By Rebecca Hersher ’11Harvard Correspondent
Unbeknownst to many, Nabokov had two distinguished careers: one writing fiction, and one studying butterflies. Now, an international team led by Naomi Pierce, the Hessel Professor of Biology and Curator of Lepidoptera at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ), has shown that Nabokov was remarkably insightful about the biogeography and evolution of blue butterflies in the family Lycaenidae.
Ten years before publishing “Lolita,” Nabokov, in a moment of broad evolutionary insight, published a detailed hypothesis for the origin and evolution in the New World of the butterflies he studied, the Polyommatus blues. Nobody paid much attention to the entomological musings of the amateur lepidopterist, who was then a lecturer in literature at Wellesley College and unofficial curator of lepidoptera at the MCZ. In a room in the museum, he pored over specimens looking for clues to their ancestry.
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