Early explorer of larva-host plant interactions

one of Maria's illustrations, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library site

one of Maria’s illustrations, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library site

Today is the birthday of Maria Sibylla Merian, born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1647. She was a VERY early explorer and explainer of botanical end entomological processes. I had never heard of her until I read about her at the Biodiversity Heritage Library’s blog site, where they write, “Maria’s illustrations were important and revolutionary for a number of reasons. The observations and evidence they displayed helped overturn the prevailing theory of the time that insects spontaneously generated from mud. Additionally, Maria drew her subjects from life in their natural environments. Most naturalists of the day illustrated species from dead, preserved specimens, which contributed to a lack of knowledge about the true life cycle and origin of insects. Finally, Maria also portrayed the host plant for the species she studied and even illustrated the damage the insects left on the plants.”

So, there we have it! The early days of exploring how insects and plants interact. I love the idea that she helped verify that insects do not simply spring up from the dirt. But what really captured my attention was her work to figure out that certain plants played a key role in the lifecycle of specific insects. This is something that, hundreds of years later, we are just scratching the surface on.

 

 

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