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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Hellins   16 December 1868

Chaplain’s House, | County Prison, | Exeter.

Decr 16. 1868

Dear Sir,

I now send you the result of my breeding this year;1 it has not borne out my opinion that females are more numerous than males, but that opinion is so firmly fixed in my mind by former experience that it will require further experiments—giving similar results to that of the present year, to make me relinquish it.

And really I think somehow I have been unlucky this year—for instance—my friend who gave me the 2 larvæ of D. Rubiginea,2 wh with me produced 2 ♂s—kept 8 for himself—& bred 8 ♀s!

If any other Lepidopterists have furnished you with their Lists, I shall be very much interested to know what they have made of this question.

As I said in a former letter—the fairest way would be—if one had the time & room—to rear large broods of such species as could be best managed, & not merely a few of several species: I know some people have a notion that the eggs first deposited would produce ♂s, & the latter part of the laying ♀s, but I am not sure of this; I have thought also that in the case of species wh lay from 2 to 4 eggs on one leaf, there would be a mixture of the sexes in each little batch, but I know now it is not so always.

yours very truly | J. Hellins


1 Thais polyxena
1 Pieris brassicæ
5 Vanessa urticæ 1

Chærocampa elpenor

2 Zygæna nubigena 2
3 Calligenia miniata 1

Lithosia complanula

2 molybdeola
9 griseola 9
1 Arctia fuliginosa
Bombyx quercus 1
Ourapteryx sambucata 1
6 Epione apiciaria 2
Selenia illunaria 1
3 Nyssia hispidaria 2
4 Boarmia perfumaria 1
2 Gnophos obscurata 1
Geometra papilionaria 1
1 Acidalia scutulata 9
5 biselata 2
9 interjectaria 2
5 holosericata 3
4 immutata 7
2 imitaria
Cabera pusaria 4
3 Strenia clathrata 3
2 Minoa euphorbiata 3
4 Aspilates citraria 5
Fidonia pinetaria 1
1 Lomaspilis marginata 1
Hybernia leucophæaria 1
2 progemmaria
1 defoliaria 1
Cheimatobia boreata 1
1 Eupithecia venosata
succenturiata 2
1 castigata
1 trisignata 2
2 albipunctata 2
5 virgaureata 5
8 expallidata 8
1 absynthiata 4
1 abbreviata
1 Hypsipetes elutata
Melanthia ocellata 1
6 albicillata 1
4 Coremia quadrifasciaria 1
1 Camptogramma bilineata 1
1 Scotosia undulata 2
4 Cidaria russata 1
5 immanata 7
120. carried up 105.
2 Eubolia bipunctaria 3
1 lineolata
3 Notodonta ziczac
chaonia 1
1 Aporophyla australis 3
4 Charæas graminis 2
2 Cuperina cæspitis
2 Mamestra brassicæ 2
1 persicariæ 3
1 Agrotis valligera 1
4 ripæ 7
tritici 1
1 præcox 1
Noctua triangulum 1
xanthographa 1
1 Tæniocampa miniosa 2
2 Dasycampa rubiginea
1 Hadena chenopodii
1 Calocampa exoleta 2
3 Heliothis peltigera 1
1 Ophiusa tirrhæa
2 Pionea forficalis 1
33 32
120 105
Totals. 153 males 137 females
16 excess for males
Grand Total 2904

CD annotations

End of table:
51 spec
73 sp.
pencil; ink over ‘73 sp.’
153 137
9 sp. 159 126
312. 263
263 : 312 :: 100 : x = 111.0
263 ) 3 0 2 0 0 ( 111.0
263 3 1 2 2 6 3
48 5 2 [Bombyx] 3 9 0
311 : 3 5 4 0 0 ( 113.5 2 6 3
3 1 1 2 7 0
4 3 0 2 6 3
3 1 1 7 0
1 1 9 0
9 3 3
1 5 7 0
1 2 4 4 [ink del ink]
3 2 6 [ink del ink]
1 5 5 5
100 : 113.5
Total 6655


