The Voyage Of The Beagle
By Charles Darwin
Chapter 2: Rio De Janeiro
April 4th to July 5th, 1832.
A few days after our arrival I became acquainted with an Englishman who
was going to visit his estate, situated rather more than a hundred miles from the capital,
to the northward of Cape Frio. I gladly accepted his kind offer of allowing me
to accompany him.
Our party amounted to seven. The first stage was very interesting.
The day was powerfully hot, and as we passed through the woods, everything
was motionless, excepting the large and brilliant butterflies, which lazily
The view seen when crossing the hills behind Praia Grande was most beautiful;
the colours were intense, and the prevailing tint a dark blue; the sky and the
calm waters of the bay vied with each other in splendour.
After passing through some cultivated country, we entered a forest, which in the grandeur
of all its parts could not be exceeded. We arrived by midday at Ithacaia; this small
village is situated on a plain, and round the central house are the huts of the negroes.
These, from their regular form and position, reminded me of the drawings of the Hottentot
habitations in Southern Africa. As the moon rose early, we determined to start the same
evening for our sleeping-place at the Lagoa Marica. As it was growing dark we passed
under one of the massive, bare, and steep hills of granite which are so common in this country.
This spot is notorious from having been, for a long time, the residence of some runaway slaves,
who, by cultivating a little ground near the top, contrived to eke out a subsistence.
At length they were discovered, and a party of soldiers being sent, the whole were seized with
the exception of one old woman, who, sooner than again be led into slavery, dashed herself to
pieces from the summit of the mountain.
In a Roman matron this would have been called the noble love of freedom: in a poor negress it
is mere brutal obstinacy.
We continued riding for some hours. For the few last miles the road was intricate, and it
passed through a desert waste of marshes and lagoons. The scene by the dimmed light of the
moon was most desolate. A few fireflies flitted by us; and the solitary snipe, as it rose, uttered
its plaintive cry. The distant and sullen roar of the sea scarcely broke the stillness of the night.
We left our miserable sleeping-place before sunrise.
The road passed through a narrow sandy plain, lying between the sea and the interior salt lagoons.
The number of beautiful fishing birds, such as egrets and cranes, and the succulent plants assuming most fantastical
forms, gave to the scene an interest which it would not otherwise have possessed.
The few stunted trees were loaded with parasitical plants, among which the beauty and delicious fragrance of some
of the orchideae were most to be admired. As the sun rose, the day became extremely hot, and the reflection of
the light and heat from the white sand was very distressing. We dined at Mandetiba; the thermometer in the shade
being 84 degrees. The beautiful view of the distant wooded hills, reflected in the perfectly calm water of an
extensive lagoon, quite refreshed us.
As the venda(1) here was a very good one, and I have the pleasant, but rare remembrance, of an excellent
dinner, I will be grateful and presently describe it, as the type of its class. These houses are often large,
and are built of thick upright posts, with boughs interwoven, and afterwards plastered. They seldom have floors,
and never glazed windows; but are generally pretty well roofed. Universally the front part is open, forming
a kind of verandah, in which tables and benches are placed. The bed-rooms join on each side, and here the passenger
may sleep as comfortably as he can, on a wooden platform, covered by a thin straw mat.
The venda stands in a courtyard, where the horses are fed. On first arriving it was our custom to unsaddle the horses
and give them their Indian corn; then, with a low bow, to ask the senhor to do us the favour to give up something to eat.
"Anything you choose, sir," was his usual answer.
For the few first times, vainly I thanked providence for having guided us to so good a man. The conversation proceeding,
the case universally became deplorable.
"Any fish can you do us the favour of giving ?" - "Oh! no, sir." - "Any soup?" - "No, sir." - "Any bread?" - "Oh! no, sir."
- "Any dried meat?" - "Oh! no, sir." If we were lucky, by waiting a couple of hours, we obtained fowls, rice, and farinha.
It not unfrequently happened, that we were obliged to kill, with stones, the poultry for our own supper.
When, thoroughly exhausted by fatigue and hunger, we timorously hinted that we should be glad of our meal, the pompous, and
(though true) most unsatisfactory answer was, "It will be ready when it is ready." If we had dared to remonstrate any
further, we should have been told to proceed on our journey, as being too impertinent. The hosts are most ungracious and
disagreeable in their manners; their houses and their persons are often filthily dirty; the want of the accommodation of
forks, knives, and spoons is common; and I am sure no cottage or hovel in England could be found in a state so utterly
destitute of every comfort.
At Campos Novos, however, we fared sumptuously; having rice and fowls, biscuit, wine, and spirits, for dinner;
coffee in the evening, and fish with coffee for breakfast. All this, with good food for the horses, only cost 2s. 6d. per
head. Yet the host of this venda, being asked if he knew anything of a whip which one of the party had lost, gruffly
answered, "How should I know? why did you not take care of it? - I suppose the dogs have eaten it."
