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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Auguste Forel   19 June 1876

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

June 19 1876

Dear Sir

I hope you will allow me to suggest an observation, should any opportunity occur, on a point which has interested me for many years. Namely how do the Coleoptera which inhabit the nests of ants colonize a new nest?

Mr Wallace, in reference to the presence of such Coleoptera in Madeira, suggests that their ova may be attached to the winged female ants, & that these are occasionally blown across the ocean to the island.1 It wd be very interesting to discover whether the ova are adhesive, & whether the female coleoptera are guided by instinct to attach them to the female ants; or whether the larvæ pass thro an early stage, as with Sitaris or Meloe, & cling to the bodie’s of the females.2 This note obviously requires no answer.

I trust that you continue your most interesting investigations on ants.3

Believe me dear Sir | yours very faithfully | Charles Darwin

P.S I fear it wd be too troublesome to examine a large number of the bodies of the females when swarming


Alfred Russel Wallace made this suggestion in his Geographical distribution of animals (Wallace 1876a, 1: 212).
Sitaris and Meloe are genera in the family Meloidae, blister beetles. Blister beetles go through several larval stages, the first of which is usually what is now called a planidium or triungulin, a mobile larva that can find a host on which to feed. See Correspondence vol. 11, letter to John Lubbock, 23 [February 1863] and n. 4, and Newport 1845–7.
CD and Forel corresponded about ants in 1874 (see Correspondence vol. 22; see also Forel 1874).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Forel, Auguste. 1874. Les fourmis de la Suisse. Zurich: Zurcher & Furrer. [Neue Denkschriften allgemeinen schweizerischen Gesellschaft für die gesammten Naturwissenschaften / Nouveaux mémoires de la Société helvétique des sciences vol. 26.]

Newport, George. 1845–7. On the natural history, anatomy and development of the oil beetle, Meloë, more especially of Meloë cicatricosus, Leach. First memoir. The natural history of Meloë. Second memoir. The history and general anatomy of Meloë, and its affinities, compared with those of the Strepsiptera and Anoplura, with reference to the connexion which exists between structure, function and instinct. [Read 18 November 1845 and 19 January 1847.Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 20 (1846–51): 297–357.


Asks how the Coleoptera that inhabit the nests of ants colonise a new nest. Wallace has suggested their ova become attached to winged female ants.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Auguste-Henri (Auguste) Forel
Sent from
Source of text
Universität Zürich, Archiv für Medizingeschichte (AfM ZH PN 31.2:794)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10539,” accessed on 4 December 2020,

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