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From the archive

How Nature reported an analysis of animal coloration in 1919, and Darwin’s letters in 1969.

50 Years Ago

While he was working on the various biological problems that obsessed him, Charles Darwin relentlessly bombarded friends and acquaintances with requests for information and specimens. In a correspondence that lasted more than twenty years, W. B. Tegetmeier, one of his most valuable contacts, was continually questioned about such topics as breeds of fowls, length of cats’ teeth, sex ratio at birth and race horse records … Sometimes Darwin reached a wider public by publishing his requests in journals … One of these, Questions about the Breeding of Animals, has been reprinted in facsimile … The questions are concerned largely with the outcome of crosses involving wild and domesticated animals, and the likeness of the hybrid progeny to parents and grandparents.

From Nature 25 January 1969

100 Years Ago

In an interesting essay on “Camouflage” … Mr Abbott H. Thayer illustrates his well-known conclusions in regard to the cryptic coloration of animals that hunt or are hunted. In their “superhuman perfection” the concealing coats of wild animals have become the models for the camouflage corps of armies … What is practically universal is background–imitation … Mr. Thayer illustrates this by interesting views of brook-scenes and wood-scenes photographed through a stencil of bird or beast. The creature has the garment of invisibility because its “costume is pure scenery”. “All the patterns and brilliant colours on the animal kingdom, instead of making their wearers conspicuous, are, on the contrary, pure concealing coloration, being the actual colour notes of the scene in which the wearer lives, so that he really is Nature’s utmost picture of his background.”

From Nature 23 January 1919

Nature 565, 437 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00217-7

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