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Moths, Myths, & Mosquitos: The Eccentric Life of Harrison G. Dyar, Jr.

Biography / Memoir
  • A compelling narrative that details both Dyar's illustrious scientific career and his complex personal life
  • A well-researched biography of a fascinating yet little-known American scientist
  • A new look at the man who revolutionized insect classification

By: Marc E Epstein(Author)

341 pages, 16 plates with colour & b/w photos; b/w photos, b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Hardback | Mar 2016 | #224502 | ISBN-13: 9780190215255
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £25.99 $33/€28 approx

About this book

On September 26, 1924, the ground collapsed beneath a truck in a back alley, revealing a mysterious underground labyrinth. In spite of wild speculations, the tunnel was not the work of German spies, but rather an aging, eccentric scientist named Harrison Gray Dyar, Jr. While Dyar's covert tunneling habits may seem far-fetched, they were merely one of many oddities in Dyar's unbelievable life.

For the first time, insect biosystemist Marc E. Epstein presents a complete account of Dyar's life story. Dyar, one of the most influential biologists of the twentieth century, focused his entomological career on building natural classifications of various groups of insects. His revolutionary approach to taxonomy, which examined both larval and adult stages of insects, brought about major changes in the scientific community's understanding of natural relationships and insect systematics. He was also the father of what came to be known as Dyar's Law, a pragmatic method to standardize information in insect classification. Over the course of his illustrious career, Dyar named over 3,000 species, and established the List of North American Lepidoptera, an unrivaled catalog of moths and butterflies.

However, Dyar's scientific accomplishments are a mere component of this remarkable biography. Epstein offers an account of Dyar's complicated personal life, from his feuds with fellow entomologists to the scandalous revelation that he was married to two wives at the same time. Epstein also chronicles Dyar's exploration of the Baha'i faith, his extensive travels, and his innumerable works of unpublished fiction. Comprehensive and engaging, Moths, Myths, and Mosquitos will delight entomologists and historians alike, as well as anyone interested in exploring the zany life of one of America's virtually unknown scientific geniuses.


Ch. 1: The Dyars and the Hannums: An Earlier Generation
Ch. 2: Dyar, Jr: Early Growth Stages and Development
Ch. 3: Collecting and Rearing Lepidoptera, and Dyar's Law: 1882-1891
Ch. 4: Long Collecting Trips and Sawflies: 1889-1897
Ch. 5: Postgraduate Education: Classification of Moths and Bacteria
Ch. 6: Genealogy of the Limacodidae and the Dyars
Ch. 7: Last Days in New York, L.O. Howard, and a Move to the U.S. National Museum

Ch. 8: Life in the District of Columbia and Wellesca Pollock
Ch. 9: Building the National Collection, Dyar's "List of Lepidoptera," and the Entomological Society of Washington
Ch. 10: Battle of the Titans Smith and Dyar, and Their New Love - The "Skeets"
Ch. 11: Collecting Moths, Mosquitoes, and Travels: 1901-1909
Ch. 12: Literature Wars and Last Battles with Smith
Ch. 13: Advances and Conflicts in Professional Life as a Lepidopterist: 1907-1914

Ch. 14: Wellesca's Baha'i Faith, New Wealth and Growing Concerns by Zella as Dyar's Life Begins to Unravel: 1906-1908
Ch. 15: Marriage Troubles
Ch. 16: The Separation: 1915
Ch. 17: Divorce Wranglings in Reno
Ch. 18: Divorces, Appeals, and Bigamy
Ch. 19: After the Scandal, Dismissal, and Friend Knab: 1917-1918

Ch. 20: The National Collection of Lepidoptera, its Workers, and Their Tiffs: 1920s
Ch. 21: Mosquitoes and Pursuit of Reinstatement
Ch. 22: Dyar and His Tunnels
Ch. 23: Personal Life and Baha'is in the 1920s
Ch. 24: Unity in the UNSM Lepidoptera Section and Acquiring the Barnes Collection
Ch. 25: Final Days: Trip West, Projects, and as Custodian
Ch. 26: Financial Collapse and Final Push for Reinstatement


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Marc E. Epstein is Senior Insect Biosystematist for Lepidoptera at the California Department of Food and Agriculture and Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian Institution. He researches and writes on evolution and classification of moths and their biodiversity, and develops identification tools for moths that threaten agriculture. At the NMNH he was in the Department of Entomology (1988-2003), cofounding the Department's Archives and Illustration Archives. His research on caterpillars, including images and videos, is currently featured in the NMNH exhibit "More than Meets the Eye" and has been a guest on NPR's Fresh Air about his work on the book Night Visions: the Secret Design of Moths.

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