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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Letter from Singapore (S14: 1854)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter concerning Wallace's collecting activities in the Singapore area shortly after he arrived in the East, printed in the August 1854 number of Zoologist. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S014.htm

    [[p. 4395]] "Singapore, May 9, 1854.--As I have no doubt that my entomological friends will be glad to hear that I have arrived safe, and have commenced work, I will give you a short account of my progress up to this time.

    "I landed at Singapore on the 20th of April, after a 46 days' passage from England without any incident out of the common. For a week I was obliged to remain in the town at an hotel, not finding it easy to obtain any residence or lodging in the country. During this time I examined the suburbs, and soon came to the conclusion that it was impossible to do anything there in the way of insects, for the virgin forests have been entirely cleared away for four or five miles round (scarcely a tree being left), and plantations of nutmeg and Oreca palm have been formed. These are intersected by straight and dusty roads; and waste places are covered with a vegetation of shrubby Melastonias, which do not seem attractive to insects. A few species of Terias, Cethosia, Danais and Euplœa, with some obscure Satyridæ, are the only butterflies seen, while two or three lamellicorn beetles on the Acacia trees were the only Coleoptera that I could meet with.

    "At length, however, I obtained permission to reside a few weeks at a Roman Catholic mission near the centre of the island, from which place, called 'Bakit Tima,' I now write. Here portions of the forest, which originally covered the whole island, and which is rapidly disappearing, still exists, and it is in them that I find my only good hunting-grounds.

    [[p. 4396]] "From the highest point in the island near here (only 500 feet) a good view is obtained of the plantations which are everywhere formed by the Chinese for the cultivation of pepper and gambic; and it is apparent that but few years can elapse before the whole island will be denuded of its indigenous vegetation, when its climate will no doubt be materially altered (probably for the worse), and countless tribes of interesting insects become extinct. I am therefore working hard at the insects alone for the present, and will give you some little notion of what I have done and may hope to do.

    "First, then, in Lepidoptera I have been tolerably successful, having in about twelve days obtained 80 species of Diurnes. If other localities prove equally rich I think the Eastern Archipelago may not fall much short of S. America. I have already about 30 species of Lycænidæ and Ericinidæ, some of which I have no doubt will prove new. Among the larger species the most remarkable is a magnificent Idæa, which is abundant in the forest, sailing or rather floating along, and having to my eye a far more striking and majestic appearance than even the Morphos of Brazil. It was a great treat to me to behold them for the first time, as well as many other of the Eastern forms to which I had pretty well familiarised my eye in collections at home. The Euplœas here quite take the place of the Heliconidæ of the Amazons, and exactly resemble them in their habits. I have taken the singular Danais Daos, Doub., figured by Boisduval as an Idæa, which it exactly resembles in its colour, markings and flight; indeed there are small specimens of the Idæa from which it cannot be distinguished till captured, yet it is certainly a true Danais. The Leptocercus Curius is not uncommon here; it is a Papilio Protesilaus in miniature. Of true Papilios I have only four common species, and one of the group resembling Euplœa, which may prove new.

    "I must now turn to the Coleoptera. I am delighted with them; for though all small at present, they are exceedingly beautiful and interesting. I have 6 species of Cicindelas, all small; 13 Carabidæ, mostly minute, but very beautiful; 10-12 Cleridæ; about 30 very small Curculionidæ; and, mirabile dictu! 50 species of Longicornes, and it is only ten days since I took the first. Imagine my delight at taking 8 to 10 a day of this beautiful group, and almost all different species; but the worst of it is that I have got into a place where there are many woodmen and sawyers at work, and it is in the neighbourhood of the fallen timber that I get most of them, on the wing. Almost all are small, few exceeding an inch and many not much more than a line. Under Boleti I have found some extraordinary Erotylidæ. [[p. 4397]] The Elaters and Buprestidæ are all very small, as well as the Chrysomelidæ and other small groups. In all I have now 250 species, which will increase daily, but at a slower rate.

    "In the other orders there is nothing very remarkable. Hemiptera, as well as bees and wasps, are very scarce. Tenthredinidæ are rather abundant. Of dragon-flies I have many pretty species, and the Diptera are plentiful and very curious. I have taken a species (of the genus Diopsis I believe) with telescopic eyes, and some other singular forms. Ants are very abundant, also scorpions and centipedes, but these I do not seek after.

    "In the midst of this entomological banquet there is, however, one drawback--a sword suspended by a hair over the head of the unfortunate flycatcher: it is the possibility of being eaten up by a tiger! While watching with eager eyes some lovely insect, the thought will occasionally occur that a hungry tiger may be lurking in that dense jungle immediately behind intent upon catching you. Hundreds of Chinamen are annually devoured. Pitfalls are made for the animals all over the country; and in one of them, within two miles of our house, a tiger was captured a short time before my arrival. Only last night a party of Chinamen, going home to their plantation, turned back afraid, having heard the roaring of a tiger in the path. These are unpleasant reminders of the proximity of a deadly foe; and though perhaps the absolute danger is little enough, as the tiger is a great coward and will not attack unless he can do it unawares, yet it is better to have the mind quite free from any such apprehensions. I shall therefore most probably leave here in a month or so for Borneo, before which, however, I hope to make such a collection as to give a tolerably correct idea of the Entomology of Singapore."

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