“A given landscape lives twice: as a delightful wilderness in its own right, and as the haunt of a certain butterfly or moth.”
The Butterfly Trail
The highways and roadside motels of pre-interstate America provided the backdrop for literary giant Vladimir Nabokov's famous novel Lolita. But they were also prime collecting grounds for Nabokov’s great passion, lepidopterology—the study of moths and butterflies.
Nabokov was never a full-time entomologist, but he was an extremely knowledgeable amateur who published several scientific papers and described more than a dozen new butterflies.
Soon after moving to the U.S., Nabokov began volunteering in the Lepidoptera collections at the American Museum of Natural History. It was here that he met with early scientific encouragement and began to study the group that would later become his specialty: small Polyommatus butterflies known as blues. Recent genetic research has supported Nabokov’s 1945 hypothesis about the evolution of blues in the New World.
Nabokov took many road trips over his lifetime and drove thousands of miles across the United States, but his first cross-country adventure was in the summer of 1941. The writer donated many of the butterflies and moths collected on that trip to the Museum.
Recently, Curatorial Assistant Suzanne Rab Green geo-referenced and curated Nabokov’s 1941 collection, re-tracing his three-week cross-country road trip, providing a vivid record of a formative period for the great novelist.
Unless otherwise noted, images are © AMNH.