Wallace, Alfred Russel. (1859). Extracts from a letter of Mr. A. R. Wallace to Mr. S. Stevens. The Zoologist: A Popular Miscellany of Natural History, 17(200-201): 6409-6413. [p. 6409-6413]
Transcriber: Smith, Charles Hyde
Transcription date: May 30, 2012
Scrutiny: 15/01/2013 - Catchpole, Caroline;
Signed off: no
[]1 [p. 6409]
Ternate, September 2, 1858.--When I arrived here from New Guinea, about a fortnight ago, I found your two letters of January and March, noting the safe arrival of the Aru collections and the advantageous disposal of the birds: they gave me the greatest pleasure and satisfaction, and the interest the collections appear to have excited was a great encouragement to me; and I assure you I stood in need of some encouragement, for never have I made a voyage so disagreeable, expensive and unsatisfactory as the one now completed. I suffered greatly from illness and bad or insufficient food, and am only now just sufficiently recovered to work hard at cleaning and packing my collections: my servants suffered as much as myself; two or three were always sick, and one of my hunters died of dysentery. My collections will greatly disappoint you and my other friends,--more than they do myself,--because you will be expecting something superior to Aru, whereas they are very inferior in fine things. First and foremost, all my hopes of getting the rare paradise birds have vanished, for not only could I get none myself, but could not even purchase a single native skin! and that in Dorey, where Lesson purchased abundance of almost all the species: he must have been there at a lucky time, when there was an accumulated stock, and I at a most unpropitious one. It is certain, however, that all but the two common yellow species are very rare, even in the places where the natives get them, for you may see hundreds of the common species to perhaps one of either of the rarer sorts. There are some eight or ten places where most of the birds are got, and from each I doubt if there is more on the average than one specimen per annum of any other than the Paradisea papuana; so that a person might be several years in the country, and yet not get half the species even from the natives: yet they are all common in Europe! I sent two of my servants with seven natives a voyage of one hundred miles to the most celebrated place for birds (Amberbaki, mentioned by Lesson), and after twenty days they brought me back nothing but two specimens of P. papuana and one of P. regia: [] [p. 6410] they went two days’ journey into the interior without reaching the place where the birds are actually obtained; this was reported to be much further, over two more ranges of mountains. The skins pass from village to village till they reach the coast, where the Dorey men buy them and sell to any trading vessels. Not one of the birds Lesson bought at Dorey was killed there; they came from a circuit of two hundred or three hundred miles. My only hope lies now in Waigiou, where I shall probably go next year, and try for P. rubra and P. superba. Even of P. papuana I have not got many, as my boys had to shoot them all themselves; I got nothing from the natives at Dorey. You will ask why I did not try somewhere else when I found Dorey so bad: the simple answer is, that on the whole mainland of New Guinea there is no other place where my life would be safe a week: it is a horribly wild country; you have no idea of the difficulties in the way of a single person doing anything in it. There are a few good birds at Dorey, but full half the species are the same as at Aru, and there is much less variety! My best things are some new and rare lories.
In insects, again, you will be astonished at the mingled poverty and riches: butterflies are very scarce; scarcely any Lycenidae or Pieridae, and most of the larger things the same as at Aru. Of the Ornithoptera I could not get a single male at Dorey, and only two or three females; I got two from Amberbaki and two from the south coast of New Guinea, from the Dutch exploring ship. Of Coleoptera I have taken twice as many species as at Aru; in fact, I have never got so many species in the same time; yet there is hardly anything fine: no Lomopterae,--in fact, not one duplicate Cetonia of any kind, and only two solitary specimens of common small species! No Lucani! perhaps nowhere in the world are Lamellicornes so scarce,--only fourteen out of 1040 Coleoptera, and most of them small and unique specimens. Of Longicornes there are full as many as at Aru; many the same, but a good number of new and interesting species. Curculionidae very rich; some remarkable things, and the beautiful Eupholus Schoenherri and E. Cuvieri; the former rather abundant. There is a very pretty lot of Cicindelidae; two Cicindelas and three Therates will probably be new to the English collections; they are C. funerata, Bois., a very pretty species, with a peculiar aspect; C. d’Urvillei; also a small new species, near C. funerata, very scarce. Therates basalis, Dej., a very pretty species, I have sent a good many of; T. festiva; Dup. (I think), a pretty brilliant little species, not common, and another of the same size, and, I think, quite new, rufous [] [p. 6411] and black marked, also scarce; T. labiata and Tricondyla aptera are the same as sent from Aru. I have never before found so many species of Therates in one place: they form quite a feature in the Entomology of Dorey. Carabidae were very scarce: I picked up, however, some pretty things, especially two most brilliant Catascopi, but both unique. For a long time I took no Staphylinidae: at last I found a station for them, and by working it assiduously I got between eighty or ninety species: some are the handsomest of the group I have yet taken, and there are many curious and interesting forms. Talk about Brachelytra being rare in the tropics! of their place being supplied by ants, &c.,&c.! why, they are absolutely far more abundant in the tropics than anywhere else, and I believe also more abundant in proportion to the other families. I see in the ‘Zoologist’ two local lists of Coleoptera (Dublin and Alverstoke), in which the numbers of Staphylini are 103 and 106 species respectively; these are the results of many years collecting by several persons, and in a country where