makes up for the loss.
Back to the primary host


The Lecturer

When I discover that I love teaching

Simon - Lecturer

You may have noticed that I have had a haircut; it was a source of some amusement to me that on joining the university sector I was expected to get my hair cut.

I was appointed as a Lecturer in Pest Management to teach on the world-renowned MSc Entomology course at Silwood Park, and as I was replacing a specific person (Geoff Norton), although not in exactly the same subject area, my ‘grace’ period was shorter that it might have been. Normally at research intensive institutions like Imperial College, new appointments are given two to three years to apply for grants and get their research groups started before being given teaching and departmental jobs. I had a year, but as I discovered that I very much enjoyed teaching (something that many of my colleagues then and later found very strange) I was not dismayed. Unlike some of my colleagues I had read the dictionary definition of the word lecturer: noun. One who delivers lectures, especially professionally.   I have never really understood the mentality of those who aspire to university positions and yet find the idea of having to teach students not only a distraction but in some cases abhorrent and to be avoided at all costs and strive to obtain funding to buy them out of teaching as soon as possible. Some of my senior colleagues at Imperial College (and elsewhere) had and have almost no experience of teaching at all and so have no idea of what is involved in delivering a decent course, a state of affairs that explains some of the very strange decisions that are made at some of the research intensive universities in the UK.   I often felt that they would be much happier in a research institute.

I also discovered that if you take teaching seriously then your ‘bench time’ is much reduced and you begin your career as a research manager, appointing PhD students and post-docs to carry your research ideas forward. I made a decision early on that I would attempt to keep some of my skills extant and set up a long-term field project looking at the insect communities living on sycamores at Silwood Park, especially the aphids. This meant that I had to set a day a week aside to collect data. By doing this it meant that I had a reality check on what was actually possible. I have seen too many colleagues who because of the time they had spent away from the bench or the field, had totally unrealistic expectations of what was actually possible to be achieved by their students and research assistants.


The Senior Lecturer

When the Department discovers that I love teaching

In 1996 I was promoted to Senior Lecturer (I think that it is a real shame that some UK universities have decided to adopt North American terminology and introduce the title of Associate Professor, apparently to avoid confusing the rest of the World. At Imperial College promotion to Senior Lecturer was to reward teaching excellence and was usually the kiss of death for any further promotion.

Simon - Lecturera

Senior Lecturer in Applied Ecology

 I was as well as teaching on the MSc Entomology course doing an increasing amount of undergraduate teaching including a final year course in Applied Ecology of which I was very proud, hence the decision to retitle myself. I was also very busy with external activities, being on the Editorial Board of the Bulletin of Entomological Research and just been appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Ecological Entomology, just finished a term on the council of the Royal Entomological Society and been appointed to a slew of Departmental and University committees. My research group was really starting to take off, I was supervising 8 PhD students at the time; given the poor return rate on major grant applications in the UK, I decided early on that going for PhDs was a better use of my limited time and this is a strategy that I have mainly followed to the present day.

Research group

This does not include MSc or BSc students – they would add about 10 to each yearly figure from 1995 onwards

The Reader

 When I discover that it is possible to get even busier

In 2002 I was promoted to Reader one of the definitions of which according to Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary is defined as follows; Old English rǣdere ‘interpreter of dreams, reader’. In the UK university system, it is the rank below full Professor and comes with an endowed title, in my case I chose to become Reader in Applied Ecology to reflect the

Simon - Reader

myriad teaching roles I had accumulated and also to encompass the fact that my research group no longer dealt solely with arthropods, vertebrates had somehow sneaked their way in. Looking at Athene Donald’s list I see that I was pretty much doing a professorial role, serving on external committees, validating degrees for other universities and acting as an external examiner. I was also appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Insect Conservation and Diversity, a new journal for the Royal Entomological Society. My administrative duties had also continued to increase.  It was no wonder that my beard was getting greyer! I was however still preparing my own talks, although I will confess that a lot of my data analysis was being passed on to members of the group, duly acknowledged of course. I am extremely grateful that I have always had a loyal and very supportive research group, without their help life would have been impossible.  My thanks to you all (if any of you are reading this).


