skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From W. D. Crotch   17 November 1872

Richmond Green | Surrey

Nov. 17/72

My dear Sir,

I have returned from Norway after four delightful months but without being able to solve the problem of the horns of the ♀ Rendeer.—1 All that one man—a hunter who lived among them—could say was that he never saw the hinds when dropping their calves, but that on their reappearance after a month’s absence or concealment the horns are renewed—2 I have however offered a reward which will probably clear up the matter next spring.3

We had a most unusual migration of Lemmings this year— They must have come in the winter as there were none in Octr. last year, & in the spring of this year they swarmed— I cannot comprehend their aimless habit of swimming out on the lakes—unless it should be to clean themselves of fleas—with which they were all infested— or is it merely the migratory impulse— there were at least 4 broods this summer, & it seems incomprehensible that this army should ever vanish (as it doubtless will) next year. Nearly all the older specimens were denuded of hair on the rump & sore, but I could not find out the cause, but strongly suspect it arose from their unreasonable ferocity— the approach of even a fancied enemy makes them yell & dance with rage, while keeping the back against some favoring stone, & as their real enemies are legion I fancy the abrasion is caused by their perpetually putting their “backs up”— They are however most unpalateable, to me & my dogs— the foxes don’t seem to eat many of those they kill but it is confidently believed that Rendeer & even Cows eat them.—4 I hear from my Brother at Philadelphia—en route for everywhere—he is collecting most vigorously & I should much like to join him—5 I have, however, taken a house here for 7 years & cannot well be away the whole year—

I am sorry to have failed this time when I thought myself secure of the information but still hope—& am | ever yours sincerely | W D Crotch

CD annotations

1.4 but that … renewed— 1.5] double scored blue crayon
2.1 We had … year. 2.7] crossed blue crayon
Top of letter: ‘W D. Crotch’ blue crayon; ‘(2)’ pencil


In Descent 2: 243–4, CD argued that the antlers of female reindeer were of no use to them. Crotch had written to him suggesting that they were used by the pregnant females to drive off the males once the males had cleared snow from the grass with their forefeet (Correspondence vol. 19, letter from W. D. Crotch, 24 October 1871).
CD cited Crotch for this information in Descent 2d ed., p. 503.
Crotch sent CD his findings in his letter of 14 November 1873 (Correspondence vol. 21).
Crotch published his findings on the lemmings, the product of ten consecutive summers spent in Norway, in Crotch 1876.
George Robert Crotch was an entomologist; the brothers had travelled together on collecting expeditions. George had provided CD with information on stridulation in beetles for Descent.


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

Crotch, William Duppa. 1876. On the migration and habits of the Norwegian lemming. [Read 4 May 1876.] Additional note relative to the Norwegian lemming. [Read 15 June 1876.] Further remarks on the lemming. [Read 2 November 1876.] Journal of the Linnean Society (Zoology) 13 (1878): 27–34, 83, 157–60.

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

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


Horns of female reindeer disappear after their calves are dropped [see Descent, 2d ed., p. 503].

Lemmings in Norway.

Letter details

Letter no.
William Duppa Crotch
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Richmond, Surrey
Source of text
DAR 88: 116a–b
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8632,” accessed on 3 August 2020,

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