The Malay Archipelago, by Alfred Russel Wallace

Chapter 18

Natural History of Celebes.

THE position of Celebes is the most central in the Archipelago. Immediately to the north are the Philippine islands; on the west is Borneo; on the east are the Molucca islands; and on the south is the Timor group — and it is on all sides so connected with these islands by its own satellites, by small islets, and by coral reefs, that neither by inspection on the map nor by actual observation around its coast, is it possible to determine accurately which should be grouped with it, and which with the surrounding districts. Such being the case, we should naturally expect to find that the productions of this central island in some degree represented the richness and variety of the whole Archipelago, while we should not expect much individuality in a country, so situated, that it would seem as if it were pre-eminently fitted to receive stragglers and immigrants from all around.

As so often happens in nature, however, the fact turns out to be just the reverse of what we should have expected; and an examination of its animal productions shows Celebes to be at once the poorest in the number of its species, and the most isolated in the character of its productions, of all the great islands in the Archipelago. With its attendant islets it spreads over an extent of sea hardly inferior in length and breadth to that occupied by Borneo, while its actual land area is nearly double that of Java; yet its Mammalia and terrestrial birds number scarcely more than half the species found in the last-named island. Its position is such that it could receive immigrants from every side more readily than Java, yet in proportion to the species which inhabit it, far fewer seem derived from other islands, while far more are altogether peculiar to it; and a considerable number of its animal forms are so remarkable, as to find no close allies in any other part of the world. I now propose to examine the best known groups of Celebesian animals in some detail, to study their relations to those of other islands, and to call attention to the many points of interest which they suggest.

We know far more of the birds of Celebes than we do of any other group of animals. No less than 191 species have been discovered, and though no doubt, many more wading and swimming birds have to be added; yet the list of land birds, 144 in number, and which for our present purpose are much the most important, must be very nearly complete. I myself assiduously collected birds in Celebes for nearly ten months, and my assistant, Mr. Allen, spent two months in the Sula islands. The Dutch naturalist Forsten spent two years in Northern Celebes (twenty years before my visit), and collections of birds had also been sent to Holland from Macassar. The French ship of discovery, L’Astrolabe, also touched at Menado and procured collections. Since my return home, the Dutch naturalists Rosenberg and Bernstein have made extensive collections both in North Celebes and in the Sula islands; yet all their researches combined have only added eight species of land birds to those forming part of my own collection — a fact which renders it almost certain that there are very few more to discover.

Besides Salayer and Boutong on the south, with Peling and Bungay on the east, the three islands of the Sula (or Zula) Archipelago also belong zoologically to Celebes, although their position is such that it would seem more natural to group them with the Moluccas. About 48 land birds are now known from the Sula group, and if we reject from these, five species which have a wide range over the Archipelago, the remainder are much more characteristic of Celebes than of the Moluccas. Thirty-one species are identical with those of the former island, and four are representatives of Celebes forms, while only eleven are Moluccan species, and two more representatives.

But although the Sula islands belong to Celebes, they are so close to Bouru and the southern islands of the Gilolo group, that several purely Moluccan forms have migrated there, which are quite unknown to the island of Celebes itself; the whole thirteen Moluccan species being in this category, thus adding to the productions of Celebes a foreign element which does not really belong to it. In studying the peculiarities of the Celebesian fauna, it will therefore be well to consider only the productions of the main island.

The number of land birds in the island of Celebes is 128, and from these we may, as before, strike out a small number of species which roam over the whole Archipelago (often from India to the Pacific), and which therefore only serve to disguise the peculiarities of individual islands. These are 20 in number, and leave 108 species which we may consider as more especially characteristic of the island. On accurately comparing these with the birds of all the surrounding countries, we find that only nine extend into the islands westward, and nineteen into the islands eastward, while no less than 80 are entirely confined to the Celebesian fauna — a degree of individuality which, considering the situation of the island, is hardly to be equalled in any other part of the world. If we still more closely examine these 80 species, we shall be struck by the many peculiarities of structure they present, and by the curious affinities with distant parts of the world which many of them seem to indicate. These points are of so much interest and importance that it will be necessary to pass in review all those species which are peculiar to the island, and to call attention to whatever is most worthy of remark.

