Alan E. Stubbs
Oliver Wendell Holmes has his pompous entomologist in The poet at the breakfast table announce: “Lepidoptera and Neuroptera for little folks; Coleoptera for men, sir!” It’s perhaps best not to dwell too much on how this strange little character is portrayed since his grasp of the Coleoptera is uncertain, other than to confusingly proclaim that “the kings of the Coleoptera are the beetles!”
In any case, the Diptera are probably for super heroes. Traditionally less popular than beetles, with fewer identification guides (and those often exceedingly technical), flies have sometimes seemed the more difficult group, but Alan Stubbs is having none of that. Following on from his Hoverflies (1983) and Soldierflies (2001), he now launches craneflies into the popular orbit they so richly deserve.
The enterprise starts with the user-friendly identification keys — everywhere awash with thumbnail illustrations to clearly demonstrate each conceivable identification character. Alan’s text is equally user-friendly, with simple descriptions and copious biological information on each species, more than 350 of them, in all seven families found in the British Isles — and a few others that might reasonably be expected to turn up here soon. And to counter the accusation that all craneflies look alike anyway, coloured plates of wing maps and photos of living examples show just how diverse they really are. I well remember the first time I found the veritable giant Tipula maxima, with its imposing stance and handsomely marked wings — in a damp woodland near Ryde in the Isle of Wight, in the early 1970s. And I nearly fell off the log when a male Ctenophora flaveolata fluttered down to my picnic perch in Burnham Beeches many years later.
There is, now, no excuse for not studying craneflies. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit that I have paid them less than the appropriate amount of attention over the last 40 years. But not anymore. This is just the kick up the backside I need to get going with them.