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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Journal of Horticulture   [before 15 July 1862]1

I am very much obliged to your several correspondents for their information in regard to the supposed differences in the bees of Britain.2 Possibly some few of your readers may be interested in the following case:— The hive bee was introduced many years ago into Jamaica. Having seen it stated that the cells were larger, I procured (through the kindness of Mr. R. Hill, of Spanish Town), some bees and comb.3 The bees have been carefully examined by Mr. F. Smith,4 of the British Museum, and pronounced to be the common species. I also secured the hind and front legs, the antennæ and jaws of worker bees from Jamaica and my own stock, and could detect no trace of difference in size or other character. But here comes the remarkable point—the diameter of the cells is conspicuously greater in about the proportion of 60 to 51 or 52 than in our English combs. The wax seems tougher, and the walls, I think, are thicker. The cells in parts of the comb were much elongated, and the whole hive contained a great quantity of honey. It certainly appears as if the instinct of the bee had become modified in relation to its new, hot, and rich home. But it seems to me an astonishing fact that the cells should have been made larger without a corresponding increase in the size of the body of the architect.—

I am well aware that when any person dips into a subject with which he is not familiar he is apt to make great blunders. And this conviction leads me to ask whether the excellent observer [Mr] Woodbury5 would like to look at the pieces of combs, the queen, drone & [worker]-bees. If he would, I would most gladly & gratefully send the specimens, (carriage paid) to his residence; for I should either get a curious fact established or my error would be corrected. If he will consent to examine them, I hope he will publish a brief note of the result in your Journal6

Charles Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent.


CD’s letter was published in the issue of 15 July 1862.
See letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 10 June 1862].
See Correspondence vol. 7, letters from Richard Hill, 10 January 1859 and 26 November 1859, and letter to Richard Hill, 8 August [1859]. On CD’s interest in the comb-building instinct of bees, see Prete 1990.
Thomas White Woodbury was one of the regular contributors to the beekeeping section of the Journal of Horticulture (see letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 22 July 1862] and n. 3).
The text of this paragraph, which was not published in the Journal of Horticulture, is reportedly ‘neatly crossed through by Darwin’. However, it is probable that the text was in fact crossed out by the editors of the Journal of Horticulture to indicate that it was not to be printed. See letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 22 July 1862].


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Prete, Frederick R. 1990. The conundrum of the honey bees: one impediment to the publication of Darwin’s theory. Journal of the History of Biology 23: 271–90.


Is obliged for information concerning differences in the bees of Britain. Relates case of the Jamaican bees which were introduced long ago and have remained the same in size and character except that the diameter of the cells is larger, the wax tougher, and the walls of the hive thicker.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Journal of Horticulture
Sent from
Source of text
Christie’s East (catalogue 26 April 1995: the Philip M. Neufeld collection, pt 2); Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, and Country Gentleman n.s. 3 (1862): 305

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3658A,” accessed on 31 May 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10