Enjoying entomological atlases - Part 2( 2012.12.3[Mon.])


  In a previous column I wrote a bit about the pictorial atlases of insects from the 1960s, but now I would like to address an even more famous work from an earlier age: “The full color atlas of insects, continued volume” (Hirayama Shujiro; Ed. Matsumura Shonen; Sanseido, 1937). My own personal copy of this book is actually from the November 10, 1952 printing of the fourth edition, but even copies that survived the Second World War still occasionally turn up in used bookstores. The editor, Dr. Matsumura (1872 - 1960), was born close by to Kobe in Akashi, and was a prominent entomologist and distinguished professor at Hokkaido University, but the book is most widely recognized as Hirayama's work. Hirayama Shujiro's (1889 - 1954) name still graces the Hirayama Museum in Kichijoji-Inokashira. His book is said to have been a major influence on the famed animator Tezuka Osamu, and to have lured the youth of the day into the pleasures of bug collecting - if you speak to people who grew up during that period, you'll hear it mentioned frequently. I got my own copy just three years ago in the UK, from a researcher friend I ran into at the Darwin Sesquicentennial.

  My copy was formerly the possession of one Dorothy James, but there is no record of how she came to have it - only her signature remains. The book is weathered and the spine has fallen away, with several pages loose, but fortunately none are missing and as a whole it remains eminently usable. And more importantly, thanks to the high printing standards already available at the time of its publication, the prints retain their true colors, although these have faded a bit with time, giving them a kind of antiquarian charm not seen in more recent books. But what of that “continued”? Why did the immensely popular 1st volume need such an addendum? The reason is provided right in the preface:
The present volume contains 1200 variants not included in the previous volume, including species showing sexual dimorphism in coloration or shape, those whose metamorphose according climate, and 100 species best distinguished by their undersides...
Changes in metamorphosis by climate is now known more simply as “seasonal polymorphism.” In insects, this “metamorphosis” is of course the transformation of the larva through pupation to the adult form.

  The black swallowtail known as a Chinese windmill is as is listed as (jako ageha (yama joro) Papilio alcinous), reflecting the common name for the species in those days - “mountain courtesan”. (The genus incidentally has since been reclassified as Atrophaneura). A look at the descriptive text reveals:
Males and females are differently colored, with the female a dark gray. Their forms also differ in spring and summer; they are larger in summer, and their purple ventral markings are deeper in color. The larvae feed on the leaves of Aristolochia, Metaplexis, and green climbing fuji. They are found widely in Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, Korea, the Ryukyus, and Taiwan (although those found in the Ryukyus and Taiwan represent a subspecies).
Unfortunately, no reference is made to the “o-kiku mushi” - perhaps that literary sense of natural history was unique to the works published by Hoikusha in the 50s and 60s.

  Looking at several more pages one finds that this is a very different book from others of its kind. For it covers not only the islands of Japan itself, but also many of the territorials held by Japan in East and Southeast Asia in the years leading up to the war. The many additions to the original work represent insects encountered in these new areas, which were probably popular when first introduced, leading to the demand for this expanded edition. On the very first page we see a large print of Agehana (Papilio) malaho, famous for the pair of wing veins that enter its tail-like prolongations of its hindwings. It is a protected species now, but I was previously able to purchase a specimen at the R insectarium. A number of other butterflies are also now recognized as saleable in Japan, which always feels a bit strange. When I see Nyphalidae, emperor moths, Zygaenidae, longhorn beetles, weevils, and stick insects, I can't help think of faraway, tropical lands. For me, these are “exotic” species I would never expect to find leaving nearby.

  Mr. O of the insectarium sometimes recalls how back in the mid-70s, around the time Okinawa reverted to Japan, many people stopped collecting. Those who had managed to fill their collections with the full catalog of “the butterflies of Japan” suddenly lost interest when the local fauna was expanded to include Okinawa. I can understand that feeling, something akin to a sense of emptiness. What, after all, had we been so manic to collect? What was it about making a collection of everything within the strictly defined borders of what we had been calling Japan? I don't know how to justify it, but there seems to be more the feeling than just national borders drawn on a map. In terms of the biogeography of insects, these arbitrary boundaries have no meaning at all.
Irrespective of lines on a map, just thinking about how the distribution range of Papilio memnon forms a cline through East Asia and moves northward every year, makes a joke of the whole idea. There are some things I just don't get about people suffering that particular form of mania.

  In any case, if you look at the butterflies of Asia proper, you can't help but recognize their continental features. Japan is sited at the intersection of Eurasia and Southeast Asia, and is home to species of Parnassius related to those that Fabre may have once chased in southern France, as well as Papilio machaon, P. bianor and P. helenus, large, dusky beauties more characteristic of Southeast Asia. But Japanese insects, even as they resemble neighboring species, have their own uniquely subtle aura as well. Brahmaea wallichii may be distributed widely across East Asia, but the Japanese subspecies is distinct, like something from a woodblock print. It's a feeling deep in the consciousness where the senses of sameness and diversity cross.

  Insects have no care for human borders, or the wars and historical events that transpire around them. They may be unaffected, but seeing how such species are distributed geographically recalls to us that we too are but a single species of primate. By showing how genetic and morphological differences relate to geographic distance, this atlas reminds us of something fundamental, deeper than culture or politics.


A brief postscript.... In fact, I did have a copy of the 1st volume of Hirayama as well, which I found buried deep in my bookshelves only after writing this essay. I have forgotten when and where I bought it, but it seems to have been in a used bookstore in Umeda at some point. If that had been the only thing I would not bother to mention this, just return it to its home in the stacks. But I couldn't resist reporting an even stranger coincidence - this book too has been signed by Dorothy James.