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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Auguste Forel1   23 June 1876

Kreisirrenanstalt München

23 VI 76.

Monsieur, et cher mâitre,

Je suis très honoré de la question que vous voulez bien me poser, et je regrette vivement de n’être pas en état d’y répondre.2 J’ai en très peu l’occasion d’étudier les coléoptères myrmécophiles, et vous pouvez voir le peu que je sais de leurs moeurs dans mon travail sur les fourmis de la Suisse page 422, c’est à dire à peu près rien; les observations de Müller et de Lespès ne m’inspirent qu’une médiocre confiance.3

Il m’a paru que l’allure des coléopt. myrmécophiles vis-à-vis de leur hôte avait beaucoup de rapports avec celle de la Stenamma Westwoodi (une fourmi parasite) vis à vis du sien (la F. rufa).4 Or j’ai observé que la S. Westwoodi sait suivre son hôte dans les émigrations qu’il fait (l.c. p. 353 en bas). Mais tout cela n’explique en rien la façon dont ces parasites arrivent dans les fourmilière.

Je vous avoue franchement que quelque ingénieuse que soit la supposition de M. Wallace, je suis peu disposé à l’admettre tant qu’il n’y aura pas de preuves positives à son appui.5 A ma connaissance le développement des coléoptères myrmécophiles est parfaitement inconnu. On ne sait absolument pas oú vivent leurs larves, oú ils pondent leurs oeufs. Or je ne crois pas que le moyen de résoudre la question consiste à examiner les corps des femelles ailées pendant l’accouplement. Les myrmécophiles sont trop rares; on risquerait de chercher des années sans rient trouver. On devrait, me semble-t-il, établir dans un appareil une fourmilière de Lasius flavus,6 par éxample, avec des Claviger foveolatus7 et observer sans relâche, afin d’arriver à voir d’abord l’accouplement des Claviger, puis si possible, l’endroit oú les ♀ fécondes déposent leurs oeufs quitte, si l’on ne réussit pas, à examiner aussi les femelles de fourmis qui sortiront de l’appareil; ici il sera facile de les contrôler toutes.— Il me semble qu’avec beaucoup de temps et de patience quelquun (libre de son temps!) pourrait arriver à ce but. Peut-être ces insects deposent-ils leurs oeufs hors des fourmilières et la larve vit-elle ailleurs que chez les fourmis? Peut-être est-ce un parasite interne et non externe des femelles; qui le sait?

Malheureusement mon temps est si complètement absorbé par ma carrière pratique (médecin d’un hôpital d’aliénés)8 et par le côté scientifique qui s’y rattache (Anatomie du cerveau, Psychiatrie) qu’il ne me reste que bien peu de temps et un temps tout entrecoupé pour les fourmis.

J’ai commencé il y a deux ans une expérience sur la parthénogénèse chez les fourmis, comme je l’ai indiquée (l.c. p. 401 ligne 2 à 16) dans mon travail; elle dure toujours et ne m’a pas encore donné de résultat.9

Le manque de temps suivi, et d’un local convenable m’empêche de faire une foule d’expériences que je désirerais faire depuis des années, sur l’origine des fourmilières, en général et sur celles des fourmilière de Sten. Westwoodi, Strongylognathus et Anergates en particulier;10 c’est pour moi encore une énigme incompréhensible. Il faut absolument pour arriver à résoudre ces questions là être mâitre absolu de son temps, et pouvoir observer pendant des jours, des semaines sans relâche et à toutes les époques de l’année.

Une étude des sexes de ces coléopt. myrmécophile donnerait peut être déjà quelques directions importantes.

J’ai un peu continué mes recherches sur les organes des sens des insectes dans les antennes. Les recherches de Sir John Lubbock qui ont paru ces derniers temps sur ce sujet m’ont vivement intéressé, ainsi que les travaux de Graber (Die tympanalen Linnesapparate der Othopteren Wien 1875 bei Gerold’s Sohn) et de Wolff (Das Riechorgan der Biene 1875 Jena bei Frommann).11

Enfin permettez moi, cher Monsieur, de vous dire le vif plaisir que m’a procuré la lecture de votre Ouvrage sur les Plantes Insectivores.12 La quantité d’observations nouvelles, profondes et minutiéuses qu’il renferme est vraiment fabuleuse.

