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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:
23 April 2012 by Catchpole, Caroline


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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  • letter (2)
  • publication (1)

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LETTER (WCP367.4326)

A transcription handwritten by other in English.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418388
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Copy of an Entomological letter from A. R. Wallace to myself (Fred[eric]k Bates2)




March 2nd. 1858.

My dear Mr Bates.

When I rec[eive]d your very acceptable letter (a month ago) I had just written one to your brother, wh[ich] I thought I could not do better then 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 upon in your letter. I had heard from Mr Stevens some time ago that you had begun collecting exotic Geodephaga, but were confining yourself to 1 or 2 illustrations of each genus. I was sure, however, that you would soon find this unsatisfactory. Nature must be studied in detail, & it is the wonderful variety of the species of a group, their complicated relations & their endless modification of form, size and colors, wh[ich] 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 of & students of exotic insects, & sincerely [[2]]4 hope you may be sufficiently favored[sic] by good fortune, to enable you to form an extensive collection & to devote the necessary time to is study & ultimately to the preparation of a complete & useful work. 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 sp[ecies]. 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 collection are very interesting to me, especially as I have kept description with many outline figures of my Malacca5 & Sarawak6 Geodeph[ag]a so that with 1 or 2 exceptions, I can recognize & perfectly remember every species you mention.

I will first make a few remarks on your notes. Cic[indel]a elegans is the Megalomma7 id[?] of Westwood8 & I think it quite as well entitled to be separated as the Heptodontas9 wh[ich] last seem to me not to differ from Odontocheila10 [[3]]11. Is no 61 Mac[assa]r certainly C. Vigorsii ? It is certainly singular if so that I should not have found so widely distributed a species before reaching Macassar. Is 60 Mac[assa]r the true C. heros[?] ? & is the true C[icindela] heros. Fab.[?] very rare ? I am inclined to think it is, because the little Therates12 (59 Mac[assa]r) is undoubtedly T[herates] flavilabris Fab. & fasciatus Fab (varieties) & the localities for both are "Pacific Islands" brought home I think by Labillardière13. In my 2nd lot from Macassar I sent plenty of the Therates but did not find C. heros again. I took, however, 5 additional sp[ecies?] of true Cicindela (one very handsome) making 11 sp[ecies] in all, a very large no. for 1 locality.

