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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Richardson   17 July 1856

Lancrigg— Grasmere | Westmoreland

17 July 1856

Dear Sir

The Common Pike and Salmon are the only fishes that I recollect at present which are common to the fresh-waters of Europe and North America.1 The identity of the American Pike with the European one has been called in question but some American Ichthyologists, but I am convinced wrongly, because they had no specimen or no good specimen of the Common Pike of Rupert’s Land2 to compare with— I most minutely examined the American Salmon & the Pike with European ones and feel assured that precisely the same species of each exists in both hemispheres— There are other pikes in Rupert’s land & Agassiz believes that there is a peculiar species in each river system— The Salmon also extends along the Labrador coast to the arctic sea north of America but I am not sure that it goes on to Behrings Straits— The numerous Salmon of the seas of Kamtschatka & Beerings Sea down to the Oregon seem to have much resemblance to the Asiatic ones described by Pallas but they have not been compared. Many of the Sclerognathæ are common to the English channel, the Baltic, the Greenland seas and american arctic seas but in Beerings sea where that family also abounds the forms are different from the European ones. The same genera of fish are common to the northern parts of the old & new worlds, with exceptions, but the species differ— The American Siluridæ are a totally distinct group from the Asiatic ones & in the temperate regions of Ama there are many genera not found elsewhere, of all divisions of Fresh water fishes. The Salmon speaking roundly does not go south of the 40th parallel and only a stray one enters the Mediterranean. One once appeared at the market in Malta—

Trout are natives of northern regions— Dr Hooker found them to the north of the Himalaya’s but not to the south— In Australasia & Patagonia, the Trouts are replaced by Galaxias, fish assuming the external appearance & beautiful spotting of the Trout but wanting the Adipose fin. There are many genera in the high southern latitudes which do not exist to the north of the equator. Certain species Muræna helena, Elecata and I believe some Scopelidæ or (Sauridæ as the family has been named) are also cosmopolite in the temperate & warmer seas Several sharks also—

Of sea fish there are certainly some forms common to the coasts of Australia & those of Japan but in the latter the curious northern Sclerogenidæ begin to appear & I should suppose that in the north of Japan and along the shores of Sagalien the general features of the ichthyology have changed. From the southern part of Japan down to the Indian Archipelago, westward to near the Cape of Good Hope southward to Australia and eastward to the China seas again the great mass of species is the same though there are some genera and species which are very local.

Many of the red sea genera and the fresh water fishes of the Nile are represented in the Senegal and on the Goldcoast but the species as far as I have learnt are never the same— Curious forms with lung-like air-bladders, exist on both sides of Africa but are not confined to that continent—

The Falkland Island fish resemble those of south New Zealand & islands further south but differ from the Japanese & northern forms— I do not think that any fresh-water species is common to the Falklands and New Zealand— Marine species are3 The Ichthylogy of the higher southern latitudes has a peculiar character from the predominance of certain forms. I believe that ranges of fresh water species to two continents will be found chiefly among anadromous fish. The Pike descends into salt water but I have not heard of its having been taken at sea. It is said to be found in Lake Aral. Sticklebacks which are very nearly alike on both continents, (the differences being as little as those which the species assumes in one locality,) are also inhabitants of the sea & one was taken by Sir Edward Belcher beyond Wellington inlet, which would have passed for an English one, if its origin had not been known.

I have answered your questions I think but have written hurriedly, being unable at present to devote much thought to the subject—4

Yours faithfully | John Richardson

CD annotations

1.1 Common … Salmon] underl brown crayon
1.18 The American … ones] scored brown crayon
1.20 not go … Mediterranean 1.21] double scored brown crayon
2.1 Trout … south— 2.2] scored brown crayon
4.1 fresh water] underl brown crayon
4.1 fresh water … Goldcoast 4.2] scored brown crayon
5.5 of fresh … at sea. 5.7] scored brown crayon
Top of first page: ‘19’5 brown crayon


Richardson was an acknowledged expert on Arctic and North American zoology, having travelled widely in this region. His works were frequently cited by CD in Natural selection.
The former name of the Canadian territory comprising the drainage basin of the Hudson Bay (EB).
‘I do not think … species are’ was added at the top of the first page for insertion here.
The information given in this letter was not directly used by CD in his species book; it confirmed points that CD had already drawn from Richardson’s two works on ichthyology (J. Richardson 1836 and 1845). See Natural selection, pp. 539 and 555.
The number of CD’s portfolio of notes on the geographical distribution of animals.


EB: The Encyclopædia Britannica. A dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. 11th edition. 29 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1910–11.

Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Richardson, John. 1836. Report on North American zoology. Report of the 6th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held at Bristol, pp. 121–224.


Responds to CD’s questions about the geographical distribution of freshwater fishes.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Richardson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 205.3: 285
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1929,” accessed on 13 July 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 6