Vladimir Nabokov’s Interest in Butterflies 🦋

Nabokov grew interested in butterflies from an early age after discovering the works of Maria Sibyll Merian in the attic of his father’s country home.

Vladimir Nabokov

Russian-American Novelist and Poet

He was so interested in the insect that he once ate one to find out how they tasted. Although Nabokov had no formal training in butterflies he published his first work in English on the subject. The work titled, “A few notes on Crimean Lepidoptera” was published in one of his favorite magazines, “The Entomologist”, in 1920.

Throughout his adult life in Europe, Vladimir Nabokov was driven to collection sites by his wife, Vera, so he could collect butterflies. After taking up his teaching job at Wellesley college, Nabokov volunteered to help the lepidopterological section in the museum of comparative Zoology at Harvard University properly arrange and protect the specimens. This was then turned into a formal position, with Nabokov becoming the museum’s de facto curator of Lepidoptera. Although sometimes spending as much as fourteen hours a day on the job, Nabokov described his time at the Museum as the most delightful and thrilling experience of his adult life.

Hailed as a great collector, Vladimir Nabokov’s thousands of captures in the U.S and Europe now form part of the collection of a number of museums in the U.S and Europe.

Although Nabokov collected a wide variety of Butterflies, he focused his serious scientific works on the species of butterfly known as Polyommantini, referred to as “Blues”.  Vladimir Nabokov published about eight articles on this species between 1941 and 1952. He was praised for his classification method that placed more importance on the genitalia rather than the number of chromosomes.

Vladimir Nabokov’s work was not taken seriously during his lifetime but witnessed a resurgence when research studies corroborated his postulation that the Polyommatus Blues migrated to the Americas from the Bering straits in five waves.

Israel Njoku
About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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