cremington.jpgCharles Lee Remington, a renowned naturalist and educator who was considered the father of modern lepidoptery, died on May 31. Cause of death was not released. He was 85.
Born in Reedville, Va., Remington spent much of his childhood in St. Louis chasing and collecting butterflies with his father, P. Sheldon Remington. His passion for butterflies continued into adulthood; he studied biology at Principia College in Illinois and served as a medical entomologist during World War II. Remington’s work in the Pacific involved researching the insect-borne epidemics the servicemen experienced. Remington even suffered from the “fiery pain” of a centipede bite in the Philippines when one of the creatures made a snack out of his armpit. After extracting the insect from his sleeping bag, Remington preserved the specimen and later shared it with his students.
Upon his return to the states, Remington received his Ph.d from Harvard University, where he worked on the systematics of bristletails (silverfish) and other primitive arthropods. In 1947, he co-founded The Lepidopterists’ Society, an organization dedicated to fostering collaborative research and exchange on butterflies and moths. The society, which has thousands of members in over 60 countries, publishes the Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society. Remington served as president of the society and editor of its journal.
In 1948, Remington took a teaching position in the department of zoology at Yale University. Over the next 44 years, he taught a variety of courses on ecology, evolution, entomology, bioethics, endangered species and the biodiversity crisis, and became a mentor to several generations of scientists and amateur collectors, including author Vladimir Nabokov, monarch biologist Lincoln Brower and nature writer Robert Michael Pyle. In 1958, he was a Guggenheim Fellow at Oxford University.
Remington’s research outside the classroom focused on evolution, specifically a theory he developed called the “biological species concept.” Remington believed that plants, insects and mammals in certain isolated areas, called suture zones, tended to interbreed, or hybridize, with close relatives. This biological phenomenon was originally discredited by others in the field, but has since been revived and reconsidered.
Although Yale didn’t have an insect collection when he arrived, Remington became curator of the entomology division at the Peabody Museum of Natural History and created one from scratch. His collection eventually contained 2.5 million specimens, including the world’s largest collection of insects that are gynandromorphs (part male and part female).
In his free time, Remington founded the New Haven Entomological Society, a group that promotes entomology in Connecticut, and the Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental organization that focuses on invertebrates which are essential to biological diversity. He also co-founded Zero Population Growth, a grassroots organization dedicated to controlling overpopulation.
In 1996, Remington created the first U.S. preserve for the Magicicada, a cicada that appears by the millions once every 17 years. The cicada’s arrival in the summer of that year brought Remington a unique form of fame; he discussed the creature at length with numerous media outlets, and described the insect as a culinary treat. To prove his point, he cooked and ate several boiled and fried cicadas on camera.
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