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Surprising Science

Nabokov Was Right on Butterflies

Vladimir Nabokov, popular author and self-taught expert on butterflies, once put forth a theory of evolution for the Polyommatus blues butterfly. Today, his theory is getting some attention.

Vladimir Nabokov was the curator of lepidoptera at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and collected the insects across the United States. He published detailed descriptions of hundreds of species. And in a speculative moment in 1945, he came up with a sweeping hypothesis for the evolution of the butterflies he studied, a group known as the Polyommatus blues. He envisioned them coming to the New World from Asia over millions of years in a series of waves. Few professional lepidopterists took these ideas seriously during Nabokov’s lifetime.


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