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Record number: WCP367

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Frederick Bates
2 March 1858

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Ternate Island, Moluccas, [Indonesia] to Frederick Bates Leicester on 2 March 1858.

Record created:
01 June 2002 by Lucas, Paula J.


Re. Geodephaga species, commenting on notes made by F. Bates in a letter received a month previously; variation of entomological species; species of Catascopus sent to Saunders; habits of Cicindelidae; theory of colours of insect species; planned expedition to northern Celebes; plans to write a Coleoptera Malayana; disgraceful state of current publishing in entomology, comments on particular works.

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Record contains:

  • letter (2)
  • publication (1)

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LETTER (WCP367.367)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/3/42
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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March 2nd. 1858

My dear Mr. Bates

When I received your very acceptable letter (a month ago) I had just written one to your brother, which I thought I could not do better than send to you to forward to him, as I shall thereby be enabled to confine myself solely to the group you are studying & to other matters touched on in your letter. I had heard from Mr. Stevens some time ago that you had begun collecting exotic Geodephaga, but were confining yourself to one or two illustrations of each genus. I was sure however you would soon find this unsatisfactory. Nature must be studied in detail, and it is the wonderful variety of the species of a group, their complicated relations & their endless modifications of form size & colour, which constitute the preeminent charm of the Entomologists study. It is with the greatest satisfaction too, I hail your accession to the very limited number of collectors & students of Exotic insects, & sincerely hope you may be sufficiently favoured by fortune, to enable you to form an extensive collection & to devote the necessary time to its study & to ultimately to the preparation of a complete & useful work.*1 Though I cannot but be pleased that you are able to do so, I am certainly surprised to find that you indulge in the expensive luxury of from 3 to 7 specimens! of a species.#2 I should have thought that in such a very extensive group you would have found, one or at most a pair quite sufficient. I fancy very few collectors of exotic insects do more than this, except where they can obtain additional specimens by gift or by exchange. Your remarks on my collections are very interesting to me, especially as I have kept descriptions with many outline figures of my Malacca & Sarawak Geodephaga, so that with one or two exceptions I can recognize & perfectly remember every species you mention. I will first make a few remarks on your notes. Cicindela elegans is the Megalomma elegans. of Westwood & I think it quite as well entitled to be separated as the Heptadontas which last seem to me not to differ from Odontocheila. Is no. 61. Mac. certainly C. vigorsii? It is certainly singular if so that I should not have found so widely a distributed species before reaching Macassar. Is 60. Mcc. the true C. heros? & is the true C. heros Fab. very rare? I am inclined to think it is, because the little Therates 59 Mac. is undoubtedly T. flavilabris. Fab. & fasciatus Fab (varieties) & the localities for both are "Pacific Islands" brought home I think by Labillardiere. In my 2nd. lot from Macassar I sent plenty of the Therates but did not find Heros again. I took however 5 additional species of true Cicindela, (one very handsome) making 11 species in all, a very large number for one locality. I fear much I have lost the pretty genus Collyris. In Macassar was only 1 species & I have never seen it in any of the islands Eastward. At Macassar I once saw a Tricondyla but the villain escaped up a tree & I vainly searched for him for a month afterwards. I shall probably however meet with him when I visit the N. of Celebes where I expect lots of fine things. The Macassar Collyris seemed to me identical with 88. Sarawak. The Catadromus you call Boisduvalii. Is it not the Javanese sp[ecies]. & is not the name C. tenebrioides? I got but a solitary spec.[ime]n in my second season at Macassar, it but of the two rarest species of Cicindela, which you have not yet, I have sent several specimens. Many of the insects you mention as desiderata from Malacca & Sarawak are uniques in my coll[ection]. Thus I believe 6 of my 8 species of Orthogonius are so. It is the rarest genus I know of. The larger rare Malacca Therates was taken only at the foot of Mt. Ophir (5 - 6 specimens) & the pretty small species was taken only during 10 days collecting on my return to Singapore from Borneo (2-3 spec.[ime]ns.) It is in the highest degree improbable that I shall ever return to Sing.[apore] or Mal.[acca] again. Numbers of the best things I got in plenty, & the Coleoptera generally were so very small that another visit would [[2]] not pay expenses. The smaller tricondyla & heptadonta from Sarawak were also I think both unique, as probably one or two of the Collyris. I wonder you have not noticed what I consider the gem of my Geodephaga, (889. Sar.) a Catascopus 10 lines long & very broad with a band of rich purple across the elytra shading in to the metallic green. I got only two examples one of M which goes to Mr Saunders by agreement.

