D. Keith McE. Kevan

by Vernon R. Vickery
Emeritus Curator, Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory, McGill University

Vernon Vickery

Vernon Vickery (right)

Keith Kevan was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1920, of British parents but all of his formative years were spent in and around Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was an accountant as well as one of Scotland’s leading conchologists and coleopterists. His mother was a botanical enthusiast. This produced an environment that led him at an early age to study natural history. He began collecting insects about the age of five and this interest remained with him throughout his life.

His formal education was begun at George Watson’s Boys College in Edinburgh, where he claimed to have performed creditably but not outstandingly. He achieved great distinction at Edinburgh University, winning Second-Year Class medals in zoology and botany and the Third-Year Class medal in zoology. He also won the University/ Royal Botanic Garden Herbarium Gold Medal. Even at this early age he displayed his ability in innovation by persuading the Faculty of Science to permit him to include in his curriculum all available courses in entomology and parasitology, initiating, in effect, an Honours Entomology program in a “pure science” stream. Prior to this, all entomology was included only in the Agricultural Zoology program.

He graduated in 1941 with First Class Honours in Zoology and was awarded a Vans Dunlop Postgraduate Scholarship and a British Colonial Office Postgraduate Agricultural Scholarship. At this time it looked as though he would soon be serving in His Majesty’s Armed Forces but, fortunately for entomology, the government sent him instead, as an Entomologist Specialist Cadet of the Colonial Agricultural Service to Imperial College, St. Augustin, Trinidad, for a two-year course in tropical agriculture and related subjects. In 1943, he was awarded Associateship of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, equal to a Masters degree, and was granted a short leave. He returned to the United Kingdom and, as short as the leave was, it was long enough to court and marry Private Kathleen E. Luckin, Royal Army. Some months later she was discharged to await the birth of their first son, Peter. Later they had two more sons, Martin, born in Kenya, and Simon, born in England. Keith was posted to Kenya as Entomologist with the Kenya Department of Agriculture. He was promptly attached to the East- African Anti-Locust Directorate and became involved in reconnaissance and control of the Desert Locust in Kenya, Ethiopia and the Somalilands as well as some other pests for several years.

He returned to the United Kingdom in 1948, resigned from the Colonial Service and, at age 27, became the first head of the new Zoology Section in the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Nottingham. There he developed undergraduate teaching programs, directed graduate students and, at the same time, developed his study of orthopteroids, specializing in the Family Pyrgomorphidae, eventually becoming the world authority on this group of grasshoppers. He was directing Ph. D. students so he thought it might be appropriate to have this degree himself and it was granted in 1956. His thesis was taxonomic, on the genus Chrotogonus in the Pyrgomorphidae.

He was active as well in Soil Zoology, organizing the first international conference at the University in 1955 and published the proceedings the following year. He also wrote the first edition of his book, “Soil Animals” that year but it was not published until 1962, after he had left Nottingham.

In 1957 he was offered full professorship and Chairmanship of the Department of Entomology, McGill University, Macdonald College, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, Canada. He accepted and moved to Canada in 1958. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, Edinburgh, the same year.

He served as Chairman of Entomology from 1958 to 1971, as was also Chairman of the Department of Plant Pathology from 1959 to 1964, a period when the two departments were joined. He gave up the Chair in 1971 for health reasons. He directed the research of 22 M.Sc. and 23 Ph.D. students in Canada (plus others in Notting-ham), and 12 Postdoctoral Fellows and Associates. He introduced modern concepts of soil zoology in North America and, as well, taught all aspects of Entomology except Insect Physiology and Economic Entomology, although he had taught these subjects too in Nottingham.

He was an accomplished administrator and, as Chairman in Entomology, he strengthened the department by adding staff members with expertise in insect ecology, soil fauna and acarology, and fresh water biology, as well as hiring a professional curator (myself) for the Lyman collections of insects. This resulted in the transfer in 1961 of the collections from the Redpath Museum on the Montreal Campus to the Macdonald Campus in association with the Entomo-logy Department. This eventually increased in size and scope into the internationally known Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory. Kevan was appointed Director of the Museum in 1971.

He and I jointly established the Memoir and Notes series in 1974 and to date 17 volumes of Memoirs and 17 Notes have been published. These publications have served to make the Lyman Museum better known throughout the world. The famous reprint file was built up over the years and now comprises about 80,000 titles.

