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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Roland Trimen   26 March 1868

71, Guildford Street,

26th. March, 1868.

My dear Mr. Darwin,

I have traced (from the plate in Guenée’s “Phalénites”) the enclosed outline of the Moth that I had in my mind as possessing so beautiful an under-surface. You will gather an idea of its colouring from what I have written on and about the tracing.1 The grand ocellus on the forewing is a marvellous feature, when one reflects that there is no trace whatever of it on the upper side! Unfortunately, the insect is a ♀; or what a case it would have been had the ♂ only possessed so magnificent an ornament. (Query:— May not female animals sometimes be provided with special ornaments to attract the males, and may not sexual selection operate in their case as well as in that of males?) This is what Guenée says about Gastrophora: vol. IX, p. 187— “J’établis ce genre sur une magnifique espèce australienne, dont je ne possède malheureusement qu’un seul sexe. Il est probable que le mâle fournit des caractères encore plus tranchés”.2 He places the genus in the family Œnochromidæ of the “Phalénites” (= our Geometræ).3

The two following Geometræ (also figured by Guenée) have the under surface more conspicuously coloured than the upper, viz: Hypographa Phlegetonaria Guén. (Tasmania), belonging to the same Family as the beautiful Gastrophora,4 and Hyperythra limbolaria, Guén. (Bengal), belonging to the Family Ennomidæ (the “Thorn” Moths of English collectors).5 In the first of these, the dull-grey with darker striæ of the upper side is varied beneath with white lines and cloudings which bring the dark streaks out into strong relief: the sexes are quite similar. The second, Hyperythra limbolaria, is of the usual orange-yellow of the “Thorns” on the superior surface, but the outer margin of both wings on the underside has a broad irregular bordering of deep-red. (Fortunately enough, this species affords a capital instance of the female being apparently much more abundant than the male, Guenée observing (IX, p. 101) “Elle parait très-commune aux Indes et j’en ai vu une grande quantité, mais jamais un seul mâle”.6 Indeed he says of the whole genus, in noting some diversities of structure between the sexes, p. 100 “Ces différences sont d’autant plus essentielles à noter, que l’on trouve dans les envois quatre ou cinq femelles au moins contre un seul mâle”.)7

Among English Geometræ, several species of Ennomos (such as E. illunaria) and Fidonia piniaria occur to me as having the undersurface more variegated than the upper.8 Fidonia piniaria is much given to holding the wings quite erect over its back, retaining them in that position for a considerable time. I have just referred to Guenée’s notes on the genus Fidonia, & find him observing this habit of F. piniaria. He says: “Le papillon porte, au repos, les ailes relevées comme les Diurnes”.9 I have noticed many Geometræ who carry the wings in the same manner just after settling, but they soon let them sink to a level with the body. At the Cape,10 a near ally of Fidonia piniaria, apparently undescribed, holds its wings erect almost as long as the English species is in the habit of doing. Both sexes do this, but I am not sure whether the ♀s retain the position as long as the ♂s.

Turning to the Noctuæ,11 I find that Guenée figures the undersides of three species presenting a more conspicuous appearance than the upper. These are Lygniodes hypoleuca, Guén. (Bengal), Hypopyra unistrigata, Guén. (Bengal), and Entomogramma pardus (Senegal)12 The first (♂) is glossy brownish-black above, but white, with two brownish bands beneath: in the ♀ the contrast of the two surfaces is much less striking, the upper side being duller & browner & the under of an impure whitish. The second is dull ochrey-grey, with darker & lighter streaks above; while the underside is bright orange-red, with black stripes. The third (which I have taken commonly at Natal)13 is pale, dull greyish-ochreous above, with a darker border; but beneath is ochre-yellow with numerous black-spots. All three are quadrifid Noctuæ,14 the first belonging to the family Ophideridæ, & the 2nd. & 3rd. to the Hypopyridæ.15 Entomogramma pardus is a day-flying moth, and I have noticed that both it and another much larger species of the same family (with a bright red-lead underside Hypopyra Capensis, Herr.– Schäff.) have a habit, when settled on the ground or herbage, of now and then suddenly lifting the wings slightly, so as to afford one a glimpse of the bright colouring of the abdomen and underside. These Quadrifid Noctuæ (though by no means all of the section) seem to approach the Geometræ in having the posterior wings almost wholly exposed when at rest and marked with a continuation of the lines and colouring of the anterior wings on both surfaces.

I have only one example of each sex of Erebia (Oreina) Ligea, but I find that the ♂ does want the whitish pupil of the ocelli on the upper surface, but underneath (though the ocelli are smaller than in the ♀) the pupils are distinct. The same thing is observable in the allied Erebia Euryale (also European).16 In the genus Satyrus it seems often the case that the ocelli of the ♂ are less distinct than those of the ♀; I find this observable in S. Hermione, Alcyone, Briseis and Arethusa (all European).17

As regards the Hesperiidæ that settle with all the wings expanded, usually on the underside of leaves, the only species with which I am acquainted (in nature) that have anything remarkable about their under-surface are the Natalian Nisoniades Ophione and Caprona Canopus both of which have the hindwings white.18 It may be advantageous to conceal the conspicuous whiteness, though this could as well be effected by settling on the upperside of leaves; but by choosing the underside of a leaf it would seem that these active insects evade actual pursuers or watchful foes very effectually. Under the shade of foliage, too, their fully-expanded wings, usually of sombre colours, would less readily attract the notice of enemies on the ground.

I hope that these notes may prove of use, imperfect as they are. I shall bear the subject in mind, and acquaint you with anything that I chance upon in connection with it.

