Pennsylvania Game News - January 2012 - 52

Called the Father of American Entomology, THOMAS SAY devoted much of his life to the study of natural history, specializing in insects and shells.

ornis saya — doubly named for Thomas Say  according to Ernest A. Choate’s The Dictionary of American Bird Names. In addition,  someone  named  Bonaparte  created  the  genus name Sayornis, not the Bonaparte but  a nephew — Charles Lucien Jules Laurent  Bonaparte — who came with his family to  Philadelphia  in 1822,  where  many  naturalists  resided.  During  his  six  years  there  he re-edited a massive book on American  ornithology, and thus became the so-called Father of Systematic Ornithology. But who was Thomas Say? It turns out,  Say is considered the Father of American  Entomology. Of French Protestant stock,  he was born in Philadelphia in 1787. His  great uncle, William Bartram, who wrote  Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida,  the  first  American  nature  book,  encouraged  Say  to collect butterflies and beetles. At that  time, Philadelphia was a hotbed of naturalists who started the Academy of Natural  Sciences,  and  when  Thomas  Say  joined, he  found  to  his  consternation  that  the  collection of natural curiosities consisted of only six common insects, a few shells, a  dried fish and a stuffed monkey. He resolved  to increase the collection. A handsome, amiable man always ready  to help others, Say devoted much of his life  to the study of natural history, specializing  in insects and shells, although in 1819, as 
52

the zoologist in Major Stephen H. Long’s  expedition  to  the  Rocky  Mountains,  he reported  on  everything  from  the  Indian  languages  to  wolves,  snakes,  birds  and  shells. But both before and after that expedition, he published papers on insects and  land shells, beginning with “Descriptions  of Seven Species of American Fresh Water and Land Shells” and “Descriptions of  Several New Species of North American Insects.” Unfortunately for natural history, Say  left Philadelphia in 1825 to participate in  an altruistic, socialist community at New  Harmony, Indiana. There he met his wife, Lucy. But rancor quickly drove the founders of the community apart, leaving peaceful,  kindly Say to carry on with little help, dying there in 1834 at 47. However, he left a worthy legacy in his  3-volume  work  American Entomology or Descriptions of the Insects of North America published in 1824, 1825 and 1828. He was  credited with being the first efficient and  extensive  describer  of  North  American  insects, especially Coleoptera (beetles). Because  beetles  were  his  specialty,  I  wondered  how  many  were  named  for  him. After several hours on the Internet  studying BugGuide.net, I found 22 insect  species  that  honor  Say,  from  two  species  of caddisflies to Say’s stinkbug. Of those,  10 are beetles, including Ampedus sayi, an  orange and black click beetle that LeConte  named. Could that be the LeConte of LeConte’s  sparrow  and  LeConte’s  thrasher?  Indeed,  it was. John Lawrence LeConte, who was  born  in  1825,  was,  according  to  Arnold  Mallis in his excellent American Entomologists, “our greatest coleopterist, not because  he named almost 5,000 species of beetles,  but because he showed their systematic relationships and pointed the way to the sciGAME NEWS


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Pennsylvania Game News - January 2012

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