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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. Marval1   15 September 1871

24. Paradise street. | Birmingham.

Sept. 15th./71


I am now reading with the greatest interest your wonderful work: “The Descent of Man”; I notice that in Chapter IX, p. 338, you state that you do not know of any instance of spiders fighting with each other.

Now, I have resided for several years in Astrakhan, this town is surrounded by the steppes inhabited by the Kalmucks & Khirghises, on these steppes the tarentula abounds so that the people have had many opportunities of observing them;2 I have been repeatedly told that the males fight in the most dreadful manner and even that if you put two of them together in a box, one will eat up the other.

I have also been told that after connexion with the female, the male has to run for his life, for she has the most horrible custom of devouring her lover if she can seize him when she no longer requires his services

Another very interesting fact relating to the tarentula, and which I think is not generally known, is that the sheep eat them; it would appear that the tarentula avoids a flock as much as possible.

The Kalmucks live in tents covered with a rough kind of felt made of camel’s hair and common wool. In these tents you never see a tarentula though they abound all around, the explanation given is that the odour of the wool is sufficient to drive them away3

Should my knowledge of the country referred to be of any assistance to you in your researches, I should feel highly honored to supply you with any information you may require.

I have the honor to be one of your most faithful and humble followers. | H. Marval

C. Darwin Esqre. | London.

CD annotations

1.1 I am … other. 1.3] crossed blue crayon
2.3 I have … other. 2.5] underl blue crayon; ‘Spiders’ added blue crayon
4.1 Another … require. 6.3] crossed blue crayon


Marval has not been identified.
The Kalmuck and Khirgis peoples (now Kalmyk and Kazakh) lived in what are now the Republics of Kalmykia and Kazakhstan. Tarentula is an alternative spelling of tarantula. CD does not discuss tarantulas his published works.
Marval probably refers to kibitkas, felt and leather tents used by nomadic Kalmyk families (Maksimov 2008, p. 114).


Observations on behaviour of spiders in Astrakhan and Turkestan.

Letter details

Letter no.
H. Marval
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 89: 77–8
Physical description
3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7948,” accessed on 24 June 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19