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Among recently rediscovered notes of Asa Fitch were some of the very earliest observations on invasive aphid pests to the United States, such as the cabbage aphid, "brought here...on shipboard." Also shown below is a lithograph of the cabbage aphid that was found with Fitch's notes. (Images courtesy ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory, which hosts an Asa Fitch website.)
Composite image of (1) portrait of Asa Fitch, (2) sample of handwritten text, (3) image of aphid lithograph.

Entomology Pioneer's Notes, Still Relevant, Now Online

By Luis Pons
May 22, 2006

The actual handwritten observations about aphids made by Asa Fitch, a 19th-century pioneer of U.S. insect studies, can now be viewed at an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) website. The documents had spent more than a century tucked away in a collection in Maryland.

The site, called "Resurrecting Asa Fitch's Aphid Notes: Historical Entomology for Application Today," offers nearly 800 pages of notes by Fitch—some written on recycled galley proofs and handbills—that discuss approximately 190 aphid species.

According to entomologist Gary Miller of the ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL), the notes are of great scientific and historic value, yielding glimpses of Fitch's personality and shedding light on the language and lifestyle of the times.

The well-preserved writings feature data on aphids’ life history, morphology, predators and host plants, much of which is still relevant today. They include references to the cabbage aphid, Brevicoryne brassicae, which in 1791 possibly became the first invasive aphid identified in North America. Fitch was also first to record several other invasive aphids, including, in 1846, Liosomaphis berberidis, whose description is found on the site.

The website was compiled at SEL by Miller, entomologists Ethan Kane and Robert Carlson, and technician Jonathan Eibl.

Fitch, who was born in 1809, became the first professional entomologist appointed by a state when New York hired him in 1854. He published more than 200 reports and articles on insects and related topics.

When Fitch died in 1879, his entomological collection and library were sold to collectors and the U.S. National Museum, and—according to Miller—his aphid notes and some specimens went to where they are today: the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Aphidoidea Collection in Beltsville, Md., which is now managed by SEL.

SEL has laboratories and offices in Beltsville and at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

You can view Fitch's notes through SEL's homepage.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.