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

 
 
Letter from Macassar, Celebes (S33: 1857)

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Printed in the Zoologist issue of July 1857. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S033.htm


    [[p. 5652]] Mr. A. R. Wallace.1--Macassar, December 1st, 1856.--After this you will probably not receive another letter from me for six or seven months, so I must give you a full one now. I am busy packing up my collections here, but have been unfortunately caught by the rains before I have finished, and I fear my insects will suffer. The last four or five days have been blowing, rainy weather, like our February, barring the cold. In a bamboo house, full of pores and cracks and crannies, through which the damp air finds its way at pleasure, you may fancy it will not do to close up boxes of insects during such weather. However, as the wet season has not regularly set in, we may expect a little sun and dry air soon, and then I am ready to pack and close everything. The neighbourhood of Macassar has much disappointed me. After great trouble I discovered a place I thought rather promising, and after more trouble got the use of a native house there, and went. I staid five weeks, and worked hard, though all the time ill (owing to bad water I think), and often, for days together, unable to do more than watch about the house for stray insects. Such a weakness and languor had seized me that often, on returning with some insects, I could hardly rise from my mattrass, where I had thrown myself down, to set them out and put them away. However, now that I am back at my cottage near Macassar, with a few of the comforts of civilized life, I am nearly well, and will tell you what I have done.

    My collections here consist of birds, shells and insects. In none of these, I am sorry to say, have I got anything very remarkable. The birds are pretty good as containing a good many rare and some new species; but I have been astonished at the want of variety [[p. 5653]] compared with those of the Malayan Island and Peninsula. Whole families and genera are altogether absent, and there is nothing to supply their place. I have found no barbets, no Eurylaimi, no Trogons, no Phyllornes; but, what is still more extraordinary, the great and varied family of thrushes, the Ixodinæ and the Timalias, seem almost entirely absent; the shrikes, too, have disappeared, and of flycatchers I have only seen one small species. To supply this vast void there is not a single new group, the result of which is that in about equal time and with greater exertions I have not been able to obtain more than half the number of species I got in Malacca. Indeed, were it not for the raptorial and aquatic birds I should not have one-third. You hint that in Borneo I neglected Raptores. They are too good to neglect; but there were none. Here in two months I have got fifteen species, many more than all my collections of the two preceding years contain. Of these six are represented by single specimens only; but of the rest I send you thirty fine specimens, and they will, I doubt not, contain something new. Among my rare birds I may mention the two hornbills peculiar to Celebes (Hydrocissa exarata, Tem., Buceros cassidix, Tem.); the anomalous Scythrops Novæ-Hollandiæ, Lath.; the handsome cuckoo, Phænicophaus callirhynchus; the Pica albicollis, Vieill.; and the remarkable Pastor corythaix, Wag., which unites the characters of the starlings with the form and compressed crest of the Calyptomena and Rupicola.

    My collection of land shells is at present very scanty; but then I have only been in one locality. It consists of five species of Helix, six of Bulimus, and one Cyclostoma. Of these I hope some will be new. There is a pale purplish Helix of the form of H. glutinosa, but in most specimens thickly speckled with blackish dots. Besides the common Bulimus citrinus, there are two closely allied species, one lightly marbled with brown near the base only, the other all over richly marked in a kind of zigzag pattern. Of both these I send a pretty good series. There are also, I think, three other small species, rather pretty, but very scarce. The Cyclostoma appears to be the same as the small, transparent, white one which was scarce at Sarawak.

    Now for the insects, which are the most interesting to so many of my friends. They will, I fear, disappoint you, as they have, with a few exceptions, disappointed me. But you must remember the circumstances. Almost all the good insects have been collected during a five weeks' stay at a tolerable place in the interior, during which [[p. 5654]] time, however, I was so unwell as not to make more than five visits to the forest, to be near which was the especial purpose for which I went there. It was also the very end of the dry season, which I have always found the worst time for insects. Notwithstanding these drawbacks, my collection presents some features of interest. To proceed in order, the Coleoptera shall be first considered. The number of species yet obtained is only 254, some groups being rich, others very poor. My favourite Longicorns were so scarce as hardly to be worth looking for; yet among the few that fell in my way I have a new Agelasta, a fine Astathes, and a very curious insect with dilated thorax in the male, which will form, I think, a new genus, near Temnosternus, White. The Geodephaga are proportionately my richest group, as since the rains have commenced I have taken many curious small Carabidæ, among them three species of Casnoniæ. I am rich in Cicindela, having six species, but of Colliuris and Therates only one each. Cicindela Heros, Fab. (which I believe is rare) is my largest species. In Boisduval's 'Faune de l'Oceanie' it is said to come from the isles of the Pacific. Therates flavilabris, Fab., is also said to inhabit New Ireland, but it is found here, with the var. T. fasciata. The habitats given to insects in that work, indeed, from the French voyagers, appear so liable to error that little dependance can be placed upon them. They seem to have been trusted altogether to memory, or perhaps ticketed on the voyage home. For example, to Scarabæus Atlas is this remark, "It is noted as from Vanikoro I., but M. D'Urville is certain that it was taken at Menado in Celebes;" again, to Tmesisternus septempunctatus, "If there is no mistake on the ticket, this species is from Amboina;" Lamia 8-maculata, "It is ticketed as coming from Vanikoro, but I believe it is rather from N. Guinea or Celebes;" and L. Hercules, "It is found in Amboina," while on the plate it is said to be from Celebes. Other examples of a similar kind are to be found; and they lead me to suppose that voyagers and amateur collectors seldom ticket their specimens at the time of collection, but trust to memory in a matter in which no memory can be trusted. Even after making a collection at two localities only, and of only a hundred species each, I would defy any one to ticket the whole correctly: how, then, must it be when dozens of places are visited in succession, and the species taken at each vary from perhaps a dozen to a thousand. But we must return to our collections. In Lamellicornes I have been tolerably successful. I have found ten species of Cetoniadæ; a Tæniodera, common, I think; and the other nine all Protætias, a closely allied genus. All except one [[p. 5655]] are small, and of that one (an inch long) I have only a pair, differing in colour, one black, one dark green, but, as they are marked with red exactly alike, I suppose them to be male and female. Among the smaller ones are some very pretty species and varieties, and of some of these I have a tolerable series. They are very local. All the best I got off one flowering shrub, which I visited daily for a week, when some heavy rains destroyed the remnant of the blossoms; and I never found another equally productive. There is also a curious little brown thing, like a Trichius, which eats away roses and orange-blossoms. I have two Euchloras, which I think are rare, E. dichropus, Blanch., and a large one, very like E. viridis, but which seems to agree best with E. Dusumieri, Blanch. Besides these I have only a lot of obscure Melolonthidæ, Aphodii, &c., &c. I had quite forgot, however, among the Carabidæ, what will perhaps be considered my greatest prize, Catadromus tenebrioides; but it is very scarce. I have not found a single Lucanus; and the natives to whom I showed figures of them and other large insects, such as Scarabæus Atlas, denied their existence in the country; but no dependance is to be placed upon them, as they have not even a distinctive word for "beetle" in their language. In the other groups I have nothing particular, except a few pretty Rhyncophora and Phytophaga.

