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Our predecessors

(by O.L. Kryzhanovsky)

Eduard Menetries


Eduard Menetries (1801-1861) was the first professional entomologist in Russia who earned his salary by research work. Some university professors were also studying insects, but they were paid for teaching.

Menetries, was born in Paris. In his youth he was a student of the great Cuvier and a "father of entomology" P. Latreile. On their recommendation he participated in 1821-1825 in the expedition of the Russian Academician G.I. Langsdorff to Brazil where he acquired vast experience of field research and wrote a number of papers on zoology. After returning from Brazil he was invited to St. Petersburg, where he arrived in 1826 and was enrolled on the staff of the Kunstkammer in the position of curator of the zoological collections. He was provided an apartment at government expense and a salary 2500 roubles per year.

In Russia his first and the longest trip in 1829-1830 was to the Caucasus that was not pacified yet. That academic expedition was organized on the initiative of general Emmanuel, member of the Academy, who was army commander on Caucasian lines. The expedition included physicist A.Ya. Kupfer, geographer E.F. Lents and botanist K.A. Meyer. E. Menetries was in charge of the zoological part. Through Moscow, Rostov and Stavropol participants of the expedition arrived in the fortification Kamennyi Most on Malka River, where the staff of general Emmanuel was situated.

Emmanuel with his son and several more people joined them. Under the coverage of 650 soldiers, 350 Cossacks and two cannons the expedition party moved to the Elbrus and made a camp at the foot of the mountain. On 9(21) July two day climbing of Elbrus was undertaken. On the first day the explorers reached the boundary of eternal snow and spent the night there. On the second day they started storming the peak.

They did not succeed in climbing it. When they reached an altitude of 4700 m the sun had risen and the snow cover partly melted, which made further expedition impossible. Only one guide Kabardian Kilar Khashirov reached the peak. Then during one month the expedition examined Elbrus area collecting vast scientific material. Afterwards they returned to Pyatigorsk. There the participants received academic instruction according to which Lenz, Meier and Menetries were to continue their trip for studying the Caspian coast up to the Persian boundary.

At the end of August they left Pyatigorsk and arrived in fortress Groznaya, now Grozny and from there departed at the end of October with Cossack escort to Khasavyurt, crossed Sulak arrived to Caspian coast through Derbent and Kuba and arrived in Baku on 9(21) December. In winter they examined mud volcanos and discharge of oil and gas in the Apsheron Peninsula. On 27 April (9 May) Menetries and Meier moved from Baku southwards through Salyany, southern part of Mugan steppe and coast ot Kyzyl-Agach Bay. In 20 days they arrived in Lenkoran.

They examined lowland and foothill forests with extremely interesting fauna and flora and then made a month trip to the mountains to Zuvand Depression, where they collected abundant entomological materials. When they returned to Lenkoran at the end of June cholera epidemic raged through the city and they quickly moved to Baku and then to Kuba from where they climbed on the slopes of the mountains Shahdagh and Beshbarmak up to the subalpine zone. In Kuba they encountered cholera epidemic again. They moved to Pyatigorsk and departed from there in the middle of October. But because of impassable roads and cholera quarantines they returned to St. Petersburg only at the end of December.

Already in 1831 Menetries published The Annotated Catalogue of Zoological Objects Collected during the Journey to the Caucasus to the Boundaries with Persia. That first large scientific work dealing with the Caucasian fauna contained descriptions of several hundreds of species of Caucasian insects, mainly beetles and butterflies; up till present it retained its significance as a source of study of animals of the Caucasus. In St. Petersburg Menetries began his curators activities reorganizing the collections. Before him the method of setting collections in the Kunstkammer was totally unscientific.

The collections were exhibited in cases with glass covers grouped in such a way that a large and colourful insect, a butterfly or a beetle was placed in the centre and different species were arranged around it radially, symmetrically where possible. At the centre each radius began with a small insect which was followed by larger insects so that the case was filled completely. Set in such a manner the collection had no scientific importance, since even orders were mixed there in a quaint way reflecting aesthetic ideas of the person who set the collection.