Keith traveled widely to all continents (except Antarctica) and was well known to associates in all parts of the world. His main accomplishments were in systematics (including experimental taxonomy and cytogenetics), morphology and biology of the orthopteroid insects and on the ecology and biology of soil and litter-inhabiting microarthropods. His research produced nearly 400 scientific publications as well as many others; book reviews, tributes, obituaries, popular and semi-popular articles, published verse, miscellaneous other publications and theatrical productions. There are more scientific publications in press and others that are complete, or nearly so, that will be submitted very soon.

He was active in many organizations and was honoured by many of them. He was a Director (1963-65) and President (1972-73) of the Entomological Society of Canada, was made Fellow of the Society in 1977, and received their Gold Medal for outstanding leadership in 1981. The shield bearing the insignia of the Society containing Grylloblatta campodeiformis (presented by the Entomological Society of Quebec) was devised by him. He also wrote a short poem, prefaced with the following: “A doodle done during duties and deliberations by the President” [of the Entomological Society of Canada].

Together with J.A. Downes and E.G. Munroe, Keith Kevan initiated the drive for the Biological Survey of the Insects of Canada and he contributed extensively to the Survey.

Keith had considerable theatrical talent, acting as well as writing and directing several productions. His sense of humour was quick, sometimes mordant and sometimes biting, qualities that are apparent in his writing (as well as in manner), particularly in verse. Sometimes he was inclined to pomposity and I have heard Mrs. Kevan tell him that he should stop “pontificating.”

Many of his associates despaired in attempting to decipher his handwriting. At times he gave the stenographers a hard time as his mind raced much faster than his hand and he could not slow down. I finally managed to decipher what he wrote and more than once he brought to me something he had written but which he could not read.

He was a true collector, very efficient in collecting insects in the field, and was also a collector of ‘Orthopterological Artifacts’. He amassed a truly remarkable collection of artifacts, part of which was displayed for a year at the Montreal Insectorium, following the official opening of that institution.

In later years he worked extensively in systematics of the Neuroptera and in “Ethnoentomology” and “Cultural Entomology”. At one time he held grants from both the National Research Council (science) and the Canada Council (humanities) simultaneously. He investigated early historical and literary areas of entomology, particularly poetry and verse of all ages and regions in any language that referred to orthopteriod insects (and cicadas, as they were in olden days often confused with grasshoppers as both produced sound).

He had written verses as a schoolboy and the urge to “versify” was always close to the surface. For example, “Ware the Weta” was written on a souvenir menu at the 21st Anniversary Dinner of the Entomological Society of New Zealand in 1972. “Wetas” are “cricket- types” known only in New Zealand and they have powerful jaws – they can bite! Keith was an excellent linguist, fluent in both French and German, to a lesser extent in Russian, and could read a number of other languages. Many of his verses are included in “The Land of the Locust series. Others appear in various scientific bulletins and newsletters. Much of his “poetry” tended to be more versifying than poetical. He tended usually to produce something humorous, rather than “deep” or “erudite” poetry. “Levity of Lacewings – The Mantispid” (left column) that he wrote during a break at a Colloquium on Neuropteroid insects at the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, December, 1988, is another example.

He did not confine his ethnoentomological works to poetry. In the Proceedings of the 2nd Triennial Meeting of the Pan American Acridological Society (now The Orthopterists’ Society), he published a major paper on “The Place of Grasshoppers and Crickets in Ameridian Cultures”, pages 8 to 74c. This work includes 31 illustrations and 154 references. Some Navajo stories about grasshoppers and crickets are included in the as yet unpublished Part 4 of “The Land of the Locusts”.

In 1974, he published the first of his books on orthopteroid insects in verse “The Land of the Grasshoppers,” Memoir, Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory 2: x + 326 pp. This contained many items covering the entire time span of human written expression. Almost immediately, he realized that there were a great many more such references. He accepted the challenge and four years later, in 1978, he published “The Land of the Locusts”, Part 1, Memoir, Lyman Entomological Museum and Research Laboratory 6: x + 530 pp. This covered the time period from the beginning of the written word to 450 A.D. This was followed in 1983, by Part 2, published by the Museum as Memoir 10: viii + 554 pp., covering the period between 450 A.D. and 1500 A.D. Part 3 was published in 1983, Memoir 15: xiv + 466 pp., covering the 16th to 18th Centuries inclusive*.

