Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717)

Excerpts from The Atlantic: “There were other publications on insects, but according to Etheridge, no one had ever drawn their full life cycle and their ecological connections. Instead of depicting them as specimens set against a plain background, Merian showed the relationships between animals and plants. And at a time when other scientists were trying to make sense of the natural world by classifying plants and animals into narrow categories, Merian looked at their place within the wider natural world. She searched for connections where others were looking for separation.

In June 1699, aged 52, she and her youngest daughter boarded a ship headed to the northwestern coast of South America, to Surinam, the colony that the Dutch had swapped with the English for Manhattan. It was an audacious enterprise. Not only was Merian a woman naturalist in the male–dominated scientific world of the late seventeenth century, Etheridge writes; she also embarked on a exploration for entirely scientific purposes before it became fashionable. (Previous explorations always had political, economic, or military premises.) She traveled alone and without protection, and financed her adventure by selling her drawings.

Predating Charles Darwin by 150 years, she is a pioneer in many ways. This homage to her in a children’s book is wonderfully illustrated as well.

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