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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. T. Moggridge   6 October 1872

2 Montague Villas | Richmond | (Surrey)

6 Oct. | 1872

My dear Sir

I am now on the point of leaving England for Mentone (we start on Wednesday next), & I am anxious before going to ask your permission to be allowed to send you a copy of a little book, which I have been engaged during the past summer in preparing, on the Habits & dwellings of the Harvesting Ants & Trap-door spiders of the Riviera.1

You were so good as to express some interest in my observations, reported to you in a letter last year, on these seed-carrying ants, which are, contrary to the general belief of naturalists, common objects in the south—2 If you will accept this little publication you will see that I have been able to collect several details as to the manner in which these creatures cut, carry & store their harvest, their manner of life & relations to other ants.

The true harvesting ants are, as far as I have yet seen, easily known by their habits; but there are other species of ant which, though clearly dependent in the main upon sweet secretions & animal matter for their living, do occasionally collect a few seeds & thus shew a trace of this instinct.

The great majority of species in the neighbourhood of Cannes & Mentone are not collectors of seed, &, indeed, there are but three species to which the name of harvester can properly apply—

These three species are however very common, & two of them may frequently be seen by the road side or crossing the paths in long lines, & are very familiar objects.—3

The trap-door spiders have been forced upon my attention by my attention by a friend, & I am now most deeply interested in their structure & habits—4

Up to the present time only one type of nest has been described in Europe, namely that in which the cylindrical silk-lined tube is closed by a solid door composed of layers of earth & silk & which fits into the aperture of the tube much as a cork does into the neck of a bottle (Fig. A).

To this type I am now able to add two others, & these posess two doors, one at the surface of the ground & one some inches below (Figs. B & C.).


In these nests the surface door is always thin & wafer-like & merely serves to conceal the aperture of the tube upon which it is laid, while the lower door is solid & capable of offering mechanical resistance.

I will not however trouble you with further details, as I hope to explain these fully in the book which should appear in the end of next month.—

I have drawn the plates & nearly completed the MS., but am anxious to make a few additional observations at Mentone before going to print.

I am indebted to Mr. Pickard Cambridge for the names & descriptions of the four species of Trap-door spider found on the Riviera, & Prof. Ausserer has also been so good as to give his opinion as to their proper naming.—5 I greatly regret however that I have hitherto been unable to discover the males of any one of these spiders & it would seem that they are either very scarce or exceptionally well concealed—6

This letter need not require an answer; at least if I do not receive one I shall take it for granted that I may send my book— | Believe me | Yrs. very sincerely | J. Traherne Moggridge.


Owing to chronic ill health, Moggridge spent most winters at Mentone (now Menton), a town on the French Riviera near the Italian border (R. Desmond 1994). CD’s annotated copy of Harvesting ants and trap-door spiders (Moggridge 1873) is in the Darwin Library–CUL (see Marginalia 1: 589).
In Moggridge 1873, pp. 15–16, Moggridge named the three harvester ant species, Atta barbara (now Messor barbarus, the Mediterranean harvester ant), A. structor (now Messor structor), and Pheidole megacephala.
In Moggridge 1873, p. 79 n., Moggridge wrote, ‘This priority [of new observations on the habits of trap-door spiders] belongs to the Hon. Mrs. Richard Boyle, to whom I owe it that I ever took up the subject.’ He refers to Eleanor Vere Boyle.
The species descriptions in Moggridge 1873, pp. 89–90, 92–4, 101–3, and 108–11, were written by Octavius Pickard-Cambridge. Moggridge also included an appendix of species of Territelariae of Europe and the Mediterranean region identified by Anton Ausserer (ibid., pp. 143–4). The Territelariae spiders described in the appendix are now classified within the families Ctenizidae, Nemesiidae, Atypidae, Idiopidae, Hexathelidae, Barychelidae, and Theraphosidae within the suborder Orthognatha, mygalomorph spiders.
Moggridge later discovered the male of a species first identified by him, Nemesia eleanora (see Moggridge 1873, pp. 109–10).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Desmond, Ray. 1994. Dictionary of British and Irish botanists and horticulturists including plant collectors, flower painters and garden designers. New edition, revised with the assistance of Christine Ellwood. London: Taylor & Francis and the Natural History Museum. Bristol, Pa.: Taylor & Francis.

Marginalia: Charles Darwin’s marginalia. Edited by Mario A. Di Gregorio with the assistance of Nicholas W. Gill. Vol. 1. New York and London: Garland Publishing. 1990.

Moggridge, John Traherne. 1873. Harvesting ants and trap-door spiders: notes and observations on their habits and dwellings. London: L. Reeve & Co.


He will send his book [Harvesting ants and trap-door spiders (1873)]. Describes two new types of trap-door spider nests.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Traherne Moggridge
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 171: 216
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8546,” accessed on 4 December 2020,

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