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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Alois Humbert1   [before 18] January 18732

J’ai pour cabinet de travail, pendant l’été, une chambre qui est tapissée d’un papier semé de bouquets de fleurs disposés en rangées verticales. Ces bouquets sont composés de coquelicots et de bluets dont le facies est assez bien rendu, et de quelques autres fleurs reproduites avec plus de fantaisie.

La chambre en question étant située au premier étage & dominant une terrasse bordée de massifs de fleurs, il y entre souvent des insectes ailés par la fenêtre qui est presque constamment ouverte pendant la journée; les Moro-sphinx (Macroglossa stellatarum)3 me font en particulier de fréquentes visites. Quelquefois cet insecte ne fait qu’entrer brusquement & ressortir aussitôt comme un trait. D’autres fois, lorsqu’un individu a pénétré à une certaine distance dans la chambre, les fleurs de la tapisserie attirent son attention & il se précipite sur un des bouquets.4 Après avoir vainement essayé de plonger sa trompe dans les différentes fleurs, il passe, par un mouvement rapide, de ce premier bouquet à celui qui est immédiatement au dessus, puis au suivant, en allant toujours d’un de ces groupes de fleurs à celui qui lui est immédiatement supérieur. Lorsqu’il a ainsi exploré tous les bouquets d’une des bandes verticales de la tapisserie, il saute brusquement à un des bouquets d’une série voisine, et recommence sa même manœuvre, c’est à dire s’arrête successivement devant chaque bouquet de la rangée, en progressant de bas en haut.

Suivant les cas, le Sphinx reste plus ou moins longtemps dans la chambre et s’arrête devant un plus ou moins grand nombre de bouquets, puis il repart subitement par la fenêtre. L’individu que j’ai vu persévérer avec le plus d’acharnement dans ces efforts inutiles explora successivement au moins de 25 à 30 bouquets.—

Aloïs Humbert

Genève. Janvier 1873.

CD annotations

2.7 Après … fleurs, 2.8] underl red crayon
End of letter: ‘The Humming-Bird Sphinx Moth fly to flowers, on Wall-paper’ ink

Footnotes

For a translation of this letter, see Appendix I.
The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 18 January [1873]. This letter may have been enclosed with the letter from Alphonse de Candolle, 14 January 1873.
Macroglossa stellatarum is now known as Macroglossum stellatarum (the humming-bird hawk-moth; CD knew it as the humming-bird sphinx, see his annotation).
In his letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 11 December 1872 (Correspondence vol. 20), CD asked Candolle about butterflies alighting on brightly coloured dresses. CD added Humbert’s testimony to Descent 2d ed., p. 317 (without mentioning his name); see also Descent 1: 400.

Bibliography

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

Translation

From Alois Humbert1   [before 18] January 18732

My study during the summer is a room hung with a paper strewn with bunches of flowers arranged in vertical rows. These bunches are made up of poppies and cornflowers, whose appearance is fairly well rendered, and of a few other flowers reproduced with more freedom.

As the room in question is situated on the first floor and overlooks a terrace edged with flower borders, winged insects often come in through the window, which is nearly always open during the day; Humming-bird sphinxes (Macroglossa stellatarum)3 in particular pay me frequent visits. Sometimes this insect only enters abruptly & leaves again like a shot. On other occasions, once an individual has penetrated a certain distance into the room, the flowers on the wallpaper attract its attention & it launches itself at one of the bunches.4 After having tried in vain to plunge its proboscis into the various flowers, it goes in a swift motion from this initial bunch to the one immediately above it then to the next, going always from one of these groups of flowers to one immediately above it. When it has thus explored all the bunches in one of the vertical stripes, it skips abruptly to one of the bunches in an adjacent sequence, and begins the same manoeuvre again, that is to say it stops in front of each bunch in the row in succession, progressing from the bottom to the top.

Depending on the case, a Sphinx moth may remain in the room for more or less time, stopping in front of a greater or lesser number of bunches, before suddenly departing out of the window. The individual that I saw persevere most doggedly in these fruitless efforts explored at least 25 to 30 bunches in succession.—

Aloïs Humbert

Geneva. January 1873.

Footnotes

For a transcription of this letter in its original French, see pp. 47–8.
The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 18 January [1873]. This letter may have been enclosed with the letter from Alphonse de Candolle, 14 January 1873.
Macroglossa stellatarum is now known as Macroglossum stellatarum (the humming-bird hawk-moth; CD knew it as the humming-bird sphinx, see his annotation).
In his letter to Alphonse de Candolle, 11 December 1872 (Correspondence vol. 20), CD asked Candolle about butterflies alighting on brightly coloured dresses. CD added Humbert’s testimony to Descent 2d ed., p. 317 (without mentioning his name); see also Descent 1: 400.

Bibliography

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 26 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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.

Summary

On a humming-bird Sphinx moth which tried to extract nectar from flowers on wallpaper. [See Descent, 2d ed., p. 317.]

Letter details

Letter no.
DCP-LETT-8718
From
Alois Humbert
To
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Geneva
Source of text
DAR 89: 76
Physical description
2pp (French) inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8718,” accessed on 10 December 2019, https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-8718.xml

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21

letter