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Linné on line arrow Linné on line – ask a question arrow Plants and animals arrow Linnaeus’ thoughts on reptiles

Question:

I am the Reference Librarian at a university library. One our professors is trying to find the original source of a Linnaeus quote or if it is even a real quote. This is the alleged quote:

“Reptiles are abhorrent because of their cold body, pale color, cartilaginous skeleton, filthy skin, fierce aspect, calculating eye, offensive smell, harsh voice, squalid habitation, and terible venom; wherefore their Creator has not exerted his powers to make many of them.” – Linnaeus, 1797

I have found this many places online, but I cannot find any source information beyond a year. Apparently, this “quote” was used in the Michael Crichton novel Jurassic Park.

Answer:

It has been difficult to find the exact quotation you are referring to. I have a book published in Uppsala almost 100 years ago with the theme “The lectures of Linnaeus concerning the animal kingdom”. There is certainly a section on reptiles but the contents are different from what you quote. I can give you some lines (in my own translation) of what he says about this topic. It is to be found in a chapter with the title Classis Tertia. AMPHIBIA. (Kräk). The chapter contains two parts: Ordo 1.mus Serpentia, and Ordo 2.dus. Reptilia. Krypare (a Swedish word = crawler). The part on Reptilia contains 4 sections: DRACO, LACERTA, RANA and TESTUDO and it does not give any list of ugly properties. However, in the beginning of the whole chapter on AMPHIBIA Linné expresses his disgust by saying that the animals belonging to this chapter are “the ugliest, most cruel and most poisoning” and he is happy that our Creator has put rather few animals into this class. If there had been more they would have hurt other species. ”Those who live in Southern countries know well how dangerous they are.” His conclusion must be that in Sweden we can be happy to have few of them around. He is sometimes being quite drastic about the effects: “if you are bitten you die immediately” he can say about some snakes.

An expert on Linnaeus, the Chair of the Swedish Linnaean Society, advises you to try and find Edition 12 of Systema Naturae from 1767 – maybe there could be something!

 



Gunnar Tibell
Editor Linné-on-line