Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DST and Entomology

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you all are enjoying the recent flowering of Spring and the emergence of all the wonderful insects breaking out of diapause. Stoneflies in particular are plentiful around where I am and I’m planning on catching a few when I have some free time.

Now, I know that I said that I would write about my recent trip to the North Central Branch meeting for the Entomological Society of America, but that article is still in the works, so I’ll probably have it ready for the next post. In the meantime, I have something else to talk about.

Now, how many of you woke up disoriented two Sunday’s ago, realizing that time seemed to slip you by? If you did, well then congratulations! Daylight savings time snuck up on you once again!

Daylight savings time (DST) is practiced on and off across the globe and its existence is often subject to contentious political debate. The general principle of DST is to provide more daylight hours in the afternoon during the summer and more daylight hours in the morning during the winter. For retailers and other industries that depend on the day-lit hours for their businesses, this is a blessing. But for farmers, early-birds like me, and evening entertainment industries, it robs us of our early starts. This has led to many attempts to both install and repeal DST, with supporters on both sides of the debate arguing strongly.

Now, DST has an interesting history, with a connection to entomology, no less. The ancient Romans used a variable-hour clock during the time of the empire, so summer day-lit hours were longer than summer night hours. Widespread adoption of DST occurred during World War I, to help promote energy conservation, with Germany being the first to adopt it. However, the start of the modern DST movement began with a New Zealander named George Vernon Hudson.

Hudson had humble origins (ahh, alliteration): He was the son of a stained-glass artist in Victorian England and ultimately spent most of his life working for the postal service in New Zealand. But at an early age, Hudson was an avid amateur entomologist, writing his first published paper in The Entomologist at age 14.

After moving to New Zealand, he kept active as and wrote a total of thirty-six papers over his life-time. Not bad for a non-professional with a day job. His papers really show how in-touch with the greater entomological community he was. In his “On the Senses of Insects (Hudson, 1901), he talks about prominent entomologists of his day and their endeavors to understand insect sensory behavior. It is really interesting to listen to him discuss the function of the butterfly antennae. Hudson’s personal observations demonstrated that they have no auditory function, which one might infer from their location. So, he instead duplicated experiments done by John Lubbock, Lord Avebury, and concluded that it was involved with the sense of smell, yet one different than we are used to. Today we understand this sense to be an insect’s response to complex pheromone signals, which serves as one of the primary means of communication in the insect world.

So how does George Vernon Hudson fit in with Daylights savings time? Well, as I had mentioned earlier, Hudson was not a professional entomologist and so he pursued his passion after-hours in his free time. Much to his annoyance, though, he found that the majority of daylight was wasted early in the day during the summer months, leaving him with less light after work, comparatively. To give himself more time, he submitted a proposal to shift 2 hours forward in the summer (to even out the day) to the New Zealand parliament in 1895. This makes it one of the earliest, if not the earliest, attempts to institute Daylight savings time in the modern world. Understandably, it was not widely regarded, but following World War I and the implementation of DST in many of the warring nations, the idea gain general acceptance in New Zealand. In the end, DST was adopted in 1927.

Whether you love or hate Daylight Savings Time, you cannot deny that it has a significant effect on our lives, at least twice a year. So when you are next debating with your friends or loved ones the relevance of its existence in our daily lives, remember that it all started because a man wanted more time to catch butterflies.

To learn more about George Vernon Hudson and to read his published papers, please visit The National Library of New Zealand website at:

Credit goes to them for the above entry.


Hudson, George V. 1901. On the senses of insects. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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