Leaving Mandetiba, we continued to pass through an intricate wilderness of lakes; in some of which were fresh,
in others salt water shells. Of the former kinds, I found a Limnaea in great numbers in a lake, into which,
the inhabitants assured me that the sea enters once a year, and sometimes oftener, and makes the water quite salt.
I have no doubt many interesting facts, in relation to marine and fresh water animals, might be observed in this chain of
lagoons, which skirt the coast of Brazil.
M. Gay (2) has stated that he found in the neighbourhood of Rio, shells of the marine genera solen and mytilus, and fresh
water ampullariae, living together in brackish water. I also frequently observed in the lagoon near the Botanic Garden,
where the water is only a little less salt than in the sea, a species of hydrophilus, very similar to a water-beetle
common in the ditches of England: in the same lake the only shell belonged to a genus generally found in estuaries.
Leaving the coast for a time, we again entered the forest. The trees were very lofty, and remarkable, compared with those
of Europe, from the whiteness of their trunks. I see by my note-book, "wonderful and beautiful, flowering parasites,"
invariably struck me as the most novel object in these grand scenes. Travelling onwards we passed through tracts of
pasturage, much injured by the enormous conical ants' nests, which were nearly twelve feet high.
They gave to the plain exactly the appearance of the mud volcanos at Jorullo, as figured by Humboldt.
We arrived at Engenhodo after it was dark, having been ten hours on horseback. I never ceased, during the whole journey,
to be surprised at the amount of labour which the horses were capable of enduring; they appeared also to recover from
any injury much sooner than those of our English breed. The Vampire bat is often the cause of much trouble, by biting
the horses on their withers. The injury is generally not so much owing to the loss of blood, as to the inflammation
which the pressure of the saddle afterwards produces.
The whole circumstance has lately been doubted in England; I was therefore fortunate in being present when one
(Desmodus d'orbignyi, Wat.) was actually caught on a horse's back.
We were bivouacking late one evening near Coquimbo, in Chile, when my servant, noticing that one of the horses was very
restive, went to see what was the matter, and fancying he could distinguish something, suddenly put his hand on the
beast's withers, and secured the vampire. In the morning the spot where the bite had been inflicted was easily
distinguished from being slightly swollen and bloody. The third day afterwards we rode the horse, without any ill effects.
After three days' travelling we arrived at Socego, the estate of Senhor Manuel Figuireda, a relation of one of our
party. The house was simple, and, though like a barn in form, was well suited to the climate. In the sitting-room gilded
chairs and sofas were oddly contrasted with the whitewashed walls, thatched roof, and windows without glass.
The house, together with the granaries, the stables, and workshops for the blacks, who had been taught various
trades, formed a rude kind of quadrangle; in the centre of which a large pile of coffee was drying. These buildings
stand on a little hill, overlooking the cultivated ground, and surrounded on every side by a wall of dark green luxuriant
forest. The chief produce of this part of the country is coffee. Each tree is supposed to yield annually, on an average,
two pounds; but some give as much as eight. Mandioca or cassada is likewise cultivated in great quantity. Every part of
this plant is useful; the leaves and stalks are eaten by the horses, and the roots are ground into a pulp, which, when
pressed dry and baked, forms the farinha, the principal article of sustenance in the Brazils.
It is a curious, though well-known fact, that the juice of this most nutritious plant is highly poisonous.
A few years ago a cow died at this Fazenda, in consequence of having drunk some of it. Senhor Figuireda told me that he had
planted, the year before, one bag of feijao or beans, and three of rice; the former of which produced eighty, and the
latter three hundred and twenty fold. The pasturage supports a fine stock of cattle, and the woods are so full of game
that a deer had been killed on each of the three previous days. This profusion of food showed itself at dinner, where, if
the tables did not groan, the guests surely did; for each person is expected to eat of every dish.
One day, having, as I thought, nicely calculated so that nothing should go away untasted, to my utter dismay a roast
turkey and a pig appeared in all their substantial reality. During the meals, it was the employment of a man to drive out
of the room sundry old hounds, and dozens of little black children, which crawled in together, at every opportunity.
As long as the idea of slavery could be banished, there was something exceedingly fascinating in this simple and
patriarchal style of living: it was such a perfect retirement and independence from the rest of the world.
As soon as any stranger is seen arriving, a large bell is set tolling, and generally some small cannon are fired.
The event is thus announced to the rocks and woods, but to nothing else. One morning I walked out an hour before daylight
to admire the solemn stillness of the scene; at last, the silence was broken by the morning hymn, raised on high by the
whole body of the blacks; and in this manner their daily work is generally begun. On such fazendas as these, I have
no doubt the slaves pass happy and contented lives. On Saturday and Sunday they work for themselves, and in this
fertile climate the labour of two days is sufficient to support a man and his family for the whole week.
