Thursday 8th March 2012

ASTONISHING INSECT DISCOVERIES – AND AN APPEAL!

Today has been (and continues to be!) a day of personal insect-related discoveries! This entry is an illustration of just how diverse my great grandfather George Charles Champion’s insect knowledge was – we tend to think of him as concentrating on Coleoptera (beetles) and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), but in fact he worked hard on and made major contributions to current knowledge of a very wide range of insect orders. It has now come to my attention that not only do quite a large number of insect species bear his name in the specific part of their scientific names, such as Drucina championi, Caio championi and Nectarinella championi, but there is even an entire genus named after him: Championica.

My Guatemalan entomologist friend Jose Monzon sent me a picture of an Orthopteran (grasshopper) which he photographed near Izabal, in Guatemala – it is of an as yet unidentified member of that very genus Championica, named after my great grandfather – and a fine-looking creature it is!

Championica sp

The citation from the Biologia Centrali-Americana, Insecta, Orthoptera, Vol. 1 (1893-1899) by Henri de Saussure et al., Page 405, reads:

Championica, gen. nov.

Dedicated to Mr. G. C. Champion, who has collected a large amount of material for this work.

And now, this afternoon, I find yet more incredible information! Jose has just e-mailed me to say that there is a genus of weevils, described in 1956 by Kuschel, named Championius. There are three species, all of which are very hard to find, and all inhabiting cloud forest in Guatemala! Very little is known of them and there are no references.

Another amazing, and touching piece of information is that Canadian entomologist Bob Anderson has just described a new species of weevil from the Cerro Zunil, one of my great grandfather’s top collecting localities, and has named it Theognete championi, in honour of the original author of the genus, none other than G C Champion!

Zootaxa 2458: 1–127 (14 May 2010) 61 plates; 12 references
Accepted: 6 Feb. 2010
A taxonomic monograph of the Middle American leaf-litter inhabiting
weevil genus Theognete Champion (Coleoptera: Curculionidae; Molytinae;
Lymantini)
ROBERT S. ANDERSON (Canada)

And finally, Jose sent me this picture of a truly amazing, and as yet un-named Leaf-Grasshopper. Thus far he has only found two examples, and it is of great importance to find more. It is very large, and even has a transparent reflective mark that looks like a drop of water on a genuine leaf.

The Leaf-Grasshopper

APPEAL!!

Jose Monzon has a considerable number of new, undescribed species that require further research and investigation, both in the lab and in the field…but he needs funds!!! If anyone reading this can suggest sources of funding for this vital work, please contact me. The more that is known about these truly astounding creatures, the more incentive there will be to conserve their endangered forest habitats. Thank you.

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Sunday 4th March 2012 (Letter 24th July 1879)

GREAT GRANDFATHER GEORGE BUYS A “CHARGER”!

I add the next of my great grandfather entomologist George Charles Champion’s letters to his mother, dated July 24th, 1879. I can well imagine him travelling the mountainous road from Antigua to the capital on his newly-purchased mule – what took him six hours now takes less than 45 minutes.

The Cathedral, Guatemala City, Muybridge, 1875

The Cathedral, Guatemala City, 2011

GRAN HOTEL,
GUATEMALA,
CENTRAL AMERICA.
July 24th 1879

My dear Mother,

I am writing direct to Mr.Godman, so have written a short letter to enclose with it; am now once more in the capital and located for a short time at the Gran Hotel, once again I hear the everlasting ringing of the church bells; this time I am not so “dull” as being a stranger in the place and now having many acquaintances to talk to. This place now wears a very different aspect; everything is green and fresh, whereas in March the vegetation was all burnt up with the heat of the sun and want of rain.

I left Dueñas on July 21st for Antigua, spent a day and a night here with Mr. Wyld, and started almost before daylight next morning per mule for Guatemala; was lucky enough to travel back in company with Don Juan Rodriguez, starting about 6 a.m. It took us nearly 6 hours to travel the nine leagues of road, between Antigua and Guatemala, the views from the high mountains we had to cross were magnificent early in the morning, later the clouds came lower and obscured the higher ground; we travelled the whole distance without stopping on the road, the mud however delayed us a good deal. Mr. Wyld was very kind to me and did not want me to leave so soon, but I was there long enough, nearly a month, had plenty of English newspapers etc from him to read while at Dueñas.

