Lewis and Clark: Flora Fauna and Meriwether

It cannot be claimed that Lewis and Clark “discovered” the plants and wildlife they encountered on their journey; only the native people along their route can justify such a claim. However, Expedition members were the first to describe them for Euro-Americans. Most naturalists agree Lewis and Clark recorded about 220 species of plants; 140 of them new to scientists. They also identified 122 animals, 50 birds and 31 varieties of fish. Many of the original specimens were lost due to a variety of circumstances. 57 species of animals were from east of the Continental Divide and 65 west. The biological studies of the Corps of Discovery were considered by Thomas Jefferson to be of major scientific importance. Many species are illustrated in their original journal pages. 

Image of Western Meadowlark

If you want to visit 226 of the original plant specimens, they are in the Lewis and Clark Herbarium at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.  To learn about the fish species they encountered, you can plan a Lewis and Clark era fishing expedition using this trip booklet from the Undaunted Anglers. There are many online resources about the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians recorded by the Expedition that include photos, skeletons, and reference to the exact journal entry. There is an especially complete collection at The National Museum of Natural History. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Geographic Society also compiled thorough lists of the wildlife encountered by the expedition.

This is my favorite animal story from the journals…I keep chuckling over Lewis’ ridiculous confidence. However funny this story sounds to us today, we should remember that the incredible data gathered by Lewis and Clark was a scientific sensation in the 1800's.


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