Leaving Socego, we rode to another estate on the Rio Macae, which was the last patch of cultivated ground in that
The estate was two and a half miles long, and the owner had forgotten how many broad. Only a very small piece had been
cleared, yet almost every acre was capable of yielding all the various rich productions of a tropical land.
Considering the enormous area of Brazil, the proportion of cultivated ground can scarcely be considered as anything,
compared to that which is left in the state of nature: at some future age, how vast a population it will support!
During the second day's journey we found the road so shut up, that it was necessary that a man should go ahead with a sword
to cut away the creepers. The forest abounded with beautiful objects; among which the tree ferns, though not large, were,
from their bright green foliage, and the elegant curvature of their fronds, most worthy of admiration.
In the evening it rained very heavily, and although the thermometer stood at 65 degrees, I felt very cold. As soon as the
rain ceased, it was curious to observe the extraordinary evaporation which commenced over the whole extent of the forest.
At the height of a hundred feet the hills were buried in a dense white vapour, which rose like columns of smoke
from the most thickly wooded parts, and especially from the valleys. I observed this phenomenon on several occasions.
I suppose it is owing to the large surface of foliage, previously heated by the sun's rays.
While staying at this estate, I was very nearly being an eye-witness to one of those atrocious acts which can
only take place in a slave country. Owing to a quarrel and a lawsuit, the owner was on the point of taking all the women
and children from the male slaves, and selling them separately at the public auction at Rio.
Interest, and not any feeling of compassion, prevented this act. Indeed, I do not believe the inhumanity of separating
thirty families, who had lived together for many years, even occurred to the owner. Yet I will pledge myself, that in
humanity and good feeling he was superior to the common run of men. It may be said there exists no limit to the blindness
of interest and selfish habit.
I may mention one very trifling anecdote, which at the time struck me more forcibly than any story of cruelty.
I was crossing a ferry with a negro, who was uncommonly stupid. In endeavouring to make him understand, I talked loud,
and made signs, in doing which I passed my hand near his face. He, I suppose, thought I was in a passion, and was going to
strike him; for instantly, with a frightened look and half-shut eyes, he dropped his hands.
I shall never forget my feelings of surprise, disgust, and shame, at seeing a great powerful man afraid even to ward off a
blow, directed, as he thought, at his face.
This man had been trained to a degradation lower than the slavery of the most helpless animal.
In returning we spent two days at Socego, and I employed them in collecting insects in the forest. The
greater number of trees, although so lofty, are not more than three or four feet in circumference. There are, of
course, a few of much greater dimensions. Senhor Manuel was then making a canoe 70 feet in length from a solid trunk,
which had originally been 110 feet long, and of great thickness.
The contrast of palm trees, growing amidst the common branching kinds, never fails to give the scene an intertropical
character. Here the woods were ornamented by the Cabbage Palm - one of the most beautiful of its family. With
a stem so narrow that it might be clasped with the two hands, it waves its elegant head at the height of forty or
fifty feet above the ground. The woody creepers, themselves covered by other creepers, were of great thickness: some
which I measured were two feet in circumference.
Many of the older trees presented a very curious appearance from the tresses of a liana hanging from their boughs,
and resembling bundles of hay. If the eye was turned from the world of foliage above, to the ground beneath, it was
attracted by the extreme elegance of the leaves of the ferns and mimosae. The latter, in some parts, covered the surface
with a brushwood only a few inches high. In walking across these thick beds of mimosae, a broad track was marked by the
change of shade, produced by the drooping of their sensitive petioles.
It is easy to specify the individual objects of admiration in these grand scenes; but it is not possible to give an
adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, astonishment, and devotion, which fill and elevate the mind.
Leaving Socego, during the two first days, we retraced our steps.
It was very wearisome work, as the road generally ran across a glaring hot sandy plain, not far from the coast.
I noticed that each time the horse put its foot on the fine siliceous sand, a gentle chirping noise was produced.
On the third day we took a different line, and passed through the gay little village of Madre de Deos.
This is one of the principal lines of road in Brazil; yet it was in so bad a state that no wheeled vehicle, excepting
the clumsy bullock-wagon, could pass along. In our whole journey we did not cross a single bridge built of stone; and
those made of logs of wood were frequently so much out of repair, that it was necessary to go on one side to avoid them.
All distances are inaccurately known. The road is often marked by crosses, in the place of milestones, to signify where
human blood has been spilled. On the evening of the 23rd we arrived at Rio, having finished our pleasant little excursion.
During the remainder of my stay at Rio, I resided in a cottage at Botofogo Bay.
