This is Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. She died on September 1, 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo. Shortly thereafter, her body was packed in ice and sent by railroad to Washington, DC, to become a part of the National Museum of Natural History’s collection as a lasting legacy of the harm that can be done to the natural world by humans. Just decades prior, the Passenger Pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America. The disappearance of the species helped ignite the modern conservation movement.

For the Centennial of her death, Martha was recently brought out for display and is currently on view in the exhibition Once There Were Billions, Vanished Birds of North America. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Libraries in partnership with the National Museum of Natural History and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the exhibition tells the story of the last Passenger Pigeon, a member of a species that once numbered in the billions, along with the disappearance of the Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen. These extinctions reveal the fragile connections between species and their environment. 

The Smithsonian Libraries, National Museum of Natural History, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library will be hosting a Twitter Chat on September 2, 2014 from 2-3 pm Eastern Time. This is your chance to ask questions about the Passenger Pigeon, extinction, and biodiversity literature.

Follow @SILibraries, @NMNH, and @BioDivLibrary and use the hashtag #Martha100 to tweet your questions.

Why BioDiversity Library is super neat is one of the coolest websites I’ve stumbled across for art reference. From their site:

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global “biodiversity commons.” The BHL consortium works with the international taxonomic community, rights holders, and other interested parties to ensure that this biodiversity heritage is made available to a global audience through open access principles. In partnership with theInternet Archive and through local digitization efforts, the BHL has digitized millions of pages of taxonomic literature, representing tens of thousands of titles and over 100,000 volumes.

Which right off the bat sounds pretty cool, but that’s not why it’s exciting. It’s exciting because of illustrations like these ones:

Over 100,000 books containing intricately detailed studies of animals, anatomy, plants, people, minerals, fungi, machinery, fossils, extinct species, tools, architecture, insects, science, and a ton of other subjects.

Oh, and they scan the entire book. Cover to cover. So if you want some awesome paper textures or book covers, or reference for title pages or calligraphy, they’ve got you covered (ha).

Everything on the site is completely free, open, and available to look through or use in accordance with public domain laws. Plus, any page containing a scientific name or term will be tagged with that word, so if you’re looking for something specific you can find it! 

They have books published from the 1450’s all the way to current day.

I’m a pretty big fan!

Voluta Fugetrum, or for those who are not conchologists, a sea shell!

See more in this 1825 book, A catalogue of the shells contained in the collection of the late Earl of Tankerville : arranged according to the Lamarckian conchological system ; together with an appendix containing descriptions of many new species, by G. B. Sowerby. From the Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard University via the Biodiversity Heritage Library. 

Cue the theme from Jurassic Park…

For Penguin Awareness Day, we’ll introduce you to this illustration from Musei Leveriani explicatio, anglica et latina (1792), by George Shaw, which is in our Cullman rare book collection and available online through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. A co-founder of the Linnean Society, Shaw catalogued the collection of Sir Ashton Lever, an early collector of natural objects. Lever eventually broke the bank with his stuffed animal habit, leaving him bankrupt and forcing the sale of his collection by lottery. 

The illustration is of a penguin, of course. But which one I cannot say for sure without calling forth a committee from the ornithology department. The Latin name listed is Pinguinaria patachronica. Pinguinaria seems to be a synonym for Aptenodytes. There is an Aptenodytes patachonica Latham, 1790, which is a synonym of Aptenodytes patagonicus J.F. Miller, 1778 which, if you’re still awake, would mean this is an illustration of the King Penguin

One more item of note: listed among the illustrators is Sarah Stone, an English naturalist and painter. Little is known of her life, but she illustrated collections during a time when exploration was exposing the western world to innumerable new specimens and artefacts, including the collection of Sir Lever. You can read more about Sarah Stone at the Australian Museum.


Flowers! Lots of beautiful flowers!

A group of carnations from New illustration of the sexual system of Carolus von Linnaeus :and the temple of Flora, or garden of nature, 1807. Missouri Botanical Garden, Peter H. Raven Library via Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Frontispiece from Flowers of coast and sierra, with thirty-two plates in color by Edith S. Clements (Edith Schwartz). From the University of Michigan via HathiTrust.


Margaret Armstrong for the win. Really—these watercolors are amazing. 

From the 1915 book Field book of western wild flowers, by Margaret Armstrong in collaboration with J. J. Thornber. Margaret Armstrong, the author, is responsible for the amazing illustrations. From the University of California via Internet Archive and the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Like flowers? DPLA has flowers. Bunches of them

GIF IT UP entry from Dustin Williams in Dover, Arkansas. Source material from the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Internet Archive. Dustin writes:

I chose this particular image to animate due to personal interest in scientific knowledge. But through this, I learned of the true quality of old photographs and learned the old process used to create these photos and why they were like that. This knowledge caused me to realize how easy we have it today capturing and editing images compared to what was used then. This image in particular was in good quality compared to others I had looked at but still had flaws. The reason this image was animated was due to the illusion created by the frames repeating. If one attempts to stare at one particular part of the image they recognize movement and follow the part with their eyes. This is but one example of the fascinating amount of optical illusions created by images such as this.

You can find more information about this resource on the Public Domain Review. This GIF is made available under a CC-BY License.