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The Society for the study of flies (Diptera)

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#1 2017-11-25 00:19:16

ChrisR
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Name: Chris Raper
From: Reading, UK
Registered: 2008-03-08
Posts: 392
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Ken Smith – an appreciation

By John Ismay

I knew Ken Smith since 1969, when I first visited the then British Museum (Natural History) in London. At the time the Diptera Section was a large and active section, with enough staff to identify almost any fly to species. Such a facility is no longer feasible, partly due to financial cutbacks but more particularly because the identification of insect taxa has become more difficult as more species are described and the techniques used become more complicated. Ken was one of the last dipterists able to identify most flies to species.

Ken worked in the Hope Department of Entomology in the University Museum, Oxford in the early years of his career. He worked for Dr B.M. Hobby, an expert on Asilidae and they built up an impressive collection of predatory flies (mainly Asilidae and Empidiodea) and their prey. As a result, Ken became an expert in Empidoidea worldwide. Hobby was a long term editor of the Entomologist’s monthly Magazine and Ken assisted him and eventually succeeded him. Ken was ably assisted by his wife Vera. We owe all these entomologists a great debt for keeping the EMM running.

When Ken moved to the British Museum (Natural History), now the Natural History Museum he continued with his interest in Empidoidea. He worked on many families of Diptera and wrote definitive texts on the British fauna, in addition to major papers on world taxa. It is worth noting that many of these families are not easy choices. In particular he worked on Empidoidea in the southern hemisphere, a speciose and complicated group which is still being revised, and in Britain made progress with the Phoridae. This is one of the most underworked families of the Diptera and many species remain to be found even in Britain. His Royal Entomological Society key to the larvae of British Diptera is another landmark publication on a very difficult subject.

Ken was a social and outgoing person, never happier than in a pub or party with a glass in hand. He was an inspiration to younger dipterists, including the writer and was always willing to help less experienced colleagues. He had an excellent sense of humour. On one occasion he heard the Keeper, Paul Freeman, asking another section head for the number of primary type specimens (the specimens from which new species are described) held on the section. Ken had catalogued many of these on the Diptera Section, so he went to the card index with a new pack of 100 cards and quickly measured the length of the index, then counted the cards left over. When Freeman reached Diptera and asked for the number of types Ken gave him an exact figure of several thousand species, which must have been a surprise to his line manager.

He will be sorely missed in entomological circles and our sympathy goes to his two sons and the rest of the family.

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