If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies. ~Author unknown.
It is just 6 year since Margaret Rae McKay passed away, and her life has been memorialized in an autobiographical account, “The Life of a Female Drifter. An Entomologist Remembers.” Margaret Rae McKay (October 18, 1914 Vonda Saskatchewan – October 24, 2011 Ottawa, ON) was the very first women to graduate with her Master’s degree in entomology from the University of Saskatchewan (attending between 1931-1938). During this time, female scientists, were indeed, the exception to the rule, and it was very uncommon to see a female scientist, and almost unheard of for a female to become an entomologist. This trend continued on even into the 1970s, though has somewhat changed by the writing of the Entomological Society report of 2005.
McKay was hired initially after graduation as a talented artist at the British Museum of Natural History as a scientific illustrator, or morphological artist. For many true artists, the world is their pedestal, for McKay it was the world of insects, and embraced her attention to detail. In 1940, leaving her job in London, McKay traveled back to Canada, receiving employment with the Department of Agriculture working with the head of forest entomology in Ottawa. Over the summer, McKay’s work as illustrator allowed her to study live insects. Encouraged during this time by her peers to write a paper or two for scientific journals to utilize her training in etymology from the University of Saskatchewan, which she did successfully. From here, McKay worked a short time in the prairies before being called by the Civil service to the Vernon laboratory in British Columbia before returning to Ottawa, where she remained until 1946.
After her mother had a stroke in 1945 she came to Ottawa to live with Margaret. They both headed west the following year, spending the summer on the farm near Saskatoon before heading out to Vancouver, British Columbia. It was there, that McKay was welcomed back to the Vernon laboratory. About six forest rangers worked in the Vernon laboratory, who conducted forest surveys investigating any damage or insect infestation, recorded sites and collected live insects and the host plants they were found upon. The Victoria forest rangers making similar collections on Vancouver Island also submitted their findings to the Vernon laboratory. From the reports of the various sites, and information furnished to the laboratory, McKay described and documented the various life cycles to enable identification and life history of the insects. The Vernon laboratory sought to control any insect infestations by natural parasites, enemies and disease rather than the use of pesticides. During this era, there was a need of a reference collection. McKay established a well-organised and labelled system to rely upon, making a proficient sorting and classification system.
In 1944, McKay was invited to work with Dr. Carl Atwood (the father of Margaret Atwood), in Sault Ste. Marie. McKay spent a month there assisting on the insect survey. Here she saw North Bay during an infestation of May Flies, and a flight over Sault St. Marie revealed the spruce budworm damage.
From here, McKay returned to work in Ottawa, after receiving many offers at Lethbridge laboratory studying fruit insects, and other Forest Entomology laboratories across Canada ~ Winnipeg , Calgary or Sault Ste. Marie. McKay chose to work in Ottawa working under J.J. de Gryse, Chief Forest Insect Investigations, Department of Agriculture. “The problem of insect control in Canada is as really vast as the forest itself…The only rational approach to the solution of forest insect problems is through forest management…The great variety of physical conditions obtaining in a large country like Canada, the enormous number of insect species, and the complicated maze of relationships between insects and their habitat, and between insects and insects, constitute an inexhaustable source of problems requiring thorough investigation..see the forest as an organism and gauge the different factors involved which contribute to its health or decay.”de Gryse. 1943.
Canadian entomologists study insects within forest eco-systems alongside silviculturists. Both professions are working to maintain insect and disease populations within the forests at endemic levels and monitor conditions such that they do not reach levels that will create circumstances that will prevent long term forest sustainability.
McKay also wrote scientific papers who had them reviewed by Hazen Wagmore with degrees in both English and entomology. It was thus that McKay learned the language to become a successful writer in her field. Subsequently, McKay, herself became scientific editor analyzing the content of works submitted to The Canadian Entomologist.
During this era of her work in Ottawa, her attention and field of speciality turned to the immature forms of Lepidoptera. She remained in that field of study for 22 years, working with entomologist contemporaries such as G.J. Spencer, a professor in the UBC Zoology Department, who wrote one of the first definitive works in entomology and the identification of species in The Canadian Entomologist Volume 96, Numbers 1-2, January February 1964.
