Victorian Zoologist   Leave a comment

My most recent post for ISEC was about the scientific name of clouded leopards, neofelis nebulosa. I wanted to look up how that name came about, and was introduced to John Edward Gray.

“We have no problems, only situations. Not all problems have solutions, but all situations have outcomes.”
–John Edward Gray

Gray apprenticed as a botanist under his father, but was rejected by the Linnean Society. So, he began to pursue zoology. He went to work for the British Museum, initially collecting insects. He later worked on reptiles, and became well known for his work with whales. His work was spent documenting newly discovered species–information used throughout the world. The genus neofelis, which includes the clouded leopard, was named by Gray.

“The skulls of the species of true Cats are so similar and uniform in their structure that they present very few tangible characters for the separation of the species into groups.”
–John Edward Gray

Taking a bit of inspiration from British artist Sydney Padua, and her interest in Charles Babbage, I’ve started to pick through some of his writings.* The quote above is, in a fashion, one of the things that fascinates me about cats: that they are so very similar among their members, that one of their key differences is scale.

The breadth of his work is something that I also find interesting. As fields progress, they tend towards finer and finer degrees of specialization. Gray worked at a time of discovery that allowed for broad influence. You can see that in other fields, and with other people. For instance, Da Vinci made contributions to art, architecture, and engineering. Both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin contributed to several philosophical, scientific, and culinary pursuits beyond simply founding a nation.

Gray has one other distinction: by buying some stamps issued in 1840 solely to keep, he became the first known stamp collector. He appears to have applied his skills at describing and distinguishing species of animals to his philatelic pursuits.

Gray lived from 1800 to 1875. His fifty-year career (all while employed by the British Museum) included the publishing of literally thousands of papers.

*as in, during the twenty-four hours prior to my writing this


Posted 2012-04-14 by Mr. Guilt in animals, Interesting

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