It was impossible to wish for anything more delightful than thus to spend some weeks in so magnificent a country.
In England any person fond of natural history enjoys in his walks a great advantage, by always having something to attract
his attention; but in these fertile climates, teeming with life, the attractions are so numerous, that he is scarcely
able to walk at all.
The few observations which I was enabled to make were almost exclusively confined to the invertebrate animals. The
existence of a division of the genus Planaria, which inhabits the dry land, interested me much. These animals are of so
simple a structure, that Cuvier has arranged them with the intestinal worms, though never found within the bodies of
other animals. Numerous species inhabit both salt and fresh water; but those to which I allude were found, even
in the drier parts of the forest, beneath logs of rotten wood, on which I believe they feed.
In general form they resemble little slugs, but are very much narrower in proportion, and several of the species are
beautifully coloured with longitudinal stripes. heir structure is very simple: near the middle of the under or
crawling surface there are two small transverse slits, from the anterior one of which a funnel-shaped and highly irritable
mouth can be protruded. For some time after the rest of the animal was completely dead from the effects of salt water or
any other cause, this organ still retained its vitality.
I found no less than twelve different species of terrestrial Planariae in different parts of the southern hemisphere.(3)
Some specimens which I obtained at Van Dieman's Land, I kept alive for nearly two months, feeding them on rotten
wood. Having cut one of them transversely into two nearly equal parts, in the course of a fortnight both had the shape
of perfect animals. I had, however, so divided the body, that one of the halves contained both the inferior orifices,
and the other, in consequence, none. In the course of twenty-five days from the operation, the more perfect half could
not have been distinguished from any other specimen. The other had increased much in size; and towards its posterior
end, a clear space was formed in the parenchymatous mass, in which a rudimentary cup-shaped mouth could clearly be
distinguished; on the under surface, however, no corresponding slit was yet open.
If the increased heat of the weather, as we approached the equator, had not destroyed all the individuals, there can be no
doubt that this last step would have completed its structure. Although so well-known an experiment, it was interesting
to watch the gradual production of every essential organ, out of the simple extremity of another animal. It is extremely
difficult to preserve these Planariae; as soon as the cessation of life allows the ordinary laws of change to act, their
entire bodies become soft and fluid, with a rapidity which I have never seen equalled.
I first visited the forest in which these Planariae were found, in company with an old Portuguese priest
who took me out to hunt with him.
The sport consisted in turning into the cover a few dogs, and then patiently waiting to fire at any animal which might
appear. We were accompanied by the son of a neighbouring farmer - a good specimen of a wild Brazilian youth.
He was dressed in a tattered old shirt and trousers, and had his head uncovered: he carried an old-fashioned gun and
a large knife. The habit of carrying the knife is universal; and in traversing a thick wood it is almost necessary, on
account of the creeping plants. The frequent occurrence of murder may be partly attributed to this habit.
The Brazilians are so dexterous with the knife, that they can throw it to some distance with precision, and with sufficient
force to cause a fatal wound. I have seen a number of little boys practising this art as a game of play and from their
skill in hitting an upright stick, they promised well for more earnest attempts. My companion, the day before, had shot two
bearded monkeys. These animals have prehensile tails, the extremity of which, even after death, can support the whole
weight of the body. One of them thus remained fast to a branch, and it was necessary to cut down a large tree to procure it.
This was soon effected, and down came tree and monkey with an awful crash. Our day's sport, besides the monkey, was
confined to sundry small green parrots and a few toucans. I profited, however, by my acquaintance with the Portuguese padre,
for on another occasion he gave me a fine specimen of the Yagouaroundi cat.
Every one has heard of the beauty of the scenery near Botofogo. The house in which I lived was seated close beneath the
well-known mountain of the Corcovado. It has been remarked, with much truth, that abruptly conical hills are characteristic
of the formation which Humboldt designates as gneiss-granite. Nothing can be more striking than the effect of these huge
rounded masses of naked rock rising out of the most luxuriant vegetation.
I was often interested by watching the clouds, which, rolling in from seaward, formed a bank just beneath the
highest point of the Corcovado. This mountain, like most others, when thus partly veiled, appeared to rise to a far
prouder elevation than its real height of 2300 feet. Mr. Daniell has observed, in his meteorological essays, that a
cloud sometimes appears fixed on a mountain summit, while the wind continues to blow over it.
The same phenomenon here presented a slightly different appearance.
