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The story behind a Bull Ent Res Paper

September 17, 2015 - 10:29 -- Derek Charlwood

Charlwood JD, Wilkes TJ. Studies on the age composition of Anopheles darlingi Root from Brazil. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 1979 67, 337-342.

Working on Anopheles darling with the great Tony Wilkes – perhaps best person that I know, and, apart from Gillies, certainly the best field entomologist that I have known. An enormous influence on yours truly, not just in terms of entomology and how to approach field work but how to approach life.

Gillies and Wilkes are a legend. I still believe that everyone working on malaria, not just entomologists, in Africa should read the sections on Anopheles gambiae and An. funestus in Gilies and DeMeillon (1968) and Gillies and Coetzee (1978). (Indeed could Malaria World not see if they can make these sections from their books available on the website). I would also strongly urge people to read the mark-recapture paper by Gilles (hundreds of thousands of individually painted flies) and the age grading paper by Gillies and Wilkes. They had done all this work before I started my PhD. I never read any of their papers during my time there. Gillies was just Gillies. He used to come out of his office smoking his Sherlock Holmes pipe and announce –‘I think that this week I shall be called ‘The Leader’. Whenever I had an idea or question I would blurt it out and Gillies would stand there and puff at his pipe. He used to take a really long time before replying. He spent so long cogitating that I would inevitably say something else and what had initially perhaps been halfway sensible, was replaced by something completely ridiculous. He didn’t mind though. All the other entomologists of note used to consult him.

When in The Gambia he and Tony used to play farting tennis. Each fart being worth 15 points. They used to run vent axia fans to catch mosquitoes and take turns to change the collection during the night. Tony recalled that one night he was due to wake at 4 am for his turn change them. Just before 4 he was shaken awake by Gillies saying ’30 - love, 40 - love, Game, Set and Match!’, with the appropriate accompaniment. It was Gillies who came out of his office one day and told the story of Old Bull and Young Bull’.

When in The Gambia they worked hard. Gillies also worked hard when at the Mosquito Behaviour Unit in Sussex (MBU - another of Giliies’ jokes - MBU means mosquito in Swahili). Not so Tony.

I was just a green PhD student. (I didn’t even know hash when I smoked it. To me, my neighbors were just nice people who listened to David Bowies ‘All the madmen’ all the time.) Tony would come up to me while I was dutifully sitting at my bench, maybe looking at video’s of copulating mosquitoes (boy did they get up to some things!), and, in his inimitable way, would say ‘Charlwood, my boy, the Hikers Rest has a new beer on. Let’s go and try it!’ Mosquito porn didn’t stand a chance. Off we’d go Tony, Tina and Derek perhaps with a detour en route to have a flutter on a filly in the 2:30 at Goodwood or some other racecourse. ‘Fast women and slow horses’ the bane of my life.’ Quoth Tony. We always used to have Welsh rarebit for lunch and generally ended up being thrown out of the Pub at closing time! It was only because I managed to automate most of my experiments that I managed to finish (of course Tony was away for six months as well!) As it was I was thrown out of the lab and told to go and write up just as I was getting to the point of doing some really interesting experiments! Always the way. When I finished my PhD Tony told me I should ‘go far’ and suggested Brazil!

It was only when I was, indeed, working in Brazil that I read their papers and realized that they were ‘Hot stuff’. In particular he was about the only person to be able to age mosquitoes by looking at their ovaries. I somehow managed to get a grant from the British Council for Tony to come out and teach me the technique whilst at the same time, perhaps obtaining, for the first time information on the age structure of Anopheles darlingi. (He is still the master. I still sense him standing over my shoulder whenever I dissect calmly offering advice on how to do it). So we went to Aripuána, the site of the Dardanelles waterfalls, in the middle of a huge expanse of forest, in the Mato Grosso. It was one of the few places where I thought we might reliably collect them. At that time the only way to get to Aripuána was by single engine propeller planes. There was no GPS in those days. Pilots found Aripuána by following rivers, eventually sighting on the spray from the falls to find the airfield. The week before we went a plane had taken the wrong river and ended up in Bolivia! My Institute (Inpa) was trying to set up a self-sufficient field station there. This was to include the possibility of generating electricity from the waterfall. They were, however, far from self-sufficient. So far they’d managed to become self sufficient in yoghourt. This meant that the Institute had to send food shipments from Manaus. They used, very occasionally, to fly in food for the small staff there on a DC-10 (Dakota) propeller plane. Imagine the excitement of ‘New Food’ every few months. In order to compensate for the high cost of hiring the plane, however, the Institute bought the cheapest food it could find and food that would last for months - dry ships biscuits and salted meat. (Perhaps they were saying ‘Get a move on and become self sufficient, beyond the yoghurt’ – my lifesaver).

