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Birds and Flowers (S425: 1890)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A short letter to the Editor printed on page 295 of the Nature of 24 July 1890. To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S425.htm

    In your note on Mr. G. F. Scott-Elliot's paper on this subject (Nature, July 17, p. 279) you remark: "In accordance with the view of Darwin, but opposed to that of Wallace, Mr. Scott-Elliot believes that the identity of colour (an unusual shade of red) in the majority of ornithophilous flowers and on the breasts of species of Cinnyris is an important element in pollination by birds." There must be, I think, some misapprehension here. I am not aware that Darwin has anywhere referred to the colours of birds as being generally similar to those of the flowers they frequent. Mr. Grant Allen has done so in his work on "The Colour-Sense," and I have opposed his views in Nature (vol. xix. p. 501), because he founds the resemblance on the theory of sexual selection, and because the facts do not support any such general relation. That such a relation does sometimes occur I have shown, by quoting Mrs. Barber in my "Darwinism" (p. 201) as to the scarlet and purple colours of a sun-bird being highly protective when feeding among the similarly coloured blossoms of the Erythrina caffra, which, at the time, has no foliage. I have also called attention (in the same work, p. 319) to the numerous flowers now known to be fertilized by birds, and to the numerous large tubular flowers of a red and orange colour in Chile and the Andes, which are apparently adapted to be fertilized by humming-birds. The general uniformity of colour would be advantageous as an indication of bird-flowers as distinguished from insect-flowers; but there is no similarity to the colours of the birds. Curiously enough, the common Chilian Eustephanus is green-coloured in both sexes, while its close ally in Juan Fernandez is red in the male. Yet the flowers it frequents in the island are not red, but mostly white and yellow (see "Tropical Nature," p. 272). It is evident, therefore, that the prevalent colours of the flowers do not determine the colours of the birds which frequent them, unless those colours are so predominant that a similar colour becomes protective, as is more generally the case in the scantily-wooded plains of South Africa than anywhere else.

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