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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Gerard Krefft   3 May 1873

Australian Museum

May 3d. 1873

My dear Mr Darwin

I continue my observations on things which interest you and before I forget it let me tell you that Professor Huxley wrote a paper on the relationship of birds to reptiles which was reprinted in the “Annals” but I do not know exactly when,—about 2 or 3 years ago.—1

Considering the subject for a while I thought that the most bird-like Lizards would be those who occasionally hop on their hind-legs, and after a a short examination of specimens at hand, I came to the conclusion that our Grammatophora’s and similar genera would perhaps solve the question2   At that time I had a kind of vivarium near the entrance gate to the Museum but those young monkeys our boys3 were too much for the establishment they always managed to injure my specimens & I was about removing the case when it occurred to me to try the frilled Lizards, whereof I had several, with a surprise. Stepping into the enclosure I made a dart at one of them when crouched in a corner (catching sunbeams) and appearing altogether very comfortable; to my surprise the Lizard expanded her frill (which was natural) and rose her fore legs off the ground—taking a position which I had never seen before in a lizard & which only one Lizard in my opinion can assume and that is this identical Chlamydosaurus Kingii.4 I kept my specimens for a few weeks longer and by sudden darts, made some of them not only rise, but “hop” once or twice.— The facts were communicated to Professor Huxley but nothing came of it; I even went to the trouble to forward a skeleton of a Chlamydosaurus but nothing more was heard of its arrival nor were any of my letters acknowledged & I presume they were lost.—

Considering the subject of importance I now communicate it to you and when you come to consider the general structure and the habits of Lizards you must confess that very few of the tribe could perform the feat and rise on their hind legs.—

A few days ago I received the accompanying Chrysalis of a Papilio Sarpedon from Mr G. Masters (Assist. Curator to this Museum & a keen observer) which I had photographed & now forward to you.5 My friend tells me that he received the specimen from a “nurseryman” Mr Shepperd I think whose garden is one of the best near this City6   Mr S. noticed the grubs feeding on some plant & covered it over with a net but in spite of his care he confesses to have been unable for a long time to find the Chrysalis which as you observe looks very much like the leaf to which it is attached & is of the same pale sea-green colour

I think it is one of the finest examples of mimickery in a Chrysalis I have seen or heard of & it is not to be wondered at that the Chrysalis of Papilio sarpedon has escaped observation so long.—

I hope you received the set of large Photo’s of Queensland Blacks I sent you by last mail7 & I remain | dear Mr Darwin | Yours very faithfully | Gerard Krefft

Many thanks for your kind present.8 I also enclose a group of New Guinea men taken by Mr D’Albertis an Italian gentleman recently arrived here from N G.9 I also send some meteorological observation to show how it can rain here.—10 | GK


This is probably a reference to Thomas Henry Huxley’s ‘On the animals which are most nearly intermediate between birds and reptiles’ (T. H. Huxley 1868a).
Grammatophora, a name now used for a genus of algae, was formerly the name of a genus of lizards (now Ctenophorus) of the family Agamidae (dragon lizards). According to Krefft, the common Grammatophora was found in nearly every part of Australia (Krefft 1862, p. 30). For more on bipedalism in agamid lizards, see Clemente et al. 2008.
Krefft possibly refers to the local museum employees. It is unlikely that he refers to his sons Rudolf, who was only around four years old in 1873, and Archibald, who was born in 1871 and died in 1872.
The Chlamydosaurus kingii, or frilled lizard, of the family Agamidae, is indigenous to Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, and New Guinea.
George Masters collected extensively for Krefft. Papilio sarpedon is now Graphium sarpedon, the common bluebottle swallowtail butterfly. CD sent the photograph of Papilio sarpedon to Alfred Russel Wallace (see Marchant ed. 1916, 1: 316–17).
Thomas William Shepherd was proprietor of the Darling nursery in Sydney, and had employed Masters as a gardener in the early 1860s (Maiden 1908, p. 119; Aust. dict. biog. s.v. Masters, George).
These photographs have not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
CD had promised to send Krefft a copy of Origin 6th ed. (see letter to Gerard Krefft, 17 February 1873).
Luigi Maria D’Albertis had arrived in New Guinea in April 1872 in order to collect specimens, but recurrent illness forced him to spend ten months in Sydney in 1873 before returning to Italy (DBI). The photograph has not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.
The observations have not been found in the Darwin Archive–CUL.


Aust. dict. biog.: Australian dictionary of biography. Edited by Douglas Pike et al. 14 vols. [Melbourne]: Melbourne University Press. London and New York: Cambridge University Press. 1966–96.

DBI: Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. Edited by Alberto M. Ghisalberti et al. 100 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana. 1960–2020.

Krefft, Gerard. 1862. On the vertebrated animals of the Lower Murray and Darling, their habits, economy, and geographical distribution. [Read 10 September 1862.] Transactions of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales (1862–5): 1–33.

Maiden, J. H. 1908. Records of Australian botanists–(a) general, (b) New South Wales. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales 42: 60–132.

Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.


Suggests hopping lizards may show the connection between reptiles and birds as proposed by Huxley.

Letter details

Letter no.
Johann Louis Gerard (Gerard) Krefft
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Australian Museum Sydney
Source of text
DAR 169: 118
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8895,” accessed on 29 May 2023,

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