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 286 - And assuredly, there is no mark of degradation about any part of its structure. It is, in fact, a fair average human skull, which might have belonged to a philosopher, or might have contained the thoughtless brains of a savage.
Page 134 - I have seen the female sitting quietly on a branch, and two males displaying their charms in front of her. One would shoot up like HUMMING-BIRDS a rocket, then suddenly expanding the snow-white tail like an inverted parachute, slowly descend in front of her, turning round gradually to show off both back and front.
Page 62 - ... from tree to tree, entangling the giants in a great network of coiling cables. Sometimes a tree appears covered with beautiful flowers which do not belong to it, but to one of the lianas that twines through its branches and sends down great rope-like stems to the ground. Climbing ferns and vanilla cling to the trunks, and a thousand epiphytes perch themselves on the branches. Amongst these are large arums that send down long aerial roots, tough and strong, and universally used instead of cordage...
Page 201 - Dr. Wallace, who has had such immense experience in breeding Bombyx cynthia, is convinced that the females evince no choice or preference. He has kept above 300 of these moths living...
Page 289 - ... various forms, and especially to the gibbons ; so that in all probability the special line of variation which led up to man branched off at a still earlier period. And these early forms, being the initiation of a far higher type, and having to develop by natural selection into so...
Page 25 - The approach of the rain-clouds was after a uniform fashion very interesting to observe. First, the cool sea-breeze, which commenced to blow about ten o'clock, and which had increased in force with the increasing power of the sun, would flag and finally die away. The heat and electric tension of the atmosphere would then become almost insupportable. Languor and uneasiness would seize on every one, even the denizens of the forest, betraying it by their motions.
Page 123 - ... while in the temperate regions there have been a series of periodical checks and extinctions of a more or less disastrous nature, necessitating the commencement of the work of development in certain lines over and over again. 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...
Page 179 - It is a suggestive fact that all the brightly-coloured birds mentioned above build in holes or form covered nests, so that the females do not need that protection during the breeding season which I believe to be one of the chief causes of the dull colour of female birds when their partners are gaily coloured.
Page 172 - Animals," (Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection, p. 45), that very little need be added here except a few words of general explanation. Protective colours are exceedingly prevalent in nature, comprising those of all the white arctic animals, the sandy-coloured desert forms, and the green birds and insects ' of tropical forests. It also comprises thousands...

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