In this case the cloud was clearly seen to curl over, and rapidly pass by the summit, and yet was neither diminished nor
increased in size. The sun was setting, and a gentle southerly breeze, striking against the southern side of the rock,
mingled its current with the colder air above; and the vapour was thus condensed; but as the light wreaths of cloud
passed over the ridge, and came within the influence of the warmer atmosphere of the northern sloping bank, they were
The climate, during the months of May and June, or the beginning of winter, was delightful. The mean temperature, from
observations taken at nine o'clock, both morning and evening, was only 72 degrees. It often rained heavily, but the drying
southerly winds soon again rendered the walks pleasant. One morning, in the course of six hours, 1.6 inches of rain fell.
As this storm passed over the forests which surround the Corcovado, the sound produced by the drops pattering on the
countless multitude of leaves was very remarkable, it could be heard at the distance of a quarter of a mile, and was like
the rushing of a great body of water. After the hotter days, it was delicious to sit quietly in the garden and watch the
evening pass into night. Nature, in these climes, chooses her vocalists from more humble performers than in Europe.
A small frog, of the genus Hyla, sits on a blade of grass about an inch above the surface of the water, and sends forth a
pleasing chirp: when several are together they sing in harmony on different notes. I had some difficulty in catching a
specimen of this frog. The genus Hyla has its toes terminated by small suckers; and I found this animal could crawl up a
pane of glass, when placed absolutely perpendicular.
Various cicidae and crickets, at the same time, keep up a ceaseless shrill cry, but which, softened by the distance, is
not unpleasant. Every evening after dark this great concert commenced; and often have I sat listening to it, until
my attention has been drawn away by some curious passing insect.
At these times the fireflies are seen flitting about from hedge to hedge. On a dark night the light can be seen at
about two hundred paces distant. It is remarkable that in all the different kinds of glowworms, shining elaters, and
various marine animals (such as the crustacea, medusae, nereidae, a coralline of the genus Clytia, and Pyrosma),
which I have observed, the light has been of a well-marked green colour. All the fireflies, which I caught here, belonged
to the Lampyridae (in which family the English glowworm is included), and the greater number of specimens were of
Lampyris occidentalis.(4) I found that this insect emitted the most brilliant flashes when irritated: in the intervals,
the abdominal rings were obscured. The flash was almost co-instantaneous in the two rings, but it was just perceptible
first in the anterior one. The shining matter was fluid and very adhesive: little spots, where the skin had been torn,
continued bright with a slight scintillation, whilst the uninjured parts were obscured.
When the insect was decapitated the rings remained uninterruptedly bright, but not so brilliant as before: local irritation
with a needle always increased the vividness of the light. The rings in one instance retained their luminous property
nearly twenty-four hours after the death of the insect. From these facts it would appear probable, that the animal has only
the power of concealing or extinguishing the light for short intervals, and that at other times the display is involuntary.
On the muddy and wet gravel-walks I found the larvae of this lampyris in great numbers: they resembled in general form the
female of the English glowworm.
These larvae possessed but feeble luminous powers; very differently from their parents, on the slightest touch they feigned
death and ceased to shine; nor did irritation excite any fresh display. I kept several of them alive for some time: their
tails are very singular organs, for they act, by a well-fitted contrivance, as suckers or organs of attachment, and likewise
as reservoirs for saliva, or some such fluid. I repeatedly fed them on raw meat; and I invariably observed, that every
now and then the extremity of the tail was applied to the mouth, and a drop of fluid exuded on the meat, which was then in
the act of being consumed. The tail, notwithstanding so much practice, does not seem to be able to find its way to the
mouth; at least the neck was always touched first, and apparently as a guide.
When we were at Bahia, an elater or beetle (Pyrophorus luminosus, Illig.) seemed the most common luminous insect.
The light in this case was also rendered more brilliant by irritation. I amused myself one day by observing the
springing powers of this insect, which have not, as it appears to me, been properly described.(5) The elater, when placed
on its back and preparing to spring, moved its head and thorax backwards, so that the pectoral spine was drawn out,
and rested on the edge of its sheath.
The same backward movement being continued, the spine, by the full action of the muscles, was bent like a spring; and
the insect at this moment rested on the extremity of its head and wing-cases. The effort being suddenly relaxed, the head
and thorax flew up, and in consequence, the base of the wing-cases struck the supporting surface with such force, that
the insect by the reaction was jerked upwards to the height of one or two inches. The projecting points of the thorax, and
the sheath of the spine, served to steady the whole body during the spring. In the descriptions which I have read,
sufficient stress does not appear to have been laid on the elasticity of the spine: so sudden a spring could not be
the result of simple muscular contraction, without the aid of some mechanical contrivance.
On several occasions I enjoyed some short but most pleasant excursions in the neighbouring country. One day I went
to the Botanic Garden, where many plants, well known for their great utility, might be seen growing.
