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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Otto Staudinger   6 May [1868]1

Down Bromley Kent S.E

May. 6

Dear Sir

I do not know whether you will excuse the liberty which I take in writing to you and begging a favour.

I have been corresponding with Mr H Doubleday on the relative number of the males & females in Lepidoptera, & he sent me your Lepidopt-doubletten list No X, that I might judge of the number of the males comparatively with the females, by their prices.2 I have tabulated all the cases (excluding the moths with apterous females) & I find that in the Rhopalocera there are 113 species & vars. in which the males are cheaper & therefore apparently commoner than the females; & one case alone in which the female is cheaper. In the Heterocera there are 130 sp. & vars. in which the male is cheaper, and 11 sp. in which the female is cheaper.3 Now some English lepidopterists maintained in a discussion at our Entomolog. Soc. that in a state of nature the males are much more plentiful than the females; but that when bred from the caterpillar or egg-state the females are generally the most numerous.4 In a book which I am preparing I intend to specify the results above given from your published lists, and the favour which I wish to beg of you is that you will look through your list and kindly inform me whether in those cases in which the males are cheapest, and in a few cases in which the females are cheapest—whether the specimens have generally been caught in a state of nature, or have been bred from the caterpillar, or from the egg-state.5

If you will grant me this favour & allow me to quote the answer, I shall esteem it a very great kindness.

I beg leave to remain Dear Sir with much respect | yours faithfully & obliged | Charles Darwin


The year is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter from Henry Doubleday, 3 April 1868.
Henry Doubleday and CD exchanged letters in March and April 1868. Doubleday had sent CD Staudinger’s catalogue of European Lepidoptera (see letter from Henry Doubleday, 3 April 1868 and n. 1). In Descent 1: 312, CD cited the list as ‘Lepidopteren-Doubblettren Liste’, a mistake for ‘Lepidopteren-Doubbletten Liste’, List of duplicate lepidoptera (‘Doubbletten’ would now be spelled ‘Dubbletten’).
CD’s tables are in DAR 81: 84–6.
The discussion was reported in the Transactions of the Entomological Society of London (1868): x–xi (meeting of 17 February 1868); CD also mentioned this discussion in Descent 1: 310.
See Descent 1: 312.


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


Asks about the ratio of male to female Lepidoptera.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Otto Staudinger
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 147: 491
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6164,” accessed on 19 February 2020,

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