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Darwin Correspondence Project

From H. W. Bates   12 March 1868

Royal Geographical Society | 15, Whitehall Place, S.W.

March 12 1868

My dear Mr Darwin

I have again examined a few genera of Trop. American butterflies to ascertain the gradation in divergence of sexual coloration & give you the results as promised.1

1— Junonia (including G. Precis of some authors) on re-examination I think the genus is better divided into three classes, instead of four, as I gave in former letter:2

1st class of species—in which there is no difference whatever in colours or pattern & both sexes are destitute of rich or strongly contrasted colours

The majority of species in this large genus come under this class

2nd class—similar colours & pattern but male richer & brighter in colour

1 Junonia Œnone— 2 J. Radama

3 Jun. clelia3

3rd class   sexes quite different in colours: male having rich, deep & contrasted colours.

1 Junonia Orithya

2 " Andremiaja4

2. Æneas group of Papilio,5 slow-flying insects abounding in Tropical American forests & highly characteristic of the fauna

1st class, both sexes having same colours & pattern, but males generally darker & richer in tint; in one species no difference of tint

at least 4 species

2nd class, sexes strongly contrasted, males with green or blue & white & crimson patches on a black ground— females simply white & crimson patches on black ground

at least a dozen species

3rd class still more strongly contrasted than class 2, the males having the crimson patches superbly glossed with opalescent shades.

—about a dozen species

4th class— contrast reaching its acme in the same direction as the gradation from 2nd to 3rd classes

Two or three species

3. Epicalia—6 same as described in my former letter to you. This genus illustrates the principle of females preserving a tolerably uniform type of coloration whilst the males, similar to females in some species, diverge diverge greatly in others.

I have found, however, a much better illustration of this in the genus Eubagis

4 Eubagis.— A very numerous genus abundant in Tropical America & peculiar to the fauna

Some species are alike in both sexes & their pattern is after the general type of the great group of butterflies to which the genus as well as Epicalia belongs, but in the majority of the species of Eubagis the males assume metallic colours & in some species reach a high degree of beauty, the females preserving the same plain colours.7 Curiously enough, in one or two species the female has a trace of metallic lustre!

I have noted a few more genera presenting similar phenomena but will not trouble you with them now, as I hope to show you them next Sunday morning.

The females of these butterflies cannot be called absolutely plain; it appears to me that in the gradual heightening of the male beauty through long ages of sexual selection the female sex has occasionally inherited some portion of the beautified colours & propagated them.8 I can show you cases where the male varies in ornamental colours & where selection is in all probability now going on; one case, in particular, is that of a most magnificent local variety of a common tropical American species.

I hope your health withstands the excitement of London, & that I shall see you on Sunday.

Yours sincerely | H W Bates

CD annotations

2.1 1— … this class 3.3] ‘Used’ added & circled pencil; ticked pencil; crossed pencil
3.1 1st … class 3.3] ‘Near Vanessa’9 added ink
4.1 2nd … Andremiaja 5.4] ‘Used’ added & circled pencil; crossed pencil
7.1 1st … 4 species 7.3] double scored both margins blue crayon; ‘p. 143 M.S.’ added pencil
11.1 3. Epicalia … lustre! 14.5] crossed pencil
11.1 Epicalia … Eubagis 12.1] ‘Use’ added & circled pencil
13.1 4 Eubagis … lustre! 14.5] ‘Used’ added & circled pencil
14.1 Some … lustre! 14.5] ‘Female of one species far more like male of 2d species than its own male.—’
16.4 I can … American species. 16.6] scored pencil; ‘P. of Aeneas group see notes.’10 added ink; annotation double scored blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘See former note on Epicalia whether both sexes beautiful.’11 pencil | ‘n. 3. This seems [‘rarest’ del] rare case in genera on which [‘so’ del] some or many of the species differ sexually in colours’ pencil and blue crayon | ‘Yespencil | ‘xx’ red crayon


No letter promising this information has been found.
See letter from H. W. Bates, 29 March 1867 (Correspondence vol. 15). Junonia and Precis are related genera within the subfamily Nymphalinae of the family Nymphalidae, often referred to by the common name ‘pansies’. For more on changes in classification within the Nymphalinae, see Wahlberg et al. 2005.
Junonia oenone is now the dark blue pansy; J. radama is a mistake for J. rhadama; J. clelia is now J. oenone.
Junonia orithya is the blue pansy; J. andremiaja, the white (blue cast) banded pansy, is now Precis andremiaja (see Wahlberg et al. 2005). CD discussed colour in Junonia in Descent 1: 389.
Bates refers to a group of butterfly species considered to be closely related to the species Papilio aeneas (now Parides aeneas). CD referred to the group in Descent 1: 389. See also n. 10, below.
In Descent 1: 388, CD cited Bates in his discussion of Epicalia (now Catonephele).
CD added the information on Eubagis (a synonym of Dynamine) to Descent 1: 389.
In Descent 1: 391, CD expressed a similar view on female butterflies inheriting ‘some degree of beauty’.
The genera Vanessa and Junonia were considered to be closely related in contemporary classifications of the family Nymphalidae (see Doubleday and Westwood 1846–52, 1: 198, 206). For current systematics, see Wahlberg et al. 2005.
In a note dated 15 March 1868 (DAR 81: 22), CD discussed colour gradation in species of the ‘Aeneas Group’; he referred to the species Papilio sesostris and P. childrenae (now Parides sesostris and P. childrenae) and noted: ‘The males of P. sesostris varies & acquires a small crimson stripe on post. wing, & thus acquires a character common to its female & many females in common group.’
CD’s note on Epicalia in DAR 82: A39 reads: ‘In to the first Epicalia, in which both sexes follow general colouring of females of genus.— the male is a beautiful insect being glossed with blue, but yet not such gaudy & contrasted colours as the other males.’


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

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.


Results of his examination of divergence in sexual coloration of tropical American butterflies. [See Descent 1: 389 on Junonia and Papilio.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Henry Walter Bates
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
R. Geogr. Soc.
Source of text
DAR 82: A40–1
Physical description
ALS 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6007,” accessed on 3 June 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16