Moths, Myths, and Mosquitos: The Eccentric Life of Harrison Dyar

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Moths, Myths, and Mosquitos: The Eccentric Life of Harrison Dyar Author: Format: Hardback First Published: Published By: Oxford University Press
string(3) "360"
Pages: 360 Illustrations and other contents: 8-page color insert ISBN: 9780190215255 Category:

On September 26, 1924, the ground collapsed beneath a truck in a back alley in Washington, D.C., revealing a mysterious underground labyrinth. In spite of wild speculations, the tunnel was not the work of German spies, but rather an aging, eccentric Smithsonian scientist named Harrison Gray Dyar, Jr. While Dyar’s covert tunneling habits may seem far-fetched, they were merely one of many oddities in Dyar’s unbelievable life.

For the first time, insect biosystemist Marc E. Epstein presents a complete account of Dyar’s life story. Dyar, one of the most influential biologists of the twentieth century, focused his entomological career on building natural classifications of various groups of insects.

His revolutionary approach to taxonomy, which examined both larval and adult stages of insects, brought about major changes in the scientific community’s understanding of natural relationships and insect systematics. He was also the father of what came to be known as Dyar’s Law, a pragmatic method to standardize information on insect larval stages as they grow. Over the course of his illustrious career at the U.S.

National Museum, Smithsonian Institution from 1897-1929, Dyar named over 3,000 species, established the “List of North American Lepidoptera,” an unrivaled catalog of moths and butterflies, and built one of the nation’s premier lepidoptera and mosquito collections. However, Dyar’s scientific accomplishments are a mere component of this remarkable biography. Epstein offers an account of Dyar’s complicated personal life, from his feuds with fellow entomologists to the scandalous revelation that he was married to two wives at the same time.

Epstein also chronicles Dyar’s exploration of the Baha’i faith, his extensive travels, his innumerable works of unpublished fiction, and the loss of his wealth from bad investments. Comprehensive and engaging, Moths, Myths, and Mosquitoes will delight entomologists and historians alike, as well as anyone interested in exploring the zany life of one of America’s virtually unknown scientific geniuses.

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Historians of science - especially those interested in the development of natural history, systematics, and museums - and anyone drawn to scientific biography will find much that is appealing in this accessible and engaging volume. * Mark V. Barrow, Jr., Isis Journal * Combining the professional publications with personal and public resources, the author reveals a depth not only to Dyar's personality but to the entire field of entomology in the latter half of the 19th century. ...Epstein successfully weaves together the personal, professional, and quirky dimensions of Dyar's life, providing readers with a more complete context for understanding his contributions. * Anthony J. Dellurefcio, THE QUARTERLY REVIEW OF BIOLOGY * To write Moths, Myths, and Mosquitoes, Epstein dug deep into the Smithsonian's holdings of publications, correspondence, diaries, unpublished short stories and novellas, newspaper articles and marriage certificates, providing rich context for Dyar's intellectual and scientific milieu. Epstein's descriptions of Dyar's collecting trips and battles with colleagues are particularly evocative. * William Foster, Nature * Epsteins writing is clear and enthralling, drawing the reader from one surreal event in Dyars life to another [...] The acknowledgements are extensive, showing the level of research and scholarship that went into the books production [...] I highly recommend this book [...] If you are looking for a biography that puts reality television to shame, search no further. * John V. Calhoun, News of The Lepidopterists Society * [A] fascinating biography and valuable scientific account of entomologist Harrison Dyar Jr. ... This entertaining, well-researched volume includes numerous photos (some previously unpublished). Recommended. * K. B. Sterling, CHOICE * Moths, Myths, and Mosquitoes is very well written, and for most of its length, a fairly compelling read. * Clyde E. Sorenson, American Entemologist * [This] book is as informative as it is entertaining. Once I started reading...I was seized with an undeniable fancy to keep going. * Martin J. Andree, Newsletter of the Michigan Entomological Society *

Author Biography

Marc E. Epstein is Senior Insect Biosystematist for Lepidoptera at the California Department of Food and Agriculture and Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution. He researches and writes on evolution and classification of moths and their biodiversity, and develops identification tools for moths that threaten agriculture. At the NMNH he was in the Department of Entomology (1988-2003), cofounding the Department's Archives and Illustration Archives. His research on caterpillars, including images and videos, is currently featured in the NMNH exhibit "More than Meets the Eye " and has been a guest on NPR's "Fresh Air " about his work on the book "Night Visions: the Secret Design of Moths. ".