Veuillez croire, Monsieur et cher mâitre, au regret que j’ éprouve de ne pouvoir répondre à votre question, et agréer l’assurance de mon respect et de mon sincère dévoûment.

Aug Forel

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
See Forel 1874, pp. 422–8. Forel refers to Philipp Wilbrand Jacob Müller and P. W. J. Müller 1818, and to Charles Lespès and Lespès 1855.
Stenamma westwoodii is an ant (family Formicidae), like its host, Formica rufa.
Alfred Russel Wallace had suggested that the eggs of wingless Coleoptera that cohabited with ants might be transported by ants in their flying stage (Wallace 1876a, 1: 212).
Lasius flavus is the yellow meadow ant.
Claviger foveolatus is a beetle in the family Staphylinidae.
Forel was a physician at the Munich district lunatic asylum.
In his Les fourmis de la Suisse (Ants of Switzerland; Forel 1874, p. 401), Forel suggested isolating unfertilised female and worker nymphs from adults and seeing whether they laid viable eggs and which sexes emerged from the eggs. In the second edition the passage was unchanged, except that Forel added a note that another researcher had proved reported that workers of Lasius could lay eggs, by parthenogenesis, that produced workers as well as males (Forel 1920, p. 276).
Anergates (Forel 1874, p. 67) is a synonym of Tetramorium. Anergates and Strongylognathus are both social parasites of Tetramorium caespitum.
Forel refers to Lubbock 1874–7, Vitus Graber and Graber 1875 (The tympanic sense organs of the Orthoptera), Otto Immanuel Bernhard Wolff and Wolff 1875 (The olfactory organ of bees).

Bibliography

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.]

Forel, Auguste. 1920. Les fourmis de la Suisse. 2d edition. La Chaux-de-Fonds: Imprimerie coopérative.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Lubbock, John. 1874–7. Observations on the habits of ants, bees, and wasps. [Read 19 March and 17 December 1874, 4 November 1875, and 1 February 1877.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Zoology) 12 (1876): 110–39, 227–51, 445–514; 13 (1878): 217–58.

Translation

From Auguste Forel1   23 June 1876

Kreisirrenanstalt München

23 VI 76.

Sir, and dear master,

I am very honoured by the question which you wish to put to me, and I deeply regret not being in a position to answer it.2 I have very little opportunity to study the myrmecophilous Coleoptera, and you can see the little I know of their habits in my work on the ants of Switzerland page 422, that is to say next to nothing; the observations of Müller and of Lespès inspire me with only limited confidence.3

It appears to me that the attraction of the myrmecophilous Coleopt. in relation to their host had more similarities with that of the Stenamma Westwoodi (an ant parasite) to its host (the F. rufa).4 Now I have observed that the S. Westwoodi knows to follow its host on the migrations which it makes (l.c. p. 353 below). But all that explains nothing of the way in which these parasites arrive in the anthill.

I frankly confess to you that however clever the supposition such as that of Mr. Wallace, I am scarcely disposed to accept it as long as there are not positive proofs in its support.5 To my knowledge the development of myrmecophilous Coleoptera is completely unknown. We do not know at all where their larvae live, where they lay their eggs. Now I do not believe that the way of resolving the question consists of examining the bodies of the winged females during mating. The myrmecophiles are too rare; you would be likely to search for years without finding anything. You would have to, it seems to me, establish in some apparatus an anthill of Lasius flavus,6 for example, with some Claviger foveolatus7 and watch without a break, in order to manage to see first of all the mating of the Claviger, then if possible, the place where the fertile ♀ lay their eggs, and if that was not successful, to examine too the female ants who leave the apparatus; here, it would be easy to monitor them all.— It seems to me that with a great deal of time and patience someone (with free time) could achieve this goal. Perhaps these insects lay their eggs outside anthills and the larvae live elsewhere than with the ants? Perhaps it is a parasite of the females which is internal and not external; who knows?

