S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Poulton, Prof Edward Bagnall (entomology)

Born: 27 January 1856, Reading, England.
Died: 1943, England.

Edward B. Poulton, British entomologist, studied zoology at Jesus College, Oxford, from 1873 to 1876 and obtained a first class pass in natural science. He remained at the college as a demonstrator in comparative anatomy while also studying geology from 1878. His first scientific publication reported his research on tertiary remains from a cave in Yorkshire. From 1880 he was a lecturer in zoology at Oxford. His research on the morphology of the tongue in marsupials led to his discovery of the rudiments of teeth in the embryos of the duck-billed platypus Ornithorhyncus. In 1889 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and in due course was also elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society, the Geological Society, and the Zoological Society of London. In 1893 he was appointed professor of zoology at the University of Oxford and remained there until his retirement in 1933.

From 1884 Poulton started contributing to entomology, which he made his life's work. He was the foremost exponent of the colours, markings, and protective behaviour of caterpillars and wrote The colours of animals (1890) and The external morphology of the lepidopterous pupa... (Linnean Society, 2 vols, 1890-1891). He was a strong supporter of Darwinian evolution through small variations and stressed the importance of observation and field experiments in zoology. His publications on evolution included Charles Darwin and the theory of natural selection (1896), Development and evolution... (1902), Essays on evolution, 1889-1908 (1908), Creation by evolution...(1928), and numerous papers on these and other topics.

Poulton became a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1886, served on its council from 1895 to 1901 and again from 1905, as president of Section D (Zoology) in 1896, and as president of the Association in 1937. He visited South Africa in 1905 to attend the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science, held in South Africa in August-September that year. His paper on "Mimicry in South African insects" was read in Johannesburg on 30 August, but for some reason was not included in the Adresses and papers... published after the meeting. In Cape Town he delivered an evening lecture on "W.J. Burchell's discoveries in South Africa". This lecture, expanded into a detailed account of Burchell's South African travels and scientific work, was published in the Addresses and papers... (Vol. 3, pp. 57-110) under the title "William John Burchell". A reprint was published separately in London in 1907.

Poulton served as president of the Entomological Society of London three times, was vice-president of the Royal Society of London in 1909-1910, and received its Darwin Medal in 1914. He was president of the Linnean Society during 1912-1916 and was awarded the Linnean medal in 1922. Several universities bestowed honorary degrees upon him and he was knighted in 1935.

List of sources:
Addresses and papers read at the joint meeting of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science held in South Africa, 1905 (Vol. 3). Johannesburg: SAAAS. British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... South Africa, 1905. London: John Murray, 1906.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

Compiled by: C. Plug