Some time during the late 1940s and early 50s my father’s burgeoning interest in natural history embraced flies. However, hampered by lack of a microscope and books, his options were limited. He wrote to eminent dipterist Leonard Parmenter and was pleased to be invited to his house. Parmenter was helpful and encouraging and although Dad was mainly a botanist, a few of his published articles were on hoverflies.
Just as today, the Syrphidae offered a good introduction to flies, many of which other groups offer taxonomic difficulties that still give experts nightmares. They are generally large, bright, attractive and distinctive species, and there was a good ID guide available.
At that time the masterful monograph on the hoverflies, by the great George Verrall, was the most important book on the group, but it was huge, at over 800 pages, and was an expensive purchase beyond my father’s meagre means.
Instead, over a period of several months, he borrowed a copy of the book from Paddington (I think) public library and laboriously copied out various parts of it longhand into three large ruled hardback exercise books, pictures and all. This he used to identify and research the flies.
Years later he was able to get hold of the 1969 facsimile reprint of Verrall’s book, still quite an expensive book even then, but he kept his manuscript copy, now a poignant memento of an earlier time.
CURIOUS? WHY CURIOUS?When 17th century apothecary and naturalist James Petiver published a picture of what, for 200 years, would be Britain's most enigmatic butterfly, Albin's Hampstead Eye, he reported: "Where it was caught by this curious person". His implication was that Eleazar Albin was not just strange, not just odd, but was fuelled by curiosity.
Ongoing projects:These are some of the books and other projects going on at the moment......
A way with worms
Beetles — in the Collins New Naturalist series
Call of nature: the secret life of dung
House guests, house pests
How to be a curious entomologist
BBC Wildlife Magazine