The Professor

Discovering the joys of being pretty much able to do what I want (with certain restrictions)

It became increasingly obvious that things could not carry on as they were, my teaching and administrative loads were becoming ridiculous; our Director of Teaching calculated that I was actually doing more teaching than anyone else in the Department including the Teaching Fellows. I was seriously considering early retirement although I was reluctant to do this as I was sure that with my retirement the last entomology degree in the UK would quickly disappear. Luckily in 2012 my team and I were miraculously offered the chance to move to a new more supportive location, Harper Adams University in Shropshire.

Simon 2015

So now I have become a Senior Professor, with a new entomology building, with less undergraduate teaching, which I miss, and a role that requires me to sit on more external and internal committees, to meet the great and the good and to make solemn pronouncements.  At the same time however, it does allow me to plough my own furrow and to influence university policy. Most importantly I no longer feel that I am beating my head against a brick wall and that the future of entomology as a degree course in the UK is much safer than it was five years ago.  I think I am at Stage 4 in Jerry Coyne’s list as I now find that I am much more interested in synthesizing and disseminating what I have learnt rather than doing original research – I can feel a book coming on 😉

My hope is that in five years time when I become a retired Professor and my hair and beard colour are the same, that entomology will be taught at more than one university in the UK and not just at postgraduate level.

A small point of personal satisfaction, is that, despite my elevation, I still do not own a suit 😉


For reference

Jerry A. Coyne’s summary, reproduced from his blog

  1. As student, listens to advisor give talk on student’s own work
  2. As postdoc, gives talks about his/her own work
  3. As professor, gives talks about his/her students’ work
  4. Talks and writes about “the state of the field”
  5. Talks and writes about “the state of the field” eccentrically and incorrectly—always in a self-aggrandizing way.
  6. Gives after-dinner speeches and writes about society and the history of the field
  7. Writes articles about science and religion


And the famous original from which the title is borrowed and adapted.


Seven Ages Of Man

(from As You Like It by William Shakespeare)

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players,

They have their exits and entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice

In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws, and modern instances,

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,

His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again towards childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.


Filed under The Bloggy Blog, Uncategorized

Ten Papers that Shook My World – Haukioja & Niemelä (1976) – the plant “immune response”

To me this is a landmark paper, both personally and for ecology in general.   I first came across it in the second year of my PhD at the University of East Anglia (1978) and given where it was published, would probably never have seen it if my supervisor, Tony Dixon, hadn’t had a collaborative link with Erkki Haukioja of Turku University (Finland).

That individual plants of the same species are more or less susceptible (constitutive or innate resistance) to pests and diseases has been known for a very long time (e.g. Painter, 1958; Beck, 1965) and has been exploited by plant breeders as part of many pest management programmes.  Despite the stunning footage of the questing bramble in David Attenborough’s classic documentary The Private Life of Plants, plants are often thought of as passive organisms.  The idea that plants might actually respond directly and quickly to insect attack was more in the realms of science fiction than science fact, but this all changed in the 1970s. In 1972 a short paper in Science (Green & Ryan, 1972) suggested that plants might not be as passive as previously thought. Green & Ryan working in the laboratory with the Colorado Potato Beetle, Leptinotarsus decemlineata, showed that when tomato leaves were damaged by beetle feeding the levels of a proteinase inhibitor were raised not just in the wounded leaves but in nearby leaves as well. As proteinase inhibitors were well-known to be part of the plant defence system, they hypothesised that this was a direct response of the plant to repel attack by pests and that it might be a useful tool in developing new pest management approaches. So what does this have to do with two Finnish entomologists?

