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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Edward Gray   28 February 1866


28 Feb 66

My Dear Darwin

It was very pleasant to see your handwriting & to receive the Larva of the Batrachian from California1

I hope that you are better than when I last heard of you   I have been complaining had two attacks of Rheumatic Iritis which shut me up in a Dark Room for 6 or 8 weeks & I find I am growing an Old Man.2

The specimen sent agrees in some respects with Protonopsis horrida the Mud devil, hellbender or alligators of the Lakes3 but if it is it is in a state that I have not seen it before

It is also like the Axolotl in some respects but yet larger & different from any of them I have seen   bythby I hear in Paris they have breed the Axolotl & they have specimens with & without external gills4

I will examine the Beast & see if I can make it out as soon as I am done with the Bats5

The Bats like the Paradoxuri 6 regularly worry me   there are specimens so alike externally that the best men have regarded them all the same species but when you examine the Bones they prove to belong to several genera & when you have decided that such ansuch specimens are different genera you are not then able to discover any external character to seperate them from each other

On the other hand the specimens of several genera seem to regularly appear Black Brown & red coats   not in different seasons & localities because specimens caught at the same time & place present these Variations in colour

With kindest Regards | Ever yours sincly | J E Gray


The letter to Gray has not been found; CD evidently also sent the specimen of a ‘very curious fish’ from California that CD had been sent by Thomas Gold Appleton. The supposed fish had legs that Appleton believed assisted it to migrate to water when the mountain lakes in which it lived dried up; Appleton considered it to be a ‘most remarkable corroboration’ of adaptation in the ‘Struggle for life’ (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter from T. G. Appleton, 5 December [1865]).
Gray had suffered poor health in 1865 (see Correspondence vol. 13, letter to J. E. Gray, 27 January [1865] and n. 3).
The reference is to Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, a large salamander that lives in mountain rivers of the north-eastern United States (S. C. Bishop 1994, Grzimek ed. 1974, pp. 316–17). It was formerly named Protonopsis horrida (Boulenger 1882).
The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is a large neotenic salamander, originating in lakes near Mexico City (Grzimek ed. 1974, p. 319). Specimens were sent in 1863 from Mexico to Paris, where Auguste-Henri-André Duméril observed their breeding at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle; he noted that some individuals underwent metamorphosis, while others retained their larval anatomy, including their external gills, during otherwise normal development (Duméril 1866, pp. 277–8). For more information on the impact of the axolotl on nineteenth-century zoology, see H. M. Smith 1989.
Gray published several taxonomic revisions of bat genera in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London in 1866, and in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History in 1865 and 1866. He subsequently compiled a catalogue of the fruit-eating bats in the British Museum (J. E. Gray ed. 1870).
Gray apparently refers to palm civets, members of the tribe Paradoxurina of the family Viverridae of carnivorous mammals; variability in the form of skulls and teeth in the African and Asian genera Nandinia, Paradoxurus, Paguma, and Arctogale had made classification within the tribe complex (J. E. Gray ed. 1869, pp. 43, 59–77).


Bishop, Sherman Chauncey. 1994. Handbook of salamanders: the salamanders of the United States, of Canada, and of lower California. Ithaca and London: Comstock Publishing Associates.

Boulenger, George Albert. 1882. Catalogue of the Batrachia gradientia s. caudata and Batrachia apoda in the collection of the British Museum. 2d edition. London: printed by order of the trustees [of the British Museum].

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

Duméril, Auguste. 1866. Observations sur la reproduction dans la ménagerie des reptiles du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle des axolotls, batraciens urodèles a branchies extérieures du Mexique: sur leurs développement et sur leurs métamorphoses. Nouvelles Archives du Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle 2: 265–92.

Smith, Hobart M. 1989. Discovery of the axolotl and its early history in biological research. In Developmental biology of the axolotl, edited by John B. Armstrong and George M. Malacinski. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Has received the larva of the batrachian. Outlines its affinities. Problems of batrachian systematics.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Edward Gray
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 165: 209
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5021,” accessed on 9 August 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 14