Very truly yours, | Roland Trimen



CD annotations

1.1 I have … quite similar. 2.7] crossed ink
2.7 The second, … deep-red. 2.9] ‘♀’ added red crayon
3.1 Among … both surfaces. 4.19] crossed ink
6.1 As regards … with it. 7.3] crossed ink
Top of letter: ‘Number of sexes’ ink; possible gamma, ink, circled blue crayonQQQQ


The reference is to Achille Guenée and Guenée 1857, 10: pl. 21, fig. 4, which shows both sides of the wings of the moth, Gastrophora henricaria. In Descent 1: 397, CD cited Trimen for informing him about moths referred to in Guenée 1857. Trimen had probably visited CD on 25 March 1868 (see letter to Roland Trimen, [21 March 1868]) and may have discussed the moth wings then.
‘I base this genus on a magnificent Australian species, of which, unfortunately, I only possess a single sex. It is probable that the male offers characters that are still more distinctive’ (Guenée 1857, 9: 187). In his addenda to the volume, Guenée added that he later received a male specimen, but its ocellus, as well as its general colour, was less distinctive than that of the female (Guenée 1857, 10: 540).
Geometrae was the name of a group of moth families roughly equivalent to the present superfamily Geometroidea (butterfly moths). Gastrophora is now in the family Geometridae, subfamily Oenochrominae. For more on the group ‘Phalénites’, see Guenée 1857, 9: v–viii.
See Guenée 1857, 9: 190 and 10: pl. 14, fig. 2.
See Guenée 1857, 9: 101 and 10: pl 3, figs. 3 and 4. Hyperythra limbolaria is a synonym of H. lutea (Fletcher 1979, p. 105). It is now in the family Geometridae, subfamily Ennominae.
‘It appeared to be very common in the Indies and I saw a great number, but never a single male’ (Guenée 1857, 9: 101).
‘These differences are all the more essential to note, as at least four or five females to every male are found in these regions’ (Guenée 1857, 9: 100).
Trimen probably meant Selenia illunaria (Guenée 1857, 9: 152), now S. dentaria, the early thorn moth (Fletcher 1979, p. 188). Fidonia piniaria (Guenée 1857, 10: 156–7) is now Bupalus piniaria, the bordered white or pine looper.
‘The moth, when resting, holds its wings up as butterflies do’ (Guenée 1857, 10: 152).
Trimen refers to Cape of Good Hope.
Noctuae was the name of a group of moth families roughly equivalent to the present superfamily Noctuoidea.
For Lygniodes hypoleuca, see Guenée 1852, 7: 125, pl. 16 fig. 5; for Hypopyra unistrigata, see ibid., 7: 201, pl. 21 fig. 1; for Entomogramma pardus, see ibid., 7: 205, pl. 21 fig. 3.
Natal, now Kwazulu/Natal, a province of South Africa.
In the classificatory system used in Noctuélites (Guenée 1852), the ‘division’ Noctuélites was divided into two ‘phalanges’, the Trifidae and the Quadrifidae. For more on Guenée’s system, see Kitching 1984, pp. 159–65.
All three species are now in the family Noctuidae (owlet moths).
Erebia ligea is the Arran brown butterfly (Oreina ligea is a junior synonym); E. euryale is the large ringlet. See CD’s annotations to the letter from Roland Trimen, 13 January 1868.
Satyrus hermione is a synonym of Hipparchia hermione, the rock grayling; S. alcyone is a synonym of Hipparchia hermione subsp. genava; S. briseis is the hermit; S. arethusa is a synonym of Arethusana arethusa, the false grayling.
Hesperiidae is the family of skippers. Trimen published the name Nisoniades ophion in R. Trimen 1862–6, pp. 313–14; he later described the species as Pterygospidea flesus (R. Trimen 1887–9, 3: 363). It is now Tagiades flesus, the clouded flat. Caprona canopus is now Netrobalane canopus, the buff-tipped skipper.


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

Fletcher, David Stephen. 1979. Geometroidea. Vol. 3 of The generic names of moths of the world, edited by I. W. B. Nye. London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History).

Guenée, Achille. 1852. Noctuélites. Vols. 5–7 of Histoire naturelle des insectes: species général des lépidoptères, by Jean Baptiste Alphonse Boisduval and Achille Guenée. Paris: Librairie Encyclopédique de Roret.

Guenée, Achille. 1857. Uranides et Phalénites. Vols. 9 and 10 of Histoire naturelle des insectes: species général des lépidoptères, by Jean Baptiste Alphonse Boisduval and Achille Guenée. Paris: Librairie Encyclopédique de Roret.

Kitching, Ian J. 1984. An historical review of the higher classification of the Noctuidae (Lepidoptera). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Entomology series 49: 153–234.

Trimen, Roland. 1862–6. Rhopalocera Africæ Australis; a catalogue of South African butterflies, comprising descriptions of all the known species with notices of their larvæ, pupæ, localities, habits, seasons of appearance, and geographical distribution. London: Trübner. Cape Town, South Africa: W. F. Mathew.

Trimen, Roland. 1887–9. South-African butterflies: a monograph of the extra-tropical species. With the assistance of James Henry Bowker. 3 vols. London: Trübner.


Coloration in moths.

Quotes Achille Guénée on relative proportion of sexes in Phalaenites.

Letter details

Letter no.
Roland Trimen
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
London, Guildford St, 71
Source of text
DAR 81: 76, DAR 85: B61–2, DAR 84.1: 134–5
Physical description
ALS 7pp † encl 1p (sketch)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6055,” accessed on 15 April 2024,

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