Erkki Haukioja and his long-term collaborator, Pekka Niemelä were working on an important lepidopteran defoliator of birch, in the far north of Finland, at the Kevo Subarctic Research Station.Kevo


The defoliator that they were working on was the autumnal moth, now Epirrita autumnata, but then Oporinia autumnata.



The autumnal moth, as with many tree-feeding Lepidoptera, has a 7-10 year population cycle (Ruohmäki et al., 2000).

Population cycles

Natural enemies are often cited as the causes of these cycles (Turchin et al., 1999) although other factors such as weather (Myers, 1998) or even sunspot activity (Ruohmäki et al., 2000)


have also been suggested. It had also been suggested that the marked population cycles of the larch bud moth, Zeiraphere diniana were caused by changes in the susceptibility of their host trees after defoliation (Benz, 1974). In 1975, Haukioja and his colleague Hakala, attempting to explain the cyclical nature of the E. autumnata population cycles wondered if they were being driven by the insects themselves causing changes in the levels of chemical defence in the trees. To test this Erkki and Pekka did two neat field experiments, remember Green & Ryan’s work was laboratory based and did not test the effects seen on the insects. They first fed Epirrita larvae on foliage from previously defoliated and undefoliated birch trees and found that the pupae that developed from those larvae fed on previously defoliated trees were lighter than those that had fed on previously undefoliated trees (Hauikioja & Niemelä, 1976). At the same time they also did an experiment where they damaged leaves but then rather than feeding the larvae on those leaves, fed them on nearby adjacent undamaged leaves and compared them with larvae feeding on leaves from trees where no damage had occurred. Those larvae feeding on undamaged leaves adjacent to damaged leaves grew significantly more slowly than those feeding on leaves that came from totally undamaged trees (Haukioja & Niemelä, 1977). So pretty convincing evidence that the trees were responding directly to insect damage and altering their chemistry to become more resistant, i.e. an induced defence and not a constitutive one.

Their results had a major impact on the field. The great and the good from around the world found it a fascinating subject area and a plethora of papers investigating the effects of insect feeding on induced defences in birch and willow trees soon followed (e.g. Fowler & Lawton, 1984a; Rhoades, 1985; Hartley & Lawton, 1987) and not forgetting the original researchers (e.g. Haukioja & Hahnimäki, 1984). I, with the aid of colleagues, also added my ‘two pennorth’ (I did say the idea shook my world) by extending the concept to conifers (Leather et al., 1987; Trewhella et al., 1997). The terms rapid induced resistance and delayed induced resistance soon entered the language, the first to describe those changes that occurred within minutes of feeding damage and the second, those that did not take effect until the following year (Haukioja & Hahnmäki, 1984; Ruohmäki et al., 1992) Such was the interest generated by the topic that by 1989 there were enough studies for a major review to be published (Karban & Myers, 1989).

Controversy reared its ugly head early on when Doug Rhoades suggested that not only did plants resist insect attack actively but that they could talk to each other and warn their neighbours that the ‘bad guys’ were in the neighbourhood (Rhoades, 1983, 1985). This sparked a brief but lively debate (e.g. Fowler & Lawton, 1984b, 1985). Ironically it is now taken as axiomatic that plants talk to each other using a range of chemical signals (van Hulten et al., 2006; Heil & Ton, 2008) as well as informing the natural enemies of the pests that a suitable food source is available (e.g. Edwards & Wratten, 1983; Amo et al., 2013; Michereff et al., 2013).

Ton cartoon

A great cartoon from Jurriaan Ton at Sheffield University. https://www.shef.ac.uk/aps/staff-and-students/acadstaff/ton-jurriaan

We now have a greatly increased understanding of the various metabolic pathways that induce these defences against different insect pests (e.g. Smith & Boyko, 2007) and can, by genetically manipulating levels of compounds such as jasmonic and salicyclic acids or even applying them directly to plants affect herbivorous insect communities and their natural enemies thus improving crop protection (e.g. Thaler, 1999; Cao et al., 2014; Mäntyllä, 2014). No wonder this was an idea that shook my world, and yours.


