Caution — entomologists at work (or is it play?)

I usually work alone. It’s much easier to just look out of the window, take a measure of the weather and decide “yes, I’ll head off to…” wherever it might be. Almost inevitably, trying to organize meeting someone on site is fraught with the usual difficulties of fitting in with their office work, avoiding their important meetings, or being let down at the last minute by the weather.

But there was a time when an organized visit would work out very well. I recently came across these photos from a trip to Wicken Fen and the Breck near Mildenhall, in 1983. Peter Hodge and David Porter drove up in David’s slightly ramshackle half-timbered Austin traveller to pick me up from Willesden Green before we set off up the A11 to East Anglia.

David owned several of these charismatic cars, but mostly only one worked, whilst the others mouldered in the garden to be cannibalized for spares, or to provide a breeding ground for a series of pretty bracket fungi on the wood-framing. Rather unnervingly, every time he went round a left-hand bend at speed, the driver’s door would fly open, causing more than some danger to passing motorcyclists.

David Porter (left) and Peter Hodge display the usual beetle-collecting attitude — head down finguers in the turf. Looking for Hypera dauci in the Breck I think.

At Wicken we met Tony Drane and the reserve warden, who showed us the classroom/laboratory where we could set specimens, and to the dormitory crowded with bunk beds, where we would spend the night. Wicken is known for a number of wetland specialities; I had hopes of perhaps spotting the musk beetle, Aromia moscata, but mostly it was small fry we found, sieved onto a plastic sheet or dredged out of the dykes.

At one point Tony spotted Donacia crassipes sitting on a waterlily leaf in the middle of a dyke, he was not going to be foiled by its inaccessibility, so he stripped off to his undies and waded in. I have to say, I was mightily impressed by this dedication, and tried to stifle a snort of laughter as the beetle flew off just as he got to within inches of it.

Tony Drane beetle hunting in a drain.

I’m sure we saw more Donacia later, along with plenty of the usual reedbed and marsh fare including Demetrias imperialis, D. monostigma and Rugilus fragilis. I’ve no doubt forgotten most of what we saw, but I do remember the mosquitoes, and the snoring. Oh, and the coasting in neutral down hills on the way home to save petrol until a service station came into view.

What's that drying on Tony Drane's water net? Doesn't he know to always carry a spare pair of Y-fronts, for aquatic beetle failure emergencies?

One response to “Caution — entomologists at work (or is it play?)

  1. Richard Jones

    Tony has replied magnanimously:


    Oh the follies and bravados of youth! Anyway, who says entomology is just for net waving wimps! I knew you had the photo of me in the water but I didn’t know you had the companion pic of the drying lingerie. You are forgiven for this tiny fragment of fame and posterity. It was a good weekend but my abiding memory is of David Porter, never one for sartorial elegance, sitting at the edge of the main drove sieving litter in his grubby sunhat, determined to find Trechus rivularis. It was a hot humid day at the height of mosquito season and he was surrounded by a dense cloud of hungry mosquitoes, swearing vilely, sweat running down his face, bleeding from bites and swatting ineffectually between sieves. He was there for an hour or two before finding his first specimen. I seem to remember we found the spectacle amusing when we reached him. So much for the sympathy of friends!

    Now – as to royalties.


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