Six species of the Hawk tribe are peculiar to Celebes; three of these are very distinct from allied birds which range over all India to Java and Borneo, and which thus seem to be suddenly changed on entering Celebes. Another (Accipiter trinotatus) is a beautiful hawk, with elegant rows of large round white spots on the tail, rendering it very conspicuous and quite different from any other known bird of the family. Three owls are also peculiar; and one, a barn owl (Strix rosenbergii), is very much larger and stronger than its ally Strix javanica, which ranges from India through all the islands as far as Lombock.

Of the ten Parrots found in Celebes, eight are peculiar. Among them are two species of the singular raquet-tailed parrots forming the genus Prioniturus, and which are characterised by possessing two long spoon-shaped feathers in the tail. Two allied species are found in the adjacent island of Mindanao, one of the Philippines, and this form of tail is found in no other parrots in the whole world. A small species of Lorikeet (Trichoglossus flavoviridis) seems to have its nearest ally in Australia.

The three Woodpeckers which inhabit the island are all peculiar, and are allied to species found in Java and Borneo, although very different from them all.

Among the three peculiar Cuckoos, two are very remarkable. Phoenicophaus callirhynchus is the largest and handsomest species of its genus, and is distinguished by the three colours of its beak, bright yellow, red, and black. Eudynamis melanorynchus differs from all its allies in having a jet-black bill, whereas the other species of the genus always have it green, yellow, or reddish.

The Celebes Roller (Coracias temmincki) is an interesting example of one species of a genus being cut off from the rest. There are species of Coracias in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but none in the Malay peninsula, Sumatra, Java, or Borneo. The present species seems therefore quite out of place; and what is still more curious is the fact that it is not at all like any of the Asiatic species, but seems more to resemble those of Africa.

In the next family, the Bee-eaters, is another equally isolated bird, Meropogon forsteni, which combines the characters of African and Indian Bee-eaters, and whose only near ally, Meropogon breweri, was discovered by M. Du Chaillu in West Africa!

The two Celebes Hornbills have no close allies in those which abound in the surrounding countries. The only Thrush, Geocichla erythronota, is most nearly allied to a species peculiar to Timor. Two of the Flycatchers are closely allied to Indian species, which are not found in the Malay islands. Two genera somewhat allied to the Magpies (Streptocitta and Charitornis), but whose affinities are so doubtful that Professor Schlegel places them among the Starlings, are entirely confined to Celebes. They are beautiful long-tailed birds, with black and white plumage, and with the feathers of the head somewhat rigid and scale-like.

Doubtfully allied to the Starlings are two other very isolated and beautiful birds. One, Enodes erythrophrys, has ashy and yellow plumage, but is ornamented with broad stripes of orange-red above the eyes. The other, Basilornis celebensis, is a blue — black bird with a white patch on each side of the breast, and the head ornamented with a beautiful compressed scaly crest of feathers, resembling in form that of the well-known Cock-of-the-rock of South America. The only ally to this bird is found in Ceram, and has the feathers of the crest elongated upwards into quite a different form.

A still more curious bird is the Scissirostrum pagei, which although it is at present classed in the Starling family, differs from all other species in the form of the bill and nostrils, and seems most nearly allied in its general structure to the Ox-peckers (Buphaga) of tropical Africa, next to which the celebrated ornithologist Prince Bonaparte finally placed it. It is almost entirely of a slatey colour, with yellow bill and feet, but the feathers of the rump and upper tail-coverts each terminate in a rigid, glossy pencil or tuft of a vivid crimson. These pretty little birds take the place of the metallic-green starlings of the genus Calornis, which are found in most other islands of the Archipelago, but which are absent from Celebes. They go in flocks, feeding upon grain and fruits, often frequenting dead trees, in holes of which they build their nests; and they cling to the trunks as easily as woodpeckers or creepers.

