Ray’s work covered all of the natural world, from plants, animals and birds, down to insects and rocks.

The modern system of scientific classification is based on the method of grouping species first used by Ray and further developed by Carl Linnaeus. Darwin was also influenced by Ray’s work, especially his theological book ‘The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation’.

Experiments and Observations

Ray carried out many new scientific experiments in natural history and presented a number of them to the Royal Society. Examples of these include:

  • The Whooper Swan: Dissection and study of the loop of its windpipe.
  • Waterfowls: Examining their windpipes to find the cause of different pitches in their quacks.
  • Hawks: The sanitary habits of newly-hatched chicks.
  • Frogs: Breeding and dissection at Cambridge.
  • Porpoise: Dissection of specimen purchased from a fisherman (
  • Butterflies and moths: Breeding, studying metamorphosis.
  • Maggots: Why they nest in the rose-gall.
  • Honey-buzzard: Study of its nest, crop and lifestyle.
  • Puffin and Cormorant: Study of their life and habits.
  • Wasp: Observation, dragging a huge caterpillar to its burrow and burying it for later consumption.
  • Moths: Observation of male moths attracted to a newly-hatched female.
  • Bee: How a leaf-cutter bee builds its nest.
  • Flea: Rearing it with Willughby, feeding on human blood.
  • Trees: How the rings of tree trunks explain the tree’s age.
  • Creepers: How they twine to follow the sun’s direction.
  • Cuckoo-Spit: The cause and origin (an insect).
  • Woodpeckers and Wrynecks: Extraction of larvae from their crops.
  • Coffee: Explanation through study of the coffee tree, of how coffee is prepared, its spread from Cairo to Europe, the revenues derived from it in Britain.
  • Sap: Experiments to find if Maple Syrup substitute can be obtained by bleeding the sap from British trees.
  • Springs: Ray’s theory of the origin of springs. They derive from rainfall not underground caverns which he tested from evidence from the brook at Black Notley.

Timeline of Published Works

Where copies of these works are available online a link has been added.

Please note the Trust is not responsible for the content of any external websites.

  • 1660 Catalogue of Cambridge Plants

  • 1668 Table of Plants, in John Wilkins, An Essay Towards a Real Character

  • 1670 Collection of English Proverbs

    Catalogue of English Plants

  • 1673 Observations in the Low Countries and Catalogue of Plants not native to England

  • 1674 Collection of English Words not generally used

    Discourse on the Seeds of Plants

  • 1675 Trilingual Dictionary

  • 1676 The Ornithology of Francis Willughby (In Latin)

  • 1678 The Ornithology of Francis Willughby (In English)

  • 1682 New Method of Plants (in Latin)

  • 1686 History of Fishes (In Latin)

    History of Plants Volume 1

  • 1690 Synopsis of British Plants

  • 1691 The wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation

  • 1692 Miscellaneous discourses concerning the dissolution and changes of the world

  • 1693 Synopsis of animals and reptiles

                Collection of travels

  • 1694 Collection of European plants

  • 1695 Plants of Each County

  • 1696 Brief Dissertation

  • 1703 A Persuasive to a Holy Life

  • 1705 John Ray Dies

  • 1710 Method and History of Insects (Published posthumously)

  • 1713 Synopsis of Birds and Fishes

    Three Physico Theological Discourses