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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. B. Smyth   15 January 1876

19 British Street | Bow Road | London E.



Pardon the liberty I take in sending you the following facts, I wish to draw your attention to them in the hope that they may be of service to you.

I at times amuse myself by giving to my youngest son (aged 18 months) some pieces of orange peel to play with.1 I have noticed that he tries to retain seven or eight of them in his grasp at one time. He will try repeatedly to grasp them in his left hand but will fail to do so until he has made the attempt many times, but having succeeded he will look up and give a smile of satisfaction. What I think may be remarkable is that, when he tries to grasp all the pieces at one time in his right hand, he always cries when the attempt is not successful, and at times he will give the most shrill screams of vexation and annoyance. He never gives a sign of displeasure when trying with his left hand.

While staying at Chingford last summer and collecting just at dusk, I captured two insects in my net that were flying over some nettles, and was surprised to find they were two different species in copulation. The male was a specimen of Camptogramma bilineata and the female was a Botys verticalis.2 I boxed them carefully and upon arriving at home I found them still in coition. I wished to obtain eggs and breed from them, so left directions with my wife3 to keep them safely till I returned, as I had to come to Town that night. When I saw them two days afterwards they were dead, and no eggs had been laid. They had died on the previous day. I have not seen or heard of a case in which different species of moths have been found copulating in a state of nature.

If the specimens would be of any service to you I shall be pleased to forward them

I remain Sir | yours sincerely | H. B. Smyth.

C. Darwin Esq.


Smyth’s son has not been identified.
Chingford is a north London suburb, formerly in Essex. Both Camptogramma bilineata (yellow-tail moth) and Botys verticalis (now Sitochroa verticalis, lesser pearl moth) are native to Britain, but the latter is found mainly in East Anglia and locally in southern England and south Wales.
Ellen Smyth.


Reports an observation on his child’s behaviour;

claims to have captured two moths of different species in the act of copulating with each other.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Beardmore Smyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, British St, 19
Source of text
DAR 177: 204
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10360,” accessed on 12 May 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 24