William Elford Leach
|Born||2 February 1791|
|Died||25 August 1836 (aged 45)|
|Fields||Natural history, entomology, marine biology|
Elford Leach was born at Hoe Gate, Plymouth, the son of an attorney. At the age of twelve he began a medical apprenticeship at the Devonshire and Exeter Hospital, studying anatomy and chemistry. By this time he was already collecting marine animals from Plymouth Sound and along the Devon coast. At seventeen he began studying medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, finishing his training at the University of Edinburgh before graduating MD from the University of St Andrews (where he had never studied).
From 1813 Leach concentrated on his zoological interests and was employed as an 'Assistant Librarian' (what would later be called Assistant Keeper) in the Natural History Department of the British Museum, where he had responsibility for the zoological collections. Here he threw himself into the task of reorganising and modernising these collections, many of which had been neglected since Hans Sloane left them to the nation. In 1815, he published the first bibliography of entomology in Brewster's Edinburgh Encyclopedia (see Timeline of entomology – 1800–1850). He also worked and published on other invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and birds. and was the naturalist who separated the centipedes and millipedes from the insects, giving them their own group, the Myriapoda. In his day he was the world's leading expert on the Crustacea and was in contact with scientists in the United States and throughout Europe. In 1816 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 25.
However, in 1821 he suffered a nervous breakdown due to overwork and became unable to continue his researches. He resigned from the museum in March 1822 and his elder sister Jane took him to continental Europe to convalesce. They lived in Italy and (briefly) Malta and he died from cholera in San Sebastiano Curone, near Tortona, north of Genoa on 25 August 1836.
In 1837 Dr Francis Boott, secretary of the Linnean Society of London, wrote, "Few men have ever devoted themselves to zoology with greater zeal than Dr Leach, or attained at an early period of life a higher reputation at home and abroad as a profound naturalist. He was one of the most laborious[a] and successful, as well as one of the most universal, cultivators of zoology which this country has ever produced."
Despite his expertise in particular animal groups Leach's greatest contribution was his almost single-handed modernisation of the whole of British zoology following its stagnation during the long war with post-revolutionary and Napoleonic France.
In Britain zoologists remained committed to the system of animal classification introduced by Linnaeus in the middle of the 18th century. This was a powerful tool but its principles led to artificial groupings of species when creating larger groups such as genera and families. For example, Linnaeus had called all animals encased in a hard outer skeleton, insects. He therefore grouped butterflies with lobsters, scorpions, spiders and centipedes but these animals are not otherwise similar in appearance, do not live in the same environment, and do not behave in the same way. The grouping does separate animals with hard outer skeletons from jellyfish, worms, snails, vertebrates, etc. but does not produce a group 'Insecta' with clear similarities shared by all its members.
In continental Europe in the late 18th century naturalists began to revise the way they grouped species. They used a wider array of characters, not just one or two, and began to discern groups of species that physically resembled one another, lived in similar ways and occupied similar habitats. They created new genera to house these coherent groups and referred to these as 'natural genera'. They named this approach the 'natural method' or 'natural system' of classification.
Unlike many of his countrymen, Leach was aware of these developments across the English Channel. He read the French literature and, despite the war with France, corresponded with the zoologists in Paris. He applied the new principles to his own research and brought them to the attention of other British zoologists through his publications. Between the years 1813 and 1830 he produced more than 130 scientific articles and books.[b] By applying the natural method in these works he created more than 380 new genera, many of which have stood the test of time and remain valid today.
In 1834, at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Leonard Jenyns reported on The Recent Progress and Present State of Zoology. Discussing the science in the years before 1817 he noted the advances made on the Continent, then continued, 'England, we fear, has but little to produce as the result of her labours in zoology during the same period. Our countrymen were too much riveted to the principles of the Linnaean school to appreciate the value of the natural system … There was a general repugnance to everything that appeared like an innovation on the system of Linnaeus; and for many years … zoology, which was making rapid strides in France and other parts of the Continent, remained in this country nearly stationary. It is mainly to Dr Leach that we are indebted for having opened the eyes of English zoologists to the importance of those principles which had long guided the French naturalists. Whilst he greatly contributed to the advancement of the natural system by his own researches, he gave a turn to those of others, and made the first step towards weaning his countrymen from the school they had so long adhered to.'