Post script

The study of induced plant defences or resistance is now dominated by molecular biologists and current practice is to use the term priming and not induced defence. The increased understanding that this new generation has brought to the field is undeniable but I always feel it is a great shame that they seem to have forgotten those early pioneers in the field.



Amo, L., Jansen, J.J., Van Dam, N.M., Dicke, M., & Visser, M.E. (2013) Birds exploit herbivore-induced plant volatiles to locate herbivorous prey. Ecology Letters, 16: 1348-1355.

Baldwin, I.T. & Schultz, J.C. (1983) Rapid changes in tree leaf chemistry, induced by damage: evidence for communication between plants. Science, 221, 277-279.

Beck, S.D. (1965) Resistance of plants to insects. Annual Review of Entomology, 10, 207-232.

Benz, G. (1974). Negative Ruckkoppelung durch Raum-und Nahrungskonkurrenz sowie zyklische Veranderung. Zeitschrift für Angewandte Enomologie, 76: 196-228.

Cao, H.H., Wang, S.H., & Liu, T.X. (2014) Jasomante- and salicylate-induced defenses in wheat affect host preference and probing behavior but not performance of the grain aphid, Sitobion avenae. Insect Science, 21, 47-55.

Edwards, P.J. & Wratten, S.D. (1983) Wound induced defences in plants and their consequences for patterns of insect grazing. Oecologia, 59: 88-93.

Fowler, S.V. & Lawton, J.H. (1984a) Foliage preferences of birch herbivores: a field manipulation experiment. Oikos, 42: 239-248.

Fowler, S.V. & Lawton, J.H. (1984b) Trees don’t talk : do they even murmur? Antenna, 8: 69-71.

Fowler, S.V. & Lawton, J.H. (1985) Rapidly induced defences and talking trees: the devils’ advocate position. American Naturalist, 126: 181-195.

Green, T.R. & Ryan, C.A. (1972) Wound induced proteinase inhibitor in plant leaves: a possible defense mechanism against insects. Science: 175: 776-777.

Hartley, S.E. & Lawton, J.H. (1987) Effects of different types of damage on the chemistry of birch foliage and the responses of birch feeding insects. Oecologia, 74: 432-437.

Haukioja, E. & Hakala, T. (1975) Herbivore cycles and periodic outbreaks. Report of the Kevo Subarctic Research Station, 12: 1-9

Haukioja, E. & Hanhimäki, S. (1984) Rapid wound induced resistance in white birch (Betula pubescens) foliage to the geometrid Epirrita autumnata: a comparison of trees and moths within and outside the outbreak range of the moth. Oecologia, 65, 223-228.

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

Haukioja, E. & Niemelä, P. (1977). Retarded growth of a geometrid larva after mechanical damage to leaves of its host tree. Annales Zoologici Fennici 14: 48-52.

Heil, M. & Ton, J. (2008) Long-distance signalling in plant defence. Trends in Plant Science, 13: 264-272.

Karban, R. & Myers, J.H. (1989) Induced plant responses to herbivory. Annual Review of Ecology & Systematics, 20: 331-348.

Leather, S.R., D., W.A., & Forrest, G.I. (1987) Insect-induced chemical changes in young lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta): the effect of previous defoliation on oviposition, growth and survival of the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea. Ecological Entomology, 12: 275-281.

Mäntyllä, E., Blande, J.D., & Klemola, T. (2014) Does application of methyl jasmonate to birch mimic herbivory and attract insectivorous birds in nature? Arthropod-Plant Interactions, 8, 143-153.

Michereff, M.F.F., Borges, M., Laumann, R.A., Dinitz, I.R., & Blassioli-Moraes, M.C. (2013) Influence of volatile compounds from herbivore-damaged soybean plants on searching behavior of the egg parasitoid Telonomus podisi. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 147: 9-17.

