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Letter from Amboyna (S58: 1859)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: Extracts from letter printed in the second volume of The Ibis. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S058.htm

    [[p. 197]] Mr. Wallace's last communications are dated Amboyna, Oct. 22, 1859, whence he has sent us the valuable contributions to our pages which we have the pleasure of inserting in our present Number. He further says,--

    "I have just packed up a large collection of Gilolo and Ternate birds, as well as those from Menado. The former are a much gayer lot, comprising a fine series of Pitta maxima, a new Megapodius, I think, handsomely banded on the back, and a Semioptera, which differs a little from the Batchian specimens in the much greater length of the breast plumes and other details. Is the Calœnas the true nicobarica? If so, it is a unique case of a true land-bird ranging through the whole Archipelago, and beyond its limits from the Andamans to New Guinea. I do not know where Bonaparte got his [[p. 198]] information about its being arboreal. Here it is truly terrestrial, perching only to rest and sleep.

    "It is astonishing how little care even professed naturalists have given to determining localities. The localities of species given by the 'Dutch Scientific Commission' are full of errors. Ptilonopus monachus and P. hyogaster are given to Celebes, whereas they are unknown there, but are abundant in Gilolo and Batchian; and exactly the same error is made with Macropygia reinwardti, which you will see in my collections, but not from Celebes. Todiramphus funebris is also unknown in Celebes, but common in Gilolo, so that the Dutch naturalists seem to have placed all their species of unknown locality in Celebes, acting as the French have done in giving to the little island of Vanikoro hundreds of insects which were never found there.

    "Among the other interesting species from Gilolo are a Ptilonopus and a Platycercus--both, I think, new; the beautiful Ianthœnas halmaheira, Bp., and several fine aquatic birds and Waders.

    "In a few days I commence work in Ceram, where I hope to make a very fine collection, especially of Psittacidæ, the Lories of Ceram surpassing even those of New Guinea in variety and beauty. I live in hopes too of a new Semioptera, or some equally interesting form.

    "I take every opportunity of purchasing live specimens of Parrots from the islands I may probably not visit, and hope to get most valuable materials for elucidating their distribution in the East, which is in the highest degree interesting. Between the Lorius garrulus of Gilolo and that of Batchian there is a constant difference in the size of the dorsal yellow patch: are they considered distinct species?

    "The species of Ceram birds mentioned in Bonaparte's 'Conspectus' are very few: how is it, then, that it has such a name for fine birds? I know nothing fine from it, but the Lories, which are superb. However, I hope and believe it will produce some very fine things--new Pigeons, perhaps. The Cassowary is said to be abundant in Ceram, and to be the same as the New Guinea species. The Tanysipteræ are very puzzling: which is the true T. dea, Linn.? The Dorey and Ternate specimens seem [[p. 199]] almost identical, and in G. R. Gray's list, New Guinea specimens are put as T. dea. If so, then the larger white-tailed species found in Amboyna and Ceram is undescribed, and is perhaps the same as the white-tailed specimens from the Kaisa Islands, sent with my Batchian collections1. The Carpophaga perspicillata of Amboyna differs also from those of Gilolo and Batchian in the much lighter colour of the head. Now, I believe in all these cases, where the difference is constant, we must call them distinct species. A 'permanent local variety' is an absurdity and a contradiction; and, if we once admit it, we make species a matter of pure opinion, and shut the door to all uniformity of nomenclature."

Note by the Editor of The Ibis Appearing in the Original Work

    1. Mr. Gray has named the Havre Dorey bird T. galatea (P.Z.S. 1859, p. 154). That from Ternate must be the true T. dea, Ternate being the locality given for the Alcedo dea of the old authors. We believe that Mr. Gray refers the examples from Batchian and from the Kaisa islands to different species both undescribed.--Ed. [[on p. 199]]

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