Tag Archives: British Entomological and Natural History Society

BENHS 2016 — less of the same

This way in please.

This way in please.

Yesterday, 12 November, was the 2016 BENHS Annual Exhibition, held at Conway Halls, Holborn. As usual it was a chance to meet up and chat with old friends and colleagues, and have a look at the exhibits they’d brought up. The old friends were there, apart from the ones that weren’t. Yet again, I think numbers were down. Exhibits were up, maybe, mostly. But I did notice the British butterflies section was completely empty.

Over the years the popularity of various insect groups exhibited at the annual exhibition has been a compass of the direction of entomological interest of the members. When I first joined (1976) Lepidoptera was very big, divided more or less evenly between butterflies, macros and micros. The ‘other’ orders together barely made up the fourth quarter. Things have changed. Coleoptera, Diptera, Hemiptera and Hymenoptera now have their own significant sections of the hall. There aren’t many ‘other’ orders left — Trichoptera and a few odds and sods.

This year there was not a single British butterfly exhibit. Showing wild-caught butterflies has always been fraught — frowned on my some, mocked by others —but there were usually several examples of breeding experiments to work out the genetic control of pattern formation and aberration. Where were they? Who knows?

The point of the exhibition, in terms of meeting other entomologists, communicating findings, exchanging ideas, has changed since the society was founded 144 years ago. There is now something peculiarly archaic about poring over trays of pinned insect specimens. Except, this is still an important and useful way of learning. Comparing specimens of the pied shieldbug Tritomegas bicolor and the newly discovered T. sexmaculatus really does highlight the distinctions in the white markings. And I can now confirm that the blue jewel beetle Agrilus biguttatus can occur as a metallic green morph too, I saw it with my own eyes — just the thing to cause confusion if ever the emerald ash-borer A. planipennis, reaches the UK, on its seemingly inexorable spread through Eurasia.

Nevertheless, so much quick and easy communication takes place privately now, that the public arena of the annual exhibition is looking less relevant in some quarters. Maybe the butterfly breeders feel the exhibition is no longer their venue of choice.

Previous British Entomological and Natural History Society annual exhibitions:

BENHS 2015 annual exhibition

BENHS 2014 annual exhibition

BENHS 2013 annual exhibition

BENHS 2012 annual exhbition


The insects of Holborn

Saturday 8 November saw the British Entomological and Natural History Society’s 2014 Annual Exhibition move to the Conway Halls, Red Lion Square, Holborn. I used to work round the corner from here and it’s not all that much changed since 25 years ago. I like the workaday down-to-Earthness of Holborn; with neither the swagger and expense of the West End, nor the pompous grandiosity of The City. The Conway Halls proved just the right setting for the society’s event. So, here’s a selection of photographs:

Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Oxford

Today was the 11th annual BENHS Coleopterists’ Day meeting at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. All the usual fun.

All debate about apostrophes should be addressed to someone else.

All debate about apostrophes should be addressed to someone else.

Turn-out was in the region of 65, although one person admitted in a stage whisper that he was really a dipterist. This isn’t a write-up, just an annotated slide show.

More peering into glass-topped cases is called for

Saturday saw the return of the British Entomological and Natural History Society (BENHS) Annual Exhibition. I’ve been before, many times.

For the last….what, 20 years?… the Annual Exhibition has been held at Imperial College, in South Kensington, but the hall hire there finally got too much, and this year it removed to the Premier Suite of the grandstand at Kempton Park Racecourse.

People and exhibits seemed a bit thinner on the ground than last year. It’s always difficult to compare when moving to a new venue. But those who were there got straight down to the important business of peering into glass-topped cases.

Here is a more or less random selection of snapshots. Next year, a return to Central London (Holborn) has been mooted. Watch this space.

BENHS Coleoptera Meeting 2013

Today was the British Entomological and Natural History Society‘s 10th annual Coleoptera Meeting, this time held at the Hope Department of Entomology, in Oxford University’s Natural History Museum.

Just before the start, in the lecture theatre.

Just before the start, in the lecture theatre.

The Museum itself was closed, displays are boarded over and exhibits are bubble-wrapped against damage as the leaking glass roof is repaired.

Darren Mann gave some of us a guided show-and-tell tour of the department, including a history of the collections, a selection of Darwin/ Wallace/ Fabrician and other types, and made some choice comments about the poor funding given to the natural history collections of provincial museums.

Thereafter people divided into various laboratory spaces to look through the collections, library or take part in a dung-beetle identification workshop. Much chat and good-natured banter ensued.

