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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Robert Waterhouse   14 April 1857

British Museum

April 14. 57

My dear Darwin

I have had scarcely any time at my command during the last two or three days—that is to say, whilst in the Museum, the only time that I could get to see one of the books referred to by you— I have now looked into them & find nothing connected with bee’s cells in either paper— one of the papers—on the habits of Osmia atricapilla—threatens to give, upon a future occasion, an account of the mode of constructing the cell of the insect and some other bees, but I cannot find that it was done—certainly not in the same book.1

Faithfully Yours Geo R Waterhouse

I have always laboured under the impression that I did publish an account of the Osmia atricapilla, & that in the account I alluded to the structure of the cell, but now that I have found a paper on the insect with the cell question being disputed, I strongly suspect that I have never done it— I think I have told about the cell of this bee (Osmia atricapilla)—a little oval mud cell, with the inner side smooth & the outer side rough, & with a lid, the exact counterpart of the first commencement of the cell—rough on the inner side & with a smooth concavity at the top or outer side— the insect worked out the inner side & smoothed it with her jaws—

At the last meeting of the Entomological Society there was some discussion upon the subject of the Hive-bee’s cell—introduced by Mr Westwood from whose brief observations upon the subject I conclude that his views are the same as mine—2 I was made to say something, & in that say I alluded to a small piece of a Hornet’s comb which I possess & which is composed of three cells only—presenting a section like this— diagram Mr. Tegetmier said he had got a small piece of honey-comb like it—i.e with cells cylindrical externally & with two straight sides where they came in contact with the other cells—& that he would exhibit the same on a future occasion.3


CD was gathering information on the cell-making powers of bees for a section of his chapter on ‘Mental powers and the instincts of animals’ (Natural selection, pp. 513–16). His notes and diagrams relating to the construction of the cells of bees are in DAR 48. In Origin, p. 225, CD stated: ‘I was led to investigate this subject by Mr. Waterhouse, who has shown that the form of the cell stands in close relation to the presence of adjoining cells’.
John Obadiah Westwood spoke about hive bees at a meeting of the Entomological Society of London on 6 April 1857, although there is no record of any discussion on bees’ cells (Transactions of the Entomological Society of London n.s. 4 (1856–8), Journal of Proceedings, p. 67).
William Bernhard Tegetmeier, primarily known as an authority on pigeon breeding and on poultry, was also interested in the behaviour of bees (E. W. Richardson 1916, pp. 42–50). He delivered a paper ‘On the formation of the cells of bees’ at the 1858 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Tegetmeier 1858), in which he described his experiments to show that the original form of a bee’s cell is cylindrical and that the hexagonal shape results from the pressure exerted on it by six contiguous cells surrounding it.


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.

Origin: On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1859.

Richardson, Edmund William. 1916. A veteran naturalist; being the life and work of W. B. Tegetmeier. London: Witherby & Co.


Has found no reference to construction of bees’ cells in works referred to by CD. Describes cell of Osmia atricapilla. Hive-bees’ cell was described at Entomological Society.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Robert Waterhouse
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 181: 21
Physical description
ALS 3pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2078,” accessed on 24 September 2023,

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