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Darwin Correspondence Project

From ?   September 1872

Septr. 1872.

It is now some years since my attention was called to what appeared to me a noticeable peculiarity in the Domestic Cat.1

While conversing with a friend on Natural History, he remarked that Cats leave the houses in which dead bodies lie. Determined to find out the truth of his remark, I subsequently took notice of many cases that occurred during my Practice as a Medical man, and found the result was the same, viz, that the Cats appeared always to have deserted the house, or room, in which a dead body was placed, and invariably returned to their old quarters after it’s removal for interment.

A few weeks ago my attention was drawn more particularly to the following facts:

A person living near me owned several of these domestic Creatures, one amongst the number having given birth to a litter of kittens. These had been promised to me (as soon as old enough to be removed from the Mother) for toxological experiments.

A day or two after, the person above referred to, was so unfortunate as to lose his Child.

However before the interment took place I made enquiries concerning the promised kittens, which were being reared for the good of Science, and was informed that all the Cats had left the Premises, including the mother of the kittens, the day on which the child died. It was supposed from their disappearing so suddenly that they had been poisoned, the kittens, having been deserted by the mother, as a matter of course died, but what appears more strange is, that on the day following the removal of the dead body from the house, all the Cats (about seven) returned, including the mother of the young ones.

I have subsequently noticed another similar case, which it will be needless to detail.


CD had discussed the instinctive behaviours and mental powers of animals, including the domestic cat, in Descent 1: 34–106.


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


On cats’ habit of leaving the room or house in which a corpse is lying.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 159: 141
Physical description
Amem 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8503,” accessed on 12 August 2020,

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