Soon after you receive this my 2nd. Macassar collection ought to arrive, & I think it will well repay your examination. Some account of it will be in the Zoologist by this time I dare say. I think it may be considered the most remarkable lot of Carabidae ever collected in the tropics in so short a time; almost all in 6 weeks at the beginning of the rains, after a previous 6 weeks of the most terrible dearth of all coleoptera. I make out about 105 species of Carabidae of which 20 are minute things under 2 lines & many under a line! Are not some of these among the smallest Carabidae known? About 40 are truncatipennis, of which a dozen are lovely metallic or coloured species, - two or three very lovely. There is a very curious little thing allied to Casnonia with swollen thorax & long palpi, probably a new genus. Let me have your opinion of it. There is plenty of it sent.3 I send you a pair in this letter[.] The greater part of this collection will be probably new species. I spent hours daily on my knees in wet sand & rotten leaves, hunting the little things & picking up Anthici & Pselaphidae with the tip of my wetted finger. I shall be very much interested to have your remarks on the collection. Tell me if you think any or how many have been sent from Sing.[apore] or Sar.[awak] or are known from Java. Whether you think those are any new genera. Are the lot of little spotted species allied to our Bembidiidae [Bombyliidae?]? (365) is a lovely thing, unique, found in foliage! It is not much use your referring to the numbers here, as I had no time to take descriptive notes. They are put only for my notes of station & habits. You will often see two or three species with the same number. This is when they were taken at the same time & place so that one note serves for all. My Aru collection was very poor in Geodephaga. Nothing remarkable but the Therates labiata & Tricondyla aptera, the two oldest known species but I believe not common in collections. I was in doubt if there are two sp.[ecies] of the Tricondyla. One has much redder legs. They are not sexes as I took a pair "in cop." with similar legs. Try if you can find any other specific difference. They are found in the same places. In Aru I did not see a Cicindela! In my small Amboyna coll.[ection] the Geodephaga are very few as I was too much occupied with the fine Longicornis Circulionidae & Buprestidae to search for the small ones. Now with regard to your request for notes of habitats &c. I shall be most willing to comply with it to some extent, first informing you that I look forward to undertaking on my return to England a "Coleoptera Malayana" to contain descriptions of the known species of the whole archipelago, with a treatise Essay on their Geog.[raphical] distribution, and an account of the habits of the genera & species from my own observations. Of course therefore I do not wish any part of my notes to be previously published, as this will be a distinctive feature of the work; so little being known of the habits stations & mode of collecting exotic coleoptera. As I have not much more room without making this a double letter I will here tell you a little about the Cicindelidae only. The true Cicindelae vary considerably in habits. Some frequent almost exclusively sunny pathways through open grounds, or even public roads, such as 41. 42. 43. & 51. Sing.[apore] & 61. 62. 64. 65. Mac.[assar] Others are sea beach insects as the C. tenuipes & the Baly [Bali] species. the[sic] former singularly agreeing in colour with the white sand of Sarawak the latter with the dark volcanic sand of its habitat. [[3]] Others prefer river banks. The two Lombok sp.[ecies] were found always a little way inland on the same coloured dark sand, but I never found them on the sea beach, so also 63. & 120 Macassar, frequent river banks on sand of a lighter col.[ou]r than that of Baly [Bali] & Lomb.[ock] but darker than that of Sarawak, as are the insects. Another n.[ew] s.[ecies] in the last Mac.[assar] coll.[ection] was found on the soft shiny mud of salt creeks, with which its colour so exactly agrees that it was exact perfectly invisible except for its shadow! Such facts as these puzzled me for a long time, but I have lately worked out a theory which accounts for them naturally. The rule however is by no means without exception. The bright coloured species are visible enough wherever they are. C. Heros frequents shady path[s] in the woods settling on the ground or on the foliage & flying slowly to short distances with a distinct buzzing noise. Another sp.[ecies] sent in 2nd. coll.[ection] (313 Mac.) frequents similar situations but flies much quicker; its bright golden buff spots render it very conspicuous, & it emits when captured a fine rosy odour like the Aromias, which I have not observed in any other species of the restricted genus Cicindela. I see I must defer my notes on the other genera to my next letter as I want to say something about other matters. You appear to consider the state of Entomological literature flourishing & satisfactory; -- to me it seems quite the contrary. The number of unfinished works & of others with false titles are disgraceful to science. Dejeans Species General was meant to be finished but is not. Burmeisters Handbook of Entomology could never have been meant to be finished on the scale it is begun on -- it has a false title. "Annulosa Javanica" contains a part of the Coleoptera only -- G.R. Grays grand title of "Entomology of Australia" dwindles to the smallest family (Phasmidae) of the smallest order of Insects. Mr Woollaston [Wollaston] never intends to complete an Insecta Maderensia why then should he give it that grand title? There exists not one completed work on any extensive group of Coleoptera published within the last 20 years, except those of one man (M. Lacordaire). There exists not a coleopterans fauna of any one tropical district, of any one extra european country! And greatest disgrace of all there exists not any work on the Coleoptera of Europe! (complete.) Is this satisfactory? Does there exist a satisfactory modern local colepterans fauna of any one country in Europe? Mulsants is I believe not yet finished. There is I understand one of Hungary but with very brief analytical characters only to the species. What a shame that the Entomologists of Germany & France with such a large proportion of the species at their doors have not yet produced a "Coleoptera Europe"!! Is there a Catalogue of the Coleoptera in any one of the National Museums of Europe -- or any hope of one? If you go to America & wha want to know any thing of the U.S. coleoptera what have you to guide you but scattered papers in periodicals? All this is to me very unsatisfactory.4 (I forgot the Cetoniidae Gorys Monograph but they are all large & showy species and not very numerous.[)] Lacordaires Genera deserves all praise, but it would have been much more satisfactory had he kept back the first volumes to have published all together, complete up to a given date.5 I only hope he may finish it. I trust the plates may be good, but not expensive. I admire those of Mulsant, I have his Longicorns here. Monographs of Col.[ectio]n with coloured plates are luxuries -- The cicindelidae may be done. The Carabida can not be. In Geodephaga no doubt the Amazon is superior to the E. Archipelago; -- yet if the Ega collections were entirely left out that superiority would be by no means so apparent, & I believe the richest islands for Geodephaga are Java & Sumatra, wh.[ich] I have not visited. Bowring has a true Carabus from Java! Again considering the vast extent of the [[4]]6 Amazon region its position in the centre of a vast continent, its streams converging from the Andes for a distance of more than a thousand miles & its excessive productiveness in all departments of nature, & the wonder will be, not that these islands are inferior in one group but that they are not vastly inferior in all. The whole Archipelago could be set down in the forest plain of the Amazon, the separate islands could be hidden and lost in it! Again I find that in journeys, sickness & time necessarily spent in towns far from insects, I have lost one whole year out of the 3 ¾ I have been in the East, -- yet my total species both in Coleoptera & in all Insecta compares very favourably with your brothers of a much longer period, and moreover as an experienced & persevering collector of Coleoptera he is decidedly my superior.

