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Record number: WCP5420

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Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Charles Algernon ("Algernon") Wilson
On:
October 

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Pará, Brazil to Charles Algernon ("Algernon") Wilson [none given] on October .

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12 September 2013 by Catchpole, Caroline

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PUBLICATION (WCP5420.6139)

Wallace, Alfred Russel. (1853). Adelaide Morning Chronicle, 11(132): 253-256. [p. 255]

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Copyright of the A. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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[[1]] [p.255]

Para, Brazil, October.

I am in a few days going over to the island Marajo, in the main mouth of the Amazons, where there is said to be an immense number and variety of birds. The country for some 100 miles round the city is almost a perfect flat, except a slight elevation of about 40 feet on which the city stands. The whole is covered with a dense virgin forest. For two or three miles round the city the forest has been cut down and a second growth of wood has sprung up, producing different plants and insects. The most striking features of the forest are the immense variety of the trees, their enormous height, and the abundance of climbers and creepers which grow around and hang from them. The variety of trees is astonishing. There are 20 or 30 commonly used for timber, each having some peculiar properties rendering it fit for some peculiar use. Two produce white pitch as it is called here, a kind of pitchy camphor which is used in boat building; several have the bark adapted for making cordage, and many varieties of eatable fruits are produced from others. One produces a milk which in tea and coffee is equal to rich cows milk, and is also a most excellent and durable glue. The Seringa or India-rubber tree is abundant, and forms a principal export of the province. Sugar, coffee, cocoa, rice, cotton, Indian corn, and Mandioc, all grow well here. Oranges, bananas, pine-apples, melons, custard apples, sapotillas, and alligator pears are plentiful. The climate is the most delightful possible, I do not think it has its equal on the globe. The thermometer scarcely ever varies more than 10°, 76° being generally the lowest in the night,-- 86° the highest in the day. We are now in the dry season, the hottest part of the year, and yet I have never felt the heat oppressive. The mornings and evenings are delightfully cool. There is a wet and dry season. The wet from December to June the rest dry; but throughout the year there is always enough rain and never too much. In the wet season it rains every, day for several hours, but the mornings are invariably fine and clear till 10 or 12 o'clock. In the dry season we seldom have more than three days without a shower, a week is, I believe, the longest ever known. These showers are always in the afternoon from 4 to 7 o'clock, and it is no doubt their influence which keeps the temperature so uniform and the air so pure, there is here therefore no failure of crops from drought or excessive wet; the soil is very sandy and soon dries up. To this perhaps is due the healthiness of the place; for certain it is that it is one of the most healthy in the tropics. The English and American residents here are the very pictures of health, some of them have never had a day's illness. In some swampy situations fever and ague occur in the wet season, but these spots are avoided by all who value their health.

These remarks all apply to the district around the city, where the influence of the vast waters of the Amazons and the proximity of the sea are no doubt felt. Though we only reached a distance of 200 miles from here in our trips up the Tocantins, we got into quite a different country and climate. There they had not had rain for three months, their cotton crops were consequently much injured. In the wet season the river rises enormously, 20 to 30 feet, flooding miles of low land and rendering many districts unhealthy.

I will now say something about the natural history of the place. Lepidoptera is the only order of insects that are numerous here, but they are excessively so; I doubt if there is any part of the world which can compete with this for species. In two months from the time of our landing, Mr Bates and I numbered between us upwards of 500 species of butterflies only. Moths we got comparatively few of. None of the other orders are numerous; Coleoptera particularly scarce, though we have seen some of the finest species taken here, such as Acrocinus longimanus, Prionus cervicornis, Buprestis gigas; some large Megasomas and D. nastidae, Phanaeus several species, some fine longicorns, &c., but we only get them by chance, and are never sure of getting half a dozen specimens. The methods of obtaining Coleoptera in England are quite useless here. Sweeping grass, turning over stones, logs, &c., will scarcely produce a single specimen, and with the exception of some species of Macraspis we get none on flowers. Neuroptera are rather plentiful,* and there are many species, particularly those extraordinary long bodied Agrions, allied to A. lucearis, of which I have taken 5 or 6 species. But the butterflies make up for all. We have the beautiful South American group of black and crimson papilios very plentiful. That rare species, P. Sesostris, I have taken some few beautiful specimens of. The Pieridae are numerous, but difficult to take. But the superb S. American Heliconias are a lovely group. I have have[sic] about 30 species, including several of the elegant clear-winged kind. In the Nymphalidae we have a variety of handsome butterflies. The gigantic Morphos and Pavonias are abundant, and I doubt not but that in these as in most of the other groups we have already several new species. In the Satyridae we have some beautiful species, particularly some clear-winged Haeteras.

But it is the small butterflies, composing the Erycinidae, Theclas, and Hespeidae that are so excessively abundant here. Of the genus Thecla alone I have taken about 40 species, including that most gorgeous of butterflies T. Ixperialis. The Skippers and Erycinas are the most wonderfully varied, I have taken near 150 species of each. It is in these groups that I doubt not but many new species will be added to those yet known.

I am keeping a collection of Diurnal Lepidoptera for myself, thinking it better to confine myself to them than to attempt a general collection. I keep one of the best specimens of every species, and number every one to indicate locality and date of capture. About a month ago I sent to London near 2000 insects, and I have now just put up 1000 more, principally the proceeds of my journey up the Tocantins. We have here too a fine country for birds, which I am also collecting and keep a series of the species for myself. We have Toucaus, Parrots, Macaws, Chatterers, Trogons, Jacanars, and many other handsome groups of birds, not to forget the hummers, those superb little creatures, of which we have many species, thought they are not so common as in some other parts of S. America. I, however, collect the small and plain colored birds more than the brilliant ones, as these latter have already been sent to England, and many of them are very common there. The Raptorial birds are abundant here, and I intend to get all of these I can, as from the trouble of skinning and pre- serving them few collectors get them. I have now just packed up 21 hawks, eagles, and kites, with a lot of smaller birds to go to London.

This place is very little known to England. The trade is in the hands of a few American and English houses. The principal exports are rubber, cocoa, and castanhos or Brazil nuts; also, salsaparilla, balsam of copivi, and a little sugar and rice. The people are very idle; with an industrious population the country might become one of the most productive in the world. No country has such an extent of uninterrupted water navigation, few have such a fertile soil and advantageous climate. The Government, by heavy export duties and restrictions on commerce, do all they can to prevent the prosperity of the place. The lower orders, which are of every shade of color (resulting from the mixture of negro, Indian, and white), live almost entirely on Farinha, a preparation of the mandioc root, fish, and fruits. The only meat is beef brought from the island of Marajo, very lean but tolerably good.

Palm trees are very abundant here; there are more than 30 different species. We sent a large box of fruits, leaves, &c., to Sir W. Hooker, at the Kew Gardens. The boa constrictor is rather plentiful here; we had one about ten feet long brought us alive, which we bought and sent to England, but (as these animals frequently refuse to eat) it is doubtful whether he will reach there alive. At first I was rather afraid of snakes and other reptiles, but seeing so many of them I now thing[sic] nothing of them. Lizards are excessively abundant, running about in the streets, gardens, and houses, on roofs, &c., and in the forest."

*Exactly the reverse of the above is the case in this colony. In species-- Coleoptera by far the most numerous-- Butterflies very scarce, moths numerous-- Neuroptera generally scarce.

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