CATESBY, Mark (1683-1749) Appendix Pl. 5, The Yellow and Black Pye

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Painted and etched by Mark Catesby (1638 - 1749)
Etching with hand color, paper dimensions: approximately 19 x 14 inches
From the Appendix (Part 11) to Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands
London: 1747 - 1771

Currently known as the troupial, Icterus icterus, sea-daffodil, Pancratium maritimum, and the blue mud wasp, Chalybion californicum*Catesby described these subjects as follows:


Hist. Jam. p. 301. 

The Yellow and Black Pye. 

This is about the sizc of a Black-bird; the irides of the eyes were yellow, surrounded by a bluish skin; the bill was black, and somewhat more than an inch long; the head was black; the throat had long-pointed feathers, hanging loosely down; the upper-part 
of the back, black, as were the wings, with a mixture of white, and under the quill feathers brown; the neck and under-part of the body, with the hind-part of the back and rump of a redish yellow. They are called in Jamaica, Bonano Birds, that fruit being a part of their Food. They are very sprightly and active Birds, and are often kept in cages for their docility and antique gestures. 

Lilio-Narcissus Polianthus, flore albo

This Plant has a bulbous root, from which rises a thick succulent stalk to the height of seven or eight inches; on the top of which grows a duller of about eight or ten small green bulbs, from every one of which proceeds a monopetalous tubulous white flower. 

The upper-part of the tube divides into fix narrow petals, inclosing a cup with its verge divided into twelve sections, having a stilus, fix stmina, with yellow apices. The whole cluster of flowers is inclosed by a perianthium, which divides in two and discloses the whole bunch, yet remains hanging to the stalk while the flowers continue; the leaves are of a deep shining green, like those of the Lilio-Narcissus flore luteo autumnalis minor

These Plants I saw growing in a bog near Palluchucla, an Indian Town on the Savanna river within the precinct of Georgia

Vespa Ichneumon coerulca. 

This Wasp is about three quarters of an inch in length. A pipe or fiflula of a quarter of an inch long, joins the thorax to the abdomen, all which are of a deep blue. It had fix legs. The Wings were blended with brown and blue, having each a black spot at their ends. 

Mr. Collinson, in the Philos. Trans. of the Royal Society, N. 476. p. 363. has described and figured two ichneumon Wasps, with their Nests, from Pensylvania; but as the descriptions of the colours in his and mine does not exactly agree, it cannot be absolutely determined whether his and mine be the same. 

This species of Wasp form cylindrical pipes of clay, about the bigness, but twice the length of one's little finger; these they fix horizontally under sheds or penthouses, joining eight, ten, or more of them together side by side; these tubes are divided by several partitions, forming as many cells, in every one of which they lay an egg, and fill up the vacancy with Spiders, and close up the cell securely. It is to be observed that the Wasp cripples the Spiders, with an intent not only to disable them from crawling away while she is accumulating a sufficient store of them, but also that they continue alive to serve the nympha with a supply of fresh food, till it enters into its change; in order for 
which it spins itself a silken case, in which it lies in its chrysilis state all the Winter, and in the Spring gnaws its way through the clay structure and takes its flight. They are silent, but in the very action of plastering and forming their fabricks, which so soon as they set about they strike up their odd musical notes, and with surprising dexterity and odd gesticulations cheerfully perform the business they are about, and then cease singing till they return with a fresh mouthful of moist clay, repeating their labour in this manner till the whole is finished. 

N.B. The Wasp described at the following 13th' page forms also a nest of clay, but of a different structure from this, tho' the method of working and singing in both differs little or nothing. 

These Wasps seem not to affect nor to have any thing to do with vegetables, for they subsist on Insects only; Spiders particularly seem to be their principal food; wherefore they mostly frequent out-houses, cellars, &c. where Spiders most abound; these they seize and fly away with in their mouths, tho' some of them are of equal size with themselves; when one proves too big for the Wasp to fly with, she drags it to her nest; an instance of which I saw of an exceeding large Spider dragged up an erect wall by one of these Wasps and earned into its nest, which being both weighed, the Spider proved to be eight times the weight of the Wasp. 


Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749)

Facts regarding Catesby’s early years are scant. It is known that he was born in the ancient market town of Sudbury, England to a father who was a legal practitioner and mayor of Sudbury and to a mother from an old Essex family.  It seems that he received an understanding of Latin and French and was familiar with the eminent naturalist Reverend John Ray. Following his father’s death, he was endowed with the means to pursue his interest in the natural history of North America.

