Catalogue number: Drawer 1
Wallace's specimens of birdwing butterflies (Papilionidae) from Asia and Australasia.
This drawer was arranged by Wallace and contains seven birdwing butterflies. The specimen on the middle left of the drawer is a male of the magnificent golden birdwing butterfly. Of the 130 butterfly species and subspecies that Wallace named from Southeast Asia, this is probably the most famous. Wallace named it Ornithoptera croesus (Crösus was a mythological king famed for his wealth).
Wallace caught the first male specimen in 1859 while on the Indonesian island of Batchian (Bacan). In his book The Malay Archipelago (1869), he gave an account of its capture, which has since become legendary: 'The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I experienced when I at length captured it. On taking it out of my net and opening the glorious wings, my heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done when in apprehension of immediate death. I had a headache the rest of the day, so great was the excitement produced by what will appear to most people a very inadequate cause.'
Such an intense reaction to catching a butterfly really illustrates Wallace's deep passion for nature.
For enquiries about the Wallace Collection please email the library
View high resolution scans and transcripts of Alfred Russel Wallace's correspondence, including all surviving letters between him and Charles Darwin.