Distinquished entomologist honoured for life’s work

Ken Davey, distinguished research professor emeritus of biology in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering,  Officer of the Order of Canada, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and recipient of the Gold Medal of the Entomological Society of Canada, Fry Medal of the Canadian Society of Zoologists, and the Gold Medal of the Biological Council of Canada, is the recipient of yet another prestigious honour – one that harkens back to his early days as a graduate student. The Royal Entomological Society has selected Davey to receive The Wigglesworth Award for Outstanding Services to the Science of Entomology for 2004. As part of the honour, Davey will deliver the Wigglesworth Memorial Lecture at the XXII International Congress of Entomology in Brisbane, Australia. The conference will take place from Aug. 15 to 21.

Right: Ken Davey

The author of over 230 scientific papes and a book on the reproduction of insects, Davey’s research explores the control of development and physiology in various invertebrates, principally insects and nematodes.  His work focuses primarily on the mode of action of hormones governing egg development in insects. Davey’s lab drew attention to the fact that juvenile hormones functioned via membrane receptors as well as through interacting with the genome.


The award given to Davey was named in honour of Professor Vincent Wigglesworth, one of Britain’s premier entomologists and researchers. Wiggleworth’s research laboratory was located at Cambridge University in the UK. He is best known for his work on the South American blood sucking bug, Rhodnius prolixus, left, (now known affectionately in scientific circles as Wigglesworth’s Bug). He recognized that animal physiology and function could be studied through insects instead of mice and other laboratory animals, progressing the field of entomology beyond simple collection and classification of insects. His main findings were in the science of insect hormones, their secretory organs and cells, and how these controlled growth, moulting and reproduction. His research was documented in the book Principles of Insect Physiology (1972), which became the standard text for students and scientists worldwide and firmly established the science of insect physiology on the world stage.

Davey completed his BSc in zoology and and MSc in insect physiology at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. He then travelled to England to study at Cambridge with Wigglesworth for a PhD in the reproductive physiology of the “Wigglesworth Bug”.

Left: Nematode

Over the next few decades, Davey travelled between the UK and Canada, working at a variety of universities, researching the control of visceral muscles (and consequently describing the first peptide hormone in insects), the endocrine control of insect reproduction (including work on the tsetse fly), and the control of development in various parasitic worms including the nematode.

In June 1974, Davey moved his research to York University. Over the course of his career, he served on various review panels, committees and editorial boards including the International Journal of Invertebrate Reproduction and the Canadian Journal of Zoology. He is the past-president of the Biological Council of Canada, the Royal Canadian Institute, the National Council on Ethics in Human Research and the World Council of L’Institut de la Vie. In 1997, he was inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his scientific achievements and his public service on behalf of science. He retired from full-time teaching in 2000, and in 2002, he was awarded an honorary DSc by the University of Western Ontario. His work with graduate students and young scientists in his laboratories has influenced a new generation of entomologists. (See the April 16 issue of YFile.) Recently, Davey was accorded an additional honour when he was informed that the Royal  Entomological Society had made him an Honorary Fellow.

More about Vincent Wigglesworth (1899-1994)

The pioneering research undertaken by Wigglesworth began when he was in his 20s. He continued his work for 70 years and conducted research in his Cambridge laboratory long after official retirement. Wigglesworth was able to adapt to the changing world around him and always used the latest instruments and methods in his laboratory, ensuring his research was regularly published.

Left: Vincent Wigglesworth

Wigglesworth published eight books, two educational readers and over 300 papers. The Wigglesworth Memorial Lecture and Medal, named in his honour, is awarded every four years to a researcher, who, in the judgement of the trustees, has done outstanding work and who best reflects Wigglesworth’s standards of personal involvement in every aspect of research. Wigglesworth was the first recipient of the award which is in the form of a medal.