FunNature & AnimalThey discover a perfectly preserved 400-year-old butterfly inside a...

They discover a perfectly preserved 400-year-old butterfly inside a book

The “Insect Theater” volume dating from 1634 was once owned by a book collector, but since 1996 it has been housed at Trinity Hall College, the fifth oldest center of the University of Cambridge (founded in 1350).

The surprising discovery was made by Trinity Hall Librarian Jenny Lecky-Thomson who found this centuries-old butterfly squashed within the pages of this ancient library book. The perfectly preserved small specimen of a nettle tortoise or butterfly shell ( Aglais urticae ) was found within a copy of Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum, Britain’s first volume on insects.

How is it possible that it has survived so long intact?

According to the librarian, it is quite a surprise that it has survived so long, as it could have been placed by the first owner of the book during the 17th century . Furthermore, it is common to find botanical specimens in books, but not insects, especially for practical reasons. This is an unprecedented find, as the butterfly is almost as old as the book itself.

In fact, the few exceptions that we can find in history are those of the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, a colleague of fellow naturalist Charles Darwin, who used to place samples of insects on the pages of books with a kind of paste.

“There is a striking similarity between the butterfly’s black ink etching and the actual butterfly itself, which of course was intended so that the various species could be identified by the insect hobbyist,” explains Lecky-Thomson.

The exact moment or who placed the butterfly in this volume is a mystery, but it has been intact on a shelf with equally valuable and rare books for years at Trinity and for centuries in an unknown place.

The book was donated to Trinity Hal College by the family of former Trinity Hall student Lawrence Strangman, who died in 1980. He was a passionate book collector and his old books included the first published natural history books.

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