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Peter S. Pallas and His Curious Cats

The scientific names assigned to animals often have intriguing origins, which can be revealed by books in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ collections. The Pallas’s Cat of central Asia, for instance, is named after German naturalist Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811), the first person to publish a detailed description of the animal. Although he was not fully aware that the curious creatures he had seen during his travels were a new species, Pallas’s account and his accompanying illustration were definitive enough to establish the foundation for the scientific record. Pallas spent much of his life in Russia, where he conducted expeditions in search of new and unusual animals and plants. In his account, Travels through the southern provinces of the Russian Empire in the years 1793 and 1794 (originally published in German in 1799-1801), he speculated that the mysterious felines known today as the Pallas’s Cat (Felis manul) were the half-wild offspring of a local nobleman’s pet:

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Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays in 2008! All through 2008, the Smithsonian Libraries has been celebrating the 40th (Ruby) anniversary of the year (1968) that Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley created the Smithsonian more »