Tag Archives: Stephen Heard

Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider – a cornucopia of wit and information

I have always been a fan of Steve Heard’s writing, be it pitcher plant mosquitoes (Heard, 1994ab) or his never boring, frequently amusing blog, Scientist See Squirrel, so I was very pleased to find his latest book in my Christmas stocking 🙂 As expected it is a great book, very reminiscent of Steve’s blog, amusing and informative.  This is only a brief review as I don’t want to detract from Steve’s sales by giving away too many spoilers.

The first two chapters are on the need for universally agreed names and the history of naming organisms. These are followed by a series of what you might call biographical chapters, in which the importance of particular individuals to their disciplines are highlighted, and why and whom honoured them by naming species after them.  Many of the individuals I had not heard of before, so kudos to Steve for delving deep into the history of non-entomological disciplines. Steve also addresses the vexed question of what we should do about those Latin binomial (the technical term) names that celebrate the less savoury members of society, such as the beetle Anophthalmus hitleri. There is also a chapter on insult naming, the moth Neoplapa donaldtrumpi for example, and

Neopalpa donaldtrumpi, a moth with a golden comb-over and very small genitalia. Photograph Dr Vazrik Nazari cc. by 4.0.

another on naming species after your one true love. Steve also asks us what we think about naming species after celebrities, a good thing or a bad thing? Should taxonomists be above this sort of thing and confine themselves to purely descriptive names? There are, however, as Steve points out,  just too many species to do this sensibly, and scientists, despite the way in which we are often portrayed, are human beings with likes, dislikes and favourite artists, authors and super stars 🙂

There are two very important chapters in this book, that in my opinion, raise it from being an enjoyable romp through history via taxonomy to a much more thought-provoking work*.  These are respectively, Chapter 15, The Indigenous Blind Spot and Chapter 18, Names for Sale, to a truly thought provoking work.  Incidentally, all the chapter names in the book are truly inspired, Gary Larson’s Louse, Harry Potter and the Name of the Species and The Name of Evil to give you a flavour.

 The Indigenous Blind Spot deals with the way in which the indigenous peoples who were, and still are, instrumental in the collection of new species from what, we as privileged northerners, see as exotic locations.  Yes, the countries are often commemorated in the names, but as Steve points out there are only a handful of species that recognise the indigenous field assistants. Unfortunately, this attitude persists in many areas of ecology and conservation, despite the relatively recent recognition of it as a problem (Baker et al., 2019; Eichhorn et al., 2020; Hart et al., 2020).

Names for Sale discusses the ethics of taxonomists naming species in return for money.  On one hand, the idea of commercialising taxonomy might appear to be trivialising the discipline, but when one considers how little money relatively speaking, comes from scientific funders (Ebach et al., 2011; Britz et al., 2020) anything that helps support the discipline is welcome.

If you want to know who has the most species named after them, and it may not be whom you think, then buy the book.  I promise you, you won’t regret it.


Baker, K., Eichhorn, M.P. & Griffiths, M. (2019) Decolonizing field ecology.  Biotropica, 51, 288-292.

Britz, R., Hundsdörfer, A. & Fritz, U. (2020) Funding, training, permits—the three big challenges of taxonomy.  Megataxa, 1, 49-52.

Ebach, M.C., Valdecasa, A.G. & Wheeler, Q.D. (2011) Impediments to taxonomy and users of taxonomy: accessibility and impact evaluation.Cladistics, 27, 550-557.

Eichhorn, M. P., Baker, K. and Griffiths, M. (2020) ‘Steps towards decolonising biogeography’. Frontiers of Biogeography, 12, e44795 (7 pp).

Hart, A.G, Leather, S.R. and Sharma, M.V. (2020) Overseas conservation education and research: the new colonialism? Journal of Biological Education, 55

Heard, S.B. (1994) Imperfect oviposition decisions by the pitcher plant mosquito (Wyeomyia smithii). Evolutionary Ecology, 8, 493-502.

Heard, S.B. (1994) Pitcher-plant midges and mosquitoes: a processing chain commensalism. Ecology, 75, 1647-1660.


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Pick & Mix 49 – Lawns, murders, lions, farmers, teaching and much more

Top tips on making your lawn wildlife friendly

If we really want to, we can reverse the declines seen in insect abundance – link to a full report by the Wildlife Trusts here

How bad is trophy hunting really? Could it benefit biodiversity?

Should we pay farmers to sequester carbon?

Loaded language – Is it time to rethink how we talk about ‘non-native’ species?

Along similar lines, a really thoughtful and useful article from Manu Saunders –  giving due credit to other cultures and women – “Teaching resources: history and philosophy of ecology

Keeping with the diversification theme – a thoughtful post from Stephen Heard

All about peanuts and not the cartoon variety!

A nice synopsis of Gilbert White’s contribution to natural history

And for something completely different – if you are a fan of medieval murder mystery stories or planning on writing one, this is the site for you 🙂 – absolutely fascinating



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Pick and mix 21 – a cornucopia of links

There may actually be more Hymenoptera than there are Coleoptera!

Some book aren’t just for reading – wonderful hidden art

Fighting bats with long tails – moth evolution

Are you working on the right problem?