The leaves of the camphor, pepper, cinnamon, and clove trees were delightfully aromatic; and the bread-fruit, the jaca,
and the mango, vied with each other in the magnificence of their foliage. The landscape in the neighbourhood of Bahia
almost takes its character from the two latter trees. Before seeing them, I had no idea that any trees could cast so
black a shade on the ground. Both of them bear to the evergreen vegetation of these climates the same kind
of relation which laurels and hollies in England do to the lighter green of the deciduous trees.
It may be observed, that the houses within the tropics are surrounded by the most beautiful forms of vegetation, because
many of them are at the same time most useful to man. Who can doubt that these qualities are united in the banana,
the cocoa-nut, the many kinds of palm, the orange, and the bread-fruit tree?
During this day I was particularly struck with a remark of Humboldt's, who often alludes to "the thin vapour which,
without changing the transparency of the air, renders its tints more harmonious, and softens its effects."
This is an appearance which I have never observed in the temperate zones. The atmosphere, seen through a short space of
half or three-quarters of a mile, was perfectly lucid, but at a greater distance all colours were blended into a
most beautiful haze, of a pale French grey, mingled with a little blue. The condition of the atmosphere between the
morning and about noon, when the effect was most evident, had undergone little change, excepting in its dryness.
In the interval, the difference between the dew point and temperature had increased from 7.5 to 17 degrees.
On another occasion I started early and walked to the Gavia, or topsail mountain.
The air was delightfully cool and fragrant; and the drops of dew still glittered on the leaves of the large liliaceous
plants, which shaded the streamlets of clear water. Sitting down on a block of granite, it was delightful to watch
the various insects and birds as they flew past. The humming-bird seems particularly fond of such shady retired spots.
Whenever I saw these little creatures buzzing round a flower, with their wings vibrating so rapidly as to be scarcely
visible, I was reminded of the sphinx moths: their movements and habits are indeed in many respects very similar.
Following a pathway, I entered a noble forest, and from a height of five or six hundred feet, one of those splendid views
was presented, which are so common on every side of Rio. At this elevation the landscape attains its most brilliant tint;
and every form, every shade, so completely surpasses in magnificence all that the European has ever beheld in his own
country, that he knows not how to express his feelings.
The general effect frequently recalled to my mind the gayest scenery of the Opera-house or the great theatres.
I never returned from these excursions empty-handed. This day I found a specimen of a curious fungus, called Hymenophallus.
Most people know the English Phallus, which in autumn taints the air with its odious smell: this, however, as the
entomologist is aware, is, to some of our beetles a delightful fragrance. So was it here; for a Strongylus, attracted by
the odour, alighted on the fungus as I carried it in my hand. We here see in two distant countries a similar relation
between plants and insects of the same families, though the species of both are different.
When man is the agent in introducing into a country a new species, this relation is often broken: as one instance of this
I may mention, that the leaves of the cabbages and lettuces, which in England afford food to such a multitude of
slugs and caterpillars, in the gardens near Rio are untouched.
During our stay at Brazil I made a large collection of insects. A few general observations on the comparative
importance of the different orders may be interesting to the English entomologist. The large and brilliantly coloured
Lepidoptera bespeak the zone they inhabit, far more plainly than any other race of animals. I allude only to the
butterflies; for the moths, contrary to what might have been expected from the rankness of the vegetation, certainly
appeared in much fewer numbers than in our own temperate regions. I was much surprised at the habits of Papilio feronia.
This butterfly is not uncommon, and generally frequents the orange-groves. Although a high flier, yet it very
frequently alights on the trunks of trees. On these occasions its head is invariably placed downwards; and its
wings are expanded in a horizontal plane, instead of being folded vertically, as is commonly the case. This is the only
butterfly which I have ever seen, that uses its legs for running.
Not being aware of this fact, the insect, more than once, as I cautiously approached with my forceps, shuffled on one
side just as the instrument was on the point of closing, and thus escaped. But a far more singular fact is the power
which this species possesses of making a noise.(6) Several times when a pair, probably male and female, were chasing
each other in an irregular course, they passed within a few yards of me; and I distinctly heard a clicking noise, similar
to that produced by a toothed wheel passing under a spring catch. The noise was continued at short intervals,
and could be distinguished at about twenty yards' distance: I am certain there is no error in the observation.
I was disappointed in the general aspect of the Coleoptera.
The number of minute and obscurely coloured beetles is exceedingly great.(7) The cabinets of Europe can, as yet,
boast only of the larger species from tropical climates. It is sufficient to disturb the composure of an entomologist's
mind, to look forward to the future dimensions of a complete catalogue. The carnivorous beetles, or Carabidae,
appear in extremely few numbers within the tropics: this is the more remarkable when compared to the case of the
carnivorous quadrupeds, which are so abundant in hot countries. I was struck with this observation both on entering
Brazil, and when I saw the many elegant and active forms of the Harpalidae re-appearing on the temperate plains of
La Plata. Do the very numerous spiders and rapacious Hymenoptera supply the place of the carnivorous beetles?
