Austin, Texas, is home to about 170 species of butterflies. It is also the home of the Austin Butterfly Forum, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to butterfly conservation and to enriching people's lives through butterflies. The Austin Butterfly Forum is a club that organizes field trips, conducts butterfly counts, promotes native gardening, performs conservation activities, and meets monthly for an educational presentation. We are a community of butterfly enthusiasts who also enjoy dragonflies & damselflies, bees, beetles, spiders and arthropods in general, and our meeting presentations span this gamut as well. Join Us!
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Morpho achilles, by Maria Sibylla Merian
Meetings are held in the Zilker Garden Center, 2220 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX, 78746 at 7:00 PM on the fourth Monday of each month except December.
- Jan. 27, 2020, 7 PM meeting: Maria Sibylla Merian: Pioneering Butterfly Artist and Naturalist, presented by Liz Cannedy & Dan Hardy.
- In an age when women in science were rare Maria Sibylla Merian not only studied and painted butterflies and caterpillars in 17th century but went alone with her daughter to Surinam to get a firsthand view of exotic insects. That journey gave rise to an extraordinary book, The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, in 1704. We will discuss her life and work, and show reproductions of her art.
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was a German artist and naturalist. Born in Frankfurt, she was surrounded by a family of publishers, painters, and engravers. At age 13 she raised silkworms and painted them. She went on to rearing otherbutterflies and moths and published books illustrating their life cycles.
After moving to Amsterdam, she was immersed in the vibrant artistic and scientific culture of that city. Not satisfied with foreign insects displayed in curiosity cabinets, she traveled with her daughter to the Dutch colony of Surinam in tropical South America with the ambition of rearing previously unknown butterflies and moths and painting their life cycles.
That trip produced The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam. This is an oversized book with 60 life-sized paintings of exotic insects and plants. Those images would become icons of exotic nature. The book was purchased by Peter the Great and later owned by King George III. Linnaeus relied on some of the illustrations when he coined Latin scientific names for plants and animals, although he complained about the high price of the book!
Merian pioneered a compositional style showing the butterfly and the caterpillar using the caterpillarís unique food plant. Often the plant showed the damage from the caterpillar. Although this type of image is common today, it was groundbreaking in Merianís day.
Women naturalists were rare in scientific circles and she has inspired admiration. Her art even appeared as a Google Doodle. We are fascinated by Merianís life story, her trip to Surinam, and her striking art. We have reproductions of her Surinam book. Some of her images sparked controversy, and we will look at her work in the light of modern knowledge of insect-host plant relationships.
- Feb. 24, 2020, 7 PM meeting: Discovering Leafmining Insects, presented by Mike Palmer, Ph.D.
- Leafmining insects represent a bewildering variety of taxa that have mastered a very particular niche. Although their study goes back centuries, it is possible for dedicated amateurs to make substantial contributions to the field. Indeed, a number of advances in technology and resources (especially the recently published Leafminers of North America by Charley Eiseman) herald a golden era of leafminer research. The most important factor facilitating developments is the generosity and interconnectivity of researchers, as well as the growing number of enthusiasts.
Mike Palmer received his PhD in Botany at Duke University in 1988, and then did postdoctoral research on biodiversity scaling at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens. He joined the Botany (now PBEE) faculty at Oklahoma State University in 1990, and retired in 2017 at the rank of Regents Professor. Mike has performed research on multivariate methods, quantitative floristics, forest dynamics, fire ecology, plant virus ecology, and theoretical studies. In his retirement, he is returning to his childhood interest in insect natural history.
All of our normal events are open to the public, but you may want to become a member of the Austin Butterfly Forum to help support us and our events. We also treat members to some extra goodies, such as reduced admission to special programs that have a fee and discounts on purchases made at meetings. Annual membership is $20 per individual or $25 per household, payable during meetings or by mail to Doris Hill, ABF Treasurer, 1605 Broadmoor, Austin, TX 78723.
For more information, please contact Mike Quinn, ABF president at 512-577-0250 or
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