Speculations about Mimicry with Henry Ford

  • Miriam Rothschild


When I first moved to Oxford I was a flea specialist and according to the Daily Express had published half a million excruciatingly boring words devoted to this subject. Mercifully E.B. Ford does not read newspapers, so he was probably unaware of this fact. On the first occasion on which he shared a meal with my family, I noticed that he took it for granted that Charles Lane, then aged 7, kept live moths in his hair, and he pointed out —a fact which had escaped me until that moment—that the Frosted Orange (Gortyna flavago Scheff.) which had just surfaced among these carroty curls was clearly preadapted to this environment and, indeed, in that particular situation provided a perfect example of crypsis. After the meal it was suggested that catching the Meadow Browns (Maniola jurtina L.) disporting themselves in the field-like lawn in front of the house might prove a distracting occupation for both children and adults. E.B. Ford showed no surprise when seven orange cats appeared as if by magic in the garden and deployed themselves silently along the edge of the lawn and, advancing into the long grass, assisted us by flushing out the butterflies. By the end of the afternoon the fleas hopped into the background of my mind and I began to think about warning coloration, butterflies, mimicry and evolution. I had been catching insects in that field accompanied by copper-haired children and copper coloured cats all that summer, and ever since I could remember, Karl Jordan, backed up by a collection of 2½ million set specimens and an encyclopaedic fund of knowledge and information, had talked to me about the Lepidoptera. But up to that moment the subject had not seemed to me particularly interesting. Now quite suddenly all this was changed.


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© Blackwell Scientific Publications 1971

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  • Miriam Rothschild

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