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The parasitic ichneumon fly, discovered by European natural philosophers in the seventeenth century, remained largely unstudied until it captured the attention of Enlightenment-era natural historians. Although this sudden surge of interest has been explained as an effort to understand the natural ‘evil’ of parasitism, the heyday of ichneumon studies was actually inspired by the political and agricultural context of late eighteenth-century Britain. British naturalists were captivated by this insect for reasons both philosophical and practical. In the providentially self-equilibrating qualities of ‘natural’ ichneumon economies, they saw solutions to political problems of famine, dearth, national wealth, governance and excess population, in addition to finding reassurance that Enlightened confidence in nature's inherent stability and fruitfulness was not unfounded.
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