This was the first BENHS beetle meeting I’ve been to, others held in the society’s headquarters at Dinton Pastures have always seemed too much of a logistically difficult journey from south-east London. I might have to rethink this.

The day also put me in mind of another, similar event, held some time earlier. On 16 March 1985, Eric Philp organized a Coleoptera workshop at Maidstone Museum. Here we are:

Left to right: My father Alfred W. Jones (back towards the camera), A.A. Allen (just peeking out), Peter Hodge (arms crossed), Mark Colville and Eric Philp. Not sure who are the three bods stooping over a display at the back of the room.

Left to right: My father Alfred W. Jones (back towards the camera), A.A. Allen (just peeking out), Peter Hodge (arms crossed), Mark Colvin and Eric Philp. Not sure who are the three bods stooping over a display at the back of the room. Three names that come to mind are John Parry, David Porter and John Owen, but these are all guesses.

Eric died on 8 January and I went along to his funeral last Tuesday, 29 January.  I always knew Eric as a coleopterist, but most others knew him also as an ornithologist, or a botanist. As usual talk centred around reminiscing and someone else commented that Eric always wore his lab coat when working in the museum. It was almost his badge of office. I wonder if Darren has a white coat?

What is the collective noun for entomologists?

It’s a stoop. Other suggestions included a flutter, and a buzz. When entomologists come together at the annual exhibition of the British Entomological and Natural History Society, at Imperial College, they do two things: they talk incessantly in a strange dialect of copious Latin verbiage and abstruse jargon, and they stoop.

The stooping is done over  glass-topped display boxes showing the latest finds or discoveries. Here is the evidence.

This is one of my favourite meetings of the entomological year. It’s a chance to meet the faces behind the emails and the journal articles, to catch up and exchange the entomological news of the last 12 months, have a bit of a moan about the weather and pick up the latest books and journals.

OK, they do a fair bit of drinking beer too, but it’s the stooping that captures the mood of the day. So, there you have it — a stoop of entomologists.

Real entomologists use aspirin bottles

I was recently reminded of the tale, told by Charles Darwin in later life, about his fervent beetle-collecting youth. Peeling off the loose bark of a dead tree, probably somewhere in Cambridgeshire, he saw two rare beetles and picked them up, one in each hand. On spotting yet another he was momentarily at a loss, but then decided to pop one of those he held into his mouth for safe-keeping, in order to free up his hand to catch the third. Of course it ejected some foul liquid and in the inevitable coughing, spluttering and choking fit that followed he lost all three.

Personally, I think Mr Darwin was being a bit sloppy. No real entomologist ever leaves home without at least some potential collecting containers about his or her person. A couple of glass tubes in a top pocket are the usual answer, but at a push, almost anything can be brought to use — empty humus pots, take-away containers, matchboxes, plastic milk bottles, urine sample kits. I once had to remove the ink cartridge from my fountain pen to drop in a small picture-wing fly — worked a treat.

So when, sitting in the Red Lion Pub in London’s Mayfair, some time back in the 1980s, it was no surprise when the person next to me took out a brown aspirin bottle from his pocket and offered me some of the contents. The American tourists sitting nearby were agog, and nudged each other surreptitiously until I explained that this was the perfectly normal behaviour of anyone who had just left a meeting of the British Entomological and Natural History Society. After leaving the lecture hall of the Alpine Club, in South Audley Street, where the meetings took place, a hard core would descend on the snug bar at the Red Lion in Waverton Street (it’s now boarded up, presumably about to be redeveloped). Here we would cogitate on the proceedings of the meeting, and continue earnest discussions about the correct way to find obscure leaf-mining moths, or ruminate on the last time anyone had seen a Clifden Nonpareil.

They must have closed it down because of the strange behaviour of some of the clientele.

Unscrewing the pill bottle, he gingerly tipped out a couple of beetles into the palm of my hand — Melasis buprestoides, a strange and handsome creature, I think I had only ever seen it once or twice before. Working for the National Trust biodiversity team, Andy Foster had plenty of opportunity to find such bark beetles, especially those, like Melasis, which are particularly at home in ancient woodland remnants. Would I like a specimen or two? Actually, they are much larger than the diminutive one I remembered finding in Sussex. Might be the other sex. Yes, I’ll take a couple for my reference collection. Now let’s see what I’ve got to put them in. A small glass tube tucked into the side pocket of my brief case. Perfect. If only Mr Darwin had been so prepared.