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Wednesday's Women in STEM: Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian was one of the first and most important entomologists; during her lifetime, she classified many new insect species and illustrated the metamorphosis of a butterfly for the first time. Maria was born in Germany in 1647 and combined science and art to become a world-renowned scientific illustrator. During the seventeenth century, Europeans believed that insects spontaneously appeared around trash and represented the devil. They had no idea about an insect's job and value to an ecosystem. Despite these common beliefs, Maria pursued the study of insects and believed their existence was important to understand. As a child, she collected insects to study how they behaved. While others observed dead insects in display cases, Maria observed and painted live insects. She became particularly interested in butterflies. The connection between caterpillars and butterflies was not known until she contributed to butterfly research. In 1679, she published a book on metamorphosis, filled with scientific notes and new illustrations. At the age of 52, Maria was still curious about insects and wanted to discover new ones. She traveled to the rainforests of South America from Europe and documented never-before-seen bugs in the face of dangerous rain and heat conditions. While on the trip, she created illustrations for another book with new insects depicted.​ H​ er book, ​The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname, ​became a bestseller all over Europe and helped to demystify the American continent. Maria died pursuing her research, and she caught malaria while in the New World. Maria's work not only helped future scientists to classify and understand insects, but her detailed illustrations are still used in education today​. ​To commemorate Maria's life and discoveries, her portrait was on German money and stamps for decades.

BY: Kenedy Quandt

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