Trewhella, K.E., Leather, S.R., & Day, K.R. (1997) Insect induced resistance in lodgepole pine: effects on two pine feeding insects. Journal of Applied Entomology, 121: 129-136.

Myers, J. H. (1998). Synchrony in outbreaks of forest lepidoptera: a possible example of the Moran effect. Ecology 79: 1111-1117.

Painter, R.H. (1958) Resistance of plants to insects. Annual Review of Entomology, 3: 267-290.

Rhoades, D.F. (1983) Responses of alder and willow to attack by tent caterpillar and webworms: evidence for pheromonal sensitivity of willows. American Chemical Society Symposium Series, 208: 55-68.

Rhoades, D.F. (1985) Offensive-defensive interactions between herbivores and plants: their relevance in herbivore population dynamics and ecological theory. American Naturalist, 125: 205-238.

Ruohomäki, K., Hanhimäki, S., Haukioja, E., Iso-iivari, L., & Neuvonen, S. (1992) Variability in the efficiency of delayed inducible resistanec in mountain birch. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 62: 107-116.

Ruohmäki, K., Tanhuanpää, M., Ayres, M.P., Kaitaniemi, P., Tammaru, T. & Haukioja, E. (2000) Causes of cyclicity of Epirrita autumnata (Lepidoptera, Geometridae): grandiose theory and tedious practice. Population Ecology, 42: 211-223

Smith, C.M. & Boyko, E.V. (2007) The molecular basis of plant resistance and defence responses to aphid feeding: current status. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 122: 1-16.

Thaler, J. (1999) Induced resistance in agricultural crops: effects of Jasmonic acid on herbivory and yield in tomato plants. Environmental Entomology, 28, 30-37.

Turchin, P., Taylor, A. D. &Reeve, J. D. (1999). Dynamical role of predators in population cycles of a forest insect: an experimental test. Science 285: 1068-1071.

Van Hulten, M., Pelser, M., van Loon, L.C., Pieterse, C.M.J. & Ton, J. (2006) Costs and benefits of priming for defense in Arabidopsis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 103: 5602-5607.



Filed under Entomological classics, EntoNotes, Ten Papers That Shook My World, Uncategorized

A Winter’s Tale – aphid overwintering

Aphids that live in temperate or boreal regions have to be able to survive overwinter. Aphids, depending on species, are able to pass winter in two ways. If they are holocyclic i.e. possess an egg-laying stage, they usually overwinter as eggs. Aphid eggs are extremely cold-hardy; they have been reported to have super-cooling points of about -42oC (Somme ). If laid on a woody host, eggs are usually laid in the bud axils as in the case of the apple aphid, Aphis pomi, the black bean aphid Aphis fabae and the bird cherry aphid, Rhopaloishum padi.

aphid eggs

In some instances, such as the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoidis, eggs are laid directly on the tree bark or in crevices in the bark or even in lichen growing on the bark.  See if you can spot the eggs in the picture below.


If however, the aphid in question lives on an herbaceous host, the eggs may be laid directly on the ground, on or amongst fallen leaves or at the base of grass tussock.

The other strategy adopted by those aphids that are anholocyclic, such as the green spruce aphid, Elatobium abietinum, is to pass the winter as an active stage, either as an adult or immature nymph. Those holocyclic aphids that have anholcyclic strains are also able to adopt this strategy. Despite their soft bodies and fragile appearance, aphids have quite low super-cooling points values such as -26oC having been reported (Griffiths & Wratten, 1979).

