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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Raphael Meldola   26 March 1872

Star Chemical Works, | Brentford, | W.

March 26th. 1872

Dear Sir,

I enclose the specimens which you were good enough to send me with Fritz Müller’s letter & beg to thank you for your kindness in lending them to me.1 Mr. Butler2 has looked over them & named them for me— should you ever require to allude to these butterflies it may be useful to you to have their names which are as follows: —3


1. Daptonoura limnoria?— Godt.

1a Leptalis psamathe? Fabr.4

2. Acræa thalia. Linn.

2a. Leptalis acræina. Hewit.5

3. Mechanitis Lysimnia. Fabr.

3a Leptalis Astynome. Dalm.6


1. Eresia (Phyciodes.) langsdorfi. Godt.

2. Heliconia phyllis. Fabr.7

3. Heterochroa—sp.

4. Euptychia sp. nov.

5. Ithomia Sylvo. Hübn.8


1. Leptalis sp.



4 Leptalis— perhaps ♂ Melite. Linn.




10 probably ♀ of preceding.



12 probably sexes of a third sp.


14. Daptonoura limnoria? Godt.9

You will at once perceive on referring to the letter that F. Müllers view concerning III 8—becomes untenable when this specimen is made a distinct sp. as Mr. Butler believes it to be.10

And now I have a few facts to communicate which may possibly be of service to you on some future occasion. First as regards the numerical proportion of varieties among plants under cultivation. Mr. Butler informs me that he sowed one pennyworth of seed of the “Canterbury Bell”11 from which he raised over 150 plants. Of these only 5 presented structural variations: one had the bell half as long again as in the normal type, 3 had double & one treble bells one within another. The next fact relates to “prepotency of transmission.” A friend of mine in Twickenham crossed the Bramah (cock) with the “Silver-Spangle” (hen) & the mongrel offspring (exactly like one another), all resemble the father to a very much greater extent than the mother.12

There is one point concerning mimicry about which I should much like to have your opinion before venturing to publish anything on the subject. You state your belief (Descent &c) that when the process first began the mimicking & the mimicked forms were probably nearer to their common progenitor & consequently the incipient variations would not have been required so large as supposed. The imitated species afterwards diverging would lead its mimic along the same line so that the latter might come to differ to any extent from the allied species of its genus. Now on this view should we not be right in inferring à priori that the mimic would be allied to its model in more structural characters than mere colour & form? For, if the mimic & the model were nearer to their progenitor when the imitation was first set up they must have been allied to each other in structural characters more closely than are the other species of both genera (mimicked & mimicking) at the present time & as the mimic on your view has preserved its resemblance to the model species from that remote period when they were more closely allied to the present time when divergence has gone on in both genera, one would expect to find that more than superficial resemblance obtained, in some cases at least, between a species & its mimic. Now if this could be proved it would I venture to think, be an absolute demonstration of your view & would effectually answer those naturalists who are continually clamouring about incipient stages. I am therefore endeavouring to collect evidence on this head. Mr. Butler in his paper on the genus Elymnias (Proc. Zoo. Soc. June 1871) states (p. 519)13 that he finds “that some of the species differ so considerably from the type form in the neuration of the hind wings that it will be advisable to separate them as a distinct genus; whilst others exhibit differences of a less marked character, such as will only serve in an imperfect manner to separate the smaller sections of the group. I have noticed that this transitional state of things often occurs in genera largely acted upon by mimicry”

I think this interesting fact should throw some light on the subject. Again, Mr. Trimen has recorded (Trans. Linn. Soc. Vol. XXVI p. 519) the fact that Papilio Ridleyanus mimics Acræa Egina in colour of palpi.14 These are all the facts that I have as yet been able to collect.

With expressions of gratitude for the assistance which you have so kindly rendered in the preparation of my essay on mimicry. | I remain, | Yours very respectfully, | Raphael Meldola.