“Nor can one ignore morphological studies of those stages to distinguish species and determine relationships. There is a close relationship between the morphology (form) of a moth larva and the fine distinctions in its behaviour and environment. The position or shape of the head often appears to be associated directly, or indirectly with its behaviour” whether boring in the roots of the host plant, mining its leaves, living in a nest of webbing and frass (droppings) or in another habitat. The teeth of the mandible seem to be modified for feeding on conifers or deciduous hosts, or mining in leaves. The spinneret is modified for the type and amount of silk required for its owner’s mode of living. …This kind of information, basic research is required [without which a] project destined to fail from the beginning because two or more species were being treated as one, as a result of faulty identification….[McKay worked ] to distinguish each species, genus and the higher categories, so that I could classify each larval specimen and produce systematic keys that would, I hoped, enable others to do the same.”Margaret Rae McKay McKay was diligent in her work, and not at all nervous classifying insects. Both McKay, entomologist, and Richard St. Barbe Baker, silviculturist, were champions for the forest, protecting them. “Forest entomology and forest pathology are usually classified under the general heading of ‘Forest protection‘…gathering data and information on the occurrence of insects and diseases and that protection from insect outbreaks reduces fire hazard.” de Gryse. 1943.
As a member of the Lepidopterist Society in 1954, McKay’s interest was recorded as “LEPID larvae”, showing that she was interested in all lepidoptera larva, including Rhopalocera (butterflies), Macroheterocera and Microlepidoptera (moths). The Lepidoptera larva was the sphere to which she occupied herself with, and provided fascination. The translation, identification, and acquaintance with this sphere of nature and awakened in McKay some genius to convey this quality to other men. For botanists, for etymologists, nature will be reported. Scientists are engaged through time in writing the history of all things. On the planet, the moth goes attended by its cocoon, the butterfly the chrysalis. And it is thus, that the lepidoptera leave their memoranda and signature which speak out to the intelligent. In nature, this self-reporting is incessant, whether it is the channel in the soil left behind by the river, or the fern and leaf writing their epitaph in the coal. The records of the entomologists are alive, as that which they record are alive. It is thus, that the world has a new image, composed of pictures, eminent experiences, and journal writings. The facts of the forest insects, of the various butterfly and moths, do not lie inert, some will subside, but others will shine out. Whatever insect an entomologist beholds or experiences becomes a model for a picture. And nature further inspires, until at last, the entomologist can fully articulate the significance, the endowments, along with the frame of the ecosystem in the casting of the insect in its lot. With great attention to detail, classification and organisation the scholar in this field stands well among their contemporaries.
As a civil servant, McKay traveled North America, publishing numerous scientific papers. Between 1959-1961 McKay left the office and worked in the field collecting and observing insects at the Chisos Mountains in the Rio Grande Big Bend site of Texas, the One Sided Lake near Fort Francis and Kenora, Ontario, and another to Boulder Colorado across the mountains to Leadville, Buena Vista. McKay became a specialist in moths, and received acclaim for her research. As a pioneering female, McKay contributed to the Memoirs of the Entomological Society of Canada. Honoured by the Canadian Museum of National History along with eighteen other women scientists, and invited to a reception at the University of Western Ontario, London, On. Upon her retirement in 1972, McKay was asked by the British Museum of Natural History and from California, if she would consider going to work there.
McKay had suffered from a heart attack in 1966 and a third attack in 1977, which required open heart surgery. Following her retirement she took up world travel, and fine art painting. McKay passed away peacefully at home in Ottawa at the age of 97, and her ashes are buried alongside the family in Saskatoon. The Margaret McKay Scholarship is awarded by for a female entomologist in a graduate program at the University of Saskatchewan.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. “We want to construct a different world of work for women. As they grow up, girls must be exposed to a broad range of careers, and encouraged to make choices that lead beyond the traditional service and care options to jobs in industry, art, public service, modern agriculture and science…” – UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.* Being a woman in a male dominated field had its drawbacks for McKay. A senior scientist asked to give an opinion on the stability of McKay, had evaluated her on the job performance as a “c” due to the fact that she was unmarried. When employed in field laboratories was passed over on aerial surveys to inspect insect damage because she was a girl. However, after years of service, upon retirement, McKay was one of the highest paid woman in the Civil Services department, with very few of the male staff earning the wage that McKay had earned. This was a fortunate anomaly for McKay, as even in today’s “more enlightened” times “Canadian women earn $0.82 to every $1.00 earned by men…[which] sets the gap in Canada at 18 per cent- much higher than in other countries, specifically in Europe.”Zamon On reflection, it seems as if the field of entomology holds promise for women scientists, on reviewing the life history of Margaret Rae McKay. Even today, there are “over 782 species of Lepidoptera in 6 families have aquatic stages. Unfortunately most have not been well studied. In Saskatchewan very little information is available on the aquatic species.”D Parker.
March is also National Women’s History Month
“The caterpillar does all the work, but the butterfly gets all the publicity.”
