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Female Entomologist: Patricia Vaurie (1909 - 1982)

posted Apr 3, 2014, 11:17 AM by Becky Fisher

Patricia Vaurie and her husband were both enthusiastic about natural history. Patricia has an extremely successful career studying beetles while her husband pursued his artistic interest in North American birds. Their trips together provided the AMNH Entomology collection with a breadth of data that is still productive and informative to the field as we continue to digitize her plant bug specimens. 

Patricia Wilson was born on September 14, 1909 in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. While she was still young, her family moved to New York City. By 1920, they lived only a block away from the American Museum of Natural History. Patricia attended high school and later Barnard College, Columbia University. She graduated in 1931 with a degree in English literature.

During World War II she started volunteering as a technical assistant in the Department of Insects and Spiders (now the Department of Invertebrate Zoology). Around this time she met her husband Charles Vaurie. He was a dentist in New York with an avid interest in painting North American birds. Although Patricia focused on the study of beetles, the two of them appreciated their mutual interests in natural history. They were married in 1934.

By 1947 she achieved the title of Assistant and by 1957 became a Research Associate. Patricia published 77 revisionary studies of beetles throughout the course of her work. She received a total of four grants from the National Science Foundation to study Diplotaxis (Scarabaeidae) and Metamasius (Curculionidae). According to her glowing obituary, her colleagues held her in high regard for her meticulous and usable work.

The TTD-TCN project digitizers at the American Museum of Natural History are still benefitting from her enthusiasm for insects and detail. Although Patricia specialized in beetles, she collected a variety of other insects while on trips for the Natural History Museum with her husband. Interestingly, the Specimen Database tells us that most of their work trips took place during the months of July and August in pleasant locations such as the Bahamas, Cuba, New Mexico, Guatemala, the Ruins at Palenque (dark blue peg), and Flagstaff, Arizona. This sounds like an extremely convenient way to skip out on New York City summers. Moreover, these trips were often funded as expeditions. The map to the right represents all of the localities that the Vauries collected plant bug specimens during the D. Rockefeller Mexico Expedition of 1953 (green pegs).

We have been digitizing many species that were collected by her but were later determined by other AMNH entomologists. This tells us that she collected for the greater good of the field even though beetles were clearly her specialty. The current, massive plant bug collection at AMNH does not solely exist because of previous plant bug enthusiasts. Although such specialists have left a huge impact, the enormity of the project is just as dependent on the previous work of enthusiastic entomologists in general.

Although some of these plant bugs were collected without a clear objective, the usefulness of these insects has only increased over time. Take the image of the Josephinus reinhardi (light blue star) for example, it was collected is 1952 by Patricia Vaurie and it sat until 2005 when M. D. Schwartz determined the specimen. Now, in 2014, it is available for digitization and has become a small piece of data in a growing database.



References and Suggested Further Reading:

Herman, Lee H. "Patricia Vaurie: 1909-1982." The Coleopterists Bulletin 36.2 (1982): 453-57. JSTOR. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.

Ratcliffe, Brett. "PATRICIA VAURIE." PATRICIA VAURIE. University of Nebraska-Lincoln State Museum - Division of Entomology, 01 Jan. 1988. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.

Short, Lester L. "In Memoriam: Charles Vaurie." The Auk 93.3 (1976): 620-25. JSTOR. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.

Maps built using and the Tri-Tropic Specimen Database.

Photo of Patricia Vaurie from her obituary in The Coleopterists Bulletin


Article by Becky Fisher: TTTCN Intern and Masters candidate at Columbia University in Museum Anthropology.