The carrion-feeders and Brachelytra are very uncommon; on the other hand, the Rhyncophora and Chrysomelidae, all
of which depend on the vegetable world for subsistence, are present in astonishing numbers.
I do not here refer to the number of different species, but to that of the individual insects; for on this it is that
the most striking character in the entomology of different countries depends. The orders Orthoptera and Hemiptera
are particularly numerous; as likewise is the stinging division of the Hymenoptera the bees, perhaps, being excepted.
A person, on first entering a tropical forest, is astonished at the labours of the ants: well-beaten paths branch off in
every direction, on which an army of never-failing foragers may be seen, some going forth, and others returning,
burdened with pieces of green leaf, often larger than their own bodies.
A small dark-coloured ant sometimes migrates in countless numbers. One day, at Bahia, my attention was drawn
by observing many spiders, cockroaches, and other insects, and some lizards, rushing in the greatest agitation across
a bare piece of ground. A little way behind, every stalk and leaf was blackened by a small ant. The swarm having
crossed the bare space, divided itself, and descended an old wall. By this means many insects were fairly enclosed; and
the efforts which the poor little creatures made to extricate themselves from such a death were wonderful.
When the ants came to the road they changed their course, and in narrow files reascended the wall. Having placed a
small stone so as to intercept one of the lines, the whole body attacked it, and then immediately retired.
Shortly afterwards another body came to the charge, and again having failed to make any impression, this line of march
was entirely given up. By going an inch round, the file might have avoided the stone, and this doubtless would have
happened, if it had been originally there: but having been attacked, the lion-hearted little warriors
scorned the idea of yielding.
Certain wasp-like insects, which construct in the corners of the verandahs clay cells for their larvae, are very
numerous in the neighbourhood of Rio. These cells they stuff full of half-dead spiders and caterpillars, which they seem
wonderfully to know how to sting to that degree as to leave them paralysed but alive, until their eggs are hatched;
and the larvae feed on the horrid mass of powerless, half-killed victims - a sight which has been described by an
enthusiastic naturalist(8) as curious and pleasing!
I was much interested one day by watching a deadly contest between a Pepsis and a large spider of the genus Lycosa.
The wasp made a sudden dash at its prey, and then flew away: the spider was evidently wounded, for, trying to escape,
it rolled down a little slope, but had still strength sufficient to crawl into a thick tuft of grass.
The wasp soon returned, and seemed surprised at not immediately finding its victim. It then commenced as regular a hunt as
ever hound did after fox; making short semicircular casts, and all the time rapidly vibrating its wings and antennae.
The spider, though well concealed, was soon discovered, and the wasp, evidently still afraid of its adversary's jaws, after
much manoeuvring, inflicted two stings on the under side of its thorax. At last, carefully examining with its
antennae the now motionless spider, it proceeded to drag away the body. But I stopped both tyrant and prey.(9)
The number of spiders, in proportion to other insects, is here compared with England very much larger; perhaps
more so than with any other division of the articulate animals. The variety of species among the jumping spiders
appears almost infinite. The genus, or rather family, of Epeira, is here characterized by many singular forms; some
species have pointed coriaceous shells, others enlarged and spiny tibiae. Every path in the forest is barricaded with the
strong yellow web of a species, belonging to the same division with the Epeira clavipes of Fabricius, which was
formerly said by Sloane to make, in the West Indies, webs so strong as to catch birds.
A small and pretty kind of spider, with very long fore-legs, and which appears to belong to an undescribed genus, lives
as a parasite on almost every one of these webs. I suppose it is too insignificant to be noticed by the great Epeira,
and is therefore allowed to prey on the minute insects, which, adhering to the lines, would otherwise be wasted.
When frightened, this little spider either feigns death by extending its front legs, or suddenly drops from the web.
A large Epeira of the same division with Epeira tuberculata and conica is extremely common, especially in dry situations.
Its web, which is generally placed among the great leaves of the common agave, is sometimes strengthened near the centre
by a pair or even four zigzag ribbons, which connect two adjoining rays. When any large insect, as a grasshopper or wasp,
is caught, the spider, by a dexterous movement, makes it revolve very rapidly, and at the same time emitting a band of
threads from its spinners, soon envelops its prey in a case like the cocoon of a silkworm.
The spider now examines the powerless victim, and gives the fatal bite on the hinder part of its thorax; then retreating,
patiently waits till the poison has taken effect. The virulence of this poison may be judged of from the fact that in half
a minute I opened the mesh, and found a large wasp quite lifeless.
