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.
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);
today I guess these have been replaced by Chapman’s The Insects: Structure and Function and Gullan & Cranston’s Outline of Entomology.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
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
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!
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?