Pierre André Latreille
Pierre André Latreille (29 November 1762 – 6 February 1833) was a
French zoologist, specialising in arthropods. Having trained as a
Roman Catholic priest before the French Revolution, Latreille was
imprisoned, and only regained his freedom after recognising a rare
beetle species he found in the prison, Necrobia ruficollis.
He published his first important work in 1796 (Précis des caractères
génériques des insectes), and was eventually employed by the Muséum
National d'Histoire Naturelle. His foresighted work on arthropod
systematics and taxonomy gained him respect and accolades, including
being asked to write the volume on arthropods for George Cuvier's
monumental work, Le Règne Animal, the only part not by Cuvier
Latreille was considered the foremost entomologist of his time, and
was described by one of his pupils as "the prince of entomologists".
1.1 Early life
1.2 Necrobia ruficollis
1.3 First Empire
1.4 Later years
2.1 Taxonomy and systematics
4 External links
Latreille's birthplace in Brive-la-Gaillarde
Pierre André Latreille
Pierre André Latreille was born on 29 November 1762 in the town of
Brive, then in the province of Limousin, as the illegitimate child of
Jean Joseph Sahuguet d'Amarzit, général baron d'Espagnac, who never
recognzed him, and an unknown mother, who abandoned him at birth; the
surname "Latreille" was formally granted to him in 1813, and derives
from a nickname of unclear provenance. Latreille, effectively
orphaned from his earliest age, but had influential protectors –
first a physician, then a merchant from Brive, and later a baron and
his family (after the baron's death), who brought him to
He studied initially in Brive and in
Paris at the Collège du
Cardinal-Lemoine attached to the University of
Paris to become a
priest. He entered the Grand Séminaire of
Limoges in 1780, and
left as a deacon in 1786. Despite being qualified to preach, Latreille
later wrote that he had never carried out his functions as a minister,
although for a few years he signed the letters he wrote "l'Abbé
Latreille" ("the Reverend Latreille") or "Latreille, Prêtre"
Even during his studies, Latreille had taken on an interest in natural
history, visiting the Jardin du Roi planted by Georges-Louis Leclerc,
Comte de Buffon, and catching insects around Paris. He received
lessons on botany from René Just Haüy, which brought him in contact
with Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
Necrobia ruficollis while in prison saved Latreille's
After the fall of the Ancien Régime and the start of the French
Civil Constitution of the Clergy
Civil Constitution of the Clergy was declared in 1790,
which required priests to swear an oath of allegiance to the state.
Latreille failed to do so and was therefore imprisoned in November
1793 under threat of execution.
When the prison's doctor inspected the prisoners, he was surprised to
find Latreille scrutinising a beetle on the dungeon floor. When
Latreille explained that it was a rare insect, the physician was
impressed, and sent the insect to a 15-year-old local naturalist, Jean
Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent. Bory de St.-Vincent knew Latreille's
work, and managed to obtain the release of Latreille and one of his
cell-mates. All the other inmates were dead within one month.
The beetle had been described by
Johan Christian Fabricius in 1775,
but recognising it had saved Latreille's life.
Thereafter, Latreille lived as a teacher and corresponded with various
entomologists, including Fabricius. In 1796, and with Fabricius'
encouragement, Latreille published his Précis des caractères
génériques des insectes at his own expense. He was briefly placed
under house arrest in 1797, and his books were confiscated, but the
influence of Georges Cuvier,
Bernard Germain de Lacépède
Bernard Germain de Lacépède and
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (who all held chairs of zoology at the recently
instituted Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle) succeeded in freeing
Latreille. In 1798, Latreille was appointed to the museum, where he
worked alongside Lamarck, curating the arthropod collections, and
published a number of zoological works.
Following the death of
Guillaume-Antoine Olivier in 1814, Latreille
succeeded him as titular member of the Académie des sciences de
l'Institut de France. In the following few years, Latreille was
especially productive, producing important papers for the Mémoires du
Muséum, all of the volume on arthropods for George Cuvier's Le Règne
Animal ("The animal kingdom"), and hundreds of entries in the Nouveau
Dictionnaire d'Histoire Naturelle on entomological subjects. As
Lamarck became blind, Latreille took on an increasing proportion of
his teaching and research work. In 1821, Latreille was made a knight
of the Légion d'honneur. In 1829 he succeeded Lamarck as professor
From 1824, Latreille's health deteriorated. He handed his lectures
Jean Victoire Audouin
Jean Victoire Audouin and took on several assistants for his
research work, including Amédée Louis Michel Lepeletier, Jean
Guillaume Audinet-Serville and Félix Édouard Guérin-Méneville.
