Darwin didn’t write that. It was that guy George

It’s quite nice when a project you think is important gets good press coverage (see SFBT, Wired, Notes from Nature & Calbug), but be ready for others to reinterpret facts for you. Here I just want to clarify that Charles Darwin did collect the specimen in the image below.

Pseudomigadops darwini specimen collected by Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle

Pseudomigadops darwini specimen collected by Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle

However, he didn’t write this label. He is well-known for not being very good at labeling his material.

Many of the beetles collected by Darwin were described by George Waterhouse of the British Museum. This is the description for the species originally named Migadops darwinii (now Pseudomigadops darwini (Waterhouse)).

Waterhouse's description

Waterhouse’s description

Apparently is was customary for Waterhouse to label specimens after description, with the name, citation of the publication, collecting locality and collector. That is what is on this label. It is worth mentioning that Waterhouse and others (others little-remembered) did a great deal of work curating, describing and publishing on Darwin’s material.

So how did a Darwin- collected specimen end up in the Essig museum? Keeping in mind that museums and collectors exchange material all the time, I think it played out like this. We recently received a large donation from B.P. Moore (thanks Barry!), he traded and retained from his determinations many specimens over his lifetime. All of these were legitimate arrangements as far as I know. We only received the non-Australian material, which included a lot of material from European collectors that he bought material from or traded with.

When I discovered the specimen, I recognized Waterhouse’s handwriting (having seen examples in the past). I went through the rest of the collection carefully. Based on other labels and specimens there are some clues. Some are in series with no individual labels but with a header that just says Tierra del Fuego, written in a different hand. That handwriting seems to match that of the collector Jacques Negre. Negre is well-known to have also done a lot of swapping and buying to build his collection. So maybe the path was Darwin- Waterhouse- Negre- Moore- EMEC. How Negre got this specimen, I don’t know. It is not such an unusual story, as old specimens often have changed hands many times.

For us at the Essig and particularly for me (this being a carabid beetle collected in Chile) it is very exiting to have a small piece of history that we can share with students and use to get their attention and interest when we talk about Darwin, evolution and the importance of museums and taxonomy.


About Kip Will

I'm an insect systematist with expertise in carabid beetles, who is always happiest in the bush.
This entry was posted in Carabids, Coleoptera, Entomology. Bookmark the permalink.

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