See enclosure. Hellins had sent with his letter of 20 April 1868 a list of Lepidoptera species specimens of which he had caught or reared.
Dasycampa rubiginea (now Conistra rubiginea, the dotted chestnut).
Hellins refers to Thais polyxena (now Zerynthia polyxena, the southern festoon), Pieris brassicae (the large white), Vanessa urticae (the small tortoiseshell), Chaerocampa elpenor (now Deilephila elpenor, the large elephant hawk-moth), Zygaena nubigena (now a subspecies of Z. purpuralis, the transparent burnet), Calligenia miniata (now Miltochrista miniata, the rosy footman), Lithosia complanula (now Eilema lurideola, the common footman), L. molybdeola (now Eilema complana, the scarce footman), L. griseola (now Eilema griseola, the dingy footman), Arctia fuliginosa (now Phragmatobia fuliginosa, the ruby tiger), Bombyx quercus (now Lasiocampa quercus, the oak eggar), Ourapteryx sambucata (misspelling of O. sambucaria, the swallow-tailed moth), Epione apiciaria (now E. repandaria, the bordered beauty), Selenia illunaria (now S. dentaria, the early thorn), Nyssia hispidaria (now Apocheima hispidaria, the small brindled beauty), Boarmia perfumaria (now Peribatodes rhomboidaria, the willow beauty), Gnophos obscurata (now Charissa obscurata, the annulet), Geometra papilionaria (the large emerald), Acidalia scutulata (now Idaea dimidiata, the single-dotted wave), A. biselata (now Idaea biselata, the small fan-footed wave), A. interjectaria (now Idaea fuscovenosa, the dwarf cream wave), A. holosericata (now Idaea dilutaria, the silky wave), A. immutata (now Scopula immutata, the lesser cream wave), A. imitaria (probably a misspelling of A. emutaria, now Scopula emutaria the rosy wave), Cabera pusaria (the common white wave), Strenia clathrata (now Semiothisa clathrata, the latticed heath), Minoa euphorbiata (now M. murinata, the drab looper), Aspitates citraria (now A. ochrearia, the yellow belle), Fidonia pinetaria (now Semiothisa brunneata, the rannoch looper), Lomaspilis marginata (the clouded border), Hybernia leucophaearia (now Agriopis leucophaearia, the spring usher), Hybernia progemmaria (now Agriopis marginaria, the dotted border), Hybernia defoliaria (now Erannis defoliaria, the mottled umber), Cheimatobia boreata (now Operophtera fagata, the northern winter moth), Eupithecia venosata (the netted pug), E. succenturiata (the bordered pug), E. castigata (now E. subfuscata, the gray pug), E. trisignata (now E. trisignaria, the triple-spotted pug), E. albipunctata (now E. tripunctaria, the white-spotted pug), E. virgaureata (the golden-rod pug), E. expallidata (the bleached pug), E. absynthiata (a misspelling of E. absinthiata, the wormwood pug), E. abbreviata (the brindled pug), Hypsipetes elutata (now Hydriomena furcata, the July highflyer), Melanthia ocellata (now Melanthia procellata the pretty chalk carpet), M. albicillata (now Mesoleuca albicillata, the beautiful carpet), Coremia quadrifasciaria (probably Xanthorhoe quadrifasciata, the large twin-spot carpet), Camptogramma bilineata (the yellow shell), Scotosia undulata (now Rheumaptera undulata, the scallop shell), Cidaria russata (now Chloroclysta citrata, the dark marbled carpet), C. immanata (now Chloroclysta truncata, the common marbled carpet), Eubolia bipunctaria (now Scotopteryx bipunctaria, the chalk carpet), E. lineolata (now Phibalapteryx virgata the oblique striped), Notodonta ziczac (now Eligmodonta ziczac the pebble prominent), N. chaonia (now Drymonia ruficornis, the lunar mottled brown), Aporophyla australis (the feathered brindle), Charaeas graminis (now Cerapteryx graminis, the antler moth), Cuperina caespitis (a misspelling of C. cespitis, now Tholera cespitis, the hedge rustic), Mamestra brassicae (the cabbage moth), M. persicariae (now Melanchra persicariae, the dot moth), Agrotis valligera (now A. vestigialis, the archer’s dart), A. ripae (the sand dart), A. tritici (now Euxoa tritici, the white-line dart), A. praecox (now Actebia praecox, the Portland moth), Noctua triangulum (now Xestia triangulum, the double square-spot), N. xanthographa (now Xestia xanthographa, the square-spot rustic), Taeniocampa miniosa (now Orthosia miniosa, the blossom underwing), Dasycampa rubiginea (now Conistra rubiginea, the dotted chestnut), Hadena chenopodii (now Discestra trifolii, the nutmeg), Calocampa exoleta (now Xylena exsoleta, the sword-grass), Heliothis peltigera (the bordered straw), Ophiusa tirrhaea (now Ophiusa tirhaca), and Pionea forficalis (now Evergestis forficalis, the garden pebble).
CD added Hellins’s totals to those from another list provided by Albert Hugh Jones (DAR 85: B83). The totals from these and other lists were recorded in Descent 1: 313.
CD added Hellins’s totals to those from another list provided by Albert Hugh Jones (DAR 85: B83). The totals from these and other lists were recorded in Descent 1: 313.


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


Results of his breeding have not borne out his opinion that females are more numerous in Lepidoptera [see Descent 1: 313]. Still convinced he is right, suggests only way to settle question is by controlled breeding of large numbers of each species.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Hellins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 85: B76–7, B84
Physical description
4pp, table †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6506,” accessed on 8 March 2021,

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