all the haunts and habits of the tribe are known; here, in two localities (Macassar and Dorey), I have taken at each nearly the same number of species, in three months’ collecting, on a chance discovery of one or two stations for them, and while fully occupied with extensive collections of all orders of insects, in a country where every other one is new. The fair inference is, that in either of these localities Staphylini are really ten times as numerous as in England; and there is reason to believe that any place in the tropics will give the same results, since in the little rocky island of Hong-Kong Mr. Bowring has found nearly 100 species; yet Dr. Horsfield, who is said to have collected assiduously in Java, did not get a solitary species. My next richest and most interesting group is that of the Cleridae, of which I have about fifty species, perhaps more, for they are very puzzling: I have never got so many in one locality, nor should I now had I not carefully set them out and studied their specific characters, and thus separated many which would otherwise certainly have escaped notice. In another small and obscure group, the Bostrichidae and allied Scolytidae, I obtained no fewer than thirty-eight species, whilst the Lampyridae and allied groups were in endless and most puzzling variety. I have also got an exceedingly rich and interesting series of Galerucidae and Chrysomelidae. The Elaters are small and little interesting. The Buprestidae also are very inferior, and of the only fine species (Chrysodema Lotinii) I could only obtain a single pair. With so many minute Coleoptera I could not give much attention to the other orders; there are, however, some singular Orthoptera, and among the Diptera a most [] [p. 6412] extraordinary new genus, the males of which are horned; I have three species, in two of which the horns are dilated and coloured, in the other long, slender and branched; I think this will prove one of the most interesting things in my collection. One would have thought Dorey would have been just the place for land shells, but none were to be found, and the natives hardly seemed aware of the existence of such things; I have not half-a-dozen specimens in all. Although Dorey is a miserable locality,--the low ground is all mud and swamp, the hill very steep and rugged, and there are only one or two small overgrown paths for a short distance, my excursions were almost entirely confined to an area of about a square mile,-- yet the riches in species of Coleoptera, and a considerable number of fine remarkable forms of which I could obtain only unique examples, sufficiently show what a glorious country New Guinea would prove if we could visit the interior, or even collect at some good localities near the Coast.
You ask me if I go out to collect at night; certainly not, and I am pretty sure nothing could be got by it: many insects certainly fly at night, but that is the reason why they are best caught in the day in their haunts, or else by being attracted to a light in the house. Besides a man who works, with hardly half an hour’s intermission, from 6 A.M. till 6 P.M., four or five of the hottest hours being spent entirely out of doors, is very glad to spend his evenings with a book (if he has one) and a cup of coffee, and be in bed soon after 8 o’clock. Night work may be very well for amateurs, but not for the man who works twelve hours every day at his collection.
I am perfectly astonished at not yet meeting with a single Paussus; Several are known from the Archipelago, and have been taken in houses and at light, yet my four years look-out has not produced one. How very scarce they must be! You and Dr. Gray seem to imagine that I neglect the mammals, or I should send more specimens, but you do not know how difficult it is to get them: at Dorey I could not get a single specimen, though the curious tree-kangaroos are found there, but very rare: the only animal ever seen by us was the wild pig. The Dutch surveying steamer bought two kangaroos at Dorey whilst I was there: it lay there a month waiting for coal, and during that time I could get nothing, everything being taken to the steamer. I send from Dorey a number of females and young males of Paradisea papuana; these females have been hitherto erroneously ascribed to P. apoda, of which I am now convinced my specimen from Aru is an adult female; it is totally brown: the females of P. papuana are smaller than the young males, and have the under parts of a less pure white: the bird [] [p. 6413] figured by Levaillant as the female of P. papuana is a male of the second year which has acquired the green throat in front, but not the long feathers of the tail or flanks: to all the female specimens I have attached tickets,--all not ticketed are males.
Whilst the Dutch steamer was at Dorey a native prow came from the Island of Jobie, and bought two specimens of Atrapia nigra, which were sold to a German gentleman, who is an ornithologist, before I knew any thing of them: I believe that island is their only locality, and the natives are there very bad, treacherous and savage. That is also the country of the rare species of crown pigeon (Goura Victoriae); a living specimen of this was also purchased on board the steamer. I have great thoughts, notwithstanding my horror of boat work at sea (for a burnt child dreads the fire) and my vow never to buy a boat again, of getting up a small craft and thoroughly exploring the coasts and islands of the Northern Moluccas, and to Waigiou, &c.; it is the only way of visiting many most interesting places,--the Eastern coast of the four peninsulars of Gilolo, the Island of Guebe, half-way between Gilolo and Waigiou, a most interesting spot, as Gilolo and Waigiou possess quite distinct Faunas.
1. Editor Charles H. Smith’s Note: Portions of a letter to Samuel Stevens later reported in early 1859 in The Ibis and Zoologist. This transcript comes from the Zoologist printing, which includes more of the letter.
SOURCE OF TRANSCRIPT
This transcript originates from Charles H. Smith’s The Alfred Russel Wallace Page website (http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/index1.htm): See http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S045.htm
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