The Butterfly Hunter

Anthony Crawforth Henry Walter Bates is remembered today as the author of A Naturalist on the River Amazons, a science travel book that when it was first published in 1863, immediately became a best seller. His adventures, as a peripatetic collector, were his way of making a living free from the constraints of middle class Victorian Britain. His writing was similar in style to Bruce Chatwin’s and brought the Amazons, its flora, fauna and people, into the Victorian drawing room. Bates was also a competent self taught natural scientist with finely tuned observational skills. Aware of the direction in which evolutionary science was moving before he went to the Amazon; he related all he observed in the light of evolution by natural selection. His field observations were the first to give practical support to Charles Darwin’s theory as it developed. Bates noticed that some palatable butterflies flying in the Amazons copied other unpalatable ones in shape, colour, pattern, and habits, so well that predators were fooled and left them alone, thinking they were all the same. Known today as Batesian mimicry, Darwin was intrigued and used this new knowledge as proof that species were not immutable, that change was occurring all around him all of the time, and sometimes that change led directly to new species. £25 Hardback Published in July 2009 ISBN 978-095607161

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