Asteropsis Imbricata

Plate XV. Asteropsis Imbricata Grube
Illustration by Alexander Agassiz

Burrill on stone
North American Starfishes
Harvard University Museum of Comparative Zoology, Memoirs, Volume 5, no. 1
Alexander Agassiz (1835-1910)
Cambridge: Welch, Bigelow & Co., University Press, 1877
Gould Library

Louis Agassiz’s son, Alexander, published North American Starfishes in 1877, four years after his father’s death. The illustrations, made more than a decade earlier, were intended for publication in the fifth volume of the Contributions. As Alexander notes in his introduction, naturalists had made significant contributions to research on starfish in the years since his father began work on what was to be Volume V.

Although the Contributions were a popular success, they were a bit behind the times scientifically. Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, and by the 1860s, the scientific community no longer subscribed to Agassiz’s theory of the immutability of species. Agassiz, however, could not comprehend an ever-changing nature. For Agassiz, the creatures he studied- from turtles to jellyfish – were “divine thoughts expressed in nature in living realities.”1

(1) Louis Agassiz. Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America, Vol. I. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1857, p. 135.