Catesby arrived in Virginia in 1712 as the guest of his sister and her husband, Dr. William Cocke, an aid the Governor of the colony.  Soon he was acquainted with the well-connected William Byrd, a Fellow of the Royal Society whose diary contains passages discussing Catesby’s strong curiosity with all things relating to North America. 

This included plants native to the fields and woods of Virginia through which Catesby traveled, collecting examples of botanical specimens unfamiliar in England, which he illustrated and sent back to his uncle, Nicholas Jekyll and the apothecary and botanist, Samuel Dale.

Catesby’s first trip to the New World was extensive and included a visit to Jamaica. Although he felt that his approach to a larger understanding of its natural history was lacking in structure, his experience would inform his future expeditions. 

Following his return to London in 1719 Catesby resolved to return to the colonies and gather additional information for his illustrated Natural History... He gained the financial support of members of the local scientific community, many of who were members of the Royal Society keen to send a naturalist to Carolina who could provide an accurate account of its resources.  Among those who belonged to the Royal Society was William Sherard, who after examining Catesby’s drawings, was key in advancing the project. With further backing by Sir Hans Sloane, court physician and naturalist whose collection would form the basis for The British Museum, Catesby sailed to Carolina in 1722.

Catesby’s four years of travels following his second arrival in North America brought him throughout South Carolina, parts of Georgia, and the Bahamas. He was 

intent on visiting the same location at different times throughout the year in order to observe his subjects as they developed. In addition to gathering botanical specimens of potential horticultural importance, he also acquired birds and other creatures.  

Catesby’s patrons in London were eager to receive examples of the varieties of plants and animals he encountered but collecting, packaging, and sending them back to England served as a distraction to his intended Natural History...  Nevertheless, he continued to observe, paint, and write descriptions of the previously un-investigated wildlife he encountered on the shores and in the swamps, woods, and fields of the middle American colonies.

Catesby returned to England from his final voyage to America in 1726 and spent the next seventeen years preparing his Natural History... He envisioned his work containing colored plates reproducing his studies from nature in a substantial, folio-sized format, an achievement nearly unprecedented in earlier natural history publications. Catesby arranged for financing in the form of an interest-free loan from the Quaker Peter Collinson, a fellow of the Royal Society. Nevertheless, the cost of paying professionals to prepare his delineations on copper plates for printing was too great. To this end, with the assistance of Joseph Goupy (1689–1769), a French artist living in London, he taught himself to etch.  In addition to producing nearly all of the plates for his publication, Catesby closely supervised the coloring of the engravings, either painting the impressions himself or closely overseeing the work to insure its fidelity to his preparatory work. To further finance the project Catesby sold subscriptions, offering his book in sections of 20 plates to be published every four months.

The first volume of Natural History of Carolina, Florida & the Bahama Islands, containing one hundred plates, was completed in 1731 and no doubt facilitated his election as a fellow of the Royal Society in February, 1733. The second volume, also containing one hundred plates, was finished in 1743 and was supplemented with twenty plates based on information sent to Catesby by John Bartram and others in in America appeared in 1746–1747. Of the approximately 180 - 200 copies of the first edition produced, roughly 80 copies remain complete and accounted for and there are an unknown number in private collections. A second edition was issued by George Edwards in 1754 and a third edition, published by Benjamin White, in 1771 who continued to print examples of the plates until at least 1816. As early as 1749 editions were produced for the European market with translations of the text in German, Latin, and Dutch. In these the plates for the first volume and appendix were re-etched by Johann Michael Seligmann and the plates for the second volume re-etched by Nicolaus Friedrich Eisenberger and Georg Lichtensteger.  

Catesby’s tenacity resulted in a sweeping and compelling study of American plants, animals, and marine life native to little documented lands in which he strove to assign scientific nomenclature to his subjects. Indeed, Linnaeus, in his 1758 Systema Naturae, made use of much information brought to light by Catesby using it as the foundation of his system of binomial nomenclature for American species.

Throughout the production of his Natural History…Catesby lived in London with his Elizabeth Rowland with whom he had four children and married in 1747, before his death in 1749.

*From James L. Reveal’s Identification of the plants and animals illustrated by Mark Catesby for The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands in the appendix of The Curious Mr. Catesby, University of Georgia Press.