Unfortunately, my time is entirely absorbed by my practical career (doctor in a hospital for the insane)8 and by the scientific work connected to it (Anatomy of the brain, Psychiatry) which only leaves me a very little time, and that very interrupted, for ants.

Two years ago I started an experiment on parthenogenesis in ants, as I stated (l.c. p. 401 lines 2 to 16) in my work; it is ongoing and has not yet given me a result.9

The subsequent lack of time, and of a suitable location has prevented me for years from making a number of experiments that I would like to perform on the origin of anthills, in general and on those of Sten. Westwoodi, Strongylognathus and Anergates in particular;10 it is still an incomprehensible enigma for me. To come to resolve these questions, one must entirely be wholly master of one’s own time, and be able to observe during days, during weeks without a break and at all times of the year.

A study of the sexes of myrmecophilous Coleopt. would perhaps offer still more important avenues.

I have continued my investigations a little on the sense organs of insect antennae. The research of Sir John Lubbock that appeared lately on the subject interested me deeply, just as the works of Graber (Die tympanalen Sinnesapparate der Othopteren Wien 1875 published by Gerold’s Sohn) and of Wolff (Das Riechorgan der Biene 1875 Jena published by Frommann).11

Finally permit me, dear Sir, to tell you the intense pleasure which reading your Work on Insectivorous Plants12 provided me. The quantity of new observations, profound and meticulous, that it contains is truly amazing.

Please believe, Sir and dear master, in the regret that I have in not being able to reply to your question, and accept the assurance of my respect and of my sincere devotion.

Aug Forel

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original French, see pp. 216–18.
See Forel 1874, pp. 422–8. Forel refers to Philipp Wilbrand Jacob Müller and P. W. J. Müller 1818, and to Charles Lespès and Lespès 1855.
Stenamma westwoodii is an ant (family Formicidae), like its host, Formica rufa.
Alfred Russel Wallace had suggested that the eggs of wingless Coleoptera that cohabited with ants might be transported by ants in their flying stage (Wallace 1876a, 1: 212).
Lasius flavus is the yellow meadow ant.
Claviger foveolatus is a beetle in the family Staphylinidae.
Forel was a physician at the Munich district lunatic asylum.
In his Les fourmis de la Suisse (Ants of Switzerland; Forel 1874, p. 401), Forel suggested isolating unfertilised female and worker nymphs from adults and seeing whether they laid viable eggs and which sexes emerged from the eggs. In the second edition the passage was unchanged, except that Forel added a note that another researcher had proved reported that workers of Lasius could lay eggs, by parthenogenesis, that produced workers as well as males (Forel 1920, p. 276).
Anergates (Forel 1874, p. 67) is a synonym of Tetramorium. Anergates and Strongylognathus are both social parasites of Tetramorium caespitum.
Forel refers to Lubbock 1874–7, Vitus Graber and Graber 1875 (The tympanic sense organs of the Orthoptera), Otto Immanuel Bernhard Wolff and Wolff 1875 (The olfactory organ of bees).

Bibliography

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.]

Forel, Auguste. 1920. Les fourmis de la Suisse. 2d edition. La Chaux-de-Fonds: Imprimerie coopérative.

Insectivorous plants. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1875.

Lubbock, John. 1874–7. Observations on the habits of ants, bees, and wasps. [Read 19 March and 17 December 1874, 4 November 1875, and 1 February 1877.] Journal of the Linnean Society of London (Zoology) 12 (1876): 110–39, 227–51, 445–514; 13 (1878): 217–58.

Summary

Coleoptera inhabiting ants’ nests. Means of colonisation of new nests.

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-10545
From
Auguste-Henri (Auguste) Forel
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Munich
Source of text
DAR 164: 156
Physical description
7pp (French)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 10545,” accessed on 5 August 2020, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-10545.xml

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

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