Excerpts from A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths
by Dieter E. Zimmer
Hamburg (Germany) 1996

Except as otherwise noted, all butterfly illustrations are by William H. Howe, who generously allowed them to be reproduced here.

Nabokov’s non-fictional writings on butterflies

(page 1 of 2)

Lep1: ”A few notes on Crimean Lepidoptera.” The Entomologist (London), 53 (680), Jan 1920, p. 29--33. Basically a list of the 77 species of butterflies and 9 species of moths Nabokov captured or observed on Central and Southern Crimea between November 1917 and August 1918, with very few comments.

Lep2: ”Notes on the Lepidoptera of the Pyrenées Orientales and the Ariège.” The Entomologist (London), 64 (822), Nov 1931, p. 255–257, 268–271. An article listing the more than one hundred species and subspecies encountered on his trip to the Roussillon (Le Boulou) and the Ariège (Saurat) in southern France, between Feb 8 and Jun 24, 1929. The trip was made possible by a sudden ”stroke of luck,” namely the sale of the German rights of his second novel to the Berlin publishing house of Ullstein. In between, there are some personal remarks, e.g., on a dream he had on his way there and on the nasty cold wind blowing at the foot of the Pyrenees. The only butterfly that received some comments was Melitaea dictynna vernetensis, a nymphalid.

Lep3: ”On some Asiatic species of Carterocephalus.” Journal of the New York Entomological Society (New York), 49, 1941, p. 221–223. Nabokov’s first American paper, a short one, written after the study of a small group of Asiatic members of the genus Carterocéphalus LEDERER [Hesperíidae] at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Nabokov reestablished one genus that had been dropped previously and described one new species, C. canopunctatus.

Lep4: ”Lysandra cormion, a new European butterfly.” Journal of the New York Entomological Society (New York), 49, 1941, p. 265–267. In this short paper, Nabokov described a new species of lycaenids he had taken ”on the flowery slopes above Moulinet (Alpes Maritimes, France)” in July, 1938. He did so reluctantly, for he was not sure whether it really deserved the status of a new species or perhaps was just a freakish singularity. ”Personally I would have postponed describing this rarity were I ever likely to revisit its lovely haunts.”

Lep5: ”Some new or little known Nearctic Neonympha (Lepidoptera: Satyridæ).” Psyche--A Journal of Entomology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 49 (3–4), Sep–Dec 1942, p. 61–80. Though no specialist in satyrids, Nabokov when back in the East and enjoying the facilities of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology proceeded to examine the specimens he had netted in the Grand Canyon in June, 1941 and to compare them with the members of the genus that were preserved in various collections. He found that the whole genus (which at that time was Coenonympha W. H. EDWARDS), flying in Arizona and possibly Mexico, had been neclected by lepidopterists, most of the specimens being lumped under Neonympha henshawi W. H. EDWARDS without much consideration. After a careful morphological analysis, Nabokov restructured the genus taxonomically, adding two new species: the one he had found in the Grand Canyon, namely Neonympha dorothea (with three new subspecies), and Neonympha maniola which used to be labeled henshawi. For N. henshawi, first described by W. H. Edwards in 1876, Nabokov supplied more definite criteria, clearly delineating this species. N. pyracmon Nabokov resurrected from Butler’s first description (1866) which had been forgotten. The article describes this restructuring and the reasoning behind it. (The butterflies this papers deals with today are grouped with the genus Cyllopsis FELDER.)

Lep6: ”The female of Neonympha maniola Nabokov (Lepid.–Satyridæ).” Psyche--A Journal of Entomology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 50 (1–2), Mar–Jun 1943, p. 33. A five line note saying that the missing females of Neonympha maniola NABOKOV had been found in the collection of the United States National Museum in Washington.

