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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Henry Doubleday   26 January 1857


Jany 26th 1857

My dear Sir,

With this you will receive a few specimens of Tortrix of which I beg your acceptance— they will illustrate the extraordinary variation of markings in two or three species—1

No 1. Peronea Hastiana. (Tortrix Hastiana of Linné)—the description in the Fauna Suecica applies to the variety marked thus + —and the specimen is still in the Cabinet—2 This species feeds in the larva state upon the sallow and most of the varieties may be obtained from one brood of larvae—but they seem almost endless and have been considered by most of the older writers as distinct species— — I believe I was the first person in this country who felt convinced that the host of nominal species of these Buttons” as they are called, would sink into two—Hastiana and Cristana—and this ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ by everyone—3

No. 2. Peronea cristana— this species is equally as variable as the last but all the varieties have a raised tuft or button on the upper varying much in size and colour—

No 3. Pœdisca sordidana— this species varies very much as you will see by the two specimens sent—

In every family of Lepidoptera there seem to be two or three species extremely prone to vary—and it is certain that in some localities they vary more than they do in others. In rearing Lepidoptera from the eggs I have frequently found that if you have a brood from a typical female of a varying species the moths will all be like the parents—

Some years ago I made some experiments with the varieties of Harpalyce Russata— Haworth & Stephens described several of these varieties as distinct species—4 I felt convinced that they were all one and to prove it I caught several fem⁠⟨⁠ales⁠⟩⁠ and obtained a numb⁠⟨⁠er⁠⟩⁠ of eggs— I had bro⁠⟨⁠ods⁠⟩⁠ from three typica⁠⟨⁠l⁠⟩⁠ ⁠⟨⁠  ⁠⟩⁠ of Haworth and when the moths appeared they were all exactly alike— after this I caught a female of the yellow-banded variety—the Comma-notata of Haworth—and from the eggs of this female I reared all the varieties— With the central fascia yellow—white—black—and all intermediate shades constituting the Centum-notata, Comma-notata, perfuscata &c of Stephens— —

It is singular that some species should vary so much while others closely allied should scarcely ever vary at all— species too, really distinct—often approach so closely as to be separated with difficulty in the perfect state— for instance Acronycta Psi, tridens and Cuspis— yet the larvae of these three species are totally different from each other—

Locality seems to affect the shade of colour of many species— Scotch specimens of Lepidoptera are generally much darker than those of the south of England— this is particularly the case with Aplecta occulta, Hadena adusta, Xylophasia polyodon, and Aplecta tructa.

I hope you will write again if you want any other information that it is in my power to give5 and with best wishes believe me | My dear Sir | Yours most sincerely | Henry Doubleday Charles Darwin Esq

I do not want the box returned as it is of no value | H Dy

CD annotations

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triple scored pencil and brown crayon
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Top of first page: ‘Ch. 4’6 brown crayon; ‘1st letter’ pencil


CD had just completed chapter 4 on ‘Variation under nature’ of his species book (Natural selection, pp. 95–171). See ‘Journal’ (Appendix II).
Linnaeus 1761, p. 346. Linnaeus’s collections, including his cabinet of insect specimens, had been purchased in 1784 by James Edward Smith, founder of the Linnean Society. The specimen is listed in the catalogue of the Linnean collection (Jackson 1913, p. 32).
Doubleday’s chief interest was in standardising the system of nomenclature used in England with that followed by continental naturalists. Parts of his Synonymic list of British butterflies and moths appeared between 1847 and 1850, and a much more complete edition was brought out in 1859. Further supplements appeared in 1865 and 1873 (DNB).
See letter to Henry Doubleday, [before 5 February 1857]. Doubleday referred to the following moth species: Peronea hastiana, a synonym of Acleris hastiana, the sallow button; Peronea cristana, a synonym of Acleris cristana, the tufted button; Poedisca sordidana, a synonym of Epinotia sordidana, the brown alder bell; Harpalyce russata, a synonym of Dysstroma truncata, the common marbled carpet; Phalaena commanotata, P. centumnotata, and P. perfuscata, synonyms of Dysstroma truncata, the marbled carpet; Acronyca psi, a synonym of Acronicta psi, the grey dagger; Acronycta tridens, a synonym of Acronicta tridens, the dark dagger; Acronycta cuspis, a synonym of Acronicta cuspis, the large dagger; Aplecta occulta, a synonym of Erois occulta, the great brocade; Hadena adusta, a synonym of Mniotype adusta, the dark brocade; Xylophasia polyodon, a synonym of Actinotia polyodon, the purple cloud. Aplecta tructa is an unknown combination, but Doubleday may have intended Aplecta tincta, a synonym of Polia hepatica, the silvery arches.
A reference to chapter 4 of CD’s species book. See n. 1, above.


DNB: Dictionary of national biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. 63 vols. and 2 supplements (6 vols.). London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1912. Dictionary of national biography 1912–90. Edited by H. W. C. Davis et al. 9 vols. London: Oxford University Press. 1927–96.

Haworth, Adrian Hardy. 1803–28. Lepidoptera Britannica: sistens digestionem novam insectorum Lepidopterorum. London.

Jackson, Benjamin Daydon. 1913. Catalogue of the Linnean specimens of Amphibia, Insecta, and Testacea, noted by Carl von Linné. London: printed for the Linnean Society.

Linnaeus, Carolus (Carl von Linné). 1761. Fauna Suecica sistens animalia Sueciæ regni: mammalia, aves, amphibia, pisces, insecta, vermes. 2d ed. Stockholm.

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.

Stephens, James Francis. 1828–46. Illustrations of British entomology; or, a synopsis of indigenous insects: containing their generic and specific distinctions. 11 vols. and supplement. London: Baldwin and Cradock.


Sends specimens of Tortrix, which illustrate the extraordinary variation of markings in two or three species. In every family of Lepidoptera there seem to be species extremely prone to vary and in some localities they vary more than in others.

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Doubleday
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 162: 235
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2044,” accessed on 28 September 2023,

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