I think therefore on the whole we may say that the Archipelago is very rich, & will bear a comparison even with the richest parts of S.[outh] America. In the country between Ega & Peru there is work for 50 Collectors for 50 years. There are hundreds & thousands of Andean valleys every one of which would bear exploring. Here it is the same with islands. I could spend 20 years here were life long enough, but feel I cannot stand it away from home & books & collections & comforts, more than four or five, & then I shall have work to do for the rest of my life. What would be the use of accumulating materials which one could not have time to work up? I trust your brother may give us a grand and complete work on the Coleoptera of the Amazon Valley if not of all S.[outh] America.6 a mere trifle that would be for the extreme leisure hours -- why not "go the whole hog" at once!!! (F.B.) My paper is full so I must now conclude with best wishes Yours faithfully │ Alfred R Wallace [signature]

What is the gist of Wollastons book on varieties &c. From some extracts from his "Insecta Maderensia" I have seen, I do not think much of his philosophizing powers. What on Earth is Gosses "Omphalos" & what is the New Law he has discovered?

F. Bates Esq.

via Southampton.

Fred R. Bates Esq

5 Napir Terrace

Aylestone Road





1. The later annotation "Dont I wish you may get it! (F.B.)" is written vertically up the left-hand margin of page 1.

2. The later annotation "a mistake" is written vertically up the left-hand margin of page 1.

3. The text "I send you a pair in this letter" is written vertically up the left-hand margin of page 2.

4. The text "(I forgot the Cetoniidae Gorys Monograph but they are all large & showy species and not very numerous." is written vertically up the left-hand margin of page 3.

5. The later annotation "I am afraid W.W. requires too much at the present time - He evidently has yet to learn of the difficulties. (F.B.)" is written vertically up the left-hand margin of page 3.

6. The letter has been folded such that page 4 includes the address in the centre [written vertically] with the section "Amazon region.....my superior" is written above the address, the section "I think therefore" to the signature is written below the address and the section "What is the gist...has discovered" is written vertically to the right of the address.

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