A potential advantage of using an active overwintering stage and not an egg, is that if they survive the winter, they are able to start reproducing sooner, particularly if they are a host –alternating aphid, where the aphids hatching from eggs, have to spend time developing and reproducing on the primary woody host before being able to migrate to the secondary hosts. This also applies, to a lesser extent, to those holoyclic aphids living on herbaceous plants, although the temporal advantage is not as great. One would assume that given the relative cold-hardiness attributes of aphid eggs and adults that in a country such as the UK where winter temperatures below -10oC are both infrequent and short lasting, winter survival of aphids would be extremely high if not guaranteed. This is not the case. For example, eggs mortality of the bird cherry aphids is typically around 70-80% as shown in my first ever publication (no fancy graphics packages in those days, just Letraset , Indian ink, stencils and tracing paper). Actually people had measured aphid egg mortality much earlier than this (Gillette, 1908) but I was the first person to monitor mortality throughout the winter and show that it occurred at a steady rate irrespective of the severity of the winter.

 Egg survival

It is actually a function of the length of the winter that determines how many eggs survive, the longer the winter the greater the mortality.

Egg mortality

This level of mortality is typical for all aphid species for which I have data (Leather, 1993). Some of this mortality can be attributed to predation, but most of it is intrinsic (Leather, 1981), possibly due to cryo-injury.

Similarly, those aphids that overwinter as adults or nymphs, despite their ability to super-cool to temperatures below -20oC, experience even greater levels of mortality as shown elegantly by Jon Knight and Jeff Bale in 1986 studying overwinter survival of the grain aphid Sitobion avenae near Leeds.

Knight & Bale

In fact one wonders how any aphids at all survive winter this way, but they certainly do if the winters are mild enough, as in the case of Myzus persicae and Sitobion avenae in southern England and E. abietinum throughout most of its range (Day et al., 2010). An interesting anomaly is Iceland where hot springs abound and the bird cherry aphid is able to survive anholocyclically on grasses growing around the springs whereas in other countries with similar winter temperatures it would only be able to survive as the egg stage.

Despite the importance of winter to aphid population dynamics we still know very little about their winter ecology, our knowledge being confined to a handful of economically important species. Despite the discomfort of field work in the winter this is an area which would be very rewarding to anyone in need of an interesting and good research project.  Finger-less mittens are, however, definitely recommended 😉

Useful references

Bale, J. S. (1996). Insect cold hardiness: a matter of life and death. European Journal of Entomology 93, 369-382. http://www.eje.cz/pdfs/eje/1996/03/09.pdf

Day, K. R., Ayres, M. P., Harrington, R. & Kidd, N. A. C. (2010). Interannual dynamics of aerial and arboreal spruce aphid populations. Population Ecology 52, 317-327. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10144-009-0190-0#page-1

Gillette, C. P. & Taylor, E. P. (1908). A few orchard plant lice. Colorado Agricultural Experimental Station Bulletin, 113, 1-47.

Griffths, E. &Wratten, S. D. (1979). Intra-and inter-specific differences in cereal aphid low temperature tolerance. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata 26, 161-167. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1570-7458.1979.tb02912.x/abstract

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

Leather, S. R. (1980). Egg survival in the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata 27, 96-97. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1570-7458.1980.tb02951.x/abstract

Leather, S. R. (1981). Factors affecting egg survival in the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi. Ent omologia experimentalis et applicata 30, 197-199. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1570-7458.1981.tb03097.x/abstract

Leather, S. R. (1993). Overwintering in six arable aphid pests: a review with particular relevance to pest management. Journal of Applied Entomology 116, 217-233. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1439-0418.1993.tb01192.x/abstract;jsessionid=9FC2ED8174E96317F192CF42A19092FE.f03t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

Strathdee, A. T., Howling, G. G. & Bale, J. S. (1995). Cold hardiness of overwintering aphid eggs. Journal of Insect Physiology 41, 653-657. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/002219109500029T


Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

Silk- not just a spider thing

Mention silk and most people will, I guess, immediately think of spiders and cobwebs.

Pressed a bit further, some may mention silkworms, and some might even know the word sericulture and that the common silkworm feeds on mulberry bushes.   What they may not know, is that the silk worm is the larvae of the moth Bombyx mori and that there are actually four species of lepidopteran larvae commonly used in silk production.  These are pictured below in the lovely illustration from Meyers Konversations-Lexikon; next to the picture are some B. mori larvae.

