Thomas G. Sloane is probably my favorite dead Australian. Well it’s a tough call between him and Bon Scott, but TGS was an entomologist extraordinaire, so the call goes with him. Thomas Sloane described about 600 species of carabids. No small feat. Especially at a time when communication and access to new publications was at the speed of a sailing ship.
Not only did I get to visit Bon Scott’s memorial statue in Fremantle, WA (he is a smaller man than I expected),
I also spent time looking at some of Sloane’s surviving notebooks stashed at ANIC and was both pleased and somewhat disturbed that my own work on these groups looks a lot like this.
Sloane, by my estimation was the first Australian carabidologist to be largely, if not fully, Darwinian in his thinking. In his early work he seemed compelled to fit Australian taxa in European categories. It was quite evident that this chafed him. In particular he launch an unfettered attack on Tschitscherine’s work on the Australian “Feronides”, calling it “crude” and “almost worthless”. Emboldened by his continuing study of the Australian fauna he soon abandoned any pretense to following European classificatory precedents and in his 1902 “Revision of the Genus Notonomus” he exercised his independent thinking on natural groups that he had been developing, “I offer a tabulation of the species known to me in which an attempt is made to arrange the species in a fairly natural order, or at least what seems to me a natural order. But, seeing that the species of a large genus in their relationships towards one another resemble the branches of a tree springing from one trunk, rather than a continuous chain, it is impossible to place them in a linear series by aid of a dichotomous table without species being separated sometimes from nearly allied congeners.”
This genus never proved to be easy. In 1913 Sloane’s third and final major paper on the genus (some small bits with new species came after this) he tells us that the previous (1902) arrangement was “along artificial lines” and that “the extremely intricate manner in which the characters, on which the groups are founded, are diffused generally throughout the genus, owing, no doubt, to their being derived from numerous ancient stems, probably along many lines of decent, so that the relationships of the present-day species presents a bewildering labyrinth for the taxonomist to puzzle over.”
Being the foolhardy taxonomist I am, I haven’t heeded the warning and now enter the labyrinth to do research on this group (I do watch out for the Minotaurs). Leiradira is in this clade, e.g. my earlier post on them is here.
Like TGS, I still make lots of these little tables (which often end up incomplete, like this one). It is quite interesting to see TGS’s developing thoughts in his notes and papers and this gives me the advantage to see what he missed.
I also visited some of Sloane’s collecting sites and type localities for species he described. For example Urana, type locality for a species Pediomorphus and other carabids, was a great stop (if a bit weedy and sheep-trodden).
It’s good to have big shoulders to stand on and Sloane’s are remarkably large. It makes for a great starting point for research, with my hope to develop a better understanding Australia’s, and the World’s carabid beetles.