Back to Biodiversity Explorer main pageGo to Iziko Museums of Cape Town home pageAbout Biodiversity Explorer - history, goals, etc.Send us your questions about southern African biodiversityPeople who have contributed content and images.Search Biodiversity Explorer

Biodiversity Explorers >

Whitehead, Vincent Booth (1921-2005)

Entomologist, specialising in bees and ladybird beetles, who works at the South African Museum, Cape Town. Worked for the Fruit and Fruit Technology Institute in Stellenbosch from 1952-1974.

Vin Whitehead in S.A. Museum grounds, Table Mountain in background, 1999

(cartoon by Margie Cochrane)

See photo gallery


Year Age Events
2 September 1921 0 Born in East London, South Africa, to father Claude Vincent and mother Eileen Lange Fair (nee Pascoe). Grew up in the Queenstown district on the farm Milton, 17 miles south of the town on the Katberg road.
19-1939 -18 Went to school at Queen's College in Queenstown.
2 September 1940 19 Joined the South African Artillery and was posted to the East London coastal battery, first to the 6 inch coastal guns and then to the Battery Observation Post as a range finder.
May 1941 19 Went north with the 2nd Anti-Aircraft regiment and landed at Berbera, British Somaliland to join the Abyssinia compaign. On completion of this the regiment moved to Eritrea where we embarked from Masawa to join the Allied forces and the Eighth army in the Western desert.
June 1942 20 Rommel's forces pushed the Allies back to El Alamein leaving a large part of the South African forces stranded at Tobruk, including the 2nd AntiAircraft Regiment. Rommel's forces easily penetrated rather inadequate perimeter defences and Vincent Whitehead with 30000 other South Africans was captured and moved to Benghazi and then by ship to Naples and a camp at Bari in Italy. Here they worked on various wine farms and later on a landing strip at San Pancratsio, a small village within sight of Brindizi, on the heel of Italy. Again they were moved, north to Laterina near Florence and remained there until the Italian forces collapsed. German forces then took over and they were crammed into closed cattle trucks to the extent that not everyone could lie down at the same time. After three days, having passed through the Brenner Pass into Germany the trucks were opened. After several holding camps we were moved east into Upper Silesia to work with the Poles in the coal mines at Sosnowiec.
January 1945 23 The advancing forces of Russia forced the Germans to move the prisoners of war westwards, this time on foot until they reached the edge of the Black Forest at Landshut in Bavaria.
May 1945 23 Released by the Americans under Paton.
July 1945 23 Arrived back in Cape Town in by ship, having spent some time in Brussels and Brighton.
dd mm yyyy xx Awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field and invited to an investiture at Pretoria.
yyyy  yyyy -xx Farmed with his father at the farm near Queenstown and attended courses in Sheep and Wool at Grootfontein Agricultural College and in Dairying at Glen Agricultural College but in 1948 drought conditions dictated that he should attempt to increase my earning power by getting into some other field. His brother Graeme who had completed a B. Sc. and M. Rhodes University suggested Vincent do the same.
yyyy  1951 -30 Did B.Sc. at Rhodes University, majoring in ........ (Honours??)
March 1952 30 Offered and accepted employment as an Entomologist at the Western Province Fruit Research Station (W.P.F.R.S.) at Stellenbosch.

dd mm 1952 30 Married Shirley Inez Mallett, also of Queenstown.
1957 36 Awarded M.Sc. by Rhodes University. Thesis was about biological control of mealybug and was based on research done at the W.P.F.R.S.
1960-19xx 38-xx Awarded a three-year Ph.D. bursary by ??. Studied at the Berkely campus of the University of California, concentrating on the biological control of fruit pests. His Ph.D. thesis field was the taxonomy of ladybird beetles of the tribe Scymnini, which are the main predators of aphids, scale insects and mealy bugs.
19-19xx -xx Continued with research on the biological control of mealybugs on grapes with his interest concentrated on table grapes in the Hex River valley. Here the major obstacle to control of mealybug by natural enemies was the paucity of coccinellids due to the heavy application of insecticides and fungicides. The reduction of sulphur dust applications (for disease control) to a minimum and the release of large numbers of a coccinellid predators, reduced heavy mealybug infestation to acceptable proportions.
19-19xx -xx The peach growing farmers of the Little Karoo have periodic invasions of fruit piercing moths and heavy losses occur, particularly to the Kakamas canning cultivars. A four year study of this problem showed that, although there are at least four species of night flying moths that are able to pierce the skin of most fruit, Serrodes partita was the moth that caused most damage. Larvae of this moth feed exclusively on the Wild Plum, Pappea capensis, but survival in large numbers is dependent on a good supply of young foliage in their first instar. These conditions, that is a good leaf flush, results only when effective rainfall occurs in November. Such conditions are cyclic and occur in that area on average every eight years. Control measures cannot be aimed at the immature stages and as only ripe fruit is attacked no insecticides can be used in the orchards. Fortunately adults are affected by light and are deterred by light barriers at the orchard edge.
1972 51 Appointed Head of the Entomology Department at the Fruit Research Institute but found that administrative work left little time for research which was not to his liking.
1974 53 Moved to the South African Museum in 1974. He initially continued his studies in coccinellids but changed his field of study mainly because Dr Helmut Feurch of Germany was already an established authority in African ladybird beetles and Dr Jerry Rosen of the American Museum, who was on a field trip to this country, got him interested in the bee family Fideliidae.
1976-1981 55-60 Made annual field trips into Namaqualand and the then Northern Cape with Geoff Mclachlan of the S.A. Museum Herpatology department. Geoff collected snakes and geckos and Vincent collected beetles and bees, particularly fideliids. On many of these trips they were accompanied by Dr Mary-Lou Penrith and Schalk Louw of the State Museum, Windhoek, especially when they went into the restricted diamond area of the southern Namib where special permission had to be obtained. As Mary-Lou and Schalk were predominantly Coleopterists most of Vincent's collections also showed this bias.
1981-  present   Studying bees of the genus Rediviva (Melittidae). In 1981 while trying to find how early the bee Parafidelia major emerged in the Clanwilliam area, he discovered a large black long-legged bee visiting a twin spurred Diascia and established that it inserted the long front legs into the spurs to collect the oil secreted there. This lead to contact with Kim Steiner of the Botanical Research Institute at Kirstenbosch who was studying the taxonomy of Diascia and the behaviour of the bees that pollinated them. Diascia and several other genera in the Scrophulariaceae (Hemimeris, Alonsoa, Bowkeria and Anastrabe as well as several genera of the Orchidaceae produce oil which is collected by bees of the genus Rediviva. The study of these bees and their relationships with the oil producing plants has taken them up to the Orange River on the western part of the country, through the great and little Karoo, and the high-lying summer rainfall areas, including Lesotho and Swaziland, and the temperate coastal areas of the Eastern Cape and KwazuluNatal.
1986 65 Retired but continued as Head of Entomology in the South African Museum till the end of 1988 after which Hamish Robertson took over. Continues to work in the department and do collaborative work with Kim Steiner on oil-collecting bees. To date this research has resulted in 18 scientific publications with two in press, the latest being a review of the Rediviva species of the winter rainfall region.
11 April 2005   Died.



  • Robertson, H.G. and Cochrane, M.A. 2005. Obituary - Vincent Booth Whitehead (2 September 1921 - 11 April 2005). African Entomology 13(2): 386-389.

Formatted by Hamish G. Robertson, based on written account by V.B. Whitehead  

Contact us if you can contribute information or images to improve this page.

Biodiversity Explorer home   Iziko home   Search