William Lewis Carpenter – Nebraska’s First Lepidopterist

While perhaps not the first lepidopterist, the earliest known listing of butterflies in Nebraska comes from W. L. Carpenter way back in 1880. Mr. Carpenter was born in Dunkirk New York in 1844 and served first in the US Navy and later the Army during the Civil War. After the war the Army reassigned him to expeditions into the present day Dakotas and Montana where he assisted in geologic surveys, scientific collections and observations. One of his later outposts was as an officer of the Department of the Platte: “First Lieut. W. L. Carpenter, Ninth Infantry, Company B, Fort Niobrara.” In 1880 from Fort Niobrara (near present day Valentine in Cherry County) he provided the first published listing of butterflies in Nebraska. “List of Species of Butterflies Received From Fort Niobrara, Nebraska” in the journal The Canadian Entomologist. There he listed 26 butterflies he had encountered there. After digging through the 140 year old taxonomy I think this is an accurate account of what he found:

Checkered White, Orange Sulphur or Alfalfa Butterfly, Dainty Sulphur, Great Spangled, Aphrodite and Variegated Fritillaries, Silvery Checkerspot, Pearl Crescent, Question Mark, Eastern Comma, Gray Comma, Weidemeyer’s Admiral, Hackberry Emperor, Northern Pearly Eye, Wood Nymph, Little Wood Satyr, Striped and Banded Hairstreaks, Eastern Tailed Blue, Summer Azure, Southern Cloudywing, Zabulon, Crossline, Sachem, Checkered and Silver Spotted Skippers. All this of course being without benefit of mechanized transportation.

Mr. Carpenter passed away in 1898 back in his home state of New York. He and his wife are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Read more about his illustrious career here.

Cherry County presently has 89 butterfly species recorded from within it’s boundaries.

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