skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. G. Howell   14 April [1868 or 1874]1

St. James’s

Tuesday 14 April


I have recently received from a relative in New Zealand a number of what I shall best make myself understood by calling vegetable caterpillars. I have shewn them to various persons with more or less acquaintance with Natural History who, however, have failed to give any satisfactory Explanation of the extraordinary peculiarities they present & combine.

In appearance they resemble a caterpillar—the legs, mouth & corrugated skin are perfectly well defined, but they are covered with what seems like a thin bark which encloses a kind of pithy substance forming the body and from the head of some of them there is a species of vegetable shoot covered also with bark and having no apparent purpose in relation to the Economy of the animal.2

My description of it is wholy without scientific pretension— I do not know whether it is a novelty in this country, but if you have not yet seen any specimens of it, I should feel favored by the permission to wait upon you with those in my possession. They seem to me objects of very extraordinary interest.

I am Sir | Your most obedient Servant | W. G. Howell.


No further information on the identity of the correspondent has been found. The year is established from the embossed notepaper and from the date. The notepaper is that of the Junior Athenaeum Club, which was founded in 1864. Between 1864 and CD’s death in 1882, 14 April fell on a Tuesday only in 1868 and 1874.
Howell’s description is consistent with the appearance of larvae of the family Psychidae, bagworm or case moths, but no further correspondence on the topic has been found.


Has some "vegetable caterpillars" from New Zealand and will be pleased to show them to CD if he is interested.

Letter details

Letter no.
W. G. Howell
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Junior Athenaeum Club
Source of text
DAR 166: 275
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6119,” accessed on 2 July 2020,

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