This Epeira always stands with its head downwards near the centre of the web. When disturbed, it acts differently according
to circumstances: if there is a thicket below, it suddenly falls down; and I have distinctly seen the thread from the
spinners lengthened by the animal while yet stationary, as preparatory to its fall. If the ground is clear beneath, the
Epeira seldom falls, but moves quickly through a central passage from one to the other side. When still further disturbed,
it practises a most curious manoeuvre: standing in the middle, it violently jerks the web, which it attached to elastic
twigs, till at last the whole acquires such a rapid vibratory movement, that even the
outline of the spider's body becomes indistinct.
It is well known that most of the British spiders, when a large insect is caught in their webs, endeavour to cut
the lines and liberate their prey, to save their nets from being entirely spoiled. I once, however, saw in a hot-house in
Shropshire a large female wasp caught in the irregular web of a quite small spider; and this spider, instead of
cutting the web, most perseveringly continued to entangle the body, and especially the wings, of its prey.
The wasp at first aimed in vain repeated thrusts with its sting at its little antagonist. Pitying the wasp, after allowing
it to struggle for more than an hour, I killed it and put it back into the web.
The spider soon returned; and an hour afterwards I was much surprised to find it with its jaws buried in the orifice,
through which the sting is protruded by the living wasp. I drove the spider away two or three times, but for the next
twenty-four hours I always found it again sucking at the same place. The spider became much distended by the juices of its
prey, which was many times larger than itself.
I may here just mention, that I found, near St. Fe Bajada, many large black spiders, with ruby-coloured marks on
their backs, having gregarious habits. The webs were placed vertically, as is invariably the case with the genus
Epeira: they were separated from each other by a space of about two feet, but were all attached to certain common
lines, which were of great length, and extended to all parts of the community.
In this manner the tops of some large bushes were encompassed by the united nets. Azara(10) has described
a gregarious spider in Paraguay, which Walckanaer thinks must be a Theridion, but probably it is an Epeira, and
perhaps even the same species with mine. I cannot, however, recollect seeing a central nest as large as a hat, in which,
during autumn, when the spiders die, Azara says the eggs are deposited.
As all the spiders which I saw were of the same size, they must have been nearly of the same age. This
gregarious habit, in so typical a genus as Epeira, among insects, which are so bloodthirsty and solitary that even the two
sexes attack each other, is a very singular fact.
In a lofty valley of the Cordillera, near Mendoza, I found another spider with a singularly-formed web.
Strong lines radiated in a vertical plane from a common centre, where the insect had its station; but only two of the rays
were connected by a symmetrical mesh-work; so that the net, instead of being, as is generally the case, circular,
consisted of a wedge-shaped segment. All the webs were similarly constructed.
(1) Venda, the Portuguese name for an inn.
(2) Annales des Sciences Naturelles for 1833.
(3) I have described and named these species in the Annals of Nat. Hist., vol. xiv. p. 241.
(4) I am greatly indebted to Mr. Waterhouse for his kindness in naming for me this and many other insects,
and giving me much valuable assistance.
(5) Kirby's Entomology, vol. ii. p. 317.
(6) Mr. Doubleday has lately described (before the Entomological Society, March 3rd, 1845) a peculiar structure in
the wings of this butterfly, which seems to be the means of its making its noise.
He says, "It is remarkable for having a sort of drum at the base of the fore wings, between the costal nervure and the
subcostal. These two nervures, moreover, have a peculiar screw-like diaphragm or vessel in the interior." I find in
Langsdorff's travels (in the years 1803-7, p. 74) it is said, that in the island of St. Catherine's on the coast of Brazil,
a butterfly called Februa Hoffmanseggi, makes a noise, when flying away, like a rattle.
(7) I may mention, as a common instance of one day's (June 23rd) collecting, when I was not attending particularly to
the Coleoptera, that I caught sixty-eight species of that order.
Among these, there were only two of the Carabidae, four Brachelytra, fifteen Rhyncophora, and fourteen of the
Chrysomelidae. Thirty-seven species of Arachnidae, which I brought home, will be sufficient to prove that I was not
paying overmuch attention to the generally favoured order of Coleoptera.
(8) In a MS. in the British Museum by Mr. Abbott, who made his observations in Georgia; see Mr. A. White's paper in the
"Annals of Nat. Hist.," vol. vii. p. 472. Lieut. Hutton has described a sphex with similar habits in India, in the "Journal
of the Asiatic Society," vol. i. p. 555.
(9) Don Felix Azara (vol. i. p. 175), mentioning a hymenopterous insect, probably of the same genus, says he saw it
dragging a dead spider through tall grass, in a straight line to its nest, which was one hundred and sixty-three paces
He adds that the wasp, in order to find the road, every now and then made "demi-tours d'environ trois palmes."
(10) Azara's Voyage, vol. i. p. 213
Go to Chapter 3...
Return to index...