Out of eighteen Pigeons found in Celebes, eleven are peculiar to it. Two of them, Ptilonopus gularis and Turacaena menadensis, have their nearest allies in Timor. Two others, Carpophaga forsteni and Phlaegenas tristigmata, most resemble Philippine island species; and Carpophaga radiata belongs to a New Guinea group. Lastly, in the Gallinaceous tribe, the curious helmeted Maleo (Megacephalon rubripes) is quite isolated, having its nearest (but still distant) allies in the Brush-turkeys of Australia and New Guinea.

Judging, therefore, by the opinions of the eminent naturalists who have described and classified its birds, we find that many of the species have no near allies whatsoever in the countries which surround Celebes, but are either quite isolated, or indicate relations with such distant regions as New Guinea, Australia, India, or Africa. Other cases of similar remote affinities between the productions of distant countries no doubt exist, but in no spot upon the globe that I am yet acquainted with, do so many of them occur together, or do they form so decided a feature in the natural history of the country.

The Mammalia of Celebes are very few in number, consisting of fourteen terrestrial species and seven bats. Of the former no less than eleven are peculiar, including two which there is reason to believe may have been recently carried into other islands by man. Three species which have a tolerably wide range in the Archipelago, are: (1) The curious Lemur, Tarsius spectrum, which is found in all the islands as far westward as Malacca; (2) the common Malay Civet, Viverra tangalunga, which has a still wider range; and (3) a Deer, which seems to be the same as the Rusa hippelaphus of Java, and was probably introduced by man at an early period.

The more characteristic species are as follow:

Cynopithecus nigrescens, a curious baboon-like monkey if not a true baboon, which abounds all over Celebes, and is found nowhere else but in the one small island of Batchian, into which it has probably been introduced accidentally. An allied species is found in the Philippines, but in no other island of the Archipelago is there anything resembling them. These creatures are about the size of a spaniel, of a jet-black colour, and have the projecting dog-like muzzle and overhanging brows of the baboons. They have large red callosities and a short fleshy tail, scarcely an inch long and hardly visible. They go in large bands, living chiefly in the trees, but often descending on the ground and robbing gardens and orchards.

Anoa depressicornis, the Sapi-utan, or wild cow of the Malays, is an animal which has been the cause of much controversy, as to whether it should be classed as ox, buffalo, or antelope. It is smaller than any other wild cattle, and in many respects seems to approach some of the ox-like antelopes of Africa. It is found only in the mountains, and is said never to inhabit places where there are deer. It is somewhat smaller than a small Highland cow, and has long straight horns, which are ringed at the base and slope backwards over the neck.

The wild pig seems to be of a species peculiar to the island; but a much more curious animal of this family is the Babirusa or Pig-deer; so named by the Malays from its long and slender legs, and curved tusks resembling horns. This extraordinary creature resembles a pig in general appearance, but it does not dig with its snout, as it feeds on fallen fruits. The tusks of the lower jaw are very long and sharp, but the upper ones instead of growing downwards in the usual way are completely reversed, growing upwards out of bony sockets through the skin on each side of the snout, curving backwards to near the eyes, and in old animals often reaching eight or ten inches in length. It is difficult to understand what can be the use of these extraordinary horn-like teeth. Some of the old writers supposed that they served as hooks, by which the creature could rest its head on a branch. But the way in which they usually diverge just over and in front of the eye has suggested the more probable idea, that they serve to guard these organs from thorns and spines, while hunting for fallen fruits among the tangled thickets of rattans and other spiny plants. Even this, however, is not satisfactory, for the female, who must seek her food in the same way, does not possess them. I should be inclined to believe rather, that these tusks were once useful, and were then worn down as fast as they grew; but that changed conditions of life have rendered them unnecessary, and they now develop into a monstrous form, just as the incisors of the Beaver or Rabbit will go on growing, if the opposite teeth do not wear them away. In old animals they reach an enormous size, and are generally broken off as if by fighting.

