Jean-Henri Fabre is best known for his popularization of insect natural history. Although a reclusive amateur, with no scientific training, he was an acute observer of insect behavior. He combined his observations (most made in his own backyard) with an easy to read writing style that made his books popular.
The ten volumes of Souvenirs Entomologiques attracted only mild attention when they were first published. Fabre was 84 when the last volume appeared, and he was “discovered” soon afterwards. He was elected to numerous scientific societies, provided a government pension, and even the President of France came to visit him.
Jean Henri Casimir Fabre was a French entomologist born at Saint-Léons in Aveyron, France on December 22, 1823.
He earned teaching certificate at the young age of 19 and began teaching in Carpentras. He was a popular teacher, however, he is probably best known for his study of insects, and is considered by many to be the father of modern entomology.
Much of his enduring popularity is due to his marvelous teaching ability and his manner of writing about the lives of insects in biographical form. He died on October 11, 1915.
One of his most notable discoveries was in regards to insect pheromones. Pheromones are chemicals released from the body of animals and insects that are used to attract mates or relay danger.
L’Harmas, Fabre’s house at Sérignan in the Vaucluse northeast of Orange, was well screened by trees. In a series of key experiments, initially studying the Great Peacock Moth, Fabre found that a female moth could attract males over large distances, even on stormy nights.
“It is smell, therefore, that guides the Moths, that gives them information at a distance“.
He deduced that the male antennae had something to so with it, noted that surrounding the female with trays of molecules like naphthalene or lavender oil did not deflect the males from their aim, and observed that males were attracted to an empty cage where the female had spent the previous evening.
Bring it Home
- Visit the Parc de loisirs Micropolis – a tourist attraction all about entomology; there is also a museum on Fabre’s life at Saint-Léons
- Read Fabre’s Book of Insects
- Take part in a National Moth Week event
- Begin your own insect collection
- Take a look at my Introductory Entomology Unit Study
- Learn how scientists are using insect pheromones to protect crops from pests
- Design an inquiry activity of your own. For example, What essential oils are different species of insects most attracted to? or Can pheromones be used to repel ants?
- Conduct an Insect Survey – Collect data to calculate the diversity of insects; includes a free notebooking printable
- Enoy the activity, How do ants find food?
- Test the hypothesis that termites determine the direction of their nest from the degrees of the angles found in their pheromone trails.
Visit my Science Milestones page to learn more about scientists whose discoveries and advancements have made a significant difference in our lives or who have advanced our understanding of the world around us.