Lep7: ”The Nearctic forms of Lycæides Hüb. (Lycænidæ, Lepidoptera).” Psyche--A Journal of Entomology (Cambridge, Massachusetts): 50 (3–4), Sep–Dec 1943, p. 87–99. This is the first of Nabokov’s papers on the systematics of certain polyommatine lycaenids, based on his work in the labs of the Harvard MCZ where he dissected 350 specimens of North American representatives of the genus Lycaeides HÜBNER, a taxon where much confusion had been reigning. Measuring the male genitalia, he concluded that there are six or seven species and subspecies that fall into three main groups: Lycaeides argyrognomon (renamed idas in 1954), Lycaeides scudderi and Lycaeides melissa. One that had been mislabeled as scudderi he recognized to be a hitherto undescribed subspecies of melissa. He named it samuelis, thus becoming ”godfather” to a second American butterfly, the Karner Blue. Today there are only two groups, idas and melissa, with some 17 subspecies, four of which have been named by Nabokov. That is, the scudderi group was dropped, both scudderi scudderi and scudderi lotis being considered just two more subspecies of idas.

Lep8: ”Notes on the morphology of the genus Lycæides (Lycænidæ, Lepidoptera).” Psyche--A Journal of Entomology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 51 (3–4), Sep–Dec 1944, p. 104–138. After proposing a new arrangment for the six or seven North American (sub-)species of the genus Lycaeides HÜBNER in his preceding paper (Lep7), Nabokov turned to all its members, Nearctic and Palearctic. The work seems to have taken him roughly a year. Measurement of the genitalic armatures led him to arrange the roughly 120 subspecies of the genus in six clusters (”peaks of speciation”): agnata STAUDINGER, argyrognomon BERGSTRÄSSER (to become ídas in 1954), subsolanus EVERSMANN, scuddéri EDWARDS, melissa EDWARDS and ismenias MEIGEN (to become argyrognomon in 1954). The paper introduced two new genera, Icaricia and Plebulina. The main morphological work reported in this paper consisted in a painstaking examination of 959 forms. As he had found all prior systems of describing the macroscopical pattern and design of Lycáenidae wanting, he devised a scheme of his own and proceeded to apply it to Lycaeides, thus describing its generic character. It consisted in examining eight features of the wings: 1. Size and shape. 2. Ground. 3. Cyanic overlay. 4. Vadosal elements. 5. Scintillant elements. 6. Hairscales. 7. Terminal submarking. 8. Maculation. The papers ends with an emphasis on morphological work: ”… the systematist may fare better when keeping to the all important morphological moment, than when giving comprehensive geographic names (the whole of China, the whole of the Moon) to hypothetical ‘populations’ (a dreadfully misused term--and a hideous word, anyway) on the basis of half a dozen specimens taken by somebody between climb and cloud on some mountain thousands of miles away from the describer’s desk.” Nabokov to Edmund Wilson: ”It is going to remain a wonderful and indispensable thing for some 25 years, after which another fellow will show how wrong I was in this or that. Herein lies the difference between science and art” (Oct 11, 1944).

Lep9: ”Notes on Neotropical Plebejinae.” Psyche--A Journal of Entomology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 52 (1–2), Mar–Jun 1945, p. 1–53. After dealing with Nearctic Plebejínae in the preceding two papers, Nabokov turned to Neotropical ones. (For Plebejinae, see Section 1, Lycaenidae.) He dissected about 120 specimens to measure their genitalic structures under the microscope, most of them from the MCZ, and found the whole group in such a bad disarray taxonomically that he reordered it. This yielded the largest crop of new generic names of all his papers, six (Cyclargus, Echinargus, Parachilades, Paralycaeides, Pseudolucia, Pseudothecla). Also, he completely revised two genera which he found in a mess (Hemiargus HÜBNER and Itylos DRAUDT). In addition, there is a list of the 24 genera of Plebejinae, there are ideas on their evolution, and there are some basic comments on the morphological concept of the species, as opposed to the biological one.

Lep10: ”A third species of Echinargus Nabokov (Lycaenidae, Lepidoptera).” Psyche--A Journal of Entomology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 52 (3–4), Sep–Dec 1945, p. 193. A one-page article with an addendum to the preceding paper, stating that the Neotropical lycaenid Echinargus martha DOGNIN (formerly labeled Lycaena martha) had been recognized to belong to Nabokov’s new genus Echinargus.

Lep11: ”Southern Pierids in New England.” Psyche--A Journal of Entomology (Cambridge, Massachusetts), 53, 3–4, Sep–Dec 1946, p. 42. A seven-line note saying that Nabokov had observed two pierids usually occurring farther south in Cambridge, Massachusetts.



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