Bang, crackle, flash – Interesting paper about insect and arthropod names for fireworks

Inspired by the recent World Cup the John Innes Centre held their own version to champion discoveries they have made over the last 70 years 🙂

Insects through the Looking Glass – using Lewis Carroll to foster a love of insects

Victorian entomologists had a lot of fun – great post from Manu Saunders

A great post about science communication via Twitter by Stephen Heard

Spots on butterfly wings – what are they for?  Ray Cannon has some thoughts

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Bringing ecology blogging into the scientific fold: measuring reach and impact of science community blogs

At the end of the year there is a tendency for some scientific bloggers to take advantage of the statistics provided by their host platform to produce a round-up of their year and to compare their figures with previous years.  I too am one of the number crunchers and revel in the data available 🙂  One of the frustrating things, for me at any rate, is the lack of a benchmark, how are you doing compared with other bloggers?  This year I decided to try and get some data and approached Jeff Ollerton to see if he would let me look at his 2016 data, which he kindly did and this allowed me to produce a comparative graph.  Much wants more.  As an entomologist an n of 2 is small beer.  I needed more data to satisfy my craving.  I also talk to our postgraduate students about the value of social media, including blogging, but rely mainly on personal anecdotes.  What was needed was something concrete to support my assertions.

I subscribe to, and follow a number of blogs, but there are a few that I feel are somewhat similar in their aims and scope to mine.  One is Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog, the others are Dynamic Ecology, Ecology Bits, Ecology is Not a Dirty Word, Scientist Sees Squirrel and Small Pond Science.  Jeff is also a follower of these blogs and when I suggested that it would be a good idea to try to write something about the value of blogging to academics and why our employees should support us in our endeavours he promptly suggested that we get in touch with those bloggers.  I couldn’t see a downside to this so first approached Manu Saunders of Ecology is Not a Dirty Word and Steve Heard of Scientist Sees Squirrel as these were the two bloggers with whom I had interacted most.  Steve then helped bring the others on board and that is how it all began (at least that is how I remember it).

The Blogging Consortium

Manu very kindly took charge of the data collation and I made a first stab at drafting the paper in mid-January.  Steve did a very good job of rewriting it and Meg Duffy (Dynamic Ecology) Jeff Ollerton and Amy Parachnowitsch (Small Pond Science) got into the swing of things as well.  By the end of January we were really motoring and bouncing ideas of each other and the rapidly growing draft.  As with all non-mainstream activities, the day jobs got in the way and we had a couple of months where very little happened.  I felt that things were slipping a little and in the spring had another go at the draft and this stimulated another flurry of action from what we were now calling the blogging consortium, with major contributions from Meg, Jeff and Steve, which put us all on our mettle and something that was beginning to look like a completed paper appearing.  By May Manu had got us all working on a Google Doc document which greatly improved our efficiency.  As we were now heading toward June, some further analysis was needed and Manu bravely volunteered to become the lead author and general butt kicker 🙂 It worked, and by the beginning of July we were ready to submit and had started discussing potential journals.  As the paper was all about science communication we were very keen to get it in a high-profile Open Access journal, but one that didn’t charge an arm and a leg as our paper had no grant income associated with it.  After a couple of enquiries Manu found a journal that fitted our requirements and was willing to have a look at it and on July 20th 2017 Manu submitted our paper to Royal Society Open Science.  Six weeks later we were euphoric!

Oh frabjous day!

The comments of the reviewers were some of the best I have ever seen, and I submitted my first paper in 1979 🙂  I have never had the word limpid applied to my writing, it just shows what can be achieved by cooperation.   I can’t resist sharing some of the comments from the reviewers

Associate Editor Comments to Author:


Both reviewers are very positive about this manuscript and indeed I agree with them. It is an important piece and a very inspirational read.

Reviewer: 1

At one time, my favourite t-shirt slogan was “More people are reading this t–shirt than your blog” – those days are clearly gone as this paper shows, at least in ecology! ……..Their thoughts on citing blogs will, I suspect, launch many posts and comments on their respective blogs. I think this paper will be an important contribution to what is very much a developing field. I have no comments to add and, for the first time for me, I recommend acceptance without revision.

Reviewer: 2

 This is a fantastic and much needed piece that deserves to be published widely. ……….The authors clearly state this upfront: ‘academics wish to understand whether particular activities influence various audiences’. I command the authors for this rare instance of honesty and for aiming to publish this manuscript with the best academic journals in their discipline. The manuscript is limpid and very well written. The style is engaging and the results significant for the wider academic community. I fully support its publication.


These last nine months working on the paper were personally very rewarding and to me, a vindication that becoming a blogger was a good decision.  It was also a huge buzz to work with such a dynamic group of bloggers.  I think Steve sums it up for all of us in this Tweet

If you are not yet a science community blogger or don’t think that they have a place in mainstream science, please take the time to read our paper which you can find here.  It won’t cost you anything but time 🙂 and if any reporters are reading this – here courtesy of Manu, is our press release.

Blogs are no longer simply online personal journals. We define an overlooked category of blogs that holds immense value for the scientific community: science community blogs are written by practising scientists for scientists. As academics and active bloggers, we use data from our own blogs to show how science community blogs are a valuable outreach and professional development tool. Blogs are also a citable primary source with potential to contribute to scientific knowledge. It’s time for blogs to be accepted as a standalone medium with huge benefits for individual scientists and the science community as a whole.   


Post script

If you want to know what my fellow authors thought about our collaboration you can find Manu’s story here, Steve’s here, Amy and Terry’s here and Meghan’s here.


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