The Dentist who collected Fairyflies

s-b-bournmouthFor those of you who have been helping us to transcribe the Chalcid specimen labels in Miniature Lives Magnified, you’ll have been coming across one particular style of slide label that always get us flipping our heads from side to side to read.

And almost all of those specimens seem to have been collected in Bournemouth, and the surrounding area.

Once you start seeing a few of these, you’ll start to notice that they are all marked ‘S.B.’ – who is in fact the Collector of these specimens.

I started to become curious about the mysterious S. B., and the hyper-local nature of his or her collecting, so I decided to do a bit of sleuthing with the help of our Curator Natalie.

“I do know about the Bournemouth man: he was a dentist, and originally a lepidopterist but worked a lot on Mymarids… “

So here’s what I’ve found out.

S.B. is Sidney Charles Scarsdale Brown – born in London in 1903, and passed away in Bournemouth, Dorset in 2003.

You will have noticed that many of his slides are also marked  ‘Trap‘ (which is why we don’t see host insect & host plant information on these). Mr. Brown has written something about how he found these marvelous creatures in the following note in the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine: 108: 94 (1973):

Novel method of obtaining Fairy Flies

Mr Brown is mentioned on page 18 of The Conservation of Invertebrates report of the Monks Wood Experimental Station Symposium No 1, March 23rd – 25th, 1965:

“…a great deal of the information about the insect fauna of Scotland can be found in the diaries of a Mr. Harwood who lived in Aviemore just before the War…the diaries were now in the possession of Mr. Scarsdale Brown of Bournemouth, and on his death would be handed to the Hope Department, Oxford.”

MYMARIDAE - FAIRY FLY SLIDE-MOUNTED Stephanodes elegans #1414690 (1)

Mymaridae – Fairy Fly – Stephanodes elegans

He is also listed with all of his bona fides as S.C.S. Brown. F.D.S., L.D.S.. R.C.S., Vice President of the Bournemouth Natural Science Society, in their published proceedings from 1989 – 1990, which shares this wonderful background information about him:

“At the present time, the Society is very fortunate to have as a member Mr S.C. Scarsdale Brown. He joined the Society in 1937, was Chairman of Entomology 1939- 48.

After a few years away from the Society, he rejoined in 1967 and was – 44 – President 1975-76, the subject of his Presidential Address being “The Natural History of Bournemouth 1800-1900”. He edited the Proceedings from 1978-82 and is now an Honorary Member.

He has lived all his life in the Bournemouth area, working as a Dental Practitioner.

As a young man his interests centred on the Macrolepidoptera. He met W. Parkinson Curtis, who became a life-long friend, and joined the Society for British Entomology. There he met eminent entomologists such as Lt. Cdr. Fraser and William Fassnidge. The latter introduced him to the world of Microlepidoptera, at which he quickly became an expert, especially on the group of tiny moths known as Nepticulidae. Mr Brown was one of the contributors to the Illustrated Papers on British Microlepidoptera published in 1978 by the British Entomological and Natural History Society, his paper being illustrated with the superb paintings of Lt. Col. Fraser.

A meeting with Philip Harwood – one of the finest field entomologists – further added to his interests. Harwood concentrated on what are known to Lepidopterists as “Other Orders”, i.e. groups such as Coleoptera (beetles), Hemiptera (bugs) and Hymenoptera (bees and wasps).

Scarsdale Brown has studied all these groups, but has become one of the country’s leading specialists in Aculeate and Parasitic Hymenoptera. His meticulous and painstaking fieldwork is illustrated by his work on the group of Parasitic Hymenoptera known as Fairy Flies (family Mymaridae). This contains what must be some of the world’s smallest insects – one of the largest of the fairy flies has a wingspan of only 3mm; they pass their larval stages inside the eggs of other insects such as dragonflies.

During the course of his study, he has recorded 7 species of Mymaridae new to Britain.

His collection of specimens is a joy to behold – each fairy fly mounted in a microscope slide, and the tiny Nepticulid moths perfectly set. Mr Brown is an excellent artist in watercolour, and has contributed many notes to entomological magazines.

Over the years the members of the Society have heard some fascinating lectures from him on Hymenoptera and other groups. In 1988 he received an award in the Manse 1-P leydel 1 Prize Essay Competition.

In recent years he has suffered from failing eyesight, which has prevented any of the entomological study he loves, but he still attends some lectures of the Society, and maintains his own garden, where he specialises in growing camellias and lilies.”


About margaretgold

I'm the Science Community Coordinator at the Natural History Museum, London where I work together with our Digital Collections team and Citizen Science teams to help set the world's Natural History data free. I also lead the crowdsourcing work within SYNTHESYS, which is an EC-funded project creating an integrated European infrastructure for natural history collections.

3 responses to “The Dentist who collected Fairyflies”

  1. Duncan Curtis says :

    I’ve only just now seen this post and thought I’d comment. When I was a child, Mr Scarsdale Brown (always “Mr Brown”) was my dentist. Knowing that I was interested in insects, he very kindly gave me some Luna Moth caterpillars to keep, and these duly developed into pupae and eventually the very impressive moths themselves. My mum very helpfully screened-off the hallway so that they had room to fly properly and Mr Brown dropped by once or twice to see how they were getting on. He later gave me some stick insects which then became a feature of the family home. He always wanted to know how things were going and despite being a pre-teen child, he always had much to tell me about. I left home in 1980 and didn’t see him after that, but his influence on me has been immeasurable. I think I owe my continued interest in wildlife and the environment to Mr Brown and the seed he planted all those years ago. His love of nature and entomology has also passed on to my two sons (age 29 and 32 respectively) has now passed on to my two sons and their respective families. So Mr Scarsdale Brown cast a long shadow.

    • margaretgold says :

      What a wonderful story to share about Mr Scarsdale Brown – thank you Duncan! Generations of impact….. Let’s hope that this story will inspire a few more people to look more closely 🙂

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