No labels with identifications of insects were applied, data of their origin were usually missing. Menetries divided the collection by order, identified the material where possible and arranged the collection in systematic order. A large portion of material that had no labels and suffered from pests and mould was disposed of. When the Zoological Museum of the Academy of Sciences was officially opened in 1832 Menetries was designated Curator of its entomological collections. He held that position up to the end of his life.

The new collection at the Zoolgical Museum was based upon specimens collected by Menetries in Brazil, in the Caucasus. Later the rich collection of [ ] that consisted mostly of insects from St. Petersburg province and a small but interesting collection from the vicinity of Irkutsk were added to the museum. It was not easy for Menetries to live and work. His salary was growing slower than the cost of living and it was hardly possible to maintain his family with that salary. Menetries earned additional money by teaching classes at the Smolny Institute, a college for girls of noble origin and other colleges.

In 1855 he was elected Corresponding Member of the Academy of Sciences, but at that time that did not give any advantage in terms of material well-being. In the museum. He did not even have an assistant at the museum. In the 1830s through the 1850s vast zoological collections were received by the museum from different regions of the Russian Empire up to Russian America and owihg to collection exchange with foreign Museums. There wer not enouth cabinets and cases. Under such difficult conditions Menetries had done a lot primarily on beetles and butterflies.

He studied faunae of European Russia of Siberia; published one among the first works on fauna of Kazakhstan on the basis of collections of the famous traveller S. Karelin (great grandfather of the poet Alexander Blok). He examined collections of A. Leman, a doctor and naturalist who was sent on a Russian political mission to Khiva and Bukhara nearly unstudied at that time and died on the way back from Middle Asia.

Thus, bases of knowledge on entomofauna of these areas were laid and collections were established on which this knowledge was rested. In order to cope with the huge amount of technical work and to have time for investigations Menetries seeked the assistance of a small group of St. Petersburg amateurs in entomology (primarily butterfly and beetle collectors).

They prepared and labeled insects that were included into the collection. For that service they received duplicate specimens. Negative aspects of this practice became apparent very soon. Some amateurs took advantage of Menetries reliance. A particularly negative role was played by V.I. Mochulsky since the middle 1850s. That very energetic man, colonel of the General Staff, owner of a huge collection and author of numerous works on systematics of beetles and partly of other insects suggested that he would identify and bring into order the Coleoptera collection.

After that he handled the collection of the Museum as if it had been his own. He took home whole parcels of material took the most interesting specimens used dubplicates for exchange purposes and returned to the museum only the remaining part. His example was followed by other collectors who examined Hymenoptera, Heteroptera and other groups.

At the end of his life Menetries was studying mostly butterflies which are therefore in a better state of preservation than other insect orders. When he died at the beginning of 1861 his successor A.F. Moravits had to make much effort to bring the collection into order and regulate access to it. Relations with S. Mochulsky were ceased. He brought his collection to Moscow; after his death the collection was deposited at the Zoological Museum of the Moscow University.

The circle of amateur entomologists, of which Menetries was the centre had played a positive role in the devlopment of entomology in Russia. It was the core of the Russian Entomological Society (since 1930 through 1992 All-Union, now Russian Entomological Society). The first project of the society arose in the beginning of 1848, but as has been stated in the paper written in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Society (1910). For circumstances of that time not only was the fulfilment of that idea to be postponed, but even private meetings were to be ceasesed.

This happened because Nickolas I frightened by the revolutionary movement of 1848 in Europe was afraid of any even scientific societies and meetings. It was not until after his death that the motion for the organization of the society was started at the reign of Alexander II, who was more liberal, with the assistance of intelligent and well-educated grand princess Elena Pavlovna, widow of Mikhail Pavlovich, uncle of Alexander II.

In 1859 the permission was granted. The organizing meeting of the Russian Entomological Society took place on 25 February 1860 in the large official apartment of general K. Manderstern, Superintendant of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress. His son colonel of the Guards was among the organizers of the society. The meeting was attended by 30 people including Academicians J.F. Brandt, K.M. Baer (elected the first President of the Russian Entomological Society) and A.T. Middendorff the famous researcher of Siberia. Seven founders of the society were officers. Menetries who was seriously ill could not attend the meeting. He passed away a year later on 10 April 1861. His contribution in the development of entomology in Russia should not be forgotten.

List of Eduard Menetries publications