One of Icon’s favorite artists! If you haven’t seen her gorgeous illustrations, google her now!
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was a German naturalist and scientific illustrator who studied plants and insects. Her detailed observations and documentation of the metamorphosis of the butterfly make her a significant, but not well known, contributor to entomology.
Scholars at the time believed insects came from spontaneous generation. However, Maria studied what actually happened during the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies and illustrated the stages of their development and published books of her illustrations. In 1699, she traveled to Surinam, South America for two years to collect and sketch the local plants and animals. After her return, she sold specimens and published a book about the insects of Surinam. In 1715, Maria suffered a stroke, but continued to work even though she was partially paralyzed until her death in 1717.
Pleasant pollinators or not, the thought of insects spontaneously generating from the aether—or, as some early philosophers believed, from decaying biosludge—must have kept people up at night before thinkers like Merian came along.
We promise our bugs won’t spring fully formed from nothingness. The Mexico-bound Monarchs are guaranteed to have followed the prescribed path of pupation, and our honeybees have to raise their young from eggs like any other. See them in the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden during “Pollinator Pals,” now through October 5. Alternatively, look for them fluttering almost anywhere in the NYBG where flowers are out in the open, like so many colorful buffets. —MN