These volumes contain verses and translations of poems, verses and limericks on orthopteroid insects. Each is divided into sections, each section covering a systematic group (e.g., cockroaches, crickets, etc.), with items presented in chronological order within sections. Explanatory introductions, usually about the authors, lead to each item. Many items contain “starred” words, phrases or numbers. These indicate that explanations can be found in the “Notes” section bearing the same number as the item. Footnotes are used to explain certain words or phrases, or to point out derivation of a term. Wherever possible, an item is given in the original language of publication, together with a translation (and transliteration for some languages). The translations are, for the most part by Kevan himself, but he included translations by others if these were available. For Chinese poems his translations were based upon transliterations by Dr. C.-C. (George) Hsiung.

Before he died, Keith Kevan had accumulated a great deal of material for Part 4 of “The Land of the Locusts”, the 19th Century, as well as a smaller number for Part 5, the 20th Century. Part 4 is so large that it will be necessary to publish it in two volumes. The sections in the first volume will cover cicadas (these are not orthopteroids but often are confused with them as both groups produce sound), katydids, bush-crickets and acridid grasshoppers. Dr. Kevan had prepared much of this part before he died. I have added the necessary items to complete this volume and have worked from his handwritten notes to put together the second volume. This includes the crickets, mole-crickets, earwigs, etc. Both volumes should be published together during 1995.

Keith had heart by-pass surgery late in 1976 and afterward made excellent recovery. The heart problem recurred in 1991 when he had to return to Scotland for the funeral of his 97 year old mother after he had visited her only a few weeks before. He was hospitalized, then released but ordered to remain in Scotland to await another examination before flying home to Canada. He passed away very suddenly a short time later. A funeral was held in Edinburgh and later a Memorial Service was held in his adopted home town of Beaconsfield, Quebec. A eulogy was given by his son Martin at this service. Martin entitled his eulogy “He lies in the Land of the Grasshoppers”. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and sons Peter (Sherrene), Martin, Simon (Brenda) and four grandchildren, Colin, Katie, Jordan and Andrea.

He was a good friend. We shared many a meeting and discussed many a problem and, after an association lasting more than thirty years, I certainly miss him. His absence is and will be felt by former colleagues all over the world.

Keith Kevan produced more than 650 publications and the list is not yet complete. There are a number of incomplete projects that will have his name as co-author when they are published. There is also the unfinished “Land of the Locusts”, part 4, the text of which is complete but which is not in publishable form at this time.

* … The Lyman Museum still has a few copies of some of these Memoirs. The next couple of verses are from the Memoirs.

The “Little Jong Mountain” poem (below) by Yueh Fei, 1103-1141 A.D., again uses the general word “chong” (grig) to mean a cricket, as indicated by the cold and melancholy mood. The poem seems to have no true title, the one used presumably being that of tonal form or tune only. Translated by D. K. McE, Kevan (1982, original), from the text of HSIUNG CHIA-CHI.
N.B. a ch`yng or ch`in is a long fretted zither-like instrument with 5-7 strings

Little Jong Mountain poem
Little Jong Mountain

Last night the chilly cricket did not cease its song.
It woke me from dreams a thousand miles away. `Twas midnight
And I arose and walked upon the steps alone.
`Twas still, no-one was around. Bright the moon without the screen.

The Living Fossil of Sulphur Mountain
The emblem of the Society
was selected with propriety.
It does not matta
that Grylloblatta
is not enormis.
Our interest lies,
not in its sies,
nor its lack of ubiquity,
but in its antiquity:
it is as old as the hills
upon which it dwills!
Bulletin of the Entomological
Society of Canada 5 (4): 147 (1973).

The Mantispid
One night I spied a mantis-fly
Midst leaves upon a tree.
The mantis-fly to me did cry
“Why spiest thou on me?”
So thus I did to her reply:
“Art thou Mantispidae?”
“I am” she said, “for I have fed
“When young on spider’s eggs,
“But now, instead, for daily bread,
“Gnats catch I with my legs –
“My claws embedded `til they’re dead –
With mantid spine-like pegs.”
So I was right on yester night
She was a mantid-fly –
Mantispid slight, mantispid wight,
That reached toward the sky
And in my sight, her eyes quite bright,
Prayed to the Lord on High!