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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Thomas White Woodbury   9 August 1862

[17 Lower Mount Radford Terrace, Exeter]

9th Augt 1862

Dear Sir

Accept my warmest thanks for your kind present of combs and workers of apis testacea.1 I have examined them carefully and with the greatest interest   The cells appear precisely the same as those of A. mellifica with this important difference—the breeding cells are one-fourth deeper than those of A mellifica, proving that the insect is one-fourth longer in the body when it arrives at maturity. It is very remarkable that an insect so much larger than the common bee should build cells of no greater diameter, and satisfies me that I am right in believing A. Ligustica to be a larger bee than A mellifica although it makes cells of the same diameter

What an immense comb yours must have been! Could you ascertain by any means if A testacea is a hive bee? If so I believe it would be invaluable in this country. Its very large wings augur enormous powers of flight and its capacity for honey-gathering is I should think, immense. I really cannot get it out of my head and shall not rest until I have attempted by some means to obtain a living colony.

With regard to living bees from central Africa, I see no very great difficulty in the matter; if the gentleman you mention2 would attempt it I should be happy to give instructions pay expenses of freight &c and if successful and a new species would gladly present the sender with £10 or £20 according to their value, although I can scarcely think they would turn out the extraordinary honey-gatherers which I fancy A testacea to be

One thing appears remarkable, and that is that the melting-point of the wax of A testacea seems lower than that of A. mellifica

Again thanking you most sincerely I am | My dear Sir | Yours very truly | T W Woodbury

C. Darwin Esq

P.S.— The bees of Jamaica are I believe A mellifa and I doubt not their combs are the same as ours3

CD annotations

3.1 With regard … think 3.5] crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘A. R. Wallace   5. Westbourne Grove Terrace.—’4 ink; ‘(Keep Bees)’ pencil, square brackets in MS


CD had sent Woodbury a portion of the honeycomb from the island of Timor, sent to him by Alfred Russel Wallace (see letter from A. R. Wallace, 7 April 1862, and letter to A. R. Wallace, 20 August [1862]). Woodbury was one of the contributors to the bee-keeping section of the Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, to which CD had recently directed several queries concerning variability in hive-bees (see letters to the Journal of Horticulture, [before 10 June 1862] and [before 15 July 1862]). Woodbury had written privately to CD in response to the latter of these (see letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 22 July 1862]); however, Woodbury’s letter has not been found. According to his ‘Journal’ (Correspondence vol. 10, Appendix II), CD was writing up the chapter of Variation on ‘Silk-worms Geese &c’ in the summer of 1862; this chapter included a section on hive-bees (Variation 1: 297–9).
The reference is to Gustav Mann, who was collecting in West Africa for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 22 [August 1862] and nn. 5 and 6). No letter from CD to Woodbury on this subject has been found; however, CD had evidently been attempting to obtain specimens of bees and honeycomb from West Africa (see letter from J. D. Hooker, 20 August 1862 and nn. 8 and 9).
See letter to Journal of Horticulture, [before 22 July 1862] and n. 3.
See n. 1, above.


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

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


Breeding cells of Ligurian bee are larger than those of common bee. Thanks CD for comb.

Letter details

Letter no.
Thomas White Woodbury
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 181
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3686,” accessed on 26 March 2023,

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