Hawkmoths of  Brazil  by Alan Martin

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The Life of Henry Richard Pearson (1911-2004)


Henry Richard Pearson, the son of a British diplomat and amateur naturalist, was born in Paris on June 12th 1911. Encouraged by his father, Henry showed an interest in insects at only five years of age, an interest that would stay with him throughout his life. During his teenage years he started to build his own collection of butterflies and moths, making full use of the opportunities presented by his regular travels to France and other European countries. After studying at Cambridge University he immigrated to Canada, where he met his wife, Maria Amelia Gabrielle Pearson (Gabi). At the commencement of the 2nd World War both Henry and Gabi enlisted in the Army, but because of his fluency in languages, Pearson spent most of his time in Argentina and later Paraguay. In 1943 he settled permanently in Brazil where he established a successful pharmaceutical company in Rio de Janeiro.


Pearson continued to build his Lepidoptera collection, but whilst in Brazil he met the entomologist Pedro Wygodzinski who encouraged him to develop his entomological studies and research further, working under the guidance of the prestigious professor and researcher Lauro Travassos  of  Rio de Janeiro`s Institute for tropical diseases, the Institute Oswaldo Cruz now known as Fiocruz.  Pearson also worked with Alfredo Rei do Rego Barros, a key person attached to Rio de Janeiro`s Natural History Museum, now known as the Museu Nacional.


During the 1950s and 60s Pearson participated in many entomological expeditions, including to the remote Serra do Cachimbo in  Para State within the Amazon basin, an area rarely visited even today. As his business grew, Pearson took the opportunity to travel widely across many countries in South and North America, always finding time to add specimens to his collection. His collection of Sphingidae, Saturniidae, Mimallonidae, particularly those from Venezuela and Colombia, are  especially important for their quality and rarity.


These expeditions and the importance of his growing personal collection enabled him to forge valuable friendships within the Museu Nacional where he met José Oiticica Filho, a respected specialist on Lepidoptera taxonomy, as well as Allan Watson and Alan Hayes of London’s Natural History Museum. Around that time, Pearson purchased a weekend house at Guapimirim, at the foot of the forested Serra dos Órgãos close to Rio de Janeiro, which he used as a regular location for moth trapping. As well as corresponding regularly with international institutions on his discoveries, Pearson sent many moth specimens around the world and was a major contributor to the British Natural History Museum. He continued to take part in expeditions throughout Brazil with an ever widening network of colleagues such as Jose Oiticia, Alfredo Rego Barros, Olaff Mielke, Luiz Otero and many others.


Pearson published 18 scientific papers on the Mimallonidae moth family, the majority being notes for congresses.  He also wrote 5 scientific articles in journals including:


Pearson, H. R. 1951. Contribuição ao conhecimento do gênero “Mimallo” Hübner,1920 (Lepidoptera, Mimallonidae). Rev. brasil. Biol., Rio de Janeiro 11: 315-332.


Pearson, H. R. 1958. Uma nova especie de "Dirphiopsis" Bouvier (Lepidoptera, Saturnidae, Hemileucinae).  Rev. brasil. Biol., Rio de Janeiro 18: 7-15.


Pearson, H. R. 1959. Consideracoes sôbre o Gênero Manduca Hübner, 1807. Abras Soc. Biol. Rio de Janeiro 3 (6): 7-9.


Pearson, H. R. 1959. Considerations on the genus Manduca Hübner, 1807. Abras Soc. Biol. Rio de Janeiro 3 (b): 41-44.


In 1979 Pearson donated his collection of about 12,000 specimens to the Museu Nacional of Rio de Janeiro, including his very important collection of Sphingidae and Mimallonidae, but his fieldwork and collecting on behalf of the Museum continued. In the 1980s  he was a regular visitor to his weekend home in Guapimirim in the company of the Museum’s trainee Alexandre Soares, but these visits became less frequent after 1993 and he spent most of his last years in his beautiful home in the Humaita neighbourhood of Rio.


In 2002 a new species of hawkmoth, Xylophanes pearsoni, was named in his honour, and in 2004 he died at the age of 93.