Rare trove of Puerto Rican flora and fauna illustrations found in Spain


El Nuevo Día reports that a collection of old illustrations and manuscripts found in a museum that was being renovated, show the work of Domingo Bello y Espinosa, a pioneer in biodiversity studies.

It came as a surprise that the material—which may be considered one of the first great works on Puerto Rican flora and fauna—was found in the midst of the restoration of a non-scientific museum, interspersed with other non-related material, 5,218 kilometers away from Puerto Rico, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain.

Domingo Bello y Espinosa, a Spanish lawyer who emigrated to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, in 1848, studied and cataloged the biodiversity of the island as a pastime during the 30 years that he lived there. Although his work is mainly on flora, it also includes some examples of wildlife.

It was an astonishing find, but especially so for a University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras biology professor, Eugenio Santiago Valentín, who for the past 25 years has researched the work of Bello y Espinosa.

The newspaper reports that the discovery, which had not been made public, took place in March 2015 at the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. There, in a closet, they found two volumes of manuscripts, 14 booklets, and a packet of loose sheets, all fashioned by Bello and Espinosa during his three-decade stay in Puerto Rico.

The finding includes around 500 sheets of illustrations of Puerto Rican flora and fauna, some painted in watercolors, some in pencil, and some unfinished. In the booklets, the plants are organized by families, and one of them is dedicated to diurnal and nocturnal butterflies; there are also prints of caterpillars.

El Nuevo Día quotes Santiago Valentín, who said, “Everything is in very good condition. The complete package was tied together, and its state of preservation is surprising (despite being about 150 years old). [. . .] In addition to the artistic element, they are documentary elements. There are endemic and native-endemic species. They serve, moreover, as a testimonial document of the exotic species that were already present in Puerto Rico in the middle of the 19th century.”

For full article (in Spanish), see http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/hallantesorodeflorayfaunaboricuaenespana-2290373/

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