Discusses the mimicry of the Volucella flies, and the bees and wasps they mimic. Compares it with the different object of mimicry in butterflies.
Refers to incompleteness of Cuthbert Collingwood's paper [? "On homophormism, or organic representative forms", Proc. Liverpool Lit. & Philos. Soc. 14 (1860): 181–216].
Thanks CD for help in selecting a publisher for his book [The naturalist on the river Amazons (1863)].
King St Leicester
30 Sept. 1861
My Dear Sir
Before you go to the B.M. to inspect the Volucellæ flies I wish to give
you more exact information about them. The species which
resembles Humble bees is the Volucella bombylans (authors) and the constant variety is
V. plumata (Meigen) (= V. mystacea Fabr.)— One of these
resembles Bombus lapidarius, the other B. terrestris.— These are the
only two varieties found in this neighbourhood and until recently the only two
described. They were always considered as distinct species until Lepelletier de
It has been lately shown that these two forms are united by a series of varieties or connecting links to the number of five; one of which V. hæmorrhoidalis (Zetterstedt) has been described as a distinct species. They are found on the continent but I believe they are not found in all localities together with the two chief forms. I have never observed them.
Another species of Volucella, V. inanis resembles a wasp; its ova & larvæ are found in wasps' nests.—
A third common species is V. pellucens this in its dress is entirely unlike either of the other two species. I cannot find any account of its larva. It would be interesting to know whether it is parasitic also. The perfect insect has not the slightest resemblance to a Hymenopterous insect, but is of the same general appearance as the bulk of the Volucellæ species of which I took many in S. America.
It would appear then that V. pellucens retains the facies of its genus, but that the other two have been widely diverted in this respect from their normal type, in strict connection with their habit of depositing their ova in the nests of wasps and Bombi. It is not necessary to explain to you that I mean—the adult insects being exposed to the attacks of the Bombi near their nests,—their resemblance is explicable on the theory of Nat. Selection.
Precisely the same phenomenon occurs in genera of butterflies in S. America where some species wear the dress of species belonging to widely different families. But here the object of the analogical resemblance is different. Here it is because the one set of species is exposed in the adult state to a persecution by insect enemies from which the other set is free.
This entire class of facts is extremely numerous in insects. But they are very complex. It requires the most subtle & flexible nature of mind to understand & explain them. But whilst they are unexplained on the rational theory, they remain one of the strongest arguments to the believers in the miraculous in creation.
I am extremely obliged to you for your advice regarding my proposed book. It will be
very useful to me. It was quite new to me that I could agree with a publisher
to sell him only the 1
Yours sincerely | H W Bates
- f1 3271.f1CD had expressed a desire to see the exhibition at the British Museum of Amazonian insects collected by Bates in South America (see letter to H. W. Bates, 25 September ). Bates had written to CD about the fly Volucella in the letter from H. W. Bates, [before 25 September 1861].
- f2 3271.f2Am´ed´ee Louis Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau was an eminent French entomologist. His observation of Volucella was cited in Macquart 1834--5, p. 479 (see letter from H. W. Bates, [1 December] 1861).
- f3 3271.f3Bates refers to mimetic butterflies. See Bates 1861a and 1861b. See also letter to H. W. Bates, 25 September .
- f4 3271.f4Collingwood 1860c. See also letter to H. W. Bates, 25 September .
- f5 3271.f5Bates 1861b (see letter to H. W. Bates, 25 September  and n. 12).
- f6 3271.f6In Journal of researches, CD departed from strict chronological order by conflating natural history observations that were made over a period of years (see Journal of researches 2d ed., p. 40).
- f7 3271.f7See Correspondence vol. 10, letter to John Murray, 28 January .