The tail end of the moth: clarifying species boundaries

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Science, Technology and Society


The search by naturalists for good characters upon which to base both classifications and determinations of species led some 19th century entomologists to put their faith in insect genitalia as a criteria by which they could differentiate between and classify forms. Karl Jordan was such an entomologist, who turned to these tiny structures as an aid to his work as a museum curator to identify, describe and classify moths and butterflies. In his writings on the subject he also demonstrated how the attempts of systematists to order the diversity of nature had profound implications for the efforts of biologists to explain the origin of that diversity. However, Jordan's plan of how to do systematics well required much more than convincing biologists of the importance of museum work. It also depended on refining the priorities of a natural history community that worked according to diverse means, priorities and methods during a tumultuous century.