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Distinguished author

Georges cuvier narrow.png

Georges Cuvier
1769–1832. Standard IPNI form: Cuvier

Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert Cuvier (most often published simply as "Georges Cuvier") was a French naturalist and zoologist. He is sometimes referred to as the founding father of paleontology. Cuvier was a major figure in natural sciences research in the early 19th century and was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology through his work in comparing living animals with fossils. Cuvier's work is considered the foundation of vertebrate paleontology, and he expanded Linnaean taxonomy by grouping classes into phyla and incorporating both fossils and living species into the classification. Cuvier is also known for establishing extinction as a fact: at the time, extinction was considered by many of Cuvier's contemporaries to be merely controversial speculation.

He is also remembered for strongly opposing theories of evolution, which at the time (before Darwin's theory) were mainly proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Cuvier believed there was no evidence for evolution, but rather evidence for cyclical creations and destructions of life forms by global extinction events such as deluges (outburst flooding).

Cuvier wrote hundreds of scientific papers and books. His most famous work is Le Règne Animal (1816–1817, four tomes; English title The Animal Kingdom). It sets out to describe the natural structure of the whole of the animal kingdom based on comparative anatomy, and its natural history. Cuvier divided the animals into four embranchements ("Branches", roughly corresponding to phyla), namely vertebrates, molluscs, articulated animals (arthropods and annelids), and zoophytes (cnidaria and other phyla).

He is the author of thousands of new taxa, among them well over 5,000 species of fish and molluscs. In 1800 and working only from a drawing, Cuvier was the first to correctly identify in print, a fossil found in Bavaria as a small flying reptile, which he named the Ptero-Dactyle in 1809 (later Latinized as Pterodactylus antiquus).

When the French Academy was preparing its first dictionary, it defined "crab" as "A small red fish which walks backwards." This definition was sent with a number of others to the naturalist Cuvier for his approval. The scientist wrote back: "Your definition, gentlemen, would be perfect, only for three exceptions. The crab is not a fish, it is not red, and it does not walk backwards." In 1819, he was created a peer for life in honour of his scientific contributions and is thereafter known as Baron Cuvier.

See also: Distinguished authors of previous months.

Species of the month

Common European Glowworm

Lampyris noctiluca

Lampyris noctiluca (Linnaeus, 1758)

Some facts about this beetle:

Average Size: The adult female is 12–20 mm long, while males rarely grow longer than 10 mm. The larvae are often only a few milimeters long.
Protection status: Not assessed.
Diet: Even though they are small in size the larvae are fierce carnivores, roaming leaf litter in search of tiny slugs and snails. Adults rarely feed at all.
Range: From Portugal and Britain in the west, right across Europe and Asia to China in the east. It also survives further north than any other firefly, almost reaching the Arctic Circle. For example, it is fairly common in south- and central Sweden and southern Finland.
Strange fact: The light of this firefly is actually cold light, producing very little wasted heat. When glowing only 2–10 percent of the energy is wasted as heat, while a whopping 90–98 percent of the energy is converted into light. This makes the process much, much more energy efficient than any light sources ever manufactured by humans.


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