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Darwin's questions on caterpillar colouring

Darwin's questions on caterpillar colouring (page 1)

Catalogue number: WP1/9/58

Letter from Charles Darwin to Wallace, asking why some caterpillars are brightly coloured, dated February 1867.

Charles Darwin wrote this letter to Wallace on the advice of the entomologist Henry Walter Bates. When Darwin posed a question about caterpillar colouring to Bates, Bates could not answer and told Darwin 'you had better ask Wallace'. This gives us an insight into the relationships between Darwin, Bates and Wallace. Darwin was not too proud to ask for suggestions from Wallace. All three naturalists were gentlemen and keen to share ideas.

Darwin's specific question was 'why are caterpillars sometimes so beautifully and artistically coloured?' He understood how certain colours could help them to 'escape danger', by providing camouflage, but bright colours posed a problem for him. Wallace thought that the bright colours were to warn predators that the caterpillars tasted horrible. This is illustrated and explained in one of Wallace's insect drawers.

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Wallace Letters Online

Letter to Alfred Russel Wallace from the Royal Society, about his Darwin Medal award

View high resolution scans and transcripts of Alfred Russel Wallace's correspondence, including all surviving letters between him and Charles Darwin.

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