Mithan Lal Roonwal received his PhD in 1935, and ScD (1967) from University of Cambridge, UK. He worked as Officer-in-Charge, Birds and Mammals Section, Zoological Survey of India (1939-40); Forest Entomologist and Chief Research Officer, Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun (1949-56); Director, Zoological Survey of India (1956-65); Professor & Head, Department of Zoology (1965-66) and Vice-Chancellor, University of Jodhpur; and CSIR Emeritus Scientist, Desert Research Station, Jodhpur (1969-73).
Academic and Research Achievements: Professor Roonwal did extensive research on insect embryology, ecology, morphology, and taxonomy of locusts and termites; forest entomology; and animal behaviour especially of primates. He put forward: a new theory of gastrulation in insects; new phase characters, polymorphism and gregarization theory in locusts. He made significant observations on primates, especially on intraspecific variation and tail-form and carriage. Roonwal made significant contributions to the knowledge on morphology, taxonomy, biology, ecology and control of termites. Besides discovering several new taxa including a new family (Indotermitidae), he co-authored two books on termites viz., Contributions to the Systematics of Oriental Termites and Fauna of India (Isoptera). One of the outstanding contributions of Professor Roonwal had been the elucidation of evolutionary and taxonomic significance of wing microsculpturing which was first discovered and illustrated by Roonwal and Sen-Sarma. The value of this study was enhanced by the inclusion of the scanning electron microscopic studies. His Chapter on Biology of Oriental Termites in Biology of Termites (Eds Krishna and Weeesner) would remain a standard work on the subject for years to come. Dr Roonwal devoted much time and energy in his studies on systematics, ecology and faunistics of mammals and birds. He discovered and described a few new species. His extensive and intensive investigations on the systematics, ecology and bionomics of mammals studies in connection with tsutsugamushi disease (scrub typus) in Assam, Burma (now Maynmar). Professor Roonwal took up studies on the primate behaviour. Based on extensive field work on hanuman Langur (Presbytis entellus), he has shown that the evolution of tail form and carriage follows geographical and clinal variations, a northern style with tail looped forward and a southern style with tail looped backward. His magnum opus on primates is the book entitled Primates of South Asia, Ecology, Sociobiology and Behaviour. (Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass) written in collaboration with SM Mohnot.
Other Contributions: Roonwal was Member of the INSA Council (1961-63).
Awards and Honours: Professor Roonwal won Tata Medal by Zoological Society of India (1956); and Har Swarup Memorial Lecture Award by INSA (1984). He was Life Fellow, Zoological Society of India; and Honorary Member, All Union Entomological Society, Soviet Academy of Sciences, and Entomological Society of India.