Magazine article Geographical

Late, Great Geographers

Magazine article Geographical

Late, Great Geographers

Article excerpt

Henry Walter Bates (1825-1892)

British naturalist and long-term insect-catcher in the Amazonian Basin, Bates first identified animal mimicry

What is Henry Walter Bates famous for? Bates' most well-known discovery is the principle of Batesian mimicry -- when an animal disguises itself as another more dangerous species in self-defence. He made the discovery on finding two similarly marked but unrelated families of Brazilian forest butterflies during his epic Amazonian explorations. Noting that one family was poisonous to birds, he realised the edible butterflies had survived by evolving similar warning markings.

How did Bates become involved with insects? Bates published his first paper on beetles when he was 18-years-old, and continued his work as an entomologist while he was an apprentice to his father, a hosier. A friend of Bates, a curator at the British Museum, advised him and his friend Alfred Russel Wallace, that to gain a reputation in zoology they should build an exhaustive collection of insects from a region not yet represented in the Museum's collections. The Amazon Basin was suggested as a good place to start.

Did they act on the advice? With great enthusiasm. In late May 1848 Bates and Wallace arrived in Brasil, and set off up the Amazon Basin, braving its loneliness, disease and poor food. They amassed vast collections of previously unknown insects and after a year decided to split up to cover different territories. Two years later they met up again, malaria and parasite-ridden but still inspired. Wallace agreed to arrange the shipment of insects back to Britain. …

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