Aripuána was also the staging point for gold-miners to fly to the infamous gold mines. A real Zane Grey, Wild West. In our search for food Tony and I saw quite a lot of the place. People would walk around with six guns in their belts. Mind you, I found out, when I visited the mines myself, that showing a gun in the camp meant that you would be killed on sight. Bloodstains on the road. A few people were making fortunes. (The system in the mines, of the sort photographed so graphically by Sebastião Salgado, is that the claim owner and the worker get whatever is in alternate bags). Tony and I would rub our hands together as we walked through town saying ‘let’s go to the mines!’ (Well, town is somewhat of an exaggeration).

Houses in Aripuána were built on stilts. There was bar that had a billiard table with a diagonal rip right down the middle. The floor of the bar was not very stable, it moved when you walked. So the trick in this game was to get the ball into the rip and walk around the table so that the ball rolled into the pocket.
Miners used to say we send half home and the other half we set fire to! As soon as a road came to the settlement, a whorehouse was established close by our collection site. (I think it did a roaring trade, judging by the file of men walking in that direction at sundown. I later put up a window-trap there – I figured sweaty bodies would make a good attractant. The window was quite big and the trap took me a good week to make. It didn’t last a night. Apparently a jealous customer interrupted the lady who had let us install the trap in her room, en travaille and wanted to do a Van Gough on her. Where could she go but through the window? Another experiment bites the dust).

There were loads of Simulium in Aripuána (indeed Larry Lacey and I published on them) and, at least at the edge of the settlement lots of Anopheles darling. We used to do landing catches and inter-current resting collections (I still remember somehow listening to Shakespeare’s Henry V on the radio at about 4 in the morning ‘Once more unto the breach’. On that particular night I remember the ducks, all night long). There were only two 20-minute periods every day when people were not being attacked by blood- thirsty flies. Just after dawn and just before dusk. Twenty minutes of bliss; I sympathized with the man banging his head with a brick (‘It’s so nice when I stop’).

So we’d catch these mosquitoes and Tony taught me how to age grade them according to Polovodovada. We worked hard and obtained some interesting data. Tony would write down the data of the day in a green covered notebook, which he would wave the book around and say ‘My little green book!’

After several weeks, including a trip up km 153 of the Manaus-Caracari (subsequently Manaus-Boa Vista) highway (apparently, still hostile Indians around at that time), we went to Bélem. To another famous laboratory, that of Lainson and Shaw, who worked on sandflies. There is a saying that in Bélem in the dry season it rains every day and in the wet season it rains all day. Tony was able to show them that the technique also applied to Phlebotomines, all the while writing down the data in the ‘little green book’. We were staying at the Museo Goeldi, about half an hour from the airport. Tony had to catch a plane from Belem to Rio and then to the UK. We needed to wake up at six. The night before he left (and the last time I ate Pato no Tucupi at La em Casa) we happened to run into people from the lab. Many cachaças were drunk – they make a good caipirinha in Bélem and it had been, by all accounts, a very successful trip. I think we spent six weeks in Aripuána so we were letting off steam.

We were woken, still more or less sozzled, at nine o’clock in the morning by the rain thundering on the roof of our hut. We got to the airport as the plane was about to taxi to the runway. Because he had a ticket to the UK the ground staff stopped it, had them open the door and put Tony on. It is a flight that stops at São Luis, Recife, Fortaleza, Alagoas and Salvador before arriving in Rio. A real up and downer. The rain was still thundering down as Tony walked across the tarmac to the steps to get on the plane. He later said that he got on the plane completely soaked and the next thing he remembered was waking up as they approached Rio completely dry! After all this time and all this work, Tony though, left his little green book in the taxi that took us to the airport! Imagine!

Fortunately, I was a little bit more responsible then and had left a photocopy in Manaus.

And so the paper was written. In those days I would write out a paper in longhand, edit it, type it up double spaced, edit it, type it up and send it off. These were the days of Letraset and Rotring pens. Figures were drawn once. How many edits do I do these days? Hundreds. How many figures do I edit? All of them. And in the past people used to compliment me on my English – these days journals suggest I have someone who is a Native English speaker look at my papers before resubmission.


Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Brings back great memories from Muheza, where I loved spending time with Tony and his wife, Mama Daudi (she kept a bushbaby in the house, hence the name)...