Letter icon
Letter 7201

Weale, J. P. M. to Darwin, C. R.

[25 May 1870]


Behaviour of ants.



The Periglossum I was also uncertain about but think it may be“macrum’ as that species is spoken of as a Kaffrarian plant but Ihave no description.f2

Our present house is so small that I have been unable to open any ofmy collections or I had intended sending you some larvæ ofDactylethra & the bee’s nest spoken of before.f3

I am trying the introduction of English & other grass seeds on myfarm & hope they will prove successful. It is most singular to see howsome weeds take hold of the ground where manure is in plenty about oldsheep kraals especially Xanthium spinosum, Datura stramonium, asolanum & numerous other plants. The French marygold I have neverremarked before as a weed but here it grows abundantly & bearsmagnificent double flowers finer than I have seen in any garden.f4

Revd. Mr. Henslow’s remarks on Medicago, Indigofera&c. & my own observations on Schizanthus, Muraltia &c   I havecarefully watched various species of Polygala but have never noticedany movements.f5

I have been much interested by observing a common species of Termes,f6the soldier of which has a pointed head. I have often remarked that aspecies of ant was always very active about their nests seizing theworkers, but although much larger, retreated at once from thesoldiers. As I had several times put my hand into a nest with the viewof ascertaining whether the soldiers could hurt one I was the moresurprised as I had never suffered any inconvenience although otherspecies bite severely for their size, & the workers of this specieshave what look like formidable jaws although they never use them indefence: At last I found out the secret. I saw one

DAR 181: 43



The date is established by CD’s annotation.
Periglossum macrum is now Sisyranthus macer; Kaffraria was aregion on the eastern coast of South Africa, between Natal and CapeColony; it became part of Cape Colony in 1865 (Stewart 1996).
The genus Dactylethra is now Xenopus (clawed frogs). Thereference to Weale’s previous mention of a bee’s nest has not beenidentified. However, Weale enclosed with this letter a manuscriptpaper about a bee’s nest that has not been found, and four othermanuscript papers, with figures and specimens of the plantsdescribed, that are now in the archives of the Linnean Society (MSSSP1250, SP1251, SP1252, SP1253, Weale Misc, drawer 39). See letter toRichard Kippist, 28 July 1870, and letter to J. P. M. Weale, 30 July1870. The four extant papers were published in the Journal of theLinnean Society (Weale 1870a, 1870b, 1870c, and 1870d). None of thefigures were published, and Weale 1870c was substantially cut by CD.
Xanthium spinosum is the spiny cocklebur; Datura stramonium isthe thorn apple or jimsonweed. Solanaceae is the potato family. The Frenchmarigold is Tagetes patula.
George Henslow’s observations on Medicago sativa (alfalfa) andIndigofera were published in the Journal of the Linnean Society(Botany) 9 (1867): 327–9 and 355–8 (G. Henslow 1865 and1866). Weale discussed movement in the stamens of Muraltia in aletter of 7 July 1867 (Correspondence vol. 15); he describedirritability of the stamens in Schizanthus in a letter of 23 October1868 (Correspondence vol. 16).
Termes is a genus of the family Termitidae (higher termites).
The text down to ‘in any garden’ is on one side of a sheet ofpaper; the text from ‘Revd. Mr. Henslow’s’ and CD’s annotations onthe other.
Maximized viewPrint letter