Here again we have a resemblance to the Wart-hogs of Africa, whose upper canines grow outwards and curve up so as to form a transition from the usual mode of growth to that of the Babirusa. In other respects there seems no affinity between these animals, and the Babirusa stands completely isolated, having no resemblance to the pigs of any other part of the world. It is found all over Celebes and in the Sula islands, and also in Bourn, the only spot beyond the Celebes group to which it extends; and which island also shows some affinity to the Sula islands in its birds, indicating perhaps, a closer connection between them at some former period than now exists.

The other terrestrial mammals of Celebes are five species of squirrels, which are all distinct from those of Java and Borneo, and mark the furthest eastward range of the genus in the tropics; and two of Eastern opossums (Cuscus), which are different from those of the Moluccas, and mark the furthest westward extension of this genus and of the Marsupial order. Thus we see that the Mammalia of Celebes are no less individual and remarkable than the birds, since three of the largest and most interesting species have no near allies in surrounding countries, but seem vaguely to indicate a relation to the African continent.

Many groups of insects appear to be especially subject to local influences, their forms and colours changing with each change of conditions, or even with a change of locality where the conditions seem almost identical. We should therefore anticipate that the individuality manifested in the higher animals would be still more prominent in these creatures with less stable organisms. On the other hand, however, we have to consider that the dispersion and migration of insects is much more easily effected than that of mammals or even of birds. They are much more likely to be carried away by violent winds; their eggs may be carried on leaves either by storms of wind or by floating trees, and their larvae and pupae, often buried in trunks of trees or enclosed in waterproof cocoons, may be floated for days or weeks uninjured over the ocean. These facilities of distribution tend to assimilate the productions of adjacent lands in two ways: first, by direct mutual interchange of species; and secondly, by repeated immigrations of fresh individuals of a species common to other islands, which by intercrossing, tend to obliterate the changes of form and colour, which differences of conditions might otherwise produce. Bearing these facts in mind, we shall find that the individuality of the insects of Celebes is even greater than we have any reason to expect.

For the purpose of insuring accuracy in comparisons with other islands, I shall confine myself to those groups which are best known, or which I have myself carefully studied. Beginning with the Papilionidae or Swallow-tailed butterflies, Celebes possesses 24 species, of which the large number of 18 are not found in any other island. If we compare this with Borneo, which out of 29 species has only two not found elsewhere, the difference is as striking as anything can be. In the family of the Pieridae, or white butterflies, the difference is not quite so great, owing perhaps to the more wandering habits of the group; but it is still very remarkable. Out of 30 species inhabiting Celebes, 19 are peculiar, while Java (from which more species are known than from Sumatra or Borneo), out of 37 species, has only 13 peculiar. The Danaidae are large, but weak-flying butterflies, which frequent forests and gardens, and are plainly but often very richly coloured. Of these my own collection contains 16 species from Celebes and 15 from Borneo; but whereas no less than 14 are confined to the former island, only two are peculiar to the latter. The Nymphalidae are a very extensive group, of generally strong-winged and very bright-coloured butterflies, very abundant in the tropics, and represented in our own country by our Fritillaries, our Vanessas, and our Purple-emperor. Some months ago I drew up a list of the Eastern species of this group, including all the new ones discovered by myself, and arrived at the following comparative results:—

Species of Nymphalidae. Species peculiar to each island. Percentage of peculiar Species.
Java 70 23 33
Borneo 52 15 29
Celebes 48 35 73


The Coleoptera are so extensive that few of the groups have yet been carefully worked out. I will therefore refer to one only, which I have myself recently studied — the Cetoniadae or Rose-chafers — a group of beetles which, owing to their extreme beauty, have been much sought after. From Java 37 species of these insects are known, and from Celebes only 30; yet only 13, or 35 percent, are peculiar to the former island, and 19, or 63 percent, to the latter.

