Posts Tagged scientific illustration

Herpetological Review: The Herpetological Art of Robert Cyril Stebbins

It has been some time since my last contribution to the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles‘ journal, Herpetological Review (see also SSAR’s facebook page), so I was honored when I was asked to contribute a retrospective on the late herpetologist and artist Dr. Robert (“Bob”) Cyril Stebbins (March 31, 1915—September 23, 2013) for the column, “Art in Herpetology.”

Hot off the presses in the second issue of the 2017 volume (page 472-473), The Herpetological Art of Robert Cyril Stebbins looks back at the life and career of a man whose contributions to the field of herpetology are still not only celebrated, but put to work on a daily basis as biologists young and old pick up their copy of Stebbins’ field guide, A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, and thumb through the pages to identify this or that lizard, check a species’ range, or compare a specimen to the carefully illustrated plates within.

In the process of preparing this piece, I had the opportunity to handle Dr. Stebbins field notebooks and original intricate illustrations at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Bancroft Library, and had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Emeritus David B. Wake, former Director and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and Theodore Papenfuss, research specialist at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, about their experience working alongside this venerable herpetologist. But nothing says more about Dr. Stebbins’ passion for herpetology than his artwork.

Full Citation: Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2017. Art in Herpetology: The Herpetological Art of Robert Cyril Stebbins. Herpetological Review 48(2): p 472-473.


, , , , , ,


A Page From LIFE – Linsenmaier’s Antioch Dunes Revealed

In 1955, Time LIFE magazine ran the feature article, “The World of the Insects,” an “intimate look at this world of buzzing, flying creatures which abound in summer.” Therein was a 2-part, 6-page-fold-out spread illustrated by famed artist Dr. Walter Linsenmaier titled “A Communal Life on the Dunes.” In detailed cut-aways, the vivid panels feature the flora and fauna of the Antioch Dunes.

(Reproduced with the Permission of Maja Linsenmaier)

(Reproduced with the Permission of Maja Linsenmaier)

Today, the 55-acre Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge is the only federal wildlife refuge in the United States established for the protection of two endangered plants and an insect:

Antioch Dunes evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides howellii)
Contra Costa wallflower (Erysimum capitatum angustatum)
Lange’s metalmark butterfly (Apodemia mormo langei)

It would be 21 years before the Antioch Dunes’ own Lange’s metalmark butterfly was placed on the Federal Endangered Species List and the dunes designated as Critical Habitat for this dwindling butterfly.

In Linsenmaier’s 1955 illustration, the Lange’s metalmark escaped mention. Instead, the article notes:

“On the Antioch dunes of California, near the junction of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, lives one of the most richly varied insect communities. The sand, clay and soil are ideal for the burrows of wasps and bees. Grasses and lotus and lupine plants flourishing on the dunes provide plentiful food. Because the dunes lie near the University of California and the California Academy of Sciences, the life upon them has been studied for decades by entomologists. Artist Walter Linsenmaier’s painting of the integrated society found there is based on their discoveries.”

Linsenmaier the artist was no mere observer. Dr. Walter Linsenmaier (August 18, 1917 – October 31, 2000) was a renowned Swiss painter and entomologist who made a name for himself in part because of his specialized work preparing illustrations of birds and insects – especially wasps – for books and magazines. Linsenmaier was also a respected entomologist, known to have described several hundred new species and subspecies of insects, and to have collected an estimated 250,000 insects from around the world.

Given Linsenmaier’s interest in insects, the Antioch Dunes proved the perfect subject. Beginning in 1929, the remarkable insect fauna attracted entomologists from the California Academy of Sciences and the University of California. Between then and 1982, entomologists continued to revisit the dunes every year (excepting 1931, 1943, 1970, and 1980) making it a veritable hot spot for Bay Area entomologists. During that time, 376 insects were recorded at the dunes, of which only 219 were recollected during survey efforts in the early 80′s, suggesting some 157 insect species have since disappeared. All told, their collecting efforts led to the discovery of 27 new taxa of insects. Several of these species were recorded then for the first and last time, remembered today only by the preserved specimens collected during these early forays. And eight insects are—or were—endemic to the Antioch Dunes and nowhere else on earth. During the most recent survey effort, performed between 1995 and 1997, a total of 249 insect taxa were recorded. However, these taxa represented only 35% of the insect species recorded previously during the last extensive survey effort between 1976 and 1982.

Linsenmaier’s landscapes represent a snapshot of the dunes in their decline, leaving it to one’s imagination how the sandy hills might once have been alive with the hustle and buzz of insects in their hey-day.

Full Citation: 1955. The World of the Insects. TimeLIFE Magazine: 39(6): 43-55. August 8.

[Dr. Walter Linsenmaier’s illustrations featured here were reproduced with the kind permission of Maja Linsenmaier (]

, , , , ,

Leave a comment

Herpetological Review: Scribner’s Monthly’s “In the Larder”

In the Larder HR 44-2 2013I am again excited to announce the publication of my most recent contribution to the new quarterly column, “Art in Herpetology,” one of the many new features of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles‘ new-and-improved, full-color journal, Herpetological Review (see also SSAR’s facebook page).

Hot off the presses in the second issue of the 2013 volume (page 253), you’ll find featured the moody engraving In the Larder prepared for the article, “Canvas-Back and Terrapin“, in the 1877 issue of Scribner’s Monthly magazine. In the gloomy larder depicted therein teeter two terrapins, surrounded by other decadences of the 19th Century – oysters, canvas-back ducks, Flor Fina cigars, Bordeaux wine.

Like the Pacific Coast’s western pond turtle (before the market demand for western pond turtle, in fact), diamond-back terrapins were collected along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast, first as a staple to feed slaves and later, as their numbers waned, as a culinary delicacy destined for the linened tables of the upperclass. Because so little is known about the market trade in “terrapins” along the Pacific Coast, species like the diamond-back terrapin can be used as a model to better understand the market demands for, harvest techniques in pursuit of, and eventual decline in western pond turtle populations throughout California and the west

Full Citation: Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2013. Art in Herpetology. Herpetological Review 44(2): p 253.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Herpetological Review: Jacques Burkhardt’s Western Pond Turtle

I am excited to announce that I was recently asked to contribute to the new quarterly column, “Art in Herpetology,” one of the many new features of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles‘ new-and-improved, full-color journal, Herpetological Review (see also SSAR’s facebook page).

Hot off the presses in the third issue of the 2011 volume (page 382), you’ll find featured the never-before-published watercolor work of Jacques Burkhardt, one of over 900 scientific illustrations in the Ernt Mayr LIbrary‘s Jacques Burkhardt Collection in the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), Harvard University. And of course, the skeletal turtle illustrated is none other than a western pond turtle, noted in this undated watercolor illustration as Actinemys marmorata.

This is just one of two western pond turtle illustrations in the collection – the first (featured here) from the San Francisco area [Physical Piece Id: bAg 168.60.10 (10)a], the second from Southern California ca. 1856 [Physical Piece Id: bAg 168.60.10 (23)a].

Full Citation: Bettelheim, Matthew P. 2011. Art in Herpetology. Herpetological Review 42(3): p 382.

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment