Tropical Nature, and Other Essays

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Macmillan and Company, 1878 - 356 pages
Sometimes referred to as 'the grand old man of science', Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) was a naturalist, evolutionary theorist, and friend of Charles Darwin. In this study of tropical flora and fauna, he takes the reader on a tour of the equatorial forest belt - the almost continuous band of forest that stretches around the world between the tropics. There, chameleon-like caterpillars alter the colours of their cocoons, parasitical trees override their hosts with spectacular aerial root systems, and some of the most pressing questions of Victorian evolutionary science arise: how do animals and plants come to be brightly coloured? Can their adaptations provide clues about past geological eras? And was Darwin wholly correct in his theory of sexual selection? First published in 1878, Wallace's book is a skilfully written reflection of contemporary naturalism, still highly readable and relevant to students in the history of science.

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Page 236 - ... do butterflies — probably because the causes which determine colour are in their case more complex — yet there are distinct indications of some effect of the kind, and we must devote some little time to their consideration. One of the most curious cases is that of the parrots of the West Indian islands and Central America, several of which have white heads or foreheads, occurring in two distinct genera,1 while none of the more numerous parrots of South America are so coloured.
Page 45 - Morning and evening the howling monkeys make a most fearful and harrowing noise, under which it is difficult to keep up one's buoyancy of spirit. The feeling of inhospitable wildness which the forest is calculated to inspire is increased tenfold under this fearful uproar. Often, even in the still hours of midday, a sudden crash will be heard resounding afar through the wilderness, as some great bough or entire tree falls to the ground.
Page 134 - We now propose to lay before our readers a general account of the more recent discoveries on this interesting subject ; and in doing so it will be necessary first to give an outline of the more important facts as to the colours of organised beings ; then to point out the cases in which it has been shown that colour is of use ; and lastly, to endeavour to throw some light on its nature and on the general laws of its development.
Page 15 - Languor and uneasiness would seize on every one ; even the denizens of the forest betraying it by their motions. White clouds would appear in the east and gather into cumuli, with an increasing blackness along their lower portions. The whole eastern horizon would become almost suddenly black, and this would spread upwards, the sun at length becoming obscured.
Page 16 - In Europe, a woodland scene has its spring, its summer, its autumnal, and its winter aspects. In the equatorial forests the aspect is the same or nearly so every day in the year : budding, flowering, fruiting, and leaf-shedding are always going on in one species or other.
Page 216 - The fact that the higher vertebrates, and even some insects, distinguish what are to us diversities of colour by no means proves that their sensations of colour bear any resemblance whatever to ours. An insect's capacity to distinguish red from blue or yellow may be (and probably is) due to perceptions of a totally distinct nature...
Page 142 - The caterpillar feeds on the orange tree, and also on a forest tree (Vepris lanceolata) which has a lighter green leaf, and its colour corresponds with that of the leaves it feeds upon, being of a darker green when it feeds on the orange. The chrysalis is usually found suspended among the leafy twigs of its food-plant, or of some neighbouring tree ; but it is probably often attached to larger branches, and Mrs. Barber has discovered that it has the property of acquiring the colour, more or less accurately,...
Page 228 - ... with are — the influence of locality, or of some unknown local causes, in determining the colours of insects, and, to a less extent, of birds ; and the way in which certain peculiarities in the distribution of plants may have been brought about by their dependence on insects. The latter part of my address will deal with the present state of our knowledge as to the antiquity and early history of mankind.
Page 97 - In the one, evolution has had a fair chance; in the other it has had countless difficulties thrown in its way. The equatorial regions are then, as regards their past and present life history, a more ancient world than that represented by the temperate zones, a world in which the laws which have governed the progressive development of life have operated with comparatively little check for countless ages, and have resulted in those...
Page 37 - Not less so are the cecropia trees, with their white stems and large palmated leaves standing up like great candelabra. Sometimes the ground is carpeted with large flowers, yellow, pink, or white, that have fallen from some invisible tree-top above, or the air is filled with a delicious perfume, for the source of which one seeks around in vain, as the flowers that cause it are far overhead out of sight, lost in the great overshadowing crown of verdure.

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