Naturalists’ Deaths By Unnatural Causes

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Richard Conniff, author of The Species Seekers, found himself, while researching that book, cataloging the strange deaths of many naturalists over the past two centuries.

He compiled them on his website. It makes for fascinating reading. Among my favorites:

Biermann, Adolph (?–1880), curator of the Calcutta Botanical Garden, sur­vived attack by tiger while walking in garden but succumbed a year later, age unknown, to cholera.

Brown, Kirsty M. (1974-2003), marine biologist with the British Antarctic Survey, drowned, age 29, when attacked while snorkeling and dragged 200 feet underwater by a leopard seal.

Macklot, Heinrich (1799–1832), naturalist, was so enraged when insurgents burned down his house, with all of his collections, that he organized a revenge attack and was speared to death, age 33, in Java.

Nevermann. William Heinrich (1881-1938), entomologist, killed, age 57, while hunting ants by lantern with a colleague at night in Costa Rica. He was shot by a neighbor who thought the lights of the two lanterns were the eyes of a puma.

Ruspoli, Prince  Eugenio (1866-1893), Italian explorer, gave his name to one of world’s most beautiful and rare birds, the Ethiopian endemic Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, whose first specimen was found in the prince’s hunting bag after he was trampled to death, age 27, by an angry elephant.


Joshuah Bearman has written about CIA missions, jewel thieves, deranged private investigators, aspiring Fabios, bitter rivalry among dueling Santa Clauses, and the metaphysical implications of being the world's greatest Pac Man player. His article for Wired became the movie Argo. More from this author →