I fear much I have lost the pretty genus Collyris14. In Macassar was only 1 sp[ecies] & I have never seen it in any of the Islands Eastward. At Macassar I once saw a Tricondyla15 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 suspect lots of fine things. The Macassar Collyris seemed to me identical [[4]]16 with 88 Sarawak. The Catadromus you call Boisduvalii is it not the Javanese sp[ecies] & is not the name C[atadromus] tenebrioides ! (yes F. B.) I got but a solitary specimen in my 2nd season at Macassar ! but of the 2 rarest species of Cicindela wh[ich] you have not yet, I have sent several specimens. Many of the insects you mention as desiderata from Malacca & Sarawak are unique in my coll[ection]. Thus I believe 6 out of my 8 spe[ecies] of Orthogonius17 are so. It is the rarest genus I know of. The larger, rare Malacca Therates was taken only at the foot of Mount Ophir18 (5 or 6 specimens) & the pretty small sp[ecies?] was taken only during 10 days collecting on my return to Singapore from Borneo (2 or 3 specimens). It is in the highest degree improbable that I shall ever return to Sing[apore] or Malac[ca] again. Numbers generally run so very small that another visit would not pay expenses. The smaller Tricondyla & Heptadonta from Sarawak were also I think both unique, as probably also 1 or 2 of the Collyris. I wonder you have not noticed what I consider [[5]]19 the gem of my Geodeph[aga] (889 Sar[awak]) a Catascopus20 10 lines long & very broad with a band of rich purple across the elytra21 shading into metallic green. I got only 2 examples 1 of wh[ich] goes to Mr Saunders22 by agreement. Soon after you receive this my 2nd Macassar Coll[ection] ought to arrive & I think it will repay your examination. Some ac[coun]t 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 Coleop[tera]s. I make out ab[ou]t 105 sp[ecies] of Carabidae of wh[ich] 20 are minute things under 2 lines & many under 1 line ! Are not some of these among the smallest Carabidae known ? About 40 are truncatipennes23, of wh[ich] a doz[en] are lovely metallic or col[oure]d sp[ecies] -- 2 or 3 very lovely. There is a very curious little thing allied to Casmonia with swollen th[ora]x & long palpi, probably a new Genus. Let me have your opinion of it. There is plenty of it sent. The greater part of [[6]]24 this Coll:[ection] will probably be new species. I spent hours daily on my knees in wet sand & rotten leaves, hunting the little things & picking up Anthici25 & Pselaphidae26 with the tip of my wetted finger. I shall be very much interested to have your remarks on the Coll[ection]. 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 there are any new genera - are the lot of little spotted sp[ecies] allied to our Bembidiida27 ? (365) is a lovely thing, unique, found on foliage ! It is not much use your referring to the Nos here, as I had no time to takes descriptive notes: they are put only for my notes of station & habits. You will often see 2 or 3 sp[ecies] with the same no. this is where they were taken at the same time & place so that one note serves for all. My Arru coll[ection] was very poor in Geodephaga. Nothing remarkable but the Therates labiata & Tricondyla aptera, the 2 oldest Known sp[ecies] but I believe not Common in Collections. I was in doubt if there were 2 sp[ecies] of the [[7]]28 Tricondyla -- one has much redder legs. They are not sexes as I took a pair "in cop" with similar legs. Try try if you can find any any other specific difference. they are found in the same places. In Arru 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 Longicornes, Curculionidae & Buprestidae to search for the small Coleop[tera]. Now with regard to your request for the "notes of habits" &c. I shall be most willing to comply with it to the same extent, first informing you that I look forward to undertaking on my return to England a "Coleoptera Malayana" to contain descriptions of the Known sp[ecies] of the whole archipelago, with an essay on their Geograph[ica]l distribution, & an ac[count] of the habits of the genera & sp[ecies] 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 & modes of collecting exotic Coleoptera. [[8]]29 As I have not much more room without making this a double letter I will here tell you a little abt the Cicindelidae only. The true Cicindela vary considerably in habits: some frequent almost exclusively sunny pathways thro 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[icindela] tenuipes & the Baly30[sic] species -- the former singularly agreeing in color with the white sand of Sarawak the latter with the dark Volcanic sand of its habitat.

Others prefer river banks. The 2 Lombock31[sic] 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 & 126 Macassar, frequent river banks on sand of a lighter colour of than that of Baly & Lomb[ock], but darker than that of Sarawak, as are the insects. Another n. s. [?] in the last Mac[assa]r lot was found on the soft, slimy mud of salt creeks, with wh[ich] its colour so exactly agrees that it was perfectly invisible except from its shadow ! [[9]]32 Such facts as these puzzled me for a long time, but I have lately worked out a theory wh[ich] accounts for them naturally. The rule however is by no means without exceptions. The bright col[oure]d sp[ecies] are visible enough wherever they are. C[icindela] Heros frequents shady paths 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 Mac[assa]r coll[ection] (313 Mac[assar]) 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, wh[ich] I have not observed in any other sp[ecies] 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 no of unfinished works & of others with false titles are disgraceful to Science. Dejeans33 "Species Générale" was meant to be finished but is not. Burmeisters34 "Handbook of Entomology" could never have been [[10]]35 meant to be finished on the scale it has begun on -- it has a fake title. "Annulosa Javanica36" contains a part of the Coleop[tera] only. G. R. Grays37 fraud title of "Entomology of australia" dwindles to the smallest family (Phasmidae38) of the smallest order of insects. Mr Wollaston39 never intends to compete an "Insecta Maderensia", why then sh[oul]d he give it that grand title? There exists not one Completed work on any extensive group of Coleop[tera] pub[lishe]d within the last 20 years, I forgot the Cetoniidae40 (Gorys41 Monog[graph]) but they are all large & showy sp[ecies] & not very numerous.42, except those of one man (M. Lacordaire43). There exists not a Coleopterous fauna of any one tropical district of any one extra-european Country ! And, greatest disgrace of all, there exists not any work on the Coleop[tera] of Europe ! (complete). Is this satisfactory ? Does there exist a satisfactory modern local Coleopterous fauna of any one Country in Europe ? Mulsauts44 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 sp[ecies] at [[11]]45 their doors have not yet produced a "Coleoptera Europae" !! Is there a Catalogue of the Coleop[tera] in any one of the National Museums of Europe, or any hope of one ? If you go to America I want to know any thing of the U. S. Coleop[tera] what have you to guide you but scattered papers in periodicals ? All this is to me very unsatisfactory. Lacordaires "Genera" deserves all praise, but it would have been much more satisfactory had he kept back the first Vol[ume]s to have pub[lishe]d all together, complete up to a given date. I only hope he may finish it. I trust the plates may be good, but not expensive. I admire those of Mulsaut, I have his Longicornes here. Monographs of Coleop[tera] with col[oure]d plates are luxuries. The Cicindelidae may be done. The Carabidae can not be. In Geodephaga no doubt the Amazon is superior to the E. Archipelago. Yet if the Ega46 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 [[12]]47 extent of the Amazon region, its position in the centre of a vast continent, its streams converging from to the Andes for a distance of more than 1000 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 & lost in it ! Again, I find that in journeys, sickness, time necessarily spent in towns far from forests, I have lost one whole year of out of the 3 ¾ I have been in the East, yet my total species both in Coleop[tera] & in all Insecta compares very favorably with your brothers of a much longer period, & moreover as an experienced & persevering collector of Coleop[tera] he is decidedly my superior.