Have been fortunate to make the acquaintance of an Englishman, Mr. Morgans, who is manager of a large estate in Guatemala. He has kindly invited me to go and stop with him there, which I shall be only too glad to do. This estate, San Geronimo, is very large, and I believe belongs to an English Company, it is two days’ journey from here, shall perhaps start hence in less than a week in company with Mr. Morgans; oddly enough, San Geronimo is one of the places Mr. Salvin directed me to go to. Mr Morgans is a very agreeable man, very fond of natural history, and about my own age, and I was very pleased to meet him through the introduction of the English Consul.

Have at last bought a charger! A mule, Mr. Wyld thought a mule better for long journeys and also that it would sell better when I left the country; had to pay a very high price for a good animal, but I think it is worth the money, it is very tame and does not give us the least trouble. It was not the least fatigued when we arrived yesterday, though it had not rested at all, or eaten on the road; mules are very sure footed, they rarely slip even if the road is very bad. On my return to Guatemala, had to pay 34/- for the letters received during my absence and forwarded on to me to Antigua, for one letter containing about 1/- worth of card, had to pay no less than 4 dollars (16), 8/- had been previously paid for the stamps, so it made the card rather expensive. Other things are equally dear. I am told you cannot get a decent pair of boots under at least 30/- and so on.

The shop-keepers seem to make a very good thing of it indeed. They are mostly French or Swiss, not many Germans. Nearly all are Europeans, but few Americans, and still fewer Guatemalans.
Very few live on the premises, but have houses elsewhere in the town, for which they have to pay very high rents, perhaps higher than in London.

Must bring this to a close, have very many things to attend to just now, so with best love to all,
Believe me etc.

City of Guatemala from Cerro del Carmen, Muybridge, 1875

The same view in 2012, from Cerrito del Carmen

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Saturday 3rd March 2012 (Letter 7th July 1879)

A gloomy letter from GCC in Dueñas

Today I add the next letter of my great grandfather’s to his mother – a rather gloomy one this time, as he was suffering badly from the cold and the damp. I can well sympathise with him – I too experienced this type of incessant humidity, when everything, even one’s clothes and documents, is wringing wet, and shoes are liable to go mouldy. Keeping his insect specimens dry was a constant worry as well.

My strong suspicion is that Mr Wyld’s house was the Hacienda Urias, where his employer Osbert Salvin and his wife Caroline had lodged a few years previously. I too visited this historic place, nestled at the foot of the towering Volcan Acatenango, with the smoking Fuego a little beyond, and Agua rising on the other side of the valley.

Interestingly, the inhabitants of Dueñas are still known for their fondness of letting off fireworks – I heard them myself, throughout the day!

Hacienda Urias, where GCC almost certainly stayed

Acatenango and Fuego from the finca where GCC probably stayed

Dueñas,
Guatemala
July 7th, 1879
My dear Mother,

I am still at Dueñas stopping in Mr Wyld’s house; instead of getting the best weather at this time of the year, here we are having the worst, the rainy season is very bad indeed; in this country they have no rain for months, then rain every day for a long time, it has rained here every day since my arrival; some days we get a few hours fine in the morning, but between noon and night there is sure to be more or less rain, sometimes it rains the whole day: we rarely see the tops of the mountains at all for the mists, it is positively cold indoors, there are no fireplaces or any means of warming the place or keeping out the damp; it is lucky for me I am in Dueñas just now. Mr Wyld is here a good deal and if I had not his company, it would be very dull indeed not being able to go out much. I ought to have returned to Guatemala ere this to start on a fresh tour; have been long enough in the vicinity of the Volcanoes Fuego, Agua, and Pacaya but till we get a little fine weather, I do not care to leave the vicinity of Antigua.

November, December and January are the summer months of Guatemala, then I shall appreciate the change of climate, cannot say I do at the present time. Dueñas agrees with me better than Zapote, there I was glad enough for a swing in the hammock to get cool, here I am rather too cool. We get very good bread, also potatoes in Dueñas but the water is bad. The Indians living in this large straggling village are all wretchedly poor, yet on Sundays, Mondays, and fast days, of which there are about 25 in the year, they drink spirits from morning to night, finishing generally by letting off fireworks, of which they appear to be very fond. Very many of the older people especially the women are afflicted with goitre, some very badly; there is very little intermittent fever in this place; at Zapote it was only too prevalent.

