Archive for November, 2020

Colin Johnson (born 1943) was fascinated by the natural history since his childhood, starting with chasing butterflies at primary school. Many years later, he joined the Entomology Department of the Manchester Museum to which he eventually committed more than 40 years. During this time, he studied the taxonomy of several beetle families (order Coleoptera), and continued to undertake taxonomic research for at least 10 more years after his retirement in 2004.

Photo. Colin Johnson, Keeper of Entomology, Manchester Museum, 1980s. © The Manchester Museum
Photo. Colin Johnson, Keeper of Entomology, Manchester Museum, 1980s. © The Manchester Museum

As a teenager, being inspired by an enthusiastic biology teacher, Colin developed a real interest in the entomology. His teacher introduced him to Flatters & Garnett Ltd. – the entomology dealer and shop at Oxford Road – opposite the University of Manchester, and soon he discovered the entomological laboratory owned by the same company in Fallowfield. He joined the Manchester Entomological Society in the 1950s where he met such famous fellow entomologists as Dr W. D. Hincks (Keeper of Entomology at the Manchester Museum in 1947–1961), Alan Brindle (Dr Hincks’ assistant), George Kloet and Ted Fielding. They encouraged youngsters, such us Colin, to develop a passion for insects, especially for identifying and collecting, and to become an active part of this and other entomological societies. In the late 50s or early 60s, Colin joined the North Western Naturalists’ Union, the Oldham Natural History Society, the Lancashire and Cheshire Fauna Society and the Raven Entomological and Natural History Society, many of which still active now. Colin Johnson wrote an account of his life for a special publication celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Raven Society in 1996 (Johnson, 1996).

At the age of 18, Colin started to work as Alan Brindle’s assistant in the Entomology Department at the Manchester Museum, where he remained for the following 42 years. Starting as a Junior Technician in October 1961, he became Assistant Keeper of Entomology in 1972, and Keeper of Entomology in 1982 until his retirement in July 2003. Throughout his career, he was dedicated to the taxonomy of neglected and difficult groups of tiny beetles, especially of the silken fungus beetles (Cryptophagidae), fungus beetles (Latriididae) and featherwing beetles (Ptiliidae). He completed an MSc at the University of Manchester in 1978 devoted to Ptiliidae of the Seychelles and Mascarene Islands. In collaboration with many colleagues and friends across the globe, he was able to add a great number of beetle specimens to the Manchester Museum’s entomology collection through the exchanges between institutions and fellow coleopterists, and through his own fieldwork. Before his research and fieldwork, many of British/foreign beetle groups were poorly represented or absent from the Museum’s collection. From 1967 to 2012, Johnson had described an astonishing 405 new taxa to science, including new genera, species and subspecies.

Colin Johnson recorded and identified many beetles and added many new species to the British list, and even more to the northwest region (Lancashire and Cheshire), specifically of the families of rove beetles (Staphylinidae), pill beetles (Byrrhidae) and various Clavicornia – beetles with club-shaped antennae. The first new beetle species added by Colin to the British list was Rhizapagus parvulus Paykull, 1800 (the currently accepted name R. fenestralis Linnaeus, 1758), collected from Glen Affric, Scotland (Figure 1), and the account of its discovery was published in the Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine in 1962 (Johnson, 1962).

Figure 1. Rhizophagus parvulus Paykull, 1800, collected from Glen Affric, 1964; it is the first addition to the British beetle list by Colin Johnson. Scale bar: 1mm. © The Manchester Museum

In 1967, Johnson published 17 papers, including the description of the first new species, a scarce beetle Atomaria strandi Johnson, 1967 from Britain and Norway (Figure 2). This minute beetle of the silken fungus beetles is 1.6-2.0 mm in length, named after Johnson’s good friend Dr Andreas Strand from Oslo, who contributed greatly to the knowledge of Coleoptera in northern Europe. For the account of this species, Johnson examined 36 specimens, the majority of which were collected from Britain and six specimens were lent by Dr Strand.

Figure 2. The holotype and voucher specimens of Atomaria strandi Johnson, 1967 in the entomological collection of Manchester Museum. The holotype was collected at Nethy Bridge in 1923 by P. Harwood. © The Manchester Museum

At the end of 1967, he described the first new African genus of featherwing beetles that accounted for three species, of which two were new to science: viz., Africoptolium marginatum (Figure 3), A. concinnum and A. mimicum. For this description, Johnson had examined specimens from central and eastern Africa, especially the material borrowed from the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale, Tervuren; British Museum (NHM), and specimens donated to Manchester Museum by Prof. H. Franz.

Figure 3. Female paratype of Africoptolium marginatum Johnson, 1967; Congo Museum Collection, Terr. Lubero, Kivu, 1954, collected by R. P. M. J. Célis. Manchester Museum Entomology Collection. Scale bar: 1mm. © The Manchester Museum

The publication of ‘The Provisional Atlas of the Cryptophagidae – Atomariinae (Coleoptera) of Britain and Ireland’, in 1993 by the Biological Records Centre (Natural Environment Research Council – NERC) (Figure 4), marked an important step in Colin’s career. The publication was the result of extensive, lifelong taxonomic studies based on specimens from many British and Irish museums, from private collections and own active fieldwork.

Figure 4. Atlas of the Cryptophagidae – Atomariinae (Coleoptera) by Colin Johnson (left). Records and species account for Atomaria strandi Johnson 1967 (middle). Online version of A. strandi at National Biodiversity Network (right).

A complete type catalogue of the species described by Colin Johnson that are deposited in the Manchester Museum is currently in progress. However, it has been delayed due to the Covid-related restrictions. As part of this project, details of Colin’s personal life and contributions to the Manchester Museum’s entomology collection and to the state of knowledge of British and global Coleoptera is currently being compiled with the support of his family, museum archives and published papers.


Johnson, C. 1962. Rhizophagus parvulus Payk. (Col. Rhizophagidae): An Addition to the British List.  Entomologist’s mon. Mag. (1962) 98: 231.

Johnson, C. 1967. Additions and Corrections to the British List of Atomaria s.str. (Col., Cryptophagidae), Including a Species New to Science. Entomologist 100: 39-47.

Johnson, C. 1967. Studies on Ethiopian Ptiliidae. 1, Africoptilium gen. n. from Central Africa. Entomologist 100: 288-292.

Johnson, C. 1993. The Provisional Atlas of the Cryptophagidae – Atomariinae (Coleoptera) of Britain and Ireland. Biological Records Centre (Natural Environment Research Council – NERC).

Johnson, C. 1996. Colin Johnson [recollection]. In: Underwood, R. (editor). The Raven Entomological and Natural History Society, Fifty years, 1946 to 1996. Pp. 165-167.

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