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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Archibald McNeill   20 February 1869

73 Gt. King Street | Edinr.

20th. Feby. 1869

Dear Sir

I am in receipt of yours of the 15th. & have much pleasure in furnishing you with any information of wh. I am possessed—1

I am of opinion that the females of Red Deer are not gathered to the males by the call but that the males seek out the females—

My observation is this, that a small herd of females has generally one large or master Stag with them who is constantly bellowing & chasing off the younger Stags from the herd   This Stag occasionally leaves the females & goes to one of the holes he has made on the margin of some small pool near to the place where the females resort & there continues bellowing, tearing the ground with his horns & rolling in the mud— He seems to be in a state of furor but why he rolls in wet mud till he is covered all over with it I do not understand as he might easily cool himself in the water of any stream or loch—

Stags usually (in a wild state) feed during the night & lie down in ferns or under wood at the approach of day, but during the rutting season they are so restless that they constantly keep roaming about & roaring tho’ no doubt they roar most & loudest during the night—

I have never heard a young stag under 3 years old roar,2 nor am I aware that Stags roar when fighting tho’ their fights almost invariably take place during the rutting season—

The Stags emit no strong odour during the rutting Season but their flesh at that season is strong tasted—

I may mention that during the rutting season the stags eat little & are so much reduced during the months of octr. & novr. that many of them die during the winter—

I do not know whether or not there is any enlargt. of the larynx during the rutting season but I can easily conceive that it shd. be so, as the neck swells & the whole frame seems to be in such a state of irritation that the Stags are constantly passing urine—

Believe me to be | Dear Sir | Yours truly | Archd. Mc.Neill

CD annotations

1.1 I am … possessed— 1.2] crossed pencil
2.1 I am … females— 2.2] crossed ink; double scored pencil
3.1 My … the night— 4.4] crossed pencil
5.1 I have … season— 5.3] crossed ink; double scored pencil
6.1 The … tasted— 6.2] scored pencil
7.1 I may … winter— 7.2] crossed pencil
8.1 I … urine— 8.3] crossed ink
8.2 easily … swells] scored pencil
Top of letter: ‘Voice & odour’ pencil


CD’s letter has not been found, but see the letter from George Cupples, 15 January 1869 and n. 5, and the letter from Archibald McNeill, 24 January 1869.
In Descent 2: 274–5, CD cited McNeill for this information.


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


Answers CD’s letter of 15 Feb about voice of female and odour of stag red deer.

Letter details

Letter no.
Archibald McNeill
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 83: 177–8
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6624,” accessed on 30 March 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 17