Gerald and Buff Corsi (c) California Academy of Sciences
by Mollie Cueva-Dubkoski, Careers in Science Intern
Biodiversity and endemism in the northeastern section of the Amazon is off the charts. The rich diversity of flora and fauna many scientists attribute to the warmer climate of this region during the repeated Pleistocene ice ages that provided shelter to organisms. Scientists estimate there are between 9,000 to 12,000 species of vascular plants, 600 species of birds, 500 species of fish, and 120 species of mammals in and around Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park. This exhibit highlights some of that diversity, the history of European exploration in Ecuador, and the current issue of crude oil that threatens this diversity.
I spent many weeks deciding what to include in the exhibit: perhaps crude oil in a jar? Or maybe a spread of taxidermied animals to demonstrate the diversity of Amazonian mammals? I finally decided on a varied collection of library materials to juxtapose two elements of my research that interested me most: Ecuador’s biodiversity, and crude oil’s effect on the Amazon. If you visit the Reading Room, you will see a sketch of the Andean Wax Palm (Ceroxylon alpinum), drawn by Aime Bonpland,who traveled with the noted naturalist Alexander von Humboldt during the first scientific exploration of the Americas. This book was one of two I included from the library’s vast collection to demonstrate the history of science in Ecuador. In the other case, I have included a map that illustrates the territory most affected by oil production, and a picture of where my family lives in Ecuador. A final piece that finished off the exhibit were the specimens the Entomology Department and the Ornithology Departments generously loaned me. In the left glass case there are several shiny Green-Gold Scarab Beetles (Chrysophora chrysochlora) and a lovely Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) specimen that boldly demonstrate what words cannot—how beautiful and quintessential these species are to the Amazon. Working with these three research departments and choosing specimens that highlighted my research enabled me to see how research collections, whether used for a museum exhibit or as evidence for a scientific study, are invaluable to the scientific world.
Arranging specimens in the case. photo: Y. Bustos
Diane Sands (left) and myself laying out an exhibit case. photo: Yolanda Bustos.
This Smackdown we feature the largest beetle in the world, Goliathus goliatus. Goliath beetles are often described as the largest and heaviest of all beetles. Adults range from 2-4 inches in length, while the larvae can top 5 inches and weigh 0.25 pounds a piece! There are five different species of Goliathus across the African continent (see this link for a nifty map).
Black and white drawing of beetles, genus Goliathus From Cyclopedia published by Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme 1810
These magnificent engravings of spiders come from Natural History volume five in the Cyclopaedia or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Science and Literature. Abraham Rees, Presbyterian minister and educator, produced this Encyclopedia in 45 volumes between 1802 and 1820. On the title page of the Cyclopaedia, Rees’ 100 contributors are qualified with the “assistance from eminent professional gentlemen” and “illustrated by most distinguished artists”.
18th Century ‘encyclopedists’ developed the modern idea of recording and widely distributing knowledge as distinct from only publishing facts. The still familiar Encyclopedia Britannica was first published between 1768 and 1771. Rees’ Cyclopedia was noted for its high quality of illustrations. And we can still enjoy the beauty of nature through these 19th century engravings.
The publisher of this book put out some beautiful and strange illustrated books in the early 1800’s including Musci exotici :containing figures and descriptions of new or little known foreign mosses and other cryptogamic subjects by William Jackson Hooker. (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/41803) and A Dissertation on Gunshot Wounds by Charles Bell. (http://www.bibliopolis.com/main/books/1869071/A-dissertation-on-gun-shot-wounds-Bell-Charles-Jeremy-Norman-Co.html) Regardless of the subject it looks like they were masterful printers and included really amazing etchings in their work.
(c) Diane T Sands. Gouache and colored pencil on colored paper
Drawn from specimens housed in the Academy’s Naturalist Center, this color image contrasts the female (left) and male (right) of Goliathus goliatus. For the black and white image below, I wanted to show less of a dead, pinned subject and more of a living critter.
(c) Diane T Sands. Ink on scratchboard