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Henry Walter Bates
Naturalist on the River Amazons figure 32
Bates in the Amazon

Henry Walter Bates (Leicester, 8 February 1825 – London, 16 February 1892) was an English biologist who explored the Amazon Rainforest.

This naturalist and explorer gave the first scientific account of mimicry in animals. Batesian mimicry is named after him. He was most famous for his expedition to the Amazon River basin with Alfred Russel Wallace in 1848. He spent 11 years in the rain forest.

When Bates arrived home in 1859, he had sent back over 14,000 species (mostly of insects) of which 8,000 were new to science.

The great adventure

In 1847 Wallace and Bates discussed the idea of an expedition to the Amazon basin. The plan was to defray expenses by sending specimens back to London, where an agent would sell them for a commission. Also, for the travellers to "gather facts towards solving the problem of the origin of species", as Wallace put it in a letter to Bates.

The two friends, who were both by now experienced amateur entomologists, met in London to prepare themselves by viewing South American plants and animals in the main collections.

Bates and Wallace sailed from Liverpool in April 1848, arriving in Pará (now Belém) at the end of May. For the first year they settled in a villa near the city, collecting birds and insects. After that they agreed to collect independently.

Eventually, Bates' health deteriorated and he returned to England, sending his collection by three different ships. He didn't want to put all his insects into one boat. Bates wrote a famous book on his experiences: The naturalist on the river Amazons.

  • Bates H.W. 1863. The naturalist on the river Amazons. 2 vols, Murray, London.
  • Bates H.W. 1878. Central America, the West Indies and South America, with ethnological notes by A.H. Keane. Stanford, London; second and revised edition 1882.


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