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Letter 371

Owen, Richard to Darwin, C. R.

[7 Aug 1837]

    Summary Add

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    Dissected beak of Rhynchops shows no extensive innervation. But beak may nevertheless be a sensitive organ of touch as CD suggests.

Transcription

“The result of the dissection of the head of the Rhynchops, comparatively with that of the head of the duck, is not what you anticipated. The facial, or sensitive branches of the fifth pair of nerves, are very small; the third division in particular, is filamentary, and I have not been able to trace it beyond the soft integument at the angles of the mouth. After removing with care, the thin horny covering of the beak, I cannot perceive any trace of those nervous expansions which are so remarkable in the lamelli-rostral aquatic birds; and which in them supply the tooth-like process, and soft marginal covering of the mandibles. Nevertheless, when we remember how sensitive a hair is, through the nerve situated at its base, though without any in its substance, it would not be safe to deny altogether, a sensitive faculty in the beak of the Rhynchops.”

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 371.f1
    The date as given by CD in Birds, p. 144.
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    f2 371.f2
    CD had suspected that Rhynchops frequently fished by night, which led him to ask Owen to dissect its bill for evidence that it might be ‘a delicate organ of touch’ (Birds, p. 144); see also Ornithological notes, p. 221 n.
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