Natural History of scale insects in 1734

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First chapter of Memoire pour servir a l’histoire des insectes. Description of scale insects and cochineal. You can see on the drawing cacti, host plants of the cochineal Dactylopius. Source / BnF

One of my favorite times when I was studying in Natural History Museums in Paris then New York, was to roam in their libraries. They house some of the oldest books on natural history. Despite today’s easier and instant access to electronic version of publications, pre-internet publications were often only available in library aisles, waiting sometimes decades for a curious of naturalist to find them. This was my favorite time: looking for a publication on scale insects, going to the library, retrieve the precious printed copy and turn the pages slowly. I love old libraries, the smell, the almost romantic feeling that radiates from them.

I only recently came across an old French book from 1734 that describes the natural history of insects. Two sections of this multi-tome memoire is dedicated to scale insects . At the time, the name that we use in French now for scale insects: cochenille, was only used for the Mexican cochineal, making red dye. All other scale insects were called “gallinsectes” as they resemble parts of plants for the most derived groups.

Here is the pdf of the book, scanned from the French National Library: 

This book describes the biology and what we knew about scale insects back in 1734. For me, reading old books like these gives me some appreciation about how much was known before, how scientists/naturalists perceived nature and diversity, and gives a sense of the pace in research, how meticulously observant naturalists were and that they took time to look around the world even though the tools were limited.

Unfortunately, today, we cannot work at this slower pace anymore, and this makes me think that we don’t have time anymore to slow down and think more deeply about phenomema and processes that we are trying to understand in a deeper level. Or simply observe the world with more appreciation.


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