The History of the Butterfly, Part 35: A New Hesperian

The description of Hesperia powesheik (which became Oarisma poweshiek) starts as follows:

“An undescribed species was found by the writer, abundantly, on a grassy prairie slope, at Grinnell, Iowa, June 21, 1870.  Thirty-one male and two females were taken, all fresh.”  The date on the publication, describing this new species was June 28, 1870.

So did Henry Parker just happen to be traveling around on June 21 and see a butterfly, recognize it as a new species, collect 33 individuals, and write the description within a week? 

I don’t think so. 

I think there was a lot more work involved than that.  I also think there was a great deal of anxiety that went into capturing the thirty-three specimens and writing the description of the butterfly.  Henry Parker took a job at the Agricultural College at Amherst, Massachusetts in the fall of 1870, and I think that by the time he captured the thirty-three individuals he at least knew he was going to take the job, and may have already accepted it.

Did Henry collect insects, including butterflies?  I think he did.  Did he have help?  I would bet money that his wife Helen helped him with all phases of the job, from collecting and killing the butterflies, to pinning them in the correct way, to identifying what they were. 

I think that either Helen or Henry had collected the butterfly prior to 1870, and they knew about where and when to look for it again. 

This would have been a fairly tricky task.  The Poweshiek skipper emerges as an adult in late June or early July, and lasts a week or two at the most in the adult stage.  While it was probably more common then, it was probably still a difficult task because this butterfly needs a fairly specific prairie habitat.

The Parkers knew the butterfly was an undescribed species, and they wanted to collect a fairly large number of individuals before they described it.  They may have already had the description written before they collected the 33 individuals. 

They didn’t have much time.

Not just because of Henry’s job back east.


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
This entry was posted in butterflies, Helen Fitch Parker, Henry W. Parker, oarisma poweshiek, The History of the Butterfly and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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