The Aurelian: a wonderful book of British butterflies and moths

by Ann Sylph on

National Insect Week is taking place between 20-26 June 2016 and to celebrate we are featuring a wonderful book of British butterflies and moths as our artefact of the month.

The Aurelian: a natural history of English moths, and butterflies, together with the figures  of their transformations and of the plants on which they feed, drawn , engraved, and coloured from the natural objects by Moses Harris. New ed., with their systematic names, synonyms, and additional observations upon the habits of the species figured, by John O. Westwood, London :  Bohn, 1840.

This engraving is thought to be a self-portrait of Moses Harris collecting butterflies in a wooded landscape. It is fascinating to see how well dressed he was when collecting as well as being able to see the equipment he used.

The author as a well dressed young man in a wooded landscape. He is collecting insects.
Frontispiece of the Aurelian depicting the author as a well dressed young man collecting insects.

Moses Harris was born in 1730 and lived until circa 1788. He was interested in insects from a young age encouraged by an uncle who was a member of the Society of Aurelians, an early organisation for the study of insects. He was an accomplished illustrator depicting many species of butterflies and moths with their associated food plants.

The first edition of the Aurelian was published in 1766 but these images are from the later 4th edition in 1840 with nomenclature by John O. Westwood.

The title page of the 1840, new edition is beautifully decorated.

Decorative title page of the Aurelian, New ed. 1840
Title page of the Aurelian, New ed, 1840

Throughout National Insect Week 20 – 26 June ZSL Library will be a displaying a range of magnificently illustrated insect books. ZSL Library is open Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5.30pm. There will also be an exhibition of 3d insect images in BUGS! at ZSL London Zoo.

Colourful engraving of rare swallowtail butterflies
Engraving of Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio machaon, this is one of the largest and rarest of the British butterflies.

Visit some of other blogs featuring publications by Entomologists :

Emily Mary Bowdler Sharpe A monograph of the genus Teracolus,. The first woman to first author a paper in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society:

Marie Merian - Histoire des insectes de l'Europe, dessinées d'apres nature et expliquées par Marie Sibille Merian... traduite du hollandois en françois par Jean Marret.
Amsterdam :  Bernard, 1730

JUNE Update There is now a display of historic insect books in ZSL Library until the end of June Microsoft Office document icon Insect week book list 2016 (1.69 MB)

If you are a ZSL Fellow or Member please do also visit the ZSL Library to see our display. Others are also very welcome but please do bring photographic ID and proof of address when you visit, see the ZSL Library Collection for details. ZSL Fellows may borrow post-1940 books from the ZSL Library.

ZSL Library is open weekdays 9.30am to 5.30pm but is closed on bank holidays.

Explore and discover our collections online using our online catalogue.


Find out more about  ZSL Library Collection and explore our collections further using our online catalogue


Further reading :

The Aurelian legacy: British butterflies and their collectors, [by] Michael A. Salmon with additional material by Peter Marren and Basil Harley, Colchester :  Harley, 2000

Colourful engraving of tiger moths, `woolly bear' caterpillar and food plants


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