Silkworm larvae Silkworms

Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th Auflage, Band 14, Seite 826a (4th ed., Vol. 14, p.826a)

Four of the most important domesticated silk moths. Top to bottom: Bombyx mori, Hyalophora cecropia, Antheraea pernyi, Samia cynthia. From Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (1885-1892

Silk production is of course not just a feature of spiders and lepidoptera.  It is a widespread feature of insect life, being used for pupal cases, as a mode of transport (ballooning) as shown by larvae of the gypsy moth and other species of Lepidoptera,

ballooning gypsy moth            ballooning gypsy moth drawing

protective cases as in larval caddis flies or also, by some caddis fly larvae, as fishing equipment.

 caddisfly_larva  Caddis fly net

But in my opinion, the most dramatic use of silk is that seen in a genus of micro-moths, belonging to the Yponomeutidae, the small ermine moths, Yponomeuta.  They and their relatives, are silk-producers extraordinaire.  Collectively, they are known as small ermine moths; so called because of their adult colouration which resembles the ermine worn by nobility and small, because of the existence of several larger moths with ermine in their names.



The larvae are less attractive and are the web/silk producers.



My particular favourite is the bird cherry ermine moth, and not just because the bird cherry is my favourite tree.  (My eldest son’s middle name is bird cherry, albeit in Finnish). The adult moths lay their eggs in August, in clusters of up to 100 or so on young twigs of the bird cherry Prunus padus, cover them with an egg shield and then die (Leather, 1986).  The eggs hatch shortly afterwards and the larvae spend the winter under the egg shield until the following spring.  When the buds begin to burst in spring, the larvae emerge from beneath the shield and begin to feed gregariously on the newly emerging leaves, spinning a web that protects them from natural enemies  and may also help in thermoregulation and as a trail indicator (Kalkowski, 1958)  http://edepot.wur.nl/201846 .  It is possible to have great fun by selecting a lead larvae to act as a trail blazer and watch the rest of the colony follow them to a destination you have chosen.

Every three to four years or so, populations of the moths get so high that they exhaust their food supplies, defoliating entire trees and covering  them with a tough coating of silky white webbing (Leather, 1986; Leather & Mackenzie, 1994).  In fact, in Finland, I once saw three neighbouring trees totally enveloped in a silken tent caused by the bird cherry ermine moth, Yponomeuta evonymellus, that you could enter and shelter inside from the rain.  Once they really get going as spring progresses, the landscape, particularly if in an area where bird cherry is common, begins to take on a somewhat wintry look, which for May is a little odd.  Those of who you, who have travelled north of Perth in Scotland, on the A9, will be familiar with this phenomenon.  It frequently makes the Scottish newspapers and generates headlines such as “winter wonderland” or “ghostly landscape”. As they run out of trees, the larvae begin to migrate in a desperate search for trees with leaves still on them, and by now, have become less fussy about what they eat.  It is at this wandering stage of their life that the true extent

Yponomeuta webbing  bird cherry emrine moth webbing

of their singlemindedness (I have seen a trail of thousands of larvae marching along a railway line; they didn’t survive the passing of the 0850 from Helsinki) and their ability to produce silk becomes startlingly apparent.

Ermine moths on car    Ermine_moth_larva_on_a_Swedish_army_bike


Truly, silk is not just a spider thing.

Kalkowski, W. (1958). Investigations on territorial orientation during ontogenic development in Hyponomeuta. Folia Biol Krakow 6: 79-102.

Leather, S. R. & Mackenzie, G. A. (1994). Factors affecting the population development of the bird cherry ermine moth, Yponomeuta evonymella L. The Entomologist 113: 86-105.

Leather, S. R. (1986). Insects on bird cherry I The bird cherry ermine moth, Yponomeuta evonymellus(L.). Entomologist’s Gazette 37: 209-213.


Filed under EntoNotes