Hidden Gem

Wallace, A.R. (1862) Narrative of search after birds of paradise. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 30: 153–161.

“Nature seems to have taken every precaution that these, her choicest treasures, may not lose value by being too easily obtained” wrote Alfred Russel Wallace, in this stunning account of his attempts to collect birds of paradise (Wallace, 1862). In the course of his expeditions Wallace describes an encounter with a fleet of Mandingo pirates, a one thousand mile journey in a Malay prau, appalling food scarcity and illness, as well as potential encounters with cannibals. Published in Journal of Zoology’s predecessor Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, the narrative is full of scientific interest. However, it is Wallace’s enthusiasm for the specimens that he hopes to collect that makes this such a joy to read: “A feather is itself a wonderful and a beautiful thing. A bird clothed with feathers is almost necessarily a beautiful creature. How much, then, must we wonder at and admire the modification of simple feathers into the rigid, polished, wavy ribbons which adorn Y. rubra, the mass of airy plumes on P. apoda, the tufts and wires of Seleucides aha, or the golden buds borne upon airy stems that spring from the tail of Cicinnurus regius; while gems and polished metals can alone compare with the tints that adorn the breast of Parotia sexsetacea and Astrapia nigra, and the immensely developed shoulder-plumes of Epimachus magnus.”  Enjoy the free paper, and a review by Steven Le Comber, in the new Hidden Gems section of the journal website.

Linda DaVolls

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