I think therefore on the whole we may say that the archipelago is very rich, & [illegible word] bear a comparison even with the richest parts of S. America. In the Country between Ega & Peru there is work for 50 collectors for [[13]]48 50 years -- There are hundreds & thousands of Andean Valleys every one of wh:[ich] 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 4 or 5. & then I shall have work to do for the rest of my life. What would be the use of accumulating material wh:[ich] one could not have time to work up? I trust your brother may give us a grand & complete work on the Coleoptra of the Amazon Valley, if not all S.[outh] America. My paper is full so I must now conclude with best wihes.

Yours Faithfully | Alfred R Wallace

What is the gist of Wollaston’s book on Varieties &c.? From some extracts from his "Insecta Kadernsia" I have seen I do not think much of his philosophy powers.

What on earth is Fosses’s "Omphalos" & what is the new law he has discovered?


1. "95" in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

2. Frederick Bates is the brother of Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892), entomologist.

3. Ternate is an island in eastern Indonesia.

4. "96" in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page.

5. Malacca is a state in Malaysia.

6. Sarawak is a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.

7. Megalomma is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

8. Professor J. O. Westwood (1805-1893), entomologist.

9. Heptodonta is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

10. Odontocheila is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

11. "97" in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

12. Therates is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

13. Jacques-Julien Houtou de Labillardière (1755-1834), naturalist.

14. Collyris is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

15. Tricondyla is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

16. "98" in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page.

17. Orthogonius is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

18. Mount Ophir in Malaysia is now more commonly known as Gunung Ledang.

19. "99" in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

20. Catascopus is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

21. An elytron (plural elytra) is the modified, hardened forewing of an insect.

22. Probably William Wilson Saunders (1809-1879), naturalist.

23. Truncatipennes are a group of beetles in the family Carabidae.

24. "100" in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page.

25. Possibly Anthicidae, a family of ant-like beetles.

26. Pselaphidae were originally regarded as a separate species, but are now known as Pselaphinae, a subfamily of the Staphylinidae.

27. Bembidion is a genus of beetles in the family Carabidae.

28. "101" in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

29. "102" in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page.

30. Bali is an island in Indonesia.

31. Lombok is an island in Indonesia.

32. "103" in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

33. Pierre François Marie Auguste Dejean (1780-1845), entomologist.

34. Hermann Burmeister (1807-1890), naturalist.

35. "104" in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page.

36. "Annulosa javanica, or, An attempt to illustrate the natural affinities and analogies of the insects collected in Java by Thomas Horsfield... and deposited by him in the museum of the Honourable East" by William Sharp Macleay, Richard Harlan and Thomas Horsfield.

37. George R. Gray (1808-1872), zoologist.

38. Phasmidae are stick insects.

39. Thomas Vernon Wollaston (1822-1878), naturalist.

40. Cetoniidae are now known as Cetoniinae, a subfamily of Scarabaeidae.

41. Hippolyte L. Gory (1800-1852), entomologist.

42. This footnote appears at the bottom of scanned page 10, which is numbered "104" in the original.

43. Théodore Lacordaire (1801-1870), entomologist.

44. E. Mulsaut, a French entomologist.

45. "105" in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

46. Probably Ega, which is now known as Téfé, in Brazil.

47. "106" in an unknown hand in the top left corner of the page.

48. "107" in an unknown hand in the top right corner of the page.

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