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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Happy Butterfly and Hummingbird Day!

Butterflies are in the Papilionoidea superfamily.
Who hasn’t seen the majestic beauty of a butterfly bouncing through the air or hummingbirds hovering near a feeder? If you haven’t you are surely missing out. Whether you have or haven’t seen them, take the opportunity to learn more about them today on National Butterfly and Hummingbird Day. Spread awareness and observe them in nature or at a zoo.

While I can’t be certain if the holiday existed back in the 1800s, even then people knew butterflies and hummingbirds were special. This enthusiasm resulted in books with beautiful illustrations. One of the more popular ones is John Gould’s A Monograph of the Trochilid√¶, or Family of Humming Birds, which you can read more about here.

Did you know there are about 24,000 species of butterflies and representations of butterflies have been found in Egyptian frescoes at Thebes, which are 3,500 years old? Butterflies are fascinating creatures. If you want to learn more about them check out  The butterfly book; a popular guide to a knowledge of the butterflies of North America by William Jacob Holland. While he was still Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh and Director of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Holland’s book was published in 1898. This accomplished zoologist and paleontologist was a forward thinker that helped popularize butterflies and moths in the early 20th century.

A photograph of Holland from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Museum.
Featuring 48 plates of color photography, this book presents many of the butterfly species in the United States. Written with a youthful and amateur collector in mind, the book presents these delicate creatures in a positive light. A goal of Holland’s was to change the perception of butterflies. He quotes Henry Walter Bates’ The Naturalist on the River Amazons in the introduction which summarizes his goal, “The study of butterflies, -- creatures selected as the types of airiness and frivolity, -- instead of being despised, will someday be valued as one of the most important branches of biological science.”    
Antarctica is the only continent on which no Lepidoptera have been found.

Many of the reproduced photographs of butterflies are from Holland’s own collection. Exceeding 250,000 specimens, he donated his private collection to the Carnegie Museum where the collection has grown and been used at unprecedented levels since access was granted to it in 1985. Holland’s collection continues to serve science, conservation, and education to this day.

Check out images from the The Butterfly Book here.


By Kai Alexis Smith, Marketing Intern, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Fall 2013

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