ARTICLE: “rolls up like Armadillo”: Darwin’s forgotten encounters with ceratocanthine beetles (Coleoptera: Hybosoridae)

A recent “short note” in Archives of Natural History:

“rolls up like Armadillo”: Darwin’s forgotten encounters with ceratocanthine beetles (Coleoptera: Hybosoridae) 

Alberto Ballerio and Andrew B. T. Smith

No Abstract


ARTICLE: The katydid that was: the tananá, stridulation, Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin

A new article in Archives of Natural History (April 2014):

The katydid that was: the tananá, stridulation, Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin

Claudio J. Bidau

Abstract The Amazonian bush-cricket or katydid, Thliboscelus hypericifolius (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae: Pseudophyllinae), called tananá by the natives was reported to have a song so beautiful that they were kept in cages for the pleasure of listening to the melodious sound. The interchange of letters between Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin regarding the tananá and the issue of stridulation in Orthoptera indicates how this mysterious insect, which seems to be very rare, contributed to the theory of sexual selection developed by Darwin.

BOOK: Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World

William Leach, Butterfly People: An American Encounter with the Beauty of the World (New York: Pantheon Books, 2013), 416 pp.

A product of William Leach’s lifelong love of butterflies, this engaging and elegantly illustrated history shows how Americans from all walks of life passionately pursued butterflies, and how through their discoveries and observations they transformed the character of natural history. Leach focuses on the correspondence and scientific writings of half a dozen pioneering lepidopterists who traveled across the country and throughout the world, collecting and studying unknown and exotic species. In a book as full of life as the subjects themselves and foregrounding a collecting culture now on the brink of vanishing, Leach reveals how the beauty of butterflies led Americans into a deeper understanding of the natural world. He shows, too, that the country’s enthusiasm for butterflies occurred at the very moment that another form of beauty—the technological and industrial objects being displayed at world’s fairs and commercial shows—was emerging, and that Americans’ attraction to this new beauty would eventually, and at great cost, take precedence over nature in general and butterflies in particular.

BOOK: Ordering Life: Karl Jordan and the Naturalist Tradition

Ordering Life: Karl Jordan and the Naturalist Tradition, by Kristin Johnson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 376 pp.

For centuries naturalists have endeavored to name, order, and explain biological diversity. Karl Jordan (1861–1959) dedicated his long life to this effort, describing thousands of new species in the process. Ordering Life explores the career of this prominent figure as he worked to ensure a continued role for natural history museums and the field of taxonomy in the rapidly changing world of twentieth-century science.

Jordan made an effort to both practice good taxonomy and secure status and patronage in a world that would soon be transformed by wars and economic and political upheaval. Kristin Johnson traces his response to these changes and shows that creating scientific knowledge about the natural world depends on much more than just good method or robust theory. The broader social context in which scientists work is just as important to the project of naming, describing, classifying, and, ultimately, explaining life.

BOOK REVIEW: The Humblebee Hunter

In books for children, Charles Darwin is generally depicted as an old man, a wise and respected gentleman. In more recent years, there have been many books that focus on Darwin during the voyage of HMS Beagle, and they show him as a curious young man, an explorer and collector, traversing exotic locales. For those wishing for a book about Darwin as he was in between young and old, as a middle-aged man at the time he wrote On the Origin of Species, then you must check out The Humblebee Hunter, Inspired by the Life & Experiments of Charles Darwin and his Children, written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Jen Corace.

This is not just a book about Charles Darwin, however. He is a peripheral figure in the story, for the main character is his daughter Henrietta, or Etty for short. The story is told from her perspective.

We are to take this story as a typical day in the life of Darwin and his children. Darwin, however, was not a typical father for his time. He is involved in the affairs of his children. The historical record captures this aspect of his character. In this story, Darwin calls on his children for help in a scientific experiment, as he did in real life. Although this story is fictional, Darwin did indeed receive help from his children in his experimental endeavours. Most important, they did this science at home.

This book shows Darwin as a diligent worker and as nature lover, Darwin as a devoted father and Darwin as a curious mind. Also, Darwin as storyteller; he recounts his beetle-collecting days and his time on the Galapagos. Etty describes some of the many researches she and her siblings helped their father with. But today, her father is interested in bees: “I am wondering… just how many flowers a humblebee might visit in a minute.” And thus we have our story, simply told and warmly illustrated.

The Humblebee Hunter is a wonderful addition to children’s books not only about Darwin and the history of science, but about curiosity and the love of nature, and of getting children outside (Etty remarks toward the beginning as she helps her mother in the kitchen, “More than anything, I wanted to be outside”). It is always great to see strong female characters interested in science and nature.

Note: all images except the book cover image were taken from the illustrator’s website, here. For an interesting take on children’s books about Darwin, read this post by historian of science Katherine Pandora. I received a copy of this book from the author herself, and she inscribed the book to my son, “To Patrick, Ask questions!” Wonderful!

The Humblebee Hunter