Dr. Charles Howard Curran


Charles Howard Curran, known to his peers as Howard, was born in Orillia, Ontario in 1894, and served in WWI as a machine gunner with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces from 1916 until he was wounded in 1918. He received his Bachelor's degree in 1922 from Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph), an M.Sc. from the University of Kansas in 1923, and his D.Sc. from the University of Montreal in 1933. He was an entomologist with the Dominion Entomology Branch in Ottawa (now the Canadian National Collection of Insects [CNC], Agriculture Canada). It was during this time that he also began his series of taxonomic works on the Diptera collected during the famed Lang-Chapin Congo expeditions of the AMNH. He joined the curatorial staff of the AMNH in 1928 and worked until his retirement in 1960, during which time he was one of the most prolific Diptera taxonomists, having described 2,648 species (embed: pgs. 21-319 in Arnaud, 1981). Though Curran authored 406 publications, his taxonomic work was written almost entirely in the 26 years between 1921 and 1947 – some 100 species described per year. Thereafter, and until the 1960's, he published numerous popular articles for Natural History magazine and did contract work in applied entomology. The pinnacle of his career was 1934, when he published 17 taxonomic papers, including the monograph, The Diptera of Kartabo, Bartica District, British Guiana (Bulletin of the AMNH vol. 66, 245 pp., in which he described 147 species), and his influential volume The Families and Genera of North American Diptera (Ballou Press, New York: 512 pp). This volume was the main reference for North American Diptera until it was superseded by the masterful 1332-page Manual of Nearctic Diptera, which was compiled by the CNC dipterists, beginning with volume 1 in 1981. They dedicated the Manual to Curran.

Curran's main taxonomic interests were in brachyceran flies, particularly the flower flies (Syrphidae, in which he described 723 species), calyptrates (887 species, 650 in Tachinidae alone), robber flies (Asilidae: 191 species), and long-legged flies (Dolichopodidae: 166 species). In fact, he described species in 62 families. His approach was primarily faunal, the major regions of coverage being North America (530 species described), South America (besides Guyana, primarily also Brazil [213 species] and Panama [156 species]), and Africa (especially Zaire [221 species], South Africa and Zimbabwe [235 species]). Interestingly, Curran traveled very little, and his field work was limited to northeastern North America and the Canal Zone, Panama. Typical of his day, species were separated on the basis of external features like chaetotaxy and wing venation; male genitalia were not examined, nor specimens even dissected. He also didn't examine type specimens in other museums, but rather relied on published descriptions (which in those days inadequately distinguished among species), so a significant proportion of his species are synonyms. Nonetheless, Howard Curran had an excellent understanding of the genera and major groups of flies, and his impact in entomology is further reflected by the 6 genera and 71 species of insects named in his honor. He died in 1972 in Leesburg, Florida.