skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To the Field   [before 27 April 1861]1


I should esteem it a great favour if some of your numerous readers would take the trouble to give me any facts on the colour of the two parents of true dun horses.2 I mean by true duns, horses having a stripe or list along the the spine, and often transverse stripes on the legs, the general colouring being either a mouse-dun or a tint which may be described as a creamy bay or chesnut. I am aware from inquires made in Norway, where true dun ponies are extremely common, that one or both parents are there always duns; and so it is, as I am informed, with the dun ponies of Devonshire. But I have occasionally seen dun cart-horses and hacks, which did not seem to have the blood of any pony or cob in them. It is surprising how often I have vainly asked the parentage of such horses, and vainly made inquiries from breeders. I have myself seen one colt, bred from a black mare and bay horse, which might certainly be called a dun, and which had a narrow, but strongly defined, spinal stripe before it shed its first hair. I should be much obliged for any information on this subject; and likewise whether a dun horse or pony is always dun-coloured before it sheds its first hair.3 Does the spinal stripe often disappear when the first coat is shed?—

Charles Darwin (Down, Bromley, Kent.)


Dated by the publication of the letter in the 27 April 1861 issue of the Field. Appearing in the column ‘Notes and questions on natural history’, it was headed: ‘Dun horses’.
CD was seeking information on the parentage of horses for inclusion in Variation. He had briefly discussed the appearance of stripes in duns and other breeds as reflecting on reversion to an ancestral characteristic in Origin, pp. 163–7. For other such inquiries, see Correspondence vols. 6–8.
See letter to the Field, [before 25 May 1861].


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Requests facts concerning the colour of the parents of true dun horses. His interest also in the colour and presence of spinal stripes of dun horses or ponies before they lose their first hair.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
The Field
Sent from
Source of text
The Field, the Farm, the Garden, the Country Gentleman’s Newspaper 17 (1861): 358

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3128A,” accessed on 21 October 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 9