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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Frederick Smith   March 1866

British Museum

March 1866

one page obscured〉 or four places—and I have distinct recollection of my own daughter being stung twice or thrice by a wasp that was shut up in the crevaces of her bonnet. In fact I dont recollect any instance of a wasp leaving its sting in the wound.—1

If you have contrary experience you know much more of the matter than I do.—

Neither Bombus or Apathus leave their sting in the wound to my knowledge.2 Pompilus and all the Crabronidae sting repeatedly without damage to the 〈w〉eapon of defence3 and 〈3 or 4 words missing〉 use their 〈3 or 4 words missing〉 on being 〈cau〉ght— The most severe and excrutiating pain—although not of long duration—is that produced by the sting of Mutilla, these insects have the sting nearly the length of the abdomen and are most dangerous insects to handle— thus in the extensive Genera Philanthus & Cerceris—both furnished with formidable stings, it is a matter of impossibility to persuade them to use them—4 I have many times experimented in various ways but never succeeded in inducing them to sting— Philanthus you will recollect—preys upon the [Spica] [one line illegible] which they paralyze by stin〈ging.〉 Cerceris more frequently selects different [Curculios]— some species 〈  〉licti &c. but none of them will use their sting when caught in the hand—

I may sum up by saying that as far as my observations have l〈ed〉 me— I know of no insects that leave their stings in the wound except the species of Honey Bees and I once saw an instance of an Ichneumon—Ophius leaving its ovipositor in a wound5 〈prod〉uced by piercing a Ladys 〈    〉 and with great subsequent pain & inflammation 〈    〉 〈    〉 Ever yours | sincerely | F Smith

Ch Darwin Esq

CD annotations

Glued to first page: ‘〈    〉 wasps leave 〈    〉 stings in wound— Knows only of Hive bees **doing so [interl]— Certain genera have very long stings but will never use them as organ of defence when captured.! **(Marked passage) [added pencil margin] Proof that using a weapon is a distinct 〈  〉t;— it does 〈    〉 [one word illeg] having it—’ added pencil
1.1 or four … I do.— 2.2] crossed pencil
3.1 Neither … hand— 3.12] enclosed in square brackets, pencil
4.1 I may … F. Smith 4.5] crossed pencil


In Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 35–6, CD described repeated stinging of a spider by a Pepsis wasp. Later, in Origin, p. 202, CD wrote, ‘Can we consider the sting of the wasp or of the bee as perfect, which, when used against many attacking animals, cannot be withdrawn … and so inevitably causes the death of the insect … ?’ However, in the fourth and later editions, only the bee was mentioned, in this sentence, as dying after stinging (Peckham ed. 1959, p. 374). For earlier correspondence about the effects of stinging on the survival of bees and wasps, see Correspondence vol. 9, letter from John Innes, [before 6 April 1861], and letter from J. D. Glennie Jr, 6 April 1861. For more on the stinging behaviour of solitary wasps and an interpretation of its evolution, see Steiner 1986, pp. 65–7.
Bombus, the humble-bee, and Apathus (now Psithyrus), the cuckoo bumble-bee, are closely related, the latter laying its eggs in the nests of the former (ML 1: 262, n. 1).
Pompilus and Crabronidae are a genus and a family of predatory wasps, respectively.
Mutilla, Philanthus, and Cerceris are genera of predatory wasps. On the sequence of stimuli required to induce stinging in Philanthus, see Tinbergen 1969, pp. 47–8.
Ophius is a genus of parasitic ichneumon wasps.


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

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.

ML: More letters of Charles Darwin: a record of his work in a series of hitherto unpublished letters. Edited by Francis Darwin and Albert Charles Seward. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1903.

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.

Steiner, André L. 1986. Stinging behaviour of solitary wasps. In Venoms of the Hymenoptera: biochemical, pharmacological and behavioural aspects, edited by Tom Piek. London and Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press.

Tinbergen, Niko. 1969. The study of instinct. With a new introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Discusses the stinging habits of wasps and bees and whether or not they leave their sting in the wound.

Letter details

Letter no.
Frederick Smith
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 177: 197
Physical description
4pp damaged †, CD note damaged

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5023,” accessed on 28 February 2020,

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