John Lane obituary

Other lives: Scientist who was an authority on mosquitoes

My friend John Lane, who has died aged 85, was a dedicated racing cyclist, a scientist with a wide knowledge of insects and, in particular, an authority on mosquitoes.

Son of Jack, a joiner, and Alice, John was born in Jersey, and was always proud to be a Jerseyman. As a boy, he was evacuated to Lancashire during the German occupation, then returned to his native island where he found work at the States Experimental Farm. He also began his cycling life with a previously banned local club. Cycling, with its emphasis on freedom and camaraderie, was a growing sport and pastime in the Channel Islands. John cycled every day until the age of 82.

From being an “agricultural technician” among Jersey cattle, John then found work in a lab, examining smaller creatures at the East of Scotland College of Agriculture, Edinburgh. Fine native intelligence rather than higher education made him an expert in entomology, and in 1960 he was offered a position at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

His talents then led him to the US, primarily the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, where he worked on the classification of mosquitoes, particularly in Asia. John took with him a favourite hand-built British bike (a Maclean) and astonished both colleagues and remote farming communities as he rode hundreds of miles from one state to another, and across the border to Canada. “Guard dogs in Alberta could be a problem,” he recalled.

In 1972 he was asked to return to the LSHTM, where he expanded its library and insect collection, and taught practical entomology to postgraduate students. One rare mosquito, first identified by John at the LSHTM, is named after him (he was glad that it is relatively benign) and he co-authored a valuable book, Mosquitoes and Their Control (2003).

John was loved by many, but lived alone after his retirement in 1995. He decided against a return to Jersey and made his home in Halesworth, Suffolk, where he explored the roads of eastern England with fellow cyclists and extended his wonderful knowledge of birds. His eyesight was his main pleasure, he said, so why would he have a television in his house? What about the hours of darkness? I asked. “I can do 20 crosswords a night, listening to music, then wake at dawn.”

He is survived by his sisters, Margaret and Betty, and eight nieces and nephews.


Tim Hilton

The GuardianTramp

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