Figures: Summer Fashions by Mr. Punch’s Designs After Nature

A la Peacock_Punch 21 December 1867

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (21 December 1867).

Peacock Headdress_Punch 1 April 1871

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (1 April 1871).

Bird Dress_Punch_23 April 1870

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (23 April 1870).

A la Porcupine_Punch 12 October 1867

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (12 October 1867).

Butterfly Dress_Punch 17 June 1871

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (17 June 1871).

Grasshopper Dress_Punch 23 September 1876

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (23 September 1876).

Beetle Dress_Punch 29 September 1877

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (29 September 1877).

Seaside Dress_Punch 5 September 1868

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (5 September 1868).

Snail Dress_Punch_20 August 1870

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (20 August 1870).

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (16 October 1869).

Butterfly Collar_Punch 30 September 1871

Image credit: Punch, or the London Charivari (30 September 1871).

About These Images

These cartoons were drawn by illustrator and photographer Edward Linley Sambourne (1844 – 1910), who worked for the popular London news and satirical magazine Punch, or the London Charivari.  With the image of ‘Miss Swellington’ promenading in a peacock’s train dress, Sambourne began a series of some 20 images between 1867 and 1876 on the theme “Designs After Nature.”

These fanciful depictions of women have drawn the attention of a few feminist scholars who have interpreted them in light of the Darwinian ideas that recently exploded in the public imagination.  Bernstein (2007) sees these cartoons playing with the line separating humans from other animals, which paralleled morphing views of women in society:  “. . . .an ambigously humorous angle on femininity in flux.”  Likewise, the slow but steady expansion of feminine identity in the 19th century was satirized as more radical gender role reversal.  Cohen (2010) identified images of women in bird plumes as perfect exemplars of Darwin’s observation in The Descent of Man that in humans, women are the more ornamental sex and they fulfill their desire for ornamentation by taking the beautiful feathers of male birds for themselves.

Observation and interpretation of Nature by Darwin and his contemporaries revealed a world not necessarily filled with “all things bright and beautiful.”  The new Darwinian world was one of constant change, which found an apt metaphor in the fickleness of women’s fashions.  Though undeniably still living under tight social constraints and blatant inequalities, Sambourne’s cartoons begin to show that women were not just the domestic angels of the Victorian household, but cunning females employing stratagems from Nature.  Extravagant avian costumes are an inversion of the usual mode of sexual selection, where it is now the female competing to capture male attention and stand out amongst rivals.  The prickles of a porcupine, the snail’s shell bustle, and the wasp outfit advertise the danger of tampering with a woman’s defenses.  There is protective mimicry of the veiled lady masquerading as a group of butterflies.  There is perhaps even unfair advantage to the woman coopting grasshopper leg mechanics in a game of lawn tennis (which is remarkably prescient of modern technological efforts to create powered exoskeleton suits).

In this parade of fashionable ladies (be sure to check back for more featured images!), biologically-inspired men’s attire is rare indeed.  What we do find is the sole image of a man with a butterfly for a collar, directly facing the viewer, though his eyes are squinted with suspicion.  In his gaze he is rather brutish and we sense his indifference in the unapologetic way his cigar ashes fall on the beautiful wings of the butterfly, sparing his dark, dour suit underneath.



Bernstein, Susan David.  2007.  “Chapter 4:  Designs after Nature:  Evolutionary Fashions, Animals, & Gender.”  In Victorian Animal Dreams:  Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture.  D.D. Morse & M.A. Danahay, editors.  Ashgate Publishing Limited.  Pp. 65 – 79.

Cohen, Claudine.  2010.  “Darwin on woman.”  Comptes Rendus Biologies 333 (2):  157 – 165.

Roberts, Mary Ann.  1993.  “Edward Linley Sambourne (1844 – 1910).”  History of Photography 17 (2):  207 – 213.


Figures: Smiling Sengi


The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine, Vol. IV.  1800.  Image credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library via Flickr.

Oh gawd — do I really look like that when I smile?!?

About this image

For whatever reason, elephant shrews — or sengis — have long suffered from poor static representation.  This figure comes from a rather charming compendium called The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine that was published in 7 volumes from 1798 to 1802.  The illustration itself was an embellished copy from an earlier work, Thomas Pennant’s (1726 – 1798) History of Quadrupeds, which featured two sengis.