The result of these comparisons is, that although Celebes is a single, large island with only a few smaller ones closely grouped around it, we must really consider it as forming one of the great divisions of the Archipelago, equal in rank and importance to the whole of the Moluccan or Philippine groups, to the Papuan islands, or to the Indo–Malay islands (Java, Sumatra, Borneo, and the Malay peninsula). Taking those families of insects and birds which are best known, the following table shows the comparison of Celebes with the other groups of islands:—

PAPILIONIDAE AND PERIDAE HAWKS, PARROTS, AND PIGEONS.
Percent of peculiar Species. Percent of peculiar Species.
Indo-Malay region 56 54
Philippine group 66 73
Celebes 69 60
Moluccan group 52 62
Timor group 42 47
Papuan group 64 74


These large and well-known families well represent the general character of the zoology of Celebes; and they show that this island is really one of the most isolated portions of the Archipelago, although situated in its very centre.

But the insects of Celebes present us with other phenomena more curious and more difficult to explain than their striking individuality. The butterflies of that island are in many cases characterised by a peculiarity of outline, which distinguishes them at a glance from those of any other part of the world. It is most strongly manifested in the Papilios and the Pieridae, and consists in the forewings being either strongly curved or abruptly bent near the base, or in the extremity being elongated and often somewhat hooked. Out of the 14 species of Papilio in Celebes, 13 exhibit this peculiarity in a greater or less degree, when compared with the most nearly allied species of the surrounding islands. Ten species of Pieridae have the same character, and in four or five of the Nymphalidae it is also very distinctly marked. In almost every case, the species found in Celebes are much larger than thane of the islands westward, and at least equal to those of the Moluccas, or even larger. The difference of form is, however, the most remarkable feature, as it is altogether a new thing for a whole set of species in one country to differ in exactly the same way from the corresponding sets in all the surrounding countries; and it is so well marked, that without looking at the details of colouring, most Celebes Papilios and many Pieridae, can be at once distinguished from those of other islands by their form alone.

The outside figure of each pair here given, shows the exact size and form of the fore-wing in a butterfly of Celebes, while the inner one represents the most closely allied species from one of the adjacent islands. Figure 1 shows the strongly curved margin of the Celebes species, Papilio gigon, compared with the much straighter margin of Papilio demolion from Singapore and Java. Figure 2 shows the abrupt bend over the base of the wing in Papilio miletus of Celebes, compared with the slight curvature in the common Papilio sarpedon, which has almost exactly the same form from India to New Guinea and Australia. Figure 3 shows the elongated wing of Tachyris zarinda, a native of Celebes, compared with the much shorter wing of Tachyris nero, a very closely allied species found in all the western islands. The difference of form is in each case sufficiently obvious, but when the insects themselves are compared, it is much more striking than in these partial outlines.

From the analogy of birds, we should suppose that the pointed wing gave increased rapidity of flight, since it is a character of terns, swallows, falcons, and of the swift-flying pigeons. A short and rounded wing, on the other hand, always accompanies a more feeble or more laborious flight, and one much less under command. We might suppose, therefore, that the butterflies which possess this peculiar form were better able to escape pursuit. But there seems no unusual abundance of insectivorous birds to render this necessary; and as we cannot believe that such a curious peculiarity is without meaning, it seems probable that it is the result of a former condition of things, when the island possessed a much richer fauna, the relics of which we see in the isolated birds and Mammalia now inhabiting it; and when the abundance of insectivorous creatures rendered some unusual means of escape a necessity for the large-winged and showy butterflies. It is some confirmation of this view, that neither the very small nor the very obscurely coloured groups of butterflies have elongated wings, nor is any modification perceptible in those strong-winged groups which already possess great strength and rapidity of flight. These were already sufficiently protected from their enemies, and did not require increased power of escaping from them. It is not at all clear what effect the peculiar curvature of the wings has in modifying flight.

