Packard, Alpheus Spring, Jr.

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(b. Brunswick, Maine, 19 February 1839; d. Providence, Rhode Island, 14 February 1905)


Packard was the son of Alpheus Spring Packard, professor of Greek and Latin at Bowdoin College, and Frances Elizabeth Appleton, daughter of Jesse Appleton, president of Bowdoin College. His boyhood was spent exploring nature, a pastime in which he was encouraged by his father. By the time he had matriculated at Bowdoin College in 1857, he had investigated most branches of natural history. Packard’s attention early turned to entomology, and in 1860 he was invited to join an expedition to Labrador arranged by Chadbourne. After graduating in 1861, he spent the Summer with the Maine Geological Survey and published his first two scientific papers, on entomology and on geology.

In the fall of 1861 Packard went to the Lawrence Scientific School to study under Louis Agassiz. Packard was simultaneously able to Pxursue his medical studies, mainly human anatomy and medicine, and was awarded the M.D. from the Maine Medical School at Bowdoin College in 1864. By now he appeared so well established in his assistantship that there was every reason to believe he would be appointed one of the permanent curators of the new Museum of Comparative Zoology. Unfortunately a smoldering quarrel between the junior assistants and Agassiz relating to their duties and obligations to the museum led to a complete break; Packard, A. Hyatt, E. S. Morse, F. W. Putnam, S. H. Scudder, and A. E. Verrill left Cambridge in 1864.

Immediately after leaving Cambridge, Packard was again invited to join an expedition to Labrador, this time under the direction of the artist William Bradford. On his return to the United States in the fall of 1864 he received a commission as assistant surgeon of the First Maine Veteran Volunteers. But Packard’s Civil War experience was of short duration, and it appears that his medical practice was equally brief, being confined entirely to these few months.

For the next thirteen years Packard led an almost itinerant existence of writing and editing, interrupted by short appointments at various institutions and agencies. He was acting librarian and custodian of the Boston Society of Natural History for a year. In 1867 he was one of the curators of the Peabody Academy of Science, Salem, Massachusetts, and, in 1877–1878, was its director. He lectured on economic entomology at the Maine State College of Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts (now the University of Maine) for a year and for several years at the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now University of Massachusetts). At Bowdoin he lectured first on entomology and later on comparative anatomy. During the winter of 1869–1870 he studied marine life at Key West and in the Dry Tortugas, then did similar work in Charleston, South Carolina. In March 1867 he joined forces with E. S. Morse, A. Hyatt, and F. W. Putnam to found American Naturalist, a popular scientific monthly. Packard was its editor for some twenty years, writing many of the articles.

In 1874 he was associated with the Kentucky Geological Survey, investigating the fauna of Mammoth Cave; and in 1875–1876 he was with the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories under F. V. Hayden. In 1877 Packard was appointed secretary to the U. S. Entomological Commission, headed by C. V. Riley.

With his appointment as professor of zoology and geology at Brown University, a greater maturity may be seen in his approach to scientific matters. During these years he produced some of his finest writings: The cave Fauna of North America(1888), The Labrador Coast (1891), Textbook of Entomology (1898), and the three-volumeMonograph of the Bombycine Moths of North America (1895–1914). He was a foreign member of the Royal Entomological and the Linnean societies of London and held an honorary Ph. D. and an honorary LL.D. from Bowdoin.

By inclination Packard was a naturalist in the early nineteenth-century tradition at a time when specialization was the fashion. His bibliography therefore appears miscellaneous, and the quality of his writings is varied. In his own time he was considered a general zoologist and geologist; today he is generally thought of as an entomologist, since with only a few exceptions it is his entomological publications that have real currency. As an educator, he provided a sound basis for training a new generation of professional entomologists with his Half Hours With Insects (1873), Our Common Insects (1873), Guide to the Study of Insects (1869), and Textbook of Entomology (1898).

Much of Packard’s reputation now rests in the more enduring area of taxonomy, and it has been estimated that he described as new over 50 genera and about 580 species of invertebrates. About a quarter of these have now been placed in synonymy. Packard’s descriptive methods varied greatly in quality. He turned out a good many inadequately analyzed and artificial descriptions, which accounts in part for a high share of the synonyms noted; yet, as with the bombycid moths, he delineated careful morphological features. Packard’s reputation therefore rests with A Monograph of the Geometrid Moths of Phalaenidae of the United States(1876) andMonograph of the Bombycine Moths of North America (1895–1914). The latter work in particular more nearly corresponds to present-day expectations.

Attention is frequently drawn to Packard’s place in the history of economic entomology; but although he contributed an impressive list of shorter papers, bulletins, and books on injurious insects, he was not an original or really professional applied entomologist. The value of these writings consisted in providing sound life history studies and calling attention to potential problems. Insects Injurious to Forest and Shade Trees (1881, 1890), a compilation with some original observations, represents his best and most useful effort in this field.

Packard’s work in marine invertebrate zoology was divided among taxonomic treatments, both living and fossil, one of his best being A Monograph of the Phyllopod Crustacea of North America (1883); and embryological and anatomical investigations, typical of which is On the Embryology of Limulus polyphemus (1871). polyphemus (1871).

Packard’s embryological studies, perhaps reflecting the influence of Agassiz, were fairly inclusive of the invertebrates, embracing both primitive and higher insects, crustaceans, and some anomalous forms, such as Peripatus. The first serious American student of insect embryology, he was one of the first in the United States to introduce the concept of comparative embryology. His preliminary Life Histories of Animals, Including Man; or, Outlines of Comparative Embryology(1876) was followed by Outlines of Comparative Embryology (1878); these pioneer efforts, however, were soon superseded by Francis Maitland Balfour’s masterly two-volume A Treatise on Comparative Embryology (1880–1881).

An undoubted pioneer masterpiece of Packard’s was The Cave Fauna of North America, With Remarks on the Anatomy of the Brain and Origin of the Blind Species (1888), combining the disciplines of taxonomy, anatomy, and evolution.

Packard’s sustained interest in evolution was more Lamarckian than Darwinian, more teleologic than mechanistic. His interest in Lamarck’s zoological philosophy led to Lamarck, the Founder of Evolution; His Life and Work, With Translations of His Writings on Organic Evolution (1901) and, with E. D. Cope and A. Hyatt, virtually to found the neo-Lamarckian movement, which influenced the writings of later nineteenth-and early twentieth-century American taxonomists.


A rather complete listing of the many biographical notices of packard is in Mathilde M. Carpenter, “Bibliography of Biographies of Entomologists,” inAmerican Midland Naturalist,33 (1945), 76–77. Of those listed, J. S. Kingsley, “Sketch of Alpheus Spring Packard,” inpopular Science Monthly,33 (1888), 260–267, and A. D. Mead, “Alpheus Spring Packard,” ibid.,67 (1905), 43–48, are especially good; but the definitive reference is T. D. A. Cockerell, “Biolgraphical Memoir of Alpheus Spring Packard,” in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences,9 (1920), 181–236, which quotes extensively from Packard’s unpublished diaries and includes a complete bibliography of his writings. No modern evaluation of Packard’s impact on American science has been published.

Calvert E. Norland