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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Frederick Smith   30 April 1859

British Museum.

30th. April. 1859.

My dear Sir

In answer to your queries I may first observe that I have watched the colonies of F. sanguinea carefully in the beginning of May—about the middle of June & in the middle of August—the greatest number of slaves I have found ⁠⟨⁠(⁠⟩⁠more than once) at the latter ⁠⟨⁠per⁠⟩⁠iod—but I never observed any Slave-Ant either issue from or enter the nest—1 I have seen them repeatedly carried in in their perfect condition—and once in the larvæ & pupæ state— I have frequently watched them in the morning—ie before 10 oclock—as at that hour the sun got round and shone on the South when the ants disappeared—and again came forth in the afternoon about ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ o-clock

I have been induced from my own observations to consider them—Household-Slaves—which perform some drudgery in the nest—2 You are at perfect liberty ⁠⟨⁠to⁠⟩⁠ quote the results of my imperfect observations—but I know that it only at intervals when certain observations can be made.—3

⁠⟨⁠I⁠⟩⁠ only discovered Stylops in ⁠⟨⁠An⁠⟩⁠drena ⁠⟨⁠nigro⁠⟩⁠-œneae —this bee is plentiful about London and elsewhere— I have examined hundreds in the hope of seeing it Stylopized—but until the present month on Good Friday—I never took that species infested—4 I think our F. sanguinea is Hu⁠⟨⁠ber’s⁠⟩⁠ surely Nylander— Foerster Myer or Schenck—who have so industriously collected the European Sps must have taken the allied Sps if any existed—5

Yours sincerely | Fredk Smith C. Darwin Esq

CD annotations

1.2 May] underl brown crayon
1.2 June] underl brown crayon
1.3 August] underl brown crayon
1.7 before 10 oclock] underl brown crayon
1.9 about ⁠⟨⁠    ⁠⟩⁠ o-clock] underl pencil
crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘Ch 10’6 brown crayon


Smith’s observation was cited by CD in Origin, p. 220. See also letter to Frederick Smith, [before 9 March 1858].
CD cited this observation in Origin, p. 220.
CD stated in Origin, p. 220, that he was ‘much indebted for information on this and other subjects’ to Smith.
Female insects of the family Stylopidae are parasitic within the body of bees belonging to the genus Andrena. Smith refers to A. nigro-aenea. He had described the infestation of this species by Stylops melittæ in F. Smith 1855, p. 72, but had remarked that: ‘it is remarkable that amongst the number of species which I have captured attacked by Stylops, I never found A. nigro-ænea infested by the parasite.’ CD’s annotated copy of F. Smith 1855 is in the Darwin Library–CUL.
Smith refers to Jean Pierre Huber’s description of Formica sanguinea, as given in J. P. Huber 1810. The ant is rare in England but, in Smith’s opinion, definitely the same species; he described it inF. Smith 1854 and in F. Smith 1858, pp. 6–7. William Nylander, Arnold Förster, Gustav Mayr, and Adolf Schenk were German entomologists renowned for their work on European ants. Smith cited their works frequently in F. Smith 1858. CD listed F. Smith 1858 among the books he read during 1859 (see Correspondence vol. 4, Appendix IV, 128: 24), and his notes on the work are in DAR 205.11 (2): 83–5. CD’s notes on his observations of ants, from May 1858 to July 1859, are in DAR 205.11(2): 88–95.
The annotation refers to chapter 10 of CD’s species book (Natural selection, pp. 466–527), which dealt with the ‘mental powers and instincts of animals’.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Huber, Pierre. 1810. Recherches sur les mœurs des fourmis indigènes. Paris and Geneva: J. J. Paschoud.

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.

Smith, Frederick. 1854. Essay on the genera and species of British Formicidæ. [Read 4 December 1854.] Transactions of the Entomological Society of London n.s. 3 (1854–6): 95–135.

Smith, Frederick. 1855. Catalogue of British Hymenoptera in the collection of the British Museum. Pt 1. Apidæ–bees. Edited by John Edward Gray. London.

Smith, Frederick. 1858. Catalogue of British fossorial Hymenoptera, Formicidæ, and Vespidæ, in the collection of the British Museum. London.


Reports his observations on the habits of slave-making ants (Formica sanguinea).

Letter details

Letter no.
Frederick Smith
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 177: 192 (fragile)
Physical description
ALS 4pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2456,” accessed on 4 October 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7