Horace Donisthorpe

Horace St. John Kelly Donisthorpe, F.Z.S, F.R.E.S, &c. (March 17, 1870 - April 22, 1951) was an eccentric British myrmecologist and coleopterist, memorable in part for his renaming of the genus Lasius after himself as Donisthorpea, and for his many claims of discovering new species of beetles and ants.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Books by Donisthorpe
3 Other writings
4 Locations in Britain visited by Horace Donisthorpe
5 External Links
6 Detailed work description


Educated at Mill Hill House, Leicester and Oakham Grammar School, Donisthorpe went to Heidelberg University to read medicine. However, his 'too sensitive nature' forced him to give up this career, and, being possessed of a private income, from about 1890 he devoted his life to the study of beetles and ants.

Frank Bouskell, who described Donisthorpe as 'his oldest friend', wrote in ERJV, 63, 1951, p.228, upon his death:

"He did his early collecting with me at Bradgate Park, Bardon Hill and Budon Wood where he was first interested in ants and their hosts. About this time I first introduced him to Mr F. Bates, brother of Bates of the Amazons, who later gave him his almost complete collection of Coleoptera. Later on we went to Wicken Fen, the New Forest, Isle of Wight, etc... I should [also] mention our joint trip to South Kerry'. Probably the best known of his collecting grounds was Windsor great park where he had permission to collect extensively and where so many of his important discoveries were made.

Donisthorpe was controversial in part because he was considered overeager in his attempts to identify new species of ants and beetles. In fact, of the 30 new species he identified, 24 were deemed to be insufficiently distinct to be considered separate species. See Insect species and subspecies described by Horace Donisthorpe that were later considered invalid for more details on some of these. It is, however, accepted that he did indeed identify the following new species: Cercyon aguatilis, Leptacinus intermedius, Ilyobates bennetti, Micrambe aubrooki, Gymnetron lloydi, and Xyleborus sampsoni -- all named to honor his colleagues.

Books by Donisthorpe

  • The Coleoptera of the Isle of Wight. Published in 1906 by the Leics. Lit. Phil. Soc.. The supplementary sixth volume was compiled with W. W. Fowler to the latter's Coleoptera of the British Isles in 1913;

  • British Ants: their life histories and classification. First published in 1915, this book was reviewed and republished in 1927, and was the first major book ever written on British ants. Although the first edition contained all the species known at the time (and one, Leptothorax corticalis which was lated found to be erroneous), the second edition contained the addition of Lasius brunneus, a small, arboreal ants of the Lasius mixtusb group found principally in orchards in the home counties. The 1927 edition was, however, too early for any mention of strongylodus testacious, which Donisthorpe discovered in the New Forest several years later.

  • The Guests of British Ants. Published in 1927, the same year as the revision of British Ants: their life histories and classification took place. This book deals with myrmecophiles of British ants, some of them ants themselves (e.g. Formicoxenus and Anergates. It also mentions and debunks theories regarding the effect that the presence of a species of beetle (of the genus Atemeles) has on the number of pseudogynes in colonies of the larger formica (ant) species.

  • An Annotated List of the Additions to the British Coleopterous Fauna. Published in 1931, the title serves to be self-explanatory.

  • A Preliminary List of the Coleoptera of Windsor Forest. Published in 1939, Donisthorpe dedicated the book to the memory of Florence Jane Kirk, his constant companion on collecting trips. In it he writes: "In memory of Jane Kirk, whose patience, skill, and unfailing energy were of invaluable help in attaining the results set forth in these pages."
The book consists of a preamble detailing the various features of Windsor Great Park and its ancient forests, and a list of the many hundreds of Coleoptera Donisthorpe collected there, with brief habitat details for each species.

Other writings

Donisthorpe, as chair of the Zoological Society of London and in his work at the Natural History Museum, London, often wrote of and described new species and species' habits from all around the world in various entomological journals, such as Animals and the Magazine of Natural History.

Donisthorpe also wrote two chapters of Wild Life the World Over : Comprising Twenty-Seven Chapters Written by Nine Distinguished World-Traveled Specialists, which was published in 1953, 2 years after his death.

Locations in Britain visited by Horace Donisthorpe

Donisthorpe visited many locations in the British Isles in which he collected and recorded unusual species of British ants:

See also locations in Britain notable for their wildlife and British ants.

External Links

The Coleopterist - Biographical Dictionary of British Coleopterists

Detailed work description

Insect taxa described by Horace Donisthorpe

The following is a partial list of
species or subspecies of insect, principally ants, described by Horace Donisthorpe but which were later considered either to be insufficiently distinct to merit species or subspecies status, or to be synonymous with previous valid species. (See also binomial nomenclature.)

From ''New Species of Ants (Hym., Formicidae) from the Gold coast, Borneo, Celebes, New Guinea and New Hebrides.

Donisthorpe continues: "I have much pleasure in naming this ant in honour of my dear friend the late Commander J. J. Walker, R.N."

This species provides an interesting demonstration of Donisthorpe's zeal for new species coming into conflict with existing ones - his description starts "The general description of P.(M.) byyani would do equally well for this species..." and then goes on to describe a small number of very minor differences - "a larger and more robust insect", "pronotal spines longer", "The scale has a somewhat wider arch.", and so on.

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