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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Albert Günther   21 May 1872



My dear Mr Darwin

Carbonnier’s paper is known to me, and I have noticed it in Zoolog. Record VI. p. 133. & VII. p. 94. Macropus is a fish belonging to the family of Labyrinthici, the members of which are more or less domesticated in the East Indies, and I am sure (although I cannot prove it here in Europe) that many of the species and even genera recognized in our Catalogues are the products of domesticity.1 For that reason I recommended on a former occasion (Ann. & Mag. Nat. Hist. 1861. May, in a paper on Mugil) these fishes for acclimatization in Europe. The “Pla-Kat” mentioned by me there is most closely allied to “Macropus”.2

I have just finished the Record for 1871; and right glad I am of it; I trust I shall now find time of reading Gegenbaur’s paper with attention.3 In the Museum I have to look at present after many things about which I did not care formerly: Owen, Gray, Smith and Butler are on the sick-list, evidently under the influence of the shocking weather we have had.4

My own affairs are now all arranged as far as I am concerned; and I quietly wait for the issue of which I may hear in about four weeks.5 At all events I have the great satisfaction to have learned that my fellow-labourers hold me in higher esteem than I ever fancied; and if only half is fact what they have said in their testimonials, I was wrong in thinking that the success of my labours had never equalled my good intentions.

Yours ever truly | A Günther


No letter to Günther enquiring about this subject has been found. Günther mentioned Pierre Carbonnier’s papers on the breeding behaviour of a Chinese Macropodus (Macropus is a misspelling) in Zoological Record 6 (1869): 133 and 7 (1870): 94. CD cited Carbonnier’s papers (Carbonnier 1869 and 1870) in Descent 2d ed., pp. 341–2 and n. 27. According to Pauly 2004 (s.v. Gouramy), the fish in question was Macropodus opercularis (the paradise fish). Labyrinthici is a former order of fishes now represented by the suborder Anabantoidei, labyrinth fishes. The genus Macropodus is now in the subfamily Macropodinae of the family Osphronemidae.
Günther refers to Günther 1861; Mugil is the genus of grey mullets. The pla-kat, then Macropodus pugnax, is now Betta pugnax, the penang mouth-brooding fighting fish.
Günther had been editor of the Zoological Record up until 1869; when Alfred Newton took over with the 1870 issue, Günther continued to write a number of sections himself (Zoological Record 6 (1869), 7 (1870)). Günther refers to Carl Gegenbaur and Gegenbaur 1872 (see letter to Albert Günther, 11 May [1872] and n. 3).
Günther refers to colleagues at the British Museum: Richard Owen (superintendent of the natural history departments); John Edward Gray (keeper of the zoological collections); Arthur Gardiner Butler (assistant keeper, zoological department), and Edgar Albert Smith. There had been heavy rain in parts of the country in the previous week (The Times, 21 May 1872, p. 5 (‘The volunteers’)).
Günther had applied for the post of assistant keeper in the zoological department of the British Museum (letter from Albert Günther, 10 May 1872).


Descent 2d ed.: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. London: John Murray. 1874.

Gegenbaur, Carl. 1872. Ueber das Archipterygium. Jenaische Zeitschrift für Medizin und Naturwissenschaft 7 (1871–3): 131–41.

Günther, Albert Charles Lewis Gotthilf. 1861. On the British species of Mugil, or grey mullets. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3d ser. 7: 345–52.

Pauly, Daniel. 2004. Darwin’s fishes. An encyclopedia of ichthyology, ecology, and evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Believes many of the species and even genera of the fish family Labyrinthici are products of domestication.

Events at the British Museum.

Letter details

Letter no.
Albrecht Carl Ludwig Gotthilf (Albert) Günther
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 165: 251
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8344,” accessed on 30 September 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 20