The Flowering of Ecology

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Caterpillar Book


The Flowering of Ecology presents an English translation of Maria Sibylla Merian’s 1679 ‘caterpillar’ book, Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumen–Nahrung. Her processes in making the book and an analysis of its scientific content are presented in a historical context. Merian raised insects for five decades, recording the food plants, behavior and ecology of roughly 300 species. Her most influential invention was an 'ecological' composition in which the metamorphic cycles of insects (usually moths and butterflies) were arrayed around plants that served as food for the caterpillars. Kay Etheridge analyzes the 1679 caterpillar book from the viewpoint of a biologist, arguing that Merian’s study of insect interactions with plants, the first of its kind, was a formative contribution to natural history.

Read Kay Etheridge’s blogpost on “Art Herstory”.

See inside the book.

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Kay Etheridge Ph.D. (1986), University of Florida, is a Professor of Biology at Gettysburg College. She has published articles and book chapters on physiological ecology and on the influence of images in the history of biology.
"It is hard to choose between superlatives with which to characterize this modestly sized but highly significant volume. Focusing on one of best-known names in the history of natural history at the turn of the eighteenth century, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717), it demonstrates that even the esteem in which she has been held fails to recognize the extent of her originality."
- Arthur MacGregor, Archives of Natural History, July 2022, Vol. 49, No. 1: p. 224

"Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students and faculty. General readers."
- A. L. Jacobsen, California State University, Bakersfield, June 2022, issue of CHOICE

"[...] after years of distortion, in the past few decades, her real contributions to entomology have started to come into view. The Flowering of Ecology: Maria Sibylla Merian’s Caterpillar Book by Kay Etheridge, with translations by Michael Ritterson, is a significant contribution to this effort."
- Kim Todd, University of Minnesota, in: EMW, Spring 2022, Vol. 16, No. 2: pp. 351-53. “[…] scholars tend to focus on Merian’s gender and her Surinam adventure (1699-1701), while her early works, especially Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung (1679 and 1638), were long overlooked, largely because they were published in German. Nevertheless, the Caterpillar Book is a valuable source of information about Merian’s methods of field and laboratory work.”
- Jana Černá, University of West Bohemia, in: Renaissance Quarterly, Vol. 75 , No. 3 , Fall 2022 , pp. 1012-14.
Brian Ogilvie

List of Illustrations

part 1: The Flowering of Ecology

1 Before the Transformation
 Art and Science Intertwined
 Still Life Painting
 Finding God in Nature
 Natural History of Insects in Printed Works
 Publishing Illustrated Natural History Books
 Studies of Metamorphosis

2 A Life Investigated
 Growing up in Frankfurt am Main
 Early Fascination with Insects
 Marriage and the Move to Nuremberg
 The Flower Books
 Beginnings of the Raupen Books
 Merian’s Motivations

3 Described and Painted from Life
 Fieldwork: The Basis of Merian’s Empirical Studies
 Laboratory Work
 Merian’s Study Journal
 Merian’s Other Sources of Information
 Illustrating the Raupen Book
 Composing the Images
 Making the Plates
 Merian’s Counterproofs
 Composing the Text of Her Book
 Financing, Printing and Marketing the Raupen Book

4 For the Benefit of Naturalists
 The Rupsen Books
 The Last Caterpillar Book
 Later Editions and Their Lasting Effects
 Recognition and Reception by Near Contemporaries
 Merian’s Influence on Natural History
 Merian’s Reputation as a Naturalist

part 2: Plates, Translation and Commentary

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Caterpillar Book

Appendix: Translation of Selected Entries from Maria Sibylla Merian’s Study Journal
All interested in Maria Sibylla Merian, early entomological studies, the history of natural history and the integration of images and text in early modern works of biology.
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