― George Carlin
“It is with a spirit of reverence that I approach God’s creation – this beautiful Earth. We may climb mountains or wander through field and forest, intoxicated by loveliness through the changing hours and seasons recorded by the length of shadows cast by the trees – and as we watch the pink, opalescent fingers of the dawn reaching up from beneath the dark horizon, so we wait for the sunrise of our awakening to the realisation of our kinship with the earth and all living things.”~Richard St. Barbe Baker, The Man of the Trees, Silviculturist, author and humanitarian
PUBLICATIONS by Margaret McKay [not complete list]:
Four monographs (book length) on the description of the larvae of families of moths, along with the detailed keys showing step by step routes to their identification, such as the larval study of Aegeriidae (clear-winged moths). Such monographs served to re-classify moth species by the larva to their respective genera. Up to this time botanist keys had been correlated for identification of adult lepidoptera, yet it was the larvae who affect the plants, flora and forest directly. To facilitate her research, McKay used an electron microscope to study the tiniest moth larvae species, who may bore in the needles of conifers, or mine leaves.
Problems in Naming the Setae of Lepidopterous Larvae Canadian Entomologist 95(9):996-999 · September 1963
“Almost everywhere in the world man has been disregarding the Divine Law and the Laws of Nature, to his own undoing. In his pride, he has rampaged over the stage of the earth, forgetting that he is only one of the players put there to play his part in harmony and oneness with all living things.”~Richard St. Barbe Baker
De Gryse, J.J. Cooperation in Forest Insect Studies relating to Conservation Journal of Forestry, Volume 36, Number 10, 1 October 1938, pp. 983-986(4)
de Gryse, J.J. Report on the Sub-Committee on Forst Entomology of the Canadian Society of Forest Engineers. The Forestry Chronicle, 1936, 12(2): 237-239, 10.5558/tfc12237-2
de Gryse, J.J. Forest Entomology in post-war rehabiliation The Forestry Chronicle. , 1943, 19(1): 44-50, 10.5558/tfc19044-1
Hanley, Debbie. Women entomologists 19 and early 20th centuries.
Lepidopterist’s Society [McKay, Margaret, (Miss). Div. of Entomology. Science Service Bldg. Ottawa. LEPID. larvae] List of Members. December 1954
Lepidoterists’ Society. 1952-6(6-8)125 List of Members. December 1952
Lepidopterists’ Society. List of Members. [McKay, Margaret, (Miss). Div. of Entomology. Science Service Bldg. Ottawa. LEPID. larvae] December. 1953.
Margaret Mckay Obituary. Legacy.com Ottawa Citizen.
Margaret Rae McKay. Necrologie.Genealogie Quebec.com 2017 The Citizen, Ottawa, ON
McKay, Margaret Rae. The Life of a Female Drifter. An Entomologist Remembers. General Store Publishing House. ISBN 1-894263-71-5. 2002. Burnstown, Ontario, Canada.
Parker, D. Saskatchewan Aquatic Neruoptera, Megaloptera, Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera. Aquatex.
Pohl, Gregory R. Pohl, B. Christian Schmidt, J. Donald Lafontaine and Jean-François Landry,Gary G. Anweiler, Charles D. Bird.
Chapter 5 Moths and Butterflies of the Prairies Ecozone in Canada [ includes Lepidoptera of conservation concern in the Prairies Ecozone ] Natural Resources Canada. Government of Canada.
Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Saskatchewan Volume 52. 2004. Editor Brian Galka.
Spencer Entolomological Collection. Beaty Biodiversity Museum.
Zamon, Rebecca. The Gender pay Gap in Canada is Twice the Global Average. The Huffington Post. May 6, 2015
“The spiraling flights of moths appear haphazard only because of the mechanisms of olfactory tracking are so different from our own. Using binocular vision, we judge the location of an object by comparing the images from two eyes and tracking directly toward the stimulus. But for species relying on the sense of smell, the organism compares points in space, moves in the direction of the greater concentration, then compares two more points successively, moving in zigzags toward the source. Using olfactory navigation the moth detects currents of scent in the air and, by small increments, discovers how to move upstream.”― Barbara Kingsolver
For more information:
Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area is located in Saskatoon, SK, CA north of Cedar Villa Road, within city limits, in the furthest south west area of the city.
Wikimapia Map: type in Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area
Google Maps South West Off Leash area location pin at parking lot
Web page: https://stbarbebaker.wordpress.com
If you wish to support the afforestation area with your donation, write a cheque please to the “Meewasin Valley Authority Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area trust fund” (MVA RSBBAA trust fund) and mail it to Richard St. Barbe Baker Afforestation Area c/o Meewasin Valley Authority, 402 Third Ave S, Saskatoon SK S7K 3G5. Thank you kindly!
Twitter: St Barbe Baker
“Millions of acres of rich farm lands are now deserts as the direct result of wholesale destruction of trees and forests…Of the earth’s 30 billion trees, already nine million acres [are replaced by] desert …We submit that if the earth loses a third of its tree cover it will assuredly die. The water table will sink beyond recall, and life on this planet will become impossible. It is a deplorable fact that during the past fifty years we have been skinning the earth alive.~Richard St. Barbe Baker.”