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gaily-painted wings, or to the humming bird of its jewelled breast, except to add the final touches to a worldpicture, calculated at once to please and to refine mankind ? And even now, with all our recently-acquired knowledge of this subject, who shall say that these oldworld views were not intrinsically and fundamentally sound ; and that, although we now know that colour has “ uses "in nature that we little dreamt of, yet the relation of those colours—or rather of the various rays of lightto our senses and emotions, may not be another, and perhaps more important use which they subserve in the great system of the universe ?
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.
Among naturalists, colour was long thought to be of little import, and to be quite untrustworthy as a specific character. The numerous cases of variability of colour led to this view. The occurrence of white blackbirds, white peacocks, and black leopards; of white blue-bells, and of white, blue, or pink milkworts, led to the belief that colour was essentially unstable, that it could therefore be of little or no importance, and belonged to quite a different class of characters from form or structure. But it now begins to be perceived that these cases, though tolerably numerous, are, after all, exceptional ; and that colour, as a rule, is a constant character. The great majority of species, both of animals and plants, are each distinguished by peculiar tints which vary very little, while the minutest markings are often constant in thousands or millions of individuals. All our field buttercups are invariably yellow, and our poppies red; while many of our butterflies and birds resemble each other in every spot and streak of colour through thousands of individuals. We also find that colour is constant in whole genera and other groups of species. The Genistas are all yellow, the Erythrinas all red; many genera of Carabidæ are entirely black; whole families of birds-as the Dendrocolaptidæare brown; while among butterflies the numerous species of Lycæna are all more or less blue, those of Pontia white, and those of Callidryas yellow. An extensive survey of the organic world thus leads us to the conclusion that colour is by no means so unimportant or inconstant a character as at first sight it appears to be; and the more we examine it the more convinced we shall become that it must serve some purpose in nature, and that, besides charming us by its diversity and beauty, it must be well worthy of our attentive study, and have many secrets to unfold to us.
Theory of Heat and Light as producing Colour.-In commencing our study of the great mass of facts relating to the colours of the organic world, it will be necessary to consider first, how far the chief theories already proposed will account for them. One of the most obvious and most popular of these theories, and one which is still held, in part at least, by many eminent naturalists, is—that colour is due to some direct action of the heat and light of the sun--thus at once accounting
for the great number of brilliant birds, insects, and flowers, which are found between the tropics.
But before proceeding to discuss this supposed explanation of the colours of living things we must ask the preliminary question,—whether it is really the fact that colour is more developed in tropical than in temperate climates, in proportion to the whole number of species ; and even if we find this to be so, we have to inquire whether there are not so many and such striking exceptions to the rule, as to indicate some other causes at work than the direct influence of solar light and heat. As this is a most important branch of the inquiry, we must go into it somewhat fully.
It is undoubtedly the case that there are an immensely greater number of richly-coloured birds and insects in tropical than in temperate and cold countries, but it is by no means so certain that the proportion of coloured to obscure species is much or any greater. Naturalists and collectors well know that the majority of tropical birds are dull-coloured ; and there are whole families, comprising hundreds of species, not one of which exhibits a particle of bright colour. Such are, for example, the Timaliidæ, or babbling thrushes of the Eastern, and the Dendrocolaptidæ, or tree-creepers of the Western hemispheres. Again, many groups of birds, which are universally distributed, are no more adorned with colour in the tropical than in the temperate zones ; such are the thrushes, wrens, goatsuckers, hawks, grouse, plovers, and snipe ; and if tropical light and heat have any direct colouring effect, it is certainly most extraordinary that in groups so varied in form, structure, and habits as those just mentioned, the tropical should be in no wise
distinguished in this respect, from the temperate species.
It is true that brilliant tropical birds mostly belong to groups which are wholly tropical—as the chatterers, toucans, trogons, and pittas; but as there are perhaps an equal number of groups which are wholly dullcoloured, while others contain dull and bright-coloured species in nearly equal proportions, the evidence is by no means strong that tropical light and heat have anything to do with the matter. But there are other groups in which the cold and temperate zones produce finercoloured species than the tropics. Thus the arctic ducks and divers are handsomer than those of the tropical zone ; while the king-duck of temperate America and the mandarin-duck of North China are the most beautifully coloured of the whole family. In the pheasant family we have the gorgeous gold and silver pheasants in North China and Mongolia ; and the superb Impeyan pheasant in the temperate North-Western Himalayas, as against the peacock and fire-backed pheasants of tropical Asia. Then we have the curious fact that most of the bright-coloured birds of the tropics are denizens of the forests, where they are shaded from the direct light of the sun, and that they abound near the equator where cloudy skies are very prevalent; while, on the other hand, places where light and heat are at a maximum have often dull-coloured birds. Such are the Sahara and other deserts, where almost all the living things are sand-coloured; but the most curious case is that of the Galapagos islands, situated under the equator, and not far from South America where the most gorgeous colours abound, but which are yet characterized by prevailing
dull and sombre tints in birds, insects, and flowers, so that they reminded Mr. Darwin of the cold and barren plains of Patagonia rather than of any tropical country. Insects are wonderfully brilliant in tropical countries generally ; and any one looking over a collection of South American or Malayan butterflies would scout the idea of their being no more gaily-coloured than the average of European species, and in this he would be undoubtedly right. But on examination we should find that all the more brilliantly-coloured groups were exclusively tropical, and that, where a genus has a wide range, there is little difference in coloration between the species of cold and warm countries. Thus the European Vanessides, including the beautiful “ peacock," “ Camberwell beauty," and “red admiral” butterflies, are quite up to the average of tropical colour in the same group; and the remark will equally apply to the little “blues” and “ coppers ;” while the alpine “apollo” butterflies have a delicate beauty that can hardly be surpassed. In other insects, which are less directly dependent on climate and vegetation, we find even greater anomalies. In the immense family of the Carabidæ or predaceous ground-beetles, the northern forms fully equal, if they do not surpass, all that the tropics can produce. Everywhere, too, in hot countries, there are thousands of obscure species of insects which, if they were all collected, would not improbably bring down the average of colour to much about the same level as that of temperate zones.
But it is when we come to the vegetable world that the greatest misconception on this subject prevails. In abundance and variety of floral colour the tropics are