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Riley propelled entomology from a collector's parlor hobby of the nineteenth century to the serious study of insects in the Modern Age
This definitive biography is the first full account of a fascinating American scientist whose leadership created the modern science of entomology that recognizes both the essential role of insects in natural systems and their challenge to the agricultural food supply that sustains humankind. Charles Valentine Riley: Founder of Modern Entomology tells the story of how Riley (1843–1895), a young British immigrant to America – with classical schooling, only a smattering of natural history knowledge, and with talent in art and writing but no formal training in science – came to play a key role in the reorientation of entomology from the collection and arrangement of specimens to a scientific approach to insect evolution, diversity, ecology, and applied management of insect pests.
Drawing on Riley's personal diaries, family records, correspondence, and publications, the authors trace Riley's career as farm laborer, Chicago journalist, Missouri State Entomologist, chief federal entomologist, founder of the National Insect Collection, and initiator of the professional organization that became the Entomological Society of America. Also examined in detail are his spectacular campaigns against the Rocky Mountain Locust that stalled western migration in the 1870s, the Grape Phylloxera that threatened French vineyards in the 1870s and 80s, the Cotton Worm that devastated southern cotton fields after the Civil War, and the Cottony Cushion Scale that threatened the California citrus industry in the 1880s. The latter was defeated through importation of the Vedalia Beetle from Australia, the spectacular first example of biological control of an invasive insect pest by its introduced natural enemy.
A striking figure in appearance and deed, Riley combined scientific, literary, artistic, and managerial skills that enabled him to influence every aspect of entomology. A correspondent of Darwin and one of his most vocal American advocates, he discovered the famous example of mimicry of the Monarch butterfly by the Viceroy, and described the intricate coevolution of yucca moths and yuccas, a complex system that fascinates evolutionary scientists to this day. Whether applying evolutionary theory to pest control, promoting an American silk industry, developing improved spray technologies, or promoting applied entomology in state and federal government and to the public, Riley was the central figure in the formative years of the entomology profession. In addition to showcasing his own renderings of the insects he investigated, this comprehensive account provides fresh insight into the personal and public life of an ingenious, colorful, and controversial scientist, who aimed to discover, understand, and outsmart the insects.
List of Illustrations
1. The Thames, the Channel, the Rhine, 1843-1859
2. Along the Kankakee River, 1860-1863
3. Chicago and the Prairie Farmer, 1863-1868
4. Missouri State Entomologist, 1868-1877
5. The "Book of Nature" According to Darwin
6. Subterranean Killers
7. Devouring Locusts
8. Washington Gadfly, 1879-1881
9. Assisting Nature's Balance
10. Years of Fulfillment
11. "A Great Big Silk Farm"
12. Vedalia the "Wonder Beetle" and Biological Control
13. Creating a National Insect Collection
14. Unfinished Business
15. A Valuable Career Cut Short
Appendix: List of Insects and Other Arthropods
W. Conner Sorensen is the author of Brethren of the Net: American Entomology, 1840–1880 and many articles in scientific journals.
Edward H. Smith (1915 – 2012) was professor emeritus and head of entomology at Cornell University where he chaired the Department of Entomology and authored numerous Riley-related articles in scientific journals and publications.
Janet R. Smith (1922 – 2018) was Edward H. Smith’s research partner and spouse.
Donald C. Weber is research entomologist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
"It [Charles Valentine Riley: Founder of Modern Entomology] is a fitting monument for this man of many talents – his work and stamina can still inspire, his science is still relevant, and also his life history with much energy spent on political maneuvering to further his causes is sadly a modern fate, with resources for research being always under attack, threatened by budget cuts and ideological ridicule."
– International Journal of Environmental Studies
"A comprehensive biography of Charles Valentine Riley is long overdue. Eccentric, creative, and brilliant, with an eye for the beauty of the insects he wanted to control, Riley revolutionized his field. His career – ably documented here – illustrates the ways human history and lives of insects are intimately bound together."
– Kim Todd, author of Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis
"The authors examine C.V. Riley's life in exhaustive detail, from his childhood to his interactions with Charles Darwin and B.D. Walsh to his work as America's national entomologist. This engaging book is a valuable contribution to the history of science."
– Gene Kritsky, Mount St. Joseph University
"Finally, a detailed, comprehensive biography of C. V. Riley, the founder of modern entomology and a role model for 21st century researchers with a love of both basic and applied science. Beyond the science, this volume captures, in vivid detail, the complicated life path life of a man who was born the illegitimate son of an Anglican clergyman, was educated in elite European schools, worked as a farm laborer, and rose to the rank of chief of the entomology division at USDA and the curator of insects for the Smithsonian before his untimely death from a bicycle accident at the age of 52. C.V. Riley did interdisciplinary research before we had a word for it. This new volume provides insight into how and why he did it."
– Fred Gould, University Distinguished Professor of Entomology at North Carolina State University, and member of the National Academy of Sciences
"Naturalist, experimentalist, artist, poet, prophet, philosopher, showman, politician, inventor, teacher, pragmatist, dreamer – oh yes, and a scientist too. This biography of C.V. Riley is a beautifully and authoritatively written story of a brilliant mind, a torrid life, and a flawed man."
– Jeffrey A. Lockwood, professor of natural sciences and humanities, University of Wyoming