Henry Walter Bates   1825-1892

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Henry Bates is famous for his contributions to the taxonomy of Neotropical scarabs, among other things. He and Alfred Russel Wallace left England in 1842 to explore and collect insects in the Amazon basin in what was to become incredibly valuable explorations and insights into natural history and evolution for the both of them. Bates spent 11 years in Amazonia amassing large collections of insects that were sent back to museums and collectors in Europe. Bates was quick to embrace Darwin's and Wallace's theory of evolution by natural selection. Bates' own theory of mimicry, which now bears his name (Batesian mimicry), provided evidence for evolution by natural selection. For several years after his Amazon travels, Bates worked mostly on butterflies. When he obtained his position with the Royal Geographical Society, he sold his Lepidoptera to Godman and Salvin and then began to work mostly on cerambycids, carabids, and cicindelids. Bates assumed the post of Assistant Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society in 1864 and continued in this position for 28 years until his death. Scarabaeoids were not really his taxonomic specialty, and yet he described over 700 of them as new to science. Foremost among these publications (at least for scarab workers) was the lamellicorn volume of the Biologia Centrali-Americana, a series that he helped to plan. Bates described 494 species of Neotropical scarabs in the Biologia. Bates began to work on scarabs fairly late in his career. His first "fully scarab" paper was published in 1868. In fact, only three papers (plus the Biologia volume) were devoted exclusively to scarabs. His other scarab descriptions were part of other papers in which he dealt with other families of beetles.

In his introduction to the scarab volume of the Biologia, Bates stated that "the genera representing the Scarabaeoidea were placed by Linnaeus and other early systematists (apparently under a vague, but no less true, sense of their superior organization) at the head of the whole coleopterous series." Henry may have like carabids and longhorn beetles greatly, but he knew the true worth of scarabs!


O'Hara, J.E. 1995. Henry Walter Bates---his life and contributions to biology. Archives of Natural History 22: 195-219.

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln State Museum - Division of Entomology