The Lady and the Octopus: How Jeanne Villepreux-Power Invented Aquariums

Danna Staaf
Author

Danna Staaf author photo.credit Josh Weaver.jpg

Nov 16, 2022 at 11:00 a.m.

Link to seminar video

An uneducated seamstress with boundless curiosity. A mother octopus with a baffling shell. When the lady and the octopus met, they reshaped marine biology, proving that females of both species were far more capable than they’d been given credit for. Nineteenth-century inventor and explorer Jeanne Villepreux-Power charted her own course in natural history, helping drive a significant shift in the field’s methodology: from observation of dead organisms to experimentation on live ones. She invented the first research aquariums, and used them to solve the ancient mystery of argonauts. People had long debated whether these unusual octopuses make or steal the shells in which they brood their eggs. Jeanne not only discovered the answer, but spent years corresponding with learned societies and repeating her experiments until her findings were accepted. Her remarkable story offers a window into both the history and the future of marine biology.

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