I saw the way in which people are punished for petty thefts, an Indian woman was rather fond of stealing such things as a knife or a fowl or portions of clothing; every time she did this, the alcalde, a shoeless brickmaker, ordered her to be chained by the leg to a post in the verandah of Don Joaquim’s house for so many hours every morning and the article stolen put close by for everybody to see; sometimes the woman she stole from would come to the house while she was chained there, then they would abuse one another fearfully for an hour at a time, she invariably had a baby in her arms, sometimes more of the family would come also to keep her company.

I am still managing without a servant or horse of my own, as while I do so, my expenses are very much lighter, but am now in treaty about horse: cannot do without one of my own for the next journey. Here whilst with friends, can always borrow one, but afterwards when with strangers, things will be very different. I dont know how I am pleasing Mr. Godman, I know I myself am very dissatisfied indeed with the result of my work so far in this country. Zapote was perhaps the best place, but far below my expectations, as yet I do not believe I have earned my expenses but I did not choose Guatemala, can only do my best, I have now been nearly one third of a year in this country and there is very little indeed to show for it; perhaps later in the year when I get to Cobán and nearer the Atlantic, things will be more abundant.

Dueñas is noted for the frequency of its earthquakes as the state of many houses testifies rather plainly but there have not been any since I have been in the place. I went yesterday with Mr. Wyld’s headman to a place high up in the mountains called Las Calderas, it took us 2 and a half hours to go about 8 miles on horseback, the road being very bad; this is the only long outing I have yet made from Dueñas. Fortunately it turned out finer than usual and I greatly enjoyed the trip after having been cooped up indoors so much; though so near, the vegetation was very different and amply repaid a visit. A beautiful humming-bird (green with white markings) comes very often to the fuchsias but the slightest noise sends him off. Paroquets are very rare at Dueñas, in Zapote I would sometimes see hundreds in a flock. People are very fond of taming birds here, they have a tame heron. In gardens in Antigua, you see much the same flowers as in London, they grow roses, verbenas, geraniums, chrysanthemums etc., only a few Father would be interested in. I was too hot in Zapote, here it is the other way; it is the damp that makes you cold, when the sun is out, it is hot enough. I drink a great deal of coffee here, perhaps too much, but there is nothing else. If I get damp I change my things as soon as possible and take a little brandy, it is only I believe by doing this and generally taking care of myself that I keep my health in these damp places. I greatly miss the long summer evenings, here it is dark by 7 p.m., often go to bed at 8.30, there is but little inducement to sit up, then get up very early in the morning. Mr Wyld is often here at 7 and seldom leaves till 5.30.

Weather has improved a little, the rain coming more in the night and rather less by day, so have been able to get out, things are also much drier indoors. Was rather in hopes of receiving a letter from you or from Mr. Godman, but nothing came. Mr Wyld however brought me The Illustrated London News of May 31,
so I am pretty well posted in news. M. Blancaneaux wrote me the other day from Cobán; he is also having very bad weather and a bad time of it generally so bad that he will not remain any time but he goes on to Belize directly. The Indians and other people are very friendly and seem pleased if you say Good Day or some thing of that kind in Spanish when you meet them, the only time it is best to avoid them is when they are drunk. The men wear a sort of dark blue flannel jacket with merely two holes for the arms to go through, tied tight round the waist and barely reaching to the knees and a straw hat, the women in blue and white striped skirt and a white sort of open jacket, rarely anything on their heads; all these Indians are very swarthy in complexion but not black like a negro and have coarse black hair, very rarely you see a man with a beard, sometimes a slight moustache. There are not a few halfbreeds, here also some are as pale in face as I am. I was surprised at first to see so many fair people in a tropical country. The heat seems to make people thin instead of dark, people told me I was a little thinner when I returned from Zapote. I don’t wonder at it, but here I am in a place but little hotter than England at this time of the year, I had the hottest and driest weather to start with.

Now, dear Mother I must bring this long letter to a close.
Sometimes when alone here at night and when out on distant rambles, my thoughts go back to you all and I wonder what you are all doing, and I hope I shall hear from you by next mail.

With best love,
Yours affectionately,

Acatenango and Fuego from the Finca Urias

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