Two years later, the year of Leach’s death, the House of Commons completed a detailed investigation of the management of the British Museum. During their interviews the MPs had received confirmation from John Edward Gray that it was Leach who, "was the first to make the English acquainted, by his works and by his improved manner of arranging the collections of the Museum, with the progress that had been made in natural science on the Continent. Thus a new impetus was given to zoology". Edward Griffiths (translator of George Cuvier's Le Règne Animal) told the inquiry that in Britain, before Leach's work, "zoology was utterly neglected; 20 years ago it was anything but popular; certainly there were very few amateurs that paid much attention to it." "In your judgment," the committee proposed, "Dr Leach has the eminent credit of having raised the science of zoology in England?" “Indeed I think so" replied Griffiths.
In his short career Leach had brought British zoology back to the cutting edge of the subject and as a consequence had put the next generation of British zoologists on much firmer ground. The next generation of British zoologists contained both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.[c]
Despite his impact, today Elford Leach is remembered mainly in the scientific names of the many species that honour him. In the years up to 1850 alone 137 new species were named leachii, leachiana, leachella, elfordii, elfordiana and other variants.
In the non-scientific literature he is honoured in the common names of several species. Leach's storm-petrel was named after him by Coenraad Jacob Temminck in 1820[d] and the blue-winged kookaburra, Dacelo leachii, is also known as Leach's kookaburra. Leach created the genus Dacelo for the kookaburras in 1815.
Leach's nomenclature was often personal – he named nineteen species and one genus after his employee and friend John Cranch, who had died while collecting the species in Africa on the expedition of HMS Congo. He named nine genera after an unknown woman called Caroline, using anagrams of that name and the Latinised form Carolina, for example: Cirolana, Conilera and Rocinela. These include the marine isopod crustacean Cirolana cranchi which he named in 1818 after both Caroline and Cranch.[e]
Leach's written works during his time at the British Museum include the following:
Actias is a genus of Saturniid moths, which contains the Asian-American moon moths. Long tails on their hindwings are among their distinctive traits. Other moths with similar appearance are Copiopteryx, Argema and Eudaemonia.
The majority of species in this genus feed on the leaves of sweetgum, pine, or similar trees. As with all Saturniids, adult Actias moths lack functional mouthparts so their lifespan after emergence from the cocoon only ranges from a few days to a week.Artibeus
The Neotropical fruit bats (Artibeus) are a genus of bats within the subfamily Stenodermatinae.
The genus consists of 12 species, which are native to Central and South America, as well as parts of the Caribbean.Buprestidae
Buprestidae is a family of beetles known as jewel beetles or metallic wood-boring beetles because of their glossy iridescent colors. Larvae of this family are known as flatheaded borers. The family is among the largest of the beetles, with some 15,500 species known in 775 genera. In addition, almost 100 fossil species have been described.The larger and more spectacularly colored jewel beetles are highly prized by insect collectors. The elytra of some Buprestidae species have been traditionally used in beetlewing jewellery and decoration in certain countries in Asia, like India, Thailand and Japan.Chilocorus
Chilocorus is a genus of beetles belonging to the family Coccinellidae, subfamily Chilocorinae.Cloeon
Cloeon is a cosmopolitan genus of mayflies of the family Baetidae.Cordulia
Cordulia is a genus of dragonfly in the family Corduliidae.Gasterophilus
Gasterophilus is a genus of parasitic flies in the family Oestridae, more commonly known as botfly. Gasterophilus are nonpathogenic, and seldom cause disease unless large numbers of larvae are present. Gasterophilus are found worldwide, but are prominently present during the summer months.Geometer moth
The geometer moths are moths belonging to the family Geometridae of the insect order Lepidoptera, the moths and butterflies. Their scientific name derives from the Ancient Greek geo γη or γαια "the earth" and metron μέτρων "measure" in reference to the way their larvae, or inchworms, appear to "measure the earth" as they move along in a looping fashion. A very large family, it has around 23,000 species of moths described, and over 1400 species from six subfamilies indigenous to North America alone. A well-known member is the peppered moth, Biston betularia, which has been subject of numerous studies in population genetics. Several other geometer moths are notorious pests.Gomphus (dragonfly)
Gomphus is a genus of clubtail dragonflies in the family Gomphidae.
