Lepidopterology (from Ancient Greek ? (scale) and (wing); and - -logia.), is a branch of entomology concerning the scientific study of moths and the three superfamilies of butterflies. Someone that studies in this field is a lepidopterist or, archaically, an aurelian.
Post-Renaissance, the rise of the "lepidopterist" can be attributed to the expanding interest in science, nature and the surroundings. When Linnaeus wrote the tenth edition of the Systema Naturae in 1758, there was already "a substantial body of published work on Lepidopteran natural history" (Kristensen, 1999).
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1758-1900 was the era of the gentleman scientist. Following Linnaeus' descriptions in Systema Naturae and with Boas Johansson in Centuria Insectorum, the Austrian Nikolaus Poda von Neuhaus wrote Insecta Musei Graecensis (1761) and Johann Christian Fabricius described very many more species in a series of major works.
During this period, Ignaz Schiffermüller wrote a systematic catalogue of the butterflies of the districts around Vienna Systematische Verzeichnis der Schmetterlinge der Wienergegend herausgegeben von einigen Lehrern am k. k. Theresianum (1775). In Germany Eugenius Johann Christoph Esper in collaboration with Toussaint de Charpentier published Die europäischen Schmetterlinge (European butterflies online here) and Die ausländischen Schmetterlinge (World butterflies online here).
Between 1806-1834 Jacob Hübner wrote Sammlung exotischerSchmetterlinge ["Collection of exotic butterflies"] (2 vols.), Augsburg with Carl Geyer and Gottlieb August Wilhelm Herrich-Schäffer. During the years of 1806-1824 Hübner added Geschichte europäischer Schmetterlinge ["History of European butterflies"]. Herrich-Schäffer expanded this as Systematische Bearbeitung der Schmetterlinge von Europa, Zugleich als Text, Revision und Supplement zu Jacob Hubner's Sammlung europäischer Schmetterlinge(6 Volumes, 1843-1856).
In France Jean Baptiste Boisduval, Jules Pierre Rambur and Adolphe Hercule de Graslin wrote Collection iconographique et historique des chenilles; ou, Description et figures des chenilles (larvae) d'Europe, avec l'histoire de leurs métamorphoses, et des applications à l'agriculture, Paris, Librairie encyclopédique de Roret, 1832 and with John Eatton Le Conte, 1829-1837 Histoire général et iconographie des lepidoptérès et des chenilles de l'Amerique septentrionale(General history and illustrations of the Lepidoptera and caterpillars of Northern America) which was published in Paris. Boisduval also described Lepidoptera from the expedition ship Astrolabe of Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse and the Coquille, that of Louis Isidore Duperrey.
In Italy Giovanni Antonio Scopoli wrote Entomologia Carniolica published in Vienna. In the mid-century period, the expert knowledge of Lepidoptera dealers such as Otto Staudinger, Emile Deyrolle, Orazio Querci and Peter Godeffroy contributed to the field.
Expeditions continued to be major sources of specimens.The Baudin expedition to Australia (1800 to 1803) with two laboratory equipped ships Géographe and Naturaliste had nine zoologists and botanists on board.They brought back to France, according to Antoine François, comte de Fourcroy, the largest collection Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle had ever received including 44 crates of zoological specimens. The Österreichische Brasilien-Expedition explored the Botany, Zoology and Ethnography of Brazil. It was organized and financed for Austrian Empire and ran from 1817 to 1835. The SMS Novara, under the command of Commodore Bernhard von Wüllerstorf-Urbair, made a voyage of exploration in 1857-1859. Baron Cajetan von Felder and his son Rudolf Felder amassed a huge entomological collection from the Novara that is deposited in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Natural History Museum in London. The butterflies were described in Reise Fregatte Novara: Zoologischer Theil., Lepidoptera, Rhopalocera (Journey of the Frigate Novara...) in three volumes (1865-1867).
Wealthy collectors played a major role: Aimée Fournier de Horrack in Paris, Walter Rothschild and James John Joicey in England and in Russia Grand Duke Nicholas Mikhailovich of Russia who funded Sergei Alphéraky and edited Mémoires sur les Lépidoptères. The British Empire provided opportunities to Frederic Moore author of Lepidoptera Indica.
In the nineteenth century large collections of Lepidoptera were amongst the natural history specimens then flooding into Europe.Most of the largest and most specimens of new species are in Musée royal de l'Afrique centrale (Belgian Congo), Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (French colonial empire), Museum für Naturkunde (German colonial empire), British Museum (Natural History) (British colonial Empire) and Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie (Dutch Empire).Museum lepidopterists include Samuel Constantinus Snellen van Vollenhoven.Francis Walker, Alois Friedrich Rogenhofer, Franti?ek Antonín Nickerl, Lionel de Nicéville, Carl Heinrich Hopffer and Arthur Gardiner Butler.
Some notable lepidopterists are:-
As the chief mode of study of butterflies was through pinned specimen collections, it was difficult to catalogue and communicate names and descriptions widely. Books on butterflies with plates that were either hand-painted, lithographed and printed have been a major tool in lepidopterology. These include the massive works by Adalbert Seitz.
Unusual works like the Butterfly Fauna of Ceylon (1942) by Lionel Gilbert Ollyett Woodhouse (1888-1965) and Moths and Butterflies of the United States East of the Rocky Mountains (1900) by Sherman F. Denton made use of butterfly wing-prints where the illustrations incorporated the scales of the wings.
The illustrious Russian writer, Vladimir Nabokov was a noted lepidopterist, having discovered the passion at the age of seven. He would later write about butterflies, collect, and illustrate them. Nabokov volunteered at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology in the Entomology Department, where he would organize specimens for as much as 14 hours a day.
Lepidopterists are served by a number of national and international scientific societies. They promote research in lepidopterology and dissemination of the findings through conferences such as the biennial European Congresses of Lepidopterology or the TILS Leps Talk. These societies include: