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Record number: WCP5276

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Abbott Handerson Thayer
27 August 1905

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset to Abbott Handerson Thayer [none given] on 27 August 1905.

Record created:
25 April 2013 by Catchpole, Caroline


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LETTER (WCP5276.5819)

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

Held by:
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

Physical description

Transcription information




Broadstone, Winborne

August 27th. 1905

My dear Mr. Thayer1

Many thanks for your interesting letters & enclosures. Although very busy just now correcting proofs of a large book, I have read them through with much pleasure, and am in very general agreement with you. In particular I very much like what you say about very slight and occasional protection through invisibility is all that a large number of animals require, owing to their enormous powers of increase. That is what the ordinary unthinking (especially the laboratory) biologists cannot or will not see, many of them, when it was shown that some inedible insects or larvae are eaten by some special enemy, think and argue that the whole theory (or rather fact) of protection [[2]] by distastefulness falls to the ground. So with protective colouration. Because insects or buds are not hard to see under all circumstances & everywhere, they think colour & marking can be no protection!

You will do a great deal of good if you will dwell upon this point and illustrate it.

Another thing is, that colour and markings may serve two quite opposite purposes at once. This you show in the Skunk, which is concealed when approaching its prey, but whose contrasted colours warns to enemies of its offensive powers.

About the only point on which I differ somewhat, is as to your [[3]] view that the white markings behind, and on the head of many gregarious[?] mammals especially Antelopes, Cattle &c., are specially protective. They may possibly be so when lying down, by breaking up the body into differently coloured irregular portions, but when in motion or feeding in herds, they markings are I believe solely for recognition. The white rump mark of the Spring-bok, which only becomes visible when the animal is running is a proof of this.

Neither can I think with you that the bright colours and patterns of the Heliconidae ever serve to conceal them. Everything connected with them shows them to be "warning colours" pure and simple. [[4]] Whether on the wing or when at rest they are conspicuous.

A young friend of mine -- Mr. Fred. Birch2 -- is in Trinidad and heard a good deal of you and your sons at the Carr's place at Caparo3, where he stayed some time. He is a most ardent & enthusiastic naturalist and nature-lover. He has done very badly in Trinidad as he has to live on the produce of his collections, and local collectors have brought prices down to 1p or P each for butterflies or moths. He is going now to the Orinoko where he hopes to do better.

Believe me | Yours very truly | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]


1. Painter and naturalist Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849 - 1921).

2. Frederick R. Birch (d 1910).

3. Caparo is within the state/region of Caroni, Trinidad and Tobago.

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