Wallace Letters Online

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Record number: WCP466

Sent by:
Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch
Sent to:
Alfred Russel Wallace
15 December 1910

Sent by Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch, Brazil Highlands to Alfred Russel Wallace, [Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset] on 15 December 1910.

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


Re. delay in plans to leave for another part of Brazil as wife Mary expecting a child in March and no replies (re suitability of the area) from correspondents in Espirito Santo, Victoria; has collected many new beetle species though butterflies scarcer than before, will risk posting a box of Lepidoptera to Mr May in Rio; considering moving to Caravellas or Peruhype, quotes a letter from Mr Scofield recommending both areas as ideal sites for insect collecting, will write to [Eugenis] Reiche about housing; describes capture and photographing of a sloth which bit him through the thumb, sloth's fur infested with many small moths similar to Depressaria; thanks for copies of N.A. ("The New Age"; wheat planted according to Cotton's methods thriving.

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LETTER (WCP466.466)

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

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM WP1/6/7
Copyright owner:
Copyright of the Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch Literary Estate.

Physical description

Transcription information




Brazil Highlands

Dec 15. 1910

Dear Dr Wallace

I have kept postponing the writing to you until it seems almost sacrilege to intrude myself & my affairs into the quiet sanctuary of your thought. After many disappointments at not hearing from the various people I wrote to near Victoria Esp. Santo, we have decided to stay here until the child we expect in March is born. Tho it will be difficult enough Mary thinks she will feel more equal to the task of moving then than she does now. Insects are once more beginning to be abundant & I have got a great many new species of Beetles. There seems to be no end to them. I think Ive found as many new ones this season as during our first here. Lepidoptera however are not yet as common as they were in our first summer here. I am going to risk a box of lepidoptera sent to Mr. May by post as he has asked me again to send him one. It is a pity that nearly the whole of those I have are "set," thro my expecting to take them to Rio myself. Not hearing from E. Santo tho I wrote to 3 different people I have been writing to Mr. Srofield at Caravellas about a good place near there. He replies -- "Between the Macury & the Jequitinona there are thousands of square miles of virgin forest far richer in insects than the place you have experimented & the whole region is watered by hundreds of crytal-clear rivulets. & there are plenty of paths made thro the woods for hauling timber, in short it is an ideal country for you." "There are no long droughts, no fierce winds, no devastating fires, no wholesale clearings as where you are now." [[2]] And he speaks of Peruhype or Levetia as it is now called the old Swiss colony as being likely to prove a good spot if we can only find a house near enough to the forest. This without any mention of the place by me. He considers it better than the country around Victoria. So I have decided to write again to Eugenis Reiche asking if he knows of a place that would suit us there close to the forest. There are old 2nd growth woods all around Peruhyke but the virgin forest is 3 kilometres 1 ½ miles away. Reiches Aunt has a large house there but I havent heard that she wants to rent it. It will be a joy to find ourselves in the real tropics at last. Since writing my last to you I encountered a sloth on one of my walks in the western woods. It was in a young tree isolated from others & after it had descended & ascended 3 times I caught it at the 4th descent by making him come on to a short pole I held ready for him. But when he found himself being carried off the he clawed around until he caught hold of a root & clung to that with all his might. At last with great effort I got him off & onto my net stick & carried him to the house in spite of his frantic clawings & struggling. It was no light task to carry this plunging weight of 30 lbs at arms length I held his hands to the net stick with mine & even held him up with my two first fingers under the sharp claws for long distances1 to present him clawing my legs & body for half a mile over a rough hillside encumbered with logs & great weeds & throny vines with no path & the perspiration streamed from me. At last I got back & when Mary saw my captive she was astonished. She tried to help me get him onto a pole to photograph him but somehow or other in an incautious moment we let him down onto my feet & he gripped one of my ankles with one hind claw & Marys leg protected by her dress with the other & then [[3]] advancing his mouth to the front foot which I held with my right hand he gave me a bite on the thumb which cut thro the middle of the nail & seemed as if with a little more pressure his teeth wd have met each other in it! I didnt think his jaws were so strong! Well we had an awful task to get free from his vice like clutches. Mary managed to pull her leg out as it was protected by her apron & clothing & then whilst I held his front claws off she prised the hind claw off my foot with a piece of wood but it left deep scratches in the leather. To shorten a long story at last we got him onto the fence with a strap & rope round his body to prevent him from moving off & there I photographed him. Then tried & tried & tried for another hour to take one of him hanging form a pole without the strap & rope when at last I did manage it, his body was too low down on the plate as I found after developing it. Having got the 2nd picture I turned him loose & made a description as he sprawled slowly over the pasture to the eastern capoeira. He measured 22 inches from head to tail & was covered all over with long coarse shaggy loose hair with the exception of a patch in midddle of back which was black & yellow & shorthaired. The beast himself was astonishing enough but you may imagine my surprise when I discovered a certain parasite it was infested with was a moth!! Yes a moth! There were quite a number of them running with great agility thro his loose shaggy coat & every now & then appearing at the surface & coming out on to his face, & one time whilst he was still with closed eyes & I was focusing him on the ground glass, 5 of these strange little beasts came out & sipped at the moisture at the edge of his nostrils!! I secured several but it was very difficult to get them off uninjured they clung so [[4]] tightly & dived so quickly under the thick protesting coat of hair. However I have 6 fair specimens. Have you ever heard of such a strange wonderful habit on the part of a moth? They looked very like some species of Depressaria at home. When I remembered the wool feeding habits of some linen larvae I saw that this species was not so strange after all -- that the only difference between it & its northern relatives (?) was that it liked to keep the company of a live animal & that its larvae probably fed on living or recently sloughed hair instead of dead as in skins. Again I wondered if the sloth could be near death as it seemed blind in one eye, & these moths knew by instinct & were preparing to lay their eggs amongst the fur that their larvae might have first chance, just as flies will lay their eggs on a dying bird, as I have found here. But I dismissed that idea when I remembered how much at home the insects were in the fur & how rapidly the sloth went off amongst the threes when at last it reached them in the twilight. Can you tell me the name of this species of sloth? What a difference there is between reading of the sloth in some book on Nat. History & an actual encounter with one! especially when you have felt his teeth & claws! Do write & let me know whether you ever received my last letter describing the birds about our house & the wonderful Calliste. Thanks for the last 3 N. Ages for July. They are the latest news we have had of English matters political. Hoping you are well & gathering as much sweetness out of life as ever you did.

I remain | Yours sincerely | Fred. [signature]

This year I have a few plants of wheat growing in the garens & by intensive culture & giving them room enough, have got some of them with over 50 stems from one seed, just as Sir A. Cotton did. The grape vine is flourishing, & may give us fruit this season.


1. The sentence from "I held" to "long distances" is written vertically in the left hand margin of page 2.

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