Romantic biodiversity …

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Happy Face Spider (Theridion grallator)

Yesterday evening I spoke at Aberystwyth University’s Bioblitz. Over 200 participants spent the day, and much of the night, dashing around collecting as many specimens as they could find. It was an inspiring sight. My co-presenter, John Warren, one of the day’s organizers along with Pippa Moore, capped his amazing talk by showing slides of the Happy Face Spider, native to Hawaii. I challenge anyone to gaze on this little surfer dude and not smile.

The theme of our talk was: “What have bugs ever done for us?”. My brief was to look at the cultural dimensions. I found myself thinking about how Romantic science did much to establish modern taxonomies of the natural world, and also about ways in which Romantic poets alerted us to the wonders of what we now term biodiversity.

The history of collecting and curating biodiversity is relatively recent. Early examples are to be found in Renaissance “Cabinets of Curiosity”. A foundational volume of work was Thomas Muffet’s Theatre of Insects (1634). Systematic categorization of biodiversity, however, really gathered momentum as a Romantic enthusiasm. The most famous naturalist of the eighteenth century …read more