Figure of the “Elephant Shrew” from Pennant’s 3rd edition of History of Quadrupeds (1793).  Pennant’s description of the animal is sparse, noting that the animal is “with a very long, slender and little nose:  the whole animal of a deep brown color.”  The editors of The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine opted not reproduce the top image, which looks rather like a juvenile individual.  Super cute!  Image credit:  Biodiversity Heritage Library.

The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine says of the sengi:

Of this curious Shrew Mouse very little is known; and, till lately, it does not appear to have been noticed by naturalists. . . . One of the figures engraved by Pennant represents the animal with it’s snout turned upwards, the other is that which we have adopted. . . . If this Shrew has the faculty of dropping as well as elevating its snout, of which we have some doubt; it would, perhaps, have been best figured in that action, as most resembling the Elephant’s proboscis, from which it is named.

Though not as flexible as the elephant’s trunk, we now know that the sengi’s snoot is quite capable of wiggling!


Where are your doubts now?  Image source: BBC Nature.  Gif from via Giphy.


Image Source

The Naturalist’s Pocket Magazine; or, Compleat Cabinet of the Curiosities and Beauties of Nature.  Vol. IV.  1800.  Printed for Harrison, Cluse, and Co. by W. Justins, London.

Figures: Origins of a Stem Hero

Brower and Veinus

Image credit: Brower & Veinus 1974.

Millions of years before Peter Parker, the stem hero Eurypterid Man came into glorious being, only to meet an immediate tragic end.


About This Image

What on earth is this figure doing in a scientific paper?  And what does it mean?!?

This figure, appearing in the journal Mathematical Geology, is a playful visual metaphor for two different statistical approaches to analyzing complex data sets.  The statistical zap utilizes a single, targeted method of analysis that goes “straight to the heart” to reveal the underlying structure within a data set, but has the distinct potential of missing the mark entirely and yielding no useful information.  Instead, the authors advocate a multivariate shotgun approach that “literally overwhelms the target data and blasts it into oblivion.”  Brower and Veinus used the example of ontogenetic changes in a species of eurypterid, demonstrating that as the animal grows, it not only grows in overall size, but the relationship between different proportions and structures (e.g., eyes) changes in biologically relevant ways.  Such subtlety can be gleaned from the data using the shotgun approach.

Eurypterids are a group of extinct aquatic arthropods that are known to have existed from the Middle Ordovician (~460 mya) to the Permian (~260 mya).  These sleek predators are casually called “sea scorpions,” despite only a distant relationship with true modern scorpions.  Eurypterids belong to a larger group called Chelicerata, which includes arthropods such as horseshoe crabs, daddy longlegs (harvestmen), mites, scorpions, and spiders.  Since eurypterids are an extinct group within Chelicerates with no living descendants, they are a stem group.

The zapped and shotgunned eurypterid cartoon is no Marvel Comic, but  “. . . the senior author acknowledges son Jeffrey for the loan of his comic book collection in connection with [this figure].”

Special thanks to James Lamsdell for suggesting and providing this figure.

Image Source

Brower, James C. & J. Veinus.  1974.  “The Statistical Zap versus the Shotgun Approach.”  Mathematical Geology 6 (4):  311 – 332.


Lamsdell, James C. et al.  2015.  “The oldest described eurypterid:  a giant Middle Ordovician (Darriwilian) megalograptid from the Winneshiek Lagerstätte of Iowa.”  BMC Evolutionary Biology 15:  169.

Figures: Horned Screamer Gives Directions

Anhima cornuta drawing wing outstretched

Image credit: Naranjo 1986.

“Yes, officer — they headed that way.  I hope you catch those capybaras. . .  they looked shifty as f**k.”


About This Image

This figure comes from a behavioral study of Horned Screamers (Anhima cornuta) and shows a lateral one-wing stretch, a type of comfort behavior exhibited by animals loafing around, preening and relaxing.  The odd, thumb-like projection is probably one of the bony metacarpal spurs typical of screamers.  The drawings were made from tracings of 35 mm photographs taken in the field.

These birds do indeed share habitat with giant semi-aquatic rodents, the capybaras.

Learn more about Horned Screamers in a previous post here.

Image Source

Naranjo, Luis G.  1986.  “Aspects of the Biology of the Horned Screamer in Southwestern Colombia.”  The Wilson Bulletin 98 (2):  243 – 256.