Nabokov’s Butterflies

You have probably heard of Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian-American author, but you might not have known that he was an avid lepidopterist. In the 1940’s he worked in the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology organizing the butterfly collection. In fact, he both named species and had species named after him (including the genus Nabokovia). The Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology still has Nabokov’s ‘genitalia cabinet’ that contains the butterfly genitalia that he used to identify different species.

Butterfly Collection of Vladimir Nabokov (from Alex Bakharev)

On Discovering a Butterfly
By Vladimir Nabokov

I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer—and I want no other fame.

Wide open on its pin (though fast asleep),
and safe from creeping relatives and rust,
in the secluded stronghold where we keep
type specimens it will transcend its dust.

Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that pilgrims kiss,
poems that take a thousand years to die
but ape the immortality of this
red label on a little butterfly.

To learn more about Nabokov and his butterflies, check out the links below!

Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution is Vindicated

A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths


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