March 05, 2008

14712 on a ship

In the middle of the 19th Century, an Englishman sailed home from South America with a collection of animal specimens gathered over his time exploring there. They were:
    52 mammals
    360 birds
    140 reptiles
    120 fish
    14,000 insects
    35 mollusks
    5 zoophytes
Total: 14712 species, of which 8000 were previously unknown to 19th Century science.

Who was this man?

Extra credit: Explain why the title of his book is unusual.


Anonymous said...

the geologist carried all these animals on a (snoopy) dog. and all he could get using this big count of specimens was (0,0) of species.

Sriram said...

Must be Darwin.

gaddeswarup said...

My guesses were wrong. The answer is here:

Dilip D'Souza said...

b and sriram, it ain't Darwin.

Swarup's got it.

Anonymous said...

How did he know there weren't any duplicates in those 18000 insects?

Anonymous said...

Reminded me of Dr.Stephen Maturin -- the character in "Master and Commander: far side of the world". Very similar characters.

Anonymous said...

@gbo : hehehe :-) good joke!

Raj said...

ha, the father of Master Bates!

Sunil said...

I'm a little late....but yes, this was Henry Bates. He wrote "The naturalist on the river Amazons" amongst a few other things, but importantly, he struck up this famous friendship with Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace was a superb scientist who independently came up with the theory of natural selection, and sent his paper to one of his idols, Charles Darwin, for comment. Darwin had been working on his own theory of evolution for years (he was notoriously slow and precise in his work), and must have received the shock of his life when he saw Wallace's paper. Anyway, their joint publication (which Wallace was very pleased with) changed science for ever.

Dilip D'Souza said...

It was indeed Henry Walter Bates. The Alex Shoumatoff article that Swarup links to is an excellent introduction to the man. He and AR Wallace spent two years together in South America.

Bates' book about his explorations in the Amazon area is called "The Naturalist on the River Amazons". Why the apparent plural? As Shoumatoff explains, "Bates preferred a literal translation of the river's Portuguese name, Rio Amazonas".

All in all, quite a man.

Dilip D'Souza said...

GBO, I forgot. He knew there weren't any duplicates because he gave them each a unique name that they would respond to when he called.