Another curious feature in the zoology of Celebes is also worthy of attention. I allude to the absence of several groups which are found on both sides of it, in the Indo–Malay islands as well as in the Moluccas; and which thus seem to be unable, from some unknown cause, to obtain a footing in the intervening island. In Birds we have the two families of Podargidae and Laniadae, which range over the whole Archipelago and into Australia, and which yet have no representative in Celebes. The genera Ceyx among Kingfishers, Criniger among Thrushes, Rhipidura among Flycatchers, Calornis among Starlings, and Erythrura among Finches, are all found in the Moluccas as well as in Borneo and Java — but not a single species belonging to any one of them is found in Celebes. Among insects, the large genus of Rose-chafers, Lomaptera, is found in every country and island between India and New Guinea, except Celebes. This unexpected absence of many groups, from one limited district in the very centre of their area of distribution, is a phenomenon not altogether unique, but, I believe, nowhere so well marked as in this case; and it certainly adds considerably to the strange character of this remarkable island.

The anomalies and eccentricities in the natural history of Celebes which I have endeavoured to sketch in this chapter, all point to an origin in a remote antiquity. The history of extinct animals teaches us that their distribution in time and in space are strikingly similar. The rule is, that just as the productions of adjacent areas usually resemble each other closely, so do the productions of successive periods in the same area; and as the productions of remote areas generally differ widely, so do the productions of the same area at remote epochs. We are therefore led irresistibly to the conclusion, that change of species, still more of generic and of family form, is a matter of time. But time may have led to a change of species in one country, while in another the forms have been more permanent, or the change may have gone on at an equal rate but in a different manner in both. In either case, the amount of individuality in the productions of a district will be to some extent a measure of the time that a district has been isolated from those that surround it. Judged by this standard, Celebes must be one of the oldest parts of the Archipelago. It probably dates from a period not only anterior to that when Borneo, Java, and Sumatra were separated from the continent, but from that still more remote epoch when the land that now constitutes these islands had not risen above the ocean.

Such an antiquity is necessary, to account for the number of animal forms it possesses, which show no relation to those of India or Australia, but rather with those of Africa; and we are led to speculate on the possibility of there having once existed a continent in the Indian Ocean which might serve as a bridge to connect these distant countries. Now it is a curious fact, that the existence of such a land has been already thought necessary, to account for the distribution of the curious Quadrumana forming the family of the Lemurs. These have their metropolis in Madagascar, but are found also in Africa, in Ceylon, in the peninsula of India, and in the Malay Archipelago as far as Celebes, which is its furthest eastern limit. Dr. Sclater has proposed for the hypothetical continent connecting these distant points, and whose former existence is indicated by the Mascarene islands and the Maldive coral group, the name of Lemuria. Whether or not we believe in its existence in the exact form here indicated, the student of geographical distribution must see in the extraordinary and isolated productions of Celebes, proof of the former existence of some continent from whence the ancestors of these creatures, and of many other intermediate forms, could have been derived.

In this short sketch of the most striking peculiarities of the Natural History of Celebes, I have been obliged to enter much into details that I fear will have been uninteresting to the general reader, but unless I had done so, my exposition would have lost much of its force and value. It is by these details alone that I have been able to prove the unusual features that Celebes presents to us. Situated in the very midst of an Archipelago, and closely hemmed in on every side by islands teeming with varied forms of life, its productions have yet a surprising amount of individuality. While it is poor in the actual number of its species, it is yet wonderfully rich in peculiar forms, many of which are singular or beautiful, and are in some cases absolutely unique upon the globe. We behold here the curious phenomenon of groups of insects changing their outline in a similar manner when compared with those of surrounding islands, suggesting some common cause which never seems to have acted elsewhere in exactly the same way. Celebes, therefore, presents us with a most striking example of the interest that attaches to the study of the geographical distribution of animals. We can see that their present distribution upon the globe is the result of all the more recent changes the earth’s surface has undergone; and, by a careful study of the phenomena, we are sometimes able to deduce approximately what those past changes must have been in order to produce the distribution we find to exist. In the comparatively simple case of the Timor group, we were able to deduce these changes with some approach to certainty. In the much more complicated case of Celebes, we can only indicate their general nature, since we now see the result, not of any single or recent change only, but of a whole series of the later revolutions which have resulted in the present distribution of land in the Eastern Hemisphere.

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