He was instrumental in the founding of the Société entomologique de
France, and served as its honorary president.
Latreille's wife became ill in 1830 and died in May of that year; the
date of Latreille's marriage is unclear, and his request to be
released from his vow of celibacy was never acknowledged. He
resigned his position at the museum on 10 April 1832, in order to move
to the country and thereby avoid the cholera epidemic. He returned to
Paris in November, and died of bladder disease on 6 February 1833.
He had no children but was survived by a niece whom he had adopted.
A 3D model based on a micro-CT scan of the polychaete worm Lumbrineris
latreilli, which is named after Latreille.
The Société entomologique raised the money to pay for a monument to
Latreille. This was erected over Latreille's grave at Père Lachaise
Cemetery, and comprised a 9-foot (2.7 m) obelisk with various
inscriptions, including one to the beetle which had saved Latreille's
Necrobia ruficollis Latreillii salvator" ("Necrobia ruficollis,
As testimony to the high esteem in which Latreille was held, many
books were dedicated to him, and up to 163 species were named in his
honour between 1798 and 1850. Taxa commemorating Latreille
Lumbrineris latreilli Audouin & H. Milne-Edwards, 1833
Cecrops latreillii Leach, 1816
Apseudes latreillii (H. Milne-Edwards, 1828)
Orbinia latreillii (Audouin & H. Milne-Edwards, 1833)
Latreillia Roux, 1830
Cilicaea latreillei Leach, 1818
Bittium latreillii (Payraudeau, 1826)
Macrophthalmus latreillei (Desmarest, 1822)
Eurypodius latreillei Guérin, 1828
Latreille named the rough woodlouse
Porcellio scaber in 1804, and also
established the genus
Porcellio (1804), the sub-order Oniscidea
(1802), the order
Isopoda (1817) and the class
Latreille produced a significant body of scientific work, extending
across several fields. He was described by Johan Christian Fabricius
as entomologorum nostri aevi princeps ("the foremost entomologist of
our time"), and by
Jean Victoire Audouin
Jean Victoire Audouin as Entomologiae Princeps
("the prince of entomology").
Taxonomy and systematics
Latreille was significant as the first person to attempt a natural
classification of the arthropods. His "eclectic method" of
systematics incorporated evidence from all available characters
without assuming a pre-defined goal; Latreille repeatedly dismissed
anthropocentrism and teleology.
As well as many species and countless genera, the names of many higher
taxa are also attributable to Latreille, including Thysanura,
Siphonaptera, Pycnogonida, Ostracoda, Stomatopoda, Decapoda,
Amphipoda, Isopoda, Xiphosura, Melipona and Myriapoda.
Although Latreille named many species, his primary interest was in
describing genera. He introduced the concept of the "type species",
a species to which the name of a genus is firmly attached.
Similarly, he favoured the method of naming families after one of the
constituent genera, rather than some defining feature of the group,
implicitly designating a type genus for the family.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Claude Dupuis (1974).
Pierre André Latreille
Pierre André Latreille (1762–1833): the foremost entomologist of
his time" (PDF). Annual Review of Entomology. 19: 1–14.
^ a b c d e f David M. Damkaer (2002). "A celebration of Crustacea".
The Copepodologist's Cabinet: A Biographical and Bibliographical
History, Volume 1. Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society,
Volume 240. American Philosophical Society. pp. 114–130.
^ Lúcia M. Almeida & Kleber M. Mise (2009). "Diagnosis and key of
the main families and species of South American Coleoptera of forensic
importance". Revista Brasileira de Entomologia. 53 (2): 227–244.
^ Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pierre-André Latreille".
Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
^ Hans G. Hansson. "Pierre André Latreille". Biographical Etymology
of Marine Organism Names. Göteborgs Universitet. Retrieved January
David A. Grimaldi &
Michael S. Engel (2005). "Diversity and
evolution". Evolution of the Insects. Cambridge University Press.
pp. 1–41. ISBN 978-0-521-82149-0.
Pierre André Latreille
Pierre André Latreille at the Biodiversity Heritage Library
ISNI: 0000 0000 8078 997X
BNF: cb12284223m (data)