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  • Butterflies Up Close and Beautiful

Aug 2008
Caren B. Les

Digital images of the butterflies and moths collected and classified by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) are a mouse click away, courtesy of the Linnean Society of London, which has launched the photographs on its Web site. The collections contain many type specimens of species named by Linnaeus. Each specimen was imaged by specialists at the Natural History Museum in London.


Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus collected and classified butterflies and moths, many of which are well-known. The Linnean Society of London has made digital images of the specimens available on its Web site. Images © The Linnean Society of London.

Visitors worldwide, including those studying taxonomy in remote locations, can view these research-quality images in close detail at in the Linnean Collections Online section using the integrated Flash-based single-source image viewer. The original specimens consequently are preserved from all but necessary handling.

Linnaeus’ binomial nomenclature system of plants and animals has provided us with a framework for knowledge of the biota of Earth, to help in the conservation of the species and to support biodiversity. He labeled approximately 300 types of butterflies, the majority of which still bear the Linnaean species name. Among them are widely studied varieties, including the American monarch (Danaus plexippus L.), famous for its annual migrations.

The Linnean Collections at the Linnean Society of London.

Founded in 1788, the society curates the scientist’s original library and collections and is creating a full digital archive of the materials. It also has digitized insect specimens from the collection of its founder and first president, Sir James Edwards Smith (1759-1828), in a first-phase project.


The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui L.). This common species has a wide geographic range.


The Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi L.). Studies of the coloration of this camouflaging species have generated interest in the biophysics of photonic structures.


The Paris Peacock (Papilio paris L.). One can see in this species how color patterns of butterflies are built up from individual scales.


Brimstone Butterfly (Papilio rhamni L.). The English word “butterfly,” as the “butter-colored fly of spring,” may have originated from this species.


The Chinese Yellow Swallowtail (Papilio xuthus L.). Native to parts of Asia and also found in Hawaii, this butterfly was named after a Greek mythological figure.


Peacock Butterfly (Papilio io L.). Its common name was inspired by the spots on its wings, which resemble the tail of a peacock.


Blue Mountain Butterfly (Papilio ulysses L.). Linnaeus named this butterfly after the Greek mythological figure Odysseus.


Menelaus Blue Morpho (Papilio menelaus L.). Named after Menelaus, the mythological king of Sparta who hid with his warriors in the Trojan horse, this butterfly is commonly found in South America.

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