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Harrison Dyar: Travels in 1894 & 1895

Book 415-435
Cover of Harrison Dyar’s Blue Book 415-435. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives.

From May 13-20th, the Smithsonian Libraries is participating in the #DigIntoDyar campaign – encouraging the public to transcribe the field books of this remarkable entomologist in the Smithsonian Transcription Center and to learn more about his life and work. This post was written by Marc Epstein, Research Associate at the National Museum of Natural History and author of Moths, Myths and Mosquitos:The Eccentric Life of Harrison G. Dyar, Jr.. You can read Marc’s first post about Dyar here.


Much  can be learned about Harrison Dyar’s travels in his blue books and catalogue, both of which are held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. As Dyar moved around the country, he carried specimens with him and recorded his observations. Dyar’s 1894 records in his blue books (some of which are available for transcription in the Smithsonian Transcription Center) and catalogue began from January to May, while attending classes at Columbia University. Blue Books [427-432] reveal Dyar was receiving larval specimens in alcohol from A.S. Packard or live eggs for rearing from around New York City from Jacob Doll or from H.W. Nash in Pueblo, Colorado. The first reports of Dyar seeking caterpillars were those of sawflies around New York City in Central Park (reported in Sawfly notebooks in May).

His fieldwork outside of the city of New York began in Plattsburgh by June, with childhood friend and mentor George H. Hudson. His first moth finds were loopers on maple and he remained in Plattsburgh until mid month (Blue Book 439), when he moved on to Keene Valley, NY until late August (Blue Books: 440- ), and finally to Dixfield, Maine. His wife Zella accompanied Dyar during most of the trip except when Dyar left to attend the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in New York City for a few days in August. During this time Zella watched her husband’s caterpillars and wrote a description of a paddle caterpillar that she found. The visit to Maine was to visit Zella’s mother Harriet M. Peabody or her relatives.


1894 Map Pages from Dyar 150th Transcriptions 2016-2
Dyar’s travels in 1894, as described in his Blue Books. Map courtesy Marc Epstein.


Dyar’s 1895 blue book records and catalogue show that much like the previous year, Dyar began recording data in blue books [516-517] on caterpillars from specimens sent to him by correspondents. After finding eggs and caterpillars around New York City in early June, Dyar went on an extended field trip to Jefferson Highlands and Mt. Washington, New Hampshire through August [Blue Books 526-556] and back to the environs of New York City with Beutenmueller on Long Island in late August [561] and early September at Van Courtlandt Park [558-560]. In late December, Dyar celebrated the holidays with Zella in Lake Worth, Florida, finding many caterpillars [567-575].


First page from Harrison Dyar’s Blue Book 575-625. Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Archives. Available in the Biodiversity Heritage Library.


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