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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Albert Günther   1 October 1871


Oct. 1. 71

My dear Sir

I am afraid my answers are this time not satisfactory; but it is all I can give, and do not know where else I could steal for you.1

I was very sorry to hear that you are very unwell; all I can say is “do not work”. You can be satisfied with having set the stone rolling; it will find its proper road whether you try to push it right or left, or whether you leave this part of the business to Messrs Mivart & Wright. Surely the latter cannot be a naturalist! Have you another copy to spare of Wright’s pamphlet, I gave mine to a friend who does not return it.2

I am going to Oxford tomorrow for a few days to see what I can do for their collection of Reptiles.3

If you know Dr. Murie, ask him for a copy of his restoration of Sivatherium. It will amuse you. There is so much poetry & artistic skill in it that I shall have it framed.4

I am hard at work at—alas—many things; but my chief work is continuing the examination of Ceratodus. I have now made out, that it not only has the sexual apparatus of a tailed Batrachian, but also invests its eggs with a glutinous substance as a frog or Salamander.5

With kindest regards | to Mrs Darwin | Yours most truly | A Günther


1, I have not seen the paper on the distribution of nerves in the ear of the Mouse. When I find it, I will let you know, although I am afraid it will be too late for your purpose.6

2, There is no Rodent with a structurally prehensile tail, more nearly related to Mus, than Synetheres (Cercolabes). But it may be of interest to you that several species of Mus have a functionally prehensile tail. I have seen only the other day some living specimens of the Harvest-Mouse (Mus minutus) in the possession of Prof. Maskelyne. In climbing up vertical reeds, or in moving from one reed to another they use their tail as much as if it were a truly prehensile organ; they wind it round a vertical or horizontal stem, suspend themselves by means of it, but they do not seize an object, except for the purposes of locomotion or sustaining themselves in a certain position.7

3, I know that Dr. Murie makes an Eland of the Sivatherium; & he will shortly publish a restored figure of it which gives it a broad, long muzzle, like that of the Eland, but not a proboscis.8

Macrauchenia has no proboscis, according to the best authorities9

4, That Galaxias goes down to the sea, is extremely improbable. Of the thousands of fishes received from the Southern Pacific, not one was a Galaxias; whenever Galaxias was sent, it was sent with other freshwater-forms. In the numerous letters I have received from Tasmania, Australia & New Zealand regarding these fishes, they were always described as truly Freshwater-forms; nothing was ever said or written about their having been met with in the sea.10 Yet they are as well known to the colonists as the Trout in Europe. I cannot add anything more than what you find in the Catalogue, with regard to their distribution.11 However, the case of Galaxias is somewhat strengthened by two well-marked forms of Lampreys being found in Australia & S.W. America. I can vouch for the correctness of the localities, as it has been confirmed over & over again.

a. Mordacia mordax distinguished by a most formidable dentition is found at Valparaiso and Tasmania (Catal. Fish. VIII. p. 507)

b. Geotria chilensis from Chile, New Zealand and Swan River (ibid. p. 509).12

Now, you will say the Lampreys enter the sea; nevertheless, it is also true that they do not go far from the mouth of the river which is their true home & place of birth. They are among the very worst swimmers, & to account for their passage across the Pacific, you must assume that they attached themselves to other fish which carried them across. They could not have gradually made their way across, as they do not spawn in the sea, but in rivers; & their spawn could not live in seawater.

CD annotations

1.1 1,… authorities 4.1] crossed pencil
End of enclosure: ‘Dr Günther | Oct. 1871.’ ink


