Nabokov knew his butterflies.

Vladimir Nabokov. Modern literary genius. Darling of the New York Times. And now, certified brilliant entomological theorist:

There were several plausible hypotheses for how the butterflies might have evolved. They might have evolved in the Amazon, with the rising Andes fragmenting their populations. If that were true, the species would be closely related to each other.

But that is not what Dr. [Naomi Pierce of Harvard] found. Instead, she and her colleagues found that the New World species shared a common ancestor that lived about 10 million years ago. But many New World species were more closely related to Old World butterflies than to their neighbors. Dr. Pierce and her colleagues concluded that five waves of butterflies came from Asia to the New World — just as Nabokov had speculated.

“By God, he got every one right,” Dr. Pierce said. “I couldn’t get over it — I was blown away.”

I love stories of passionate amateurs.

[via Mr. Steve Ellman.]