As a result of phylogenetic studies, Gomphus subgenera Gomphurus, Hylogomphus, Phanogomphus, and Stenogomphurus were elevated in rank to genus in 2017. With the removal of their member species, Gomphus ended up with 11 of its original 54 species, none of which are found in the Western Hemisphere.Gonepteryx
Gonepteryx is a genus of butterfly in the family Pieridae. They live in Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. They are commonly known as brimstones for the bright yellow colour of the wings of most species.Hesperilla ornata
Hesperilla ornata, the spotted skipper or spotted sedge-skipper, is a butterfly of the family Hesperiidae. It is found along the non-tropical eastern seaboard of mainland Australia and in the adjacent mountain ranges.
The wingspan is about 40 mm.
The larvae feed on various Carex and Gahnia species, including Carex brunnea, Carex longebrachiata, Gahnia aspera, Gahnia clarkei, Gahnia erythrocarpa, Gahnia grandis, Gahnia melanocarpa, Gahnia radula and Gahnia sieberiana.Hesperilla picta
Hesperilla picta, the painted sedge-skipper or painted skipper, is a butterfly of the family Hesperiidae. It is found in the Australian states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
The wingspan is about 30 mm.
The larvae feed on Gahnia clarkei.Labidura
Labidura is a genus of earwigs in the Labiduridae family.Lepidurus
Lepidurus is a genus of small crustaceans in the order Notostraca (tadpole shrimp). It is the larger of the two genera of the tadpole shrimps, the other being Triops. They are commonly found in vernal pools and survive dry periods with the help of long lasting resting eggs.
The genus contains the following species:
Lepidurus apus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Lepidurus arcticus (Pallas, 1793)
Lepidurus batesoni Longhurst, 1955
Lepidurus bilobatus Packard, 1883
Lepidurus couesii Packard, 1875
Lepidurus cryptus D. C. Rogers, 2001
Lepidurus lemmoni Holmes, 1894
Lepidurus lynchi Linder, 1952
Lepidurus mongolicus Vekhoff, 1992
Lepidurus packardi Simon, 1886Libinia emarginata
Libinia emarginata, the portly spider crab, common spider crab or nine-spined spider crab, is a species of stenohaline crab that lives on the Atlantic coast of North America.Lycaeninae
Lycaeninae, the coppers, are a subfamily of the gossamer-winged butterflies (Lycaenidae).
The relationships of the Lycaenidae are not fully resolved. Sometimes the Polyommatinae and Theclinae are included in the Lycaeninae; in particular the Theclinae tribe Eumaeini contains many similar taxa. Consequently, the delimitation of the Lycaeninae is by no means definitely resolved; many genera await conformation of placement. Regardless, it is today generally considered better to restrict the Lycaeninae to the immediate relatives of the type genus Lycaena, and one or two clades close to that group.Megatominae
Megatominae is a subfamily of the beetle family Dermestidae. This subfamily contains several of the most well-known household and stored-product pest beetles, in the genera Anthrenus and Trogoderma.Monophyllus
Monophyllus, the Antillean long-tongued bats, is a genus of bats in the family Phyllostomidae. They are distributed on the Antilles.Mormoops
Mormoops is a genus of bat in the family Mormoopidae.
It contains the following species:
Antillean ghost-faced bat (Mormoops blainvillii)
Giant ghost-faced bat (†Mormoops magna)
Ghost-faced bat (Mormoops megalophylla)