Günther refers to the questions, now missing, that CD sent with his letter of 28 September [1871].
CD had paid for Chauncey Wright’s review of St George Jackson Mivart’s On the genesis of species to be reprinted as a pamphlet (Wright 1871a and 1871b; Mivart 1871a). See letter to John Murray, 13 September 1871. There is no record of when he sent a copy of Günther; Günther’s friend has not been identified.
Günther probably refers to a collection at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
James Murie published a woodcut of a possible reconstruction of the Indian fossil mammal Sivatherium giganteum with his article on the animal in the October 1871 issue of Geological Magazine (Murie 1871). The woodcut is reproduced on p. 607.
Günther had published on Ceratodus, a newly discovered fish from Queensland, Australia, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (Günther 1871a), and in Nature, 21 September 1871, pp. 406–8, and 28 September 1871, pp. 428–9 (Günther 1871b). He published these further observations in Nature, 5 October 1871, p. 447 (Günther 1871c). The Queensland Ceratodus, a lungfish, is now known as Neoceratodus forsteri, the name Ceratodus being reserved for its extinct relatives.
CD had probably asked about a paper by Josef Schöbl on the mouse’s ear as an organ of sensation; the paper was summarised in Nature, 27 July 1871, p. 253. The original paper was published in Archiv für mikroskopische Anatomie (Schöbl 1871). CD cited Schöbl for his work on the dense innervation of the mouse’s external ears in Origin 6th ed., p. 172. See also letter to Albert Günther, 3 October [1871].
See also letter to J. D. Hooker, 23 July [1871]. Synetheres and Cercolabes are synonyms of Coendou, a genus of New World porcupines. The harvest mouse is now Micromys minutus. Günther refers to Nevil Maskelyne.
See n. 4, above. Sivatherium is now considered to have been a member of the family Giraffidae (elands are members of the family Bovidae).
Macrauchenia, an extinct South American ungulate mammal, is thought to have had a short trunk (see Wall 1980). It was discovered by CD on the Beagle voyage (see Correspondence vol. 1, letter to J. S. Henslow, March 1834 and n. 3), although no part of the skull was discovered until 1860 (see T. H. Huxley 1860b). On the history of the classification of Macrauchenia, see Rachootin 1985.
In Origin 6th ed., p. 343, CD cited Günther for the information that Galaxias attenuatus (now G. maculatus, the inanga) inhabited Tasmania, New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, and mainland South America, and suggested that this indicated dispersal from an Antarctic centre during a former warm period. He added that species of the genus had the power of crossing ‘by some unknown means’ considerable distances of open ocean. It is now known that they are spawned in estuaries and spend five to six months at sea as juveniles before returning to fresh water (McDowall 1988).
Günther discussed Galaxias in his Catalogue of acanthopterygian fishes in the collection of the British Museum (Günther 1859–70, 6: 208–13). He said that they were found in fresh waters of the temperate zone of the southern hemisphere.
Günther refers to Günther 1859–70, 8: 507, 509. Mordacia mordax is the short-headed or Australian lamprey; Geotria chilensis is now Geotria australis, the pouched lamprey.


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 29 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Günther, Albert Charles Lewis Gotthilf. 1859–70. Catalogue of acanthopterygian fishes in the collection of the British Museum. 8 vols. London: by order of the Trustees.

McDowall, Robert Montgomery. 1988. Diadromy in fishes: migrations between freshwater and marine environments. London: Croom Helm.

Murie, James. 1871. On the systematic position of the Sivatherium giganteum of Falconer and Cautley. Geological Magazine 8: 438–48, 526–7.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Rachootin, Stan Philip. 1985. Owen and Darwin reading a fossil: Macrauchenia in a boney light. In The Darwinian heritage, edited by David Kohn. Princeton: Princeton University Press in association with Nova Pacifica (Wellington, NZ).

Wall, William P. 1980. Cranial evidence for a proboscis in Cadurcodon and a review of snout structure in the family Amynodontidae (Perissodactyla, Rhinocerotoidea). Journal of Paleontology 54: 968–77.


Sorry to hear of CD’s poor health.

Is hard at work examining Ceratodus.

Encloses discussion of Mus species with functionally prehensile tails.

Encloses argument against freshwater fish entering the sea.

Letter details

Letter no.
Albrecht Carl Ludwig Gotthilf (Albert) Günther
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 246; DAR 205.3: 274
Physical description
ALS 4pp encl 2pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7980,” accessed on 18 July 2024,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19