Naturalist and scientific illustrator from Frankfurt on Main, daughter of the famous copper engraver and publisher Matthäus Merian (1583-1650). She lived in Frankfurt (until 1670) and Nuremberg (until 1681), in Frankfurt again (until 1685), a few years at the castle Waltha nearby Wieuwerd in the Netherlands and in Amsterdam from 1691. In June 1699 she travelled along with her younger daughter Dorothea Maria to Surinam in South America. She worked in Surinam for two years, travelling around the colony and sketching local animals and plants. In September 1701 they came back to Amsterdam.
1675-1680 her first book, the „Neue Blumenbuch“, with three collections of engravings of plants was published. In 1679 and 1683 her book in two parts about caterpillars „Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung“ (The Caterpillar, Marvelous Transformation and Strange Floral Food), was published. It includes her long-time investigations about insects. She studied what actually happened in the transformation of caterpillars into beautiful butterflies. She took note of the transformations, along with the details of the chrysalises and plants that they used to feed themselves, and illustrated all the stages of their development.
In 1705 a Dutch and Latin edition of her famous book "Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium" was published with 60 copper engravings. For this wonderful book she created plates with tropical plants together with the insects belonging to, compiled from the drawings she made in Surinam. This work of the metamorphosis of the butterfly made her a significant contributor to entomology.
Maria Sibylla Merian was one of the first reseachers who investigated insects systematically and found out much details about the evolution and lifecycle of the insects she observed. Her works of art were accepted by the public even during her lifetime. Her classification of butterflies and moths is still relevant today.
After her death the Amsterdam publisher Jean Frédéric Bernard got her copper plates and published her works of art once again in 1730.