Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Thrill of Discovery

Max Barclay, the collections manager in the Entomology department at the Natural History Museum in London just posted something on Twitter that I had to share. It's an account Alfred Russell Wallace wrote about the butterfly Ornithoptera croesus, when he found a male of the species in Indonesia. From his book, The Malay Archipelago, 1869:
"The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause."
The butterfly is now known as Wallace's Golden Birdwing, and he wasn't kidding when he wrote that other naturalists would understand what he experienced. While my experiences in Ohio haven't resulted in as showy of an insect, I have been dazzled by half-foot long wasps (if you count the ovipositor), a beetle the color of a Crayola macaroni crayon, and a beautiful Luna moth that hadn't yet pumped up its wings. In the moment when I realize I've found such stunning insects, I know exactly what Wallace meant. And after that moment? The whole day is filled with thoughts about that Amorpha borer or Luna moth.

In case you're wondering why a butterfly would give Wallace such a start, Wikipedia provides a plate from Reise Fregatte Novara. Zoologischer by Rudolf Felder and Alois Friedrich Rogenhofer showing the male and female, top and bottom, respectively.

While others may faint at the sight of an insect due to fear, we entomologists are liable to faint out of excitement.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing the butterfly that inspired the quote! I can see why he was so excited!