Dr. Rob Cannings

Curator of Entomology (Emeritus)

I joined the RBCM in 1980 as curator of Entomology and retired 33 years later in 2013. From 1987 to 1996 I also managed the Natural History department at the museum. I’m now a curator emeritus and continue to work on research projects and play in the insect collection. Luckily for me, I grew up among the beautiful lakes, grasslands and pine-clad hills of the Okanagan Valley in southern BC. My family loved the natural world and we eagerly explored and studied the plants and animals of the Valley. Early on, I fell under the spell of the identification handbooks of the Provincial Museum and decided that museum life combined all my interests and that’s where I wanted to work—so here I am! Eventually, I even wrote my own museum handbook on the dragonflies of BC. Although for years I have spent a lot of time studying dragonflies (Odonata) and robber flies (Diptera: Asilidae), I have published widely on many insect groups, from mantidflies and moths to lampyrid beetles and bumble bees. But in retirement, I’m concentrating on robber flies. My main focus in robber fly research has been the systematics of Lasiopogon, a group diverse in North Temperate regions around the world, which was the subject of my doctorate. My usual research asks questions such as: What species is this? Has it been found before? (If not, I might describe it in detail and give it a name.) Where do these species live and how, over millions of years, did they get there? How are all these species related? How did they evolve? It’s all a fascinating puzzle, and the research involves a lot of detective work. Thousands of BC’s insect species are still unknown and I’ve spent much of my career helping to build the Royal BC Museum's insect collection so that everyone can learn more about this big part of BC’s natural world. I love field work, and finding insects has taken me to the far corners of the province. But entomology is not just collecting and research. I served on the Scientific Committee of the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods), the Arthropod Subcommittee of COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) and the British Columbia Invertebrate Recovery Team. Active in the Entomological Society of BC (President 1986 and 2001, Regional Director to the Entomological Society of Canada 1983-1986, associate editor of the Journal of the ESBC), I started the newsletter Boreus in 1981 and was editor until 1991. In former lives, I worked as a biologist and nature interpreter for British Columbia Parks and the Canadian Wildlife Service and was a lecturer and museum curator at the University of BC.


BSc, University of British Columbia, zoology, 1970; MSc, University of British Columbia, zoology, 1973; PhD, University of Guelph, entomology, 2000.

Areas of Interest

In biology, my interests revolve around systematics—taxonomy, classification, phylogenetics, biogeography—but anything to do with evolution and ecology intrigues me. I get a kick out of writing about these things. I mainly study insects, but love examining all groups of organisms. My love of birds and botany, for instance, has produced life-long interests in birding and gardening. I enjoy traveling. I read a lot—in addition to biology, mostly history (and historical fiction), biography, travel writing and poetry. What else? Good food. Good wine. Walking and hiking. Nature conservation. Photography. Drawing. Jazz. Museums. People.

Contact Dr. Rob Cannings

Email: rcannings@royalbcmuseum.bc.ca