The Butterfly Effect

So Lolita wasn’t the only light of his life: the brilliance that came so naturally to the writing of literary giant Vladimir Nabokov extended to the natural-science realm as well. Who knew?

Nabokov (below, in the ’40s) had a not-widely-known expertise in the field of lepidoptera; he was considered one of the finest butterfly authorities of his day, and served as curator in the category at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. It was recently announced that his long-held theory on the evolution and migration of a particular group of butterflies, known as the Polyommatus blues (“Nabokov’s Blues”) had finally been confirmed via DNA sampling. (The details difficult to understand for a non-aurelian — how exactly do you gene-sequence a butterfly species back a couple of million years?)

The avocation and art combine in Nabokov’s 1943 poem “On Discovering a Butterfly,” that begins:

I found it and I named it, being versed
in taxonomic Latin; thus became
godfather to an insect and its first
describer — and I want no other fame.

(Luckily for lovers of literature, this wasn’t the case.)

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