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D'Orbigny was born in Couëron (Loire-Atlantique), the son of a ship's physician and amateur naturalist. The family moved to La Rochelle in 1820, where his interest in natural history was developed while studying the marine fauna and especially the microscopic creatures that he named "foraminiferans".
D'Orbigny travelled on a mission for the Paris Museum, in South America between 1826 and 1833. He visited Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, and returned to France with an enormous collection of more than 10,000 natural history specimens. He described part of his findings in La Relation du Voyage dans l'Amérique Méridionale pendant les annés 1826 à 1833 (Paris, 1824-47, in 90 fascicles). The other specimens were described by zoologists at the museum.
His contemporary, Charles Darwin, arrived in South America in 1832, and on hearing that he had been preceded, grumbled that D'Orbigny had probably collected "the cream of all the good things". Darwin later called D'Orbigny's Voyage a "most important work". They went on to correspond, with D'Orbigny describing some of Darwin's specimens.
On the shore of Rio Magdalen. Image from Voyages pittoresque dans les deux Amériques
In 1840, d'Orbigny started the methodical description of French fossils and published La Paléontologie Française (8 vols). In 1849 he published a closely related Prodrome de Paléontologie Stratigraphique, intended as a "Preface to Stratigraphic Palaeontology", in which he described almost 18,000 species, and with biostratigraphical comparisons erected geological stages, the definitions of which rest on their stratotypes.
In 1853 he became professor of palaeontology at the Paris Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, publishing his Cours élémentaire that related paleontology to zoology, as a science independent of the uses made of it in stratigraphy. The chair of paleontology was created especially in his honor. The d'Orbigny collection is housed in the Salle d'Orbigny and is often visited by experts.
Palaeontologist Carroll Lane Fenton has noted that his idea of twenty-seven world-wide creations was "absurd", even for creationists.L. Sprague de Camp has written that "Alcide d'Orbigny, carried the idea to absurdity. Dragging in the supernatural, d'Orbigny argued that, on twenty-seven separate occasions, God had wiped out all life on earth and started over with a whole new creation."
^(in French) de Grossouvre (A.), 1930. Note sur le Bathonien moyen. Livre jubilaire. Centenaire de la Société Géologique de France, t. 2, pp. 361-387 ·
^(in French) Gérard C. & Contaut H., « Les ammonites de la zone à Peltoceras athleta du Centre-Ouest de la France », Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, Paris, vol. 29, 1936, p. 100
^(in French) Pierre Hantzpergue, Les ammonites kimméridgiennes du haut-fond d'Europe occidentale. Biochronologie, systématique, évolution, paléogéographie, Cahiers de paléontologie, éditions du CNRS, 1989, p. 428
La Gazette des Français du Paraguay, Alcide d'Orbigny - Voyageur Naturaliste pour le Muséum d'Histoire Naturelle dans le Cone Sud - Alcide d'Orbigny - Viajero Naturalista para el Museo Nacional de Historia Natural de Francia en el Cono Sur - Bilingue Français Espagnol - numéro 7, année 1, Asuncion Paraguay.
"Alcide d'Orbigny" In Taylor, W. Thomas; Taylor, Michael L. (2011). Aves: A Survey of the Literature of Neotropical Ornithology. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Libraries. 156 pp. ISBN978-0615453637.