P.S. | I am much indebted to you also for permitting me to make use of F. Müller’s facts— they are very important as bearing on the question of the possibility of the conversion by natural selection of one form of inheritance into the other. I allude to the series of Leptalis Melite III. 2–7-& 10–11

CD annotations

3.1 And now … plants. 3.4] crossed pencil
3.6 The next … group. 4.25] crossed pencil
Top of letter: ‘Raphael Mendola’ pencil


Arthur Gardiner Butler.
Some of Meldola’s species names differ from the names that were supplied by Fritz Müller on the sheets of specimens that he had sent CD (see Correspondence vol. 19, letter from Fritz Müller, 14 June 1871 and the plates of butterfly wings facing pp. 442 and 443). Adolph Gerstaecker had identified the speciess for Müller.
The specimen described here as Daptonoura limnoria? was not given a name on Müller’s sheet, but Müller referred to it as Daptonoura lycimnia (now Melete lycimnia) in his paper on mimicry in Leptalis (F. Müller 1876, p. 8). The mimicking species (1a) was given as Leptalis melite ♀ by Müller. Leptalis psamathe is not a published name; the original combination was Papilio psamanthe and the species is now Enantia lina. However, the specimen is probably Enantia clarissa (formerly Dismorphia melite), a species found in Santa Catarina, Brazil.
Acraea thalia is a synonym of Actinote thalia (for more on interspecific mimicry in Actinote and the identification of Müller’s published specimens of A. thalia, see Francini and Penz 2006). Müller had identified 2a as Leptalis with no specific epithet. Leptalis acraeina is not a published name; the original combination was Phyciodes acraeina and the species is now known as Castilia perilla, but it is not found in Brazil. The species was referred to as Leptalis thalia in F. Müller 1876, but not published. In a later paper Müller noted the close resemblance between Acraea thalia and Eueides pavana (F. Müller 1878, p. 222).
Müller had identified 3a as Leptalis with no specific epithet. Leptalis astynome is now Dismorphia astynome; Müller discussed mimicry between Mechanitis lysimnia and L. astynome in F. Müller 1878, p. 222.
Eresia lansdorfi (‘langsdorfii’ is an incorrect subsequent spelling) is now sometimes called the false erato in reference to its resemblance to Heliconius erato phyllis (the current name for Heliconia phyllis; the genus name ‘Heliconia’ is an invalid emendation).
Ithomia sylvo is now Pteronymia sylvo.
Müller had identified the specimens III: 1–9 as males of Leptalis melite and III: 10–13 as females of the same species. See n. 4, above.
In his letter of 14 June 1871 (Correspondence vol. 19), Müller had described catching, late in the season, two male Leptalis melite specimens (III: 8) whose colouring did not differ from female specimens.
Campanula medium.
Brahma is a breed of domestic fowl; silver spangle is a colour that occurs in both Polish and Hamburgh fowls. CD discussed domestic fowls in Variation 1: 225–75 and crossing in Variation 2: 85–99.
Meldola refers to Butler’s ‘Monograph of the Lepidoptera hitherto included in the genus Elymnias’ (A. G. Butler 1871, pp. 518–19).
Meldola refers to Roland Trimen’s paper ‘On some remarkable mimetic analogies among African butterflies’ (Trimen 1868, pp. 518–19). Papilio ridleyanus is now Graphium ridleyanus (the acraea swordtail). Unlike most species of swordtail, it lacks caudal appendages and its palpi are yellow.


A. G. Butler has named the specimens sent by CD with Fritz Müller’s letter.

Sends several facts relating to sexual selection, mimicry, and hybrids.

Discusses the possibility that mimicked and mimicking forms have descended from originally allied forms and have diverged in structure but not in appearance.

Letter details

Letter no.
Raphael Meldola
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Star Chemical Works, Brentford
Source of text
DAR 89: 89–90b
Physical description
5pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8252,” accessed on 17 July 2019,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20