Ray had collected insects for years assisted by his family and friends. He possessed many species including the Purple Emperor, now very rare, of which he wrote ‘… large, black or dusky with wings marked in white captured near Hevingham Castle (Castle Hedingham) by Mr. Courtman.’ He also recorded other finds ‘… The White Admiral was captured near Tollesbury by Mr. Martin, and the Humming-bird Hawkmoth at Notley. The Tailed Blue, Mr. Dale saw it lately at Newport, the Painted Lady butterfly was common with us round Braintree’.

In total Ray recognised 47 British butterflies and recorded data on moths, beetles, wasps, flies, fleas, ticks, worms, leeches, spiders, millipedes, dragonflies, bees and grasshoppers. Ray studied the stages of metamorphosis which provided the life history of each species. His fame as an entomologist resulted in his appearance in court at Exeter as a character witness for a Lady Granville, who was judged insane because she collected insects.

John Ray was working on a complete catalogue of insects at the time of his death in 1705. A slim Methodus on the subject was published a year later, but his major work Historic Insectorum was not published until 1710, edited by Dr. Derham, Rector of Upminster.

Following in his footsteps …

Entomology is the study of insects. Even today, throughout the world new types of insects are being discovered and scientists believe there are at least 30 million different types.

In our gardens butterflies are getting scarcer due to the use of insecticides. Growing plants which attract butterflies is a good way to encouraging them to visit your garden.