What we owe to the self-taught genius Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon were both taxonomists, born in the same year (1707), but apart from that they had little in common and never met. Buffon was French, Linnaeus Swedish. Buffon was suave, elegant, tall and handsome (Voltaire said he had ‘the body of an athlete and the soul of a sage’), whereas Linnaeus was a bumptious little man (under 5ft), who was widely regarded as uncouth. Buffon’s funeral was attended by 20,000 mourners but Linnaeus died almost forgotten, after suffering from a brain disease for 15 years. Yet the Linnaean system of taxonomy has survived much better than Buffon’s, which was hardly a system at

Taxonomy reaches celebrity heights

Heteropoda davidbowie is a species of huntsman spider. Though rare, it has been found in parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and possibly Thailand. (The uncertainty arises because it’s often mistaken for a similar-looking species, the Heteropoda javana.) In 2008 a German collector sent photos of his unusual looking ‘pet’ to Peter Jäger, an arachnologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. Consequently, and in common with most other living finds, David Bowie’s spider was discovered twice: once in the field, and once in the collection. Bowie’s spider is famous, but not exceptional. Jäger has discovered more than 200 species of spider in the past decade, and names them after politicians,