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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Sophora, Plate 35

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Sophora, Plate 35

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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Sophora, Plate 35

From Dissertatio de Generatione et Metamorphosibus Insectorum Surinamensium 

Published: Amsterdam, J. Oosterwyk, 1719

Transfer-print Watercolor

Framed size: approx. 24 x 31"

This plate was engraved by Maria Sibylla Merian herself. The Sophora plant, at the time of Merian, was something of a mystery. She described it as "a wild tree whose spherical fruits hang seven or eight to a stalk like beads on a rosary". However, to this day the species is not absolutely certain. The large reddish caterpillar named the Brassolis was first found by Merian on this tree, and she claims to have found similar specimens later on coconut palm leaves. Merian observed that during the day these caterpillars would retire into close-spun ochre-colored nests almost half a cubit long, coming out to seek food at night. However, as the scientif name Brassolis sophorae suggests, they are associated with the sophora rather than the coconut palm, which incidentally Merian does not reproduce, partly because it has been sufficiently  described by others, and partly because it seemed too big. The associated butterfly belongs to the typically South American family of Brassolidae, and does not fly during the day but at dusk and at night. Merian also found the smaller caterpillar of leucothyrics eagle on the saphora.

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