Dr. Pedro Wygodzinsky

Petr Wygodzinsky (also called Peter, Pedro, and affectionately “Wygo”) was a Curator of Entomology at the AMNH from 1962 to 1986. His research on various groups of hexapods was prolific and highly regarded, as well as transformative for entomology at the AMNH.

Peter Wygodzinsky was born in Bonn, Germany in 1916 and received his Ph.D. at the University of Basel, in Switzerland. He emigrated to Brazil in 1941, where he became a colleague of the well-known entomologists Herman Lent and Hugo de Souza Lopes. Peter then moved to Tucuman, Argentina in 1948, employed as a taxonomic specialist on blackflies (Simuliidae) at the Institute of Regional Medicine at the National University of Tucuman, where he was also Professor of Entomology and Genetics. In 1954 he moved to the Instituto Miguel Lillo (also in Tucuman), and from 1959-1962 he was Professor of Entomology at the National University in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While in Argentina, Peter was awarded two Guggenheim fellowships to study with Robert L. Usinger, the well-known authority on Heteroptera at the University of California, Berkeley. It was there that he met Jerome G. Rozen. Peter was so impressive a researcher that when Rozen became Chair of Entomology at the AMNH, a position was offered to him. At the AMNH Peter was the curator-in-charge of Diptera, Hemiptera, and apterygotes. The museum’s Diptera collection was large, due to the work of C. H. Curran (see his profile), but Peter added greatly to several families that were poorly represented, notably the Simuliidae and Agromyzidae. The Heteroptera collection at the AMNH was modest then, heavily represented by groups with large species, like Coreidae and Pentatomidae. It was Peter’s efforts that began the development of the AMNH Heteroptera collection as one of the best in the world. He added substantial amounts of Neotropical Reduviidae, Enicocephalidae, and Dipsocoromorpha (through acquisition of the Emsley collection), and even arranged for the Heteroptera collection at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, to be transferred to the AMNH. His taxonomic love, though, was the apterygotes: Diplura, Protura, Archaeognatha (bristletails), and Zygentoma (silverfish). One of his enduring discoveries was the relict silverfish,Tricholepidion gertschifrom coastal redwood forests on northern California and Oregon (Wygodzinsky, 1961: Ann. Ent. Soc. Amer. 54: 621-7). Tricholepidionstill fascinates entomologists, who debate its position as either the sister group to silverfish or possibly to all other insects. The AMNH has one of the finest collections of apterygotes in the world as a result of Peter’s efforts. Peter Wygodzinsky was a superb microscopist and morphologist, who meticulously prepared thousands of slide-mounted dissections of the various taxa he studied. He was also a prolific illustrator (having produced some 21,000 original illustrations); he believed that a researcher who produced his own illustrations (rather than relegating them to an assistant) gains a more profound understanding of morphology. Despite his time spent preparing slides and illustrations, Wygodzinsky published more than 250 scientific papers (see bibliography). Among these titles were some of the most comprehensive monographs published by the AMNH on insects, such as his 614-page monograph on the emesine assassin bugs (Bulletin of the AMNH 133 [1966]), which contains 3600 figures. This monographic approach to revisionary systematics has been emulated by other AMNH entomologists. Peter was extremely erudite, and was fluent in German, English, Spanish, Portugese, and French.   As a result, he was familiar with the original writings of Willi Hennig (published in German) well before other AMNH scientists, including those who are credited with formulating and promoting cladistic methodology. In fact, he translated from the German Hennig’s monograph onThe Diptera Fauna of New Zealand as a Problem in Systematics and Zoogeography(Pacific Insects Monograph 9: 1-81 [1966]). A biography of Peter Wygodzinsky was published by Schuh and Herman (J. N.Y. Ent. Soc. 96: 227-244 [1988]), which included a complete bibliography of Wygodzinsky’s publications. Peter succumbed to Parkinson’s disease on January 27, 1987, in Middletown, New York.