Vladimir Nabokov, evolutionary biologist extraordinaire

By Carl Zimmer | January 25, 2011 7:16 pm

Here’s a paraphrasing of an email I got this morning from Harvard biologist Naomi Pierce:

“I don’t know if you remember, but I mentioned a few years ago how Vladimir Nabokov, best known as a novelist, was also a self-taught expert on butterflies. In 1945 he had a wild idea about how his favorite group of butterflies evolved that no one took seriously. Well, for the past decade I and my colleagues have been scouring the Andes for butterflies and sequencing their DNA to test his hypothesis. And he turns out to have been right in all sorts of ways.

“Oh, and the paper will be published tonight.”

I got on the phone fast. And here’s my story on Nabokov’s last laugh in the New York Times.

[Update: here’s the new paper that vindicates Nabokov, and here’s his 1945 monograph [click on the pdf link for a free file!]. Check out his Nabokovian conclusion at p.44, plus his painstaking drawings of butterfly sex organs.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Writing Elsewhere

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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