    It is an ill wind, however, that blows nobody good; and the scarcity of Coleoptera will be highly satisfactory to some of my hymenopterist friends, since it led me to pay more attention to their favourite group than I should otherwise have been inclined to do. After the first showers fell, bees and wasps appeared in plenty, and I worked very hard at them. They are notoriously sunshine-loving animals; and for many an hour, when my health ought not to have permitted it, have I stood in the noonday sun, at some flowering shrub where they abounded, armed with net, pliers and bottle, intent upon their capture. On the whole I have made, I consider, a very fine collection for such a very short time (less than two months). I have obtained in all 142 species, but of these 120 (about) are Aculeata, and, only about 12 being bees, the great majority are wasps, &c., of which many are very fine, large things, and the greater part seem to me different from any I took in Malacca or Borneo. I have also not neglected the small species, and I doubt not there will be a host of novelties.

    The Diptera, Hemiptera, ants, &c., I have scarcely collected at all, but they promise well for another season.

    [[p. 5656]] The Lepidoptera come last, and, though few in species, present a fair amount of novelty. On my very first visit to the forest I took three fine specimens of the magnificent Ornithoptera Remus, or a variety of it, for the female does not agree with Boisduval's very imperfect description of it. This made me think it common, but I have since never taken another, except an imperfect female. The common Ornithoptera here is a variety of Amphrisius, with the upper wings entirely black in both sexes. Of Papilios I have three new species, one near P. Sarpedon, but the band narrow, dark green-blue on a velvety black ground, divided into rounded spots on the upper wings and linear ones on the lower. Of this I have a fine series. Another is close to P. Eurypilus, but quite distinct from all I have seen or that are described, by the abdomen above being pure white, which, with the white anal margin of the lower wings, and the white down which extends broadly over them, give the insect a most beautiful appearance when on the wing, and enabled me to pronounce it a new species the first time I saw it hovering over a muddy hole. It flies very strong, is rare and difficult to capture, and I secured very few specimens. The third is a rather obscurely marked species; near P. Helenus. I have only one specimen. Of Papilio Ascalaphus, Bois., I have taken the male and the female. P. Polyphontes is common, but I only obtained two or three good specimens. Of Pieris and Euplúa I have several pretty things, and one or two good Nymphalidæ; but the best part of my collection, and what will perhaps please most, are the Lycænidæ, to which I have paid much attention. I have about 35 species out of 115 butterflies, and of half of these I have got the two sexes. With health, a better season and a better locality, I have no doubt a very fine collection of insects might be made in this part of Celebes, and these I hope to have next dry season, which I have arranged, if all goes well, to spend at Bontyne, situated at the South end of the Peninsula, and close to one of the highest mountains in Celebes.

    I must now tell you where I am off to in the mean time. I am going another thousand miles eastward to the Arru Islands, which are within a hundred miles of the coast of New Guinea, and are the most eastern islands of the Archipelago. Many reasons have induced me to go so far now. I must go somewhere to escape the terrific rainy season here. I have all along looked to visiting Arru, as one of the great objects of my journey to the East; and almost all the trade with Arru is from Macassar. I have an opportunity of going in a proa, owned and commanded by a Dutchman (Java born), who will take me [[p. 5657]] and bring me back, and assist me in getting a house, &c., there; and he goes at the very time I want to leave. I have also friends here with whom I can leave all the things I do not want to take with me. All these advantageous circumstances would probably never be combined again; and were I to refuse this opportunity I might never go to Arru at all, which, when you consider it is the nearest place to New Guinea where I can stay on shore and work in perfect safety, would be much to be regretted. What I shall get there it is impossible to say. Being a group of small islands, the immense diversity and richness of the productions of New Guinea will of course be wanting; yet I think I may expect some approach to the strange and beautiful natural productions of that unexplored country. Very few naturalists have visited Arru. One or two of the French discovery-ships have touched at it. M. Payen, of Brussels, was there, but stayed probably only a few days; and I suppose not twenty specimens of its birds and insects are positively known. Here, then, I shall have tolerably new ground, and if I have health I shall work it well. I take three lads with me, two of whom can shoot and skin birds.

A. R. Wallace.


Note Appearing in the Original Work

1. Communicated by Mr. S. Stevens. [[on p. 5652]]


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