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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hague   26 June 1873

By a somewhat singular coincidence the first reappearance, since last winter, of any ants in the room where I then observed them occurred on the day when your last note arrived,—that is, after an interval of several months.1 Then a few were observed about the tumbler at the middle of the shelf and the vase at the other end from that whence they were first driven, although they all came from a hole near the base of the mantel, directly beneath the vase which they avoided.

Acting on Mr. M’s. suggestion, I first tried making simple finger marks on their path (the mantel is of marble) and found just the results which he describes in his note, as observed by himself at Mentone, that is, no marked symptoms of fear, but a dislike to the spot and an effort to avoid it by going around it, or by turning back and only crossing it again after an interval of time.2

I then killed several ants on the path, using a smooth stone or a piece of ivory, instead of my finger, to crush them. In this case the ants approaching all turned back as before and with much greater exhibition of fear than when the simple fingermarks was made. This I did repeatedly. The final result was the same as obtained last winter. They persisted in coming for a week or two, during which I continued to kill them, and then they disappeared and we have seen none since. It would appear from this that while the taint of the hand is sufficient to turn them back, the killing of their fellows, with a stone or other material, produces the effects described in my first note. This was made clear to me at that time from the behaviour of the ants the first day that I killed any, for on that occasion some of them approaching the vase from below, on reaching the upper edge of the mantel, peeped over and drew back on seeing what had happened about the vase, then turned away a little and after a moment tried again at another and another point along the edge with the same result in the end. Moreover, those that found themselves among the dead and dying, went from one writhing ant to another in great haste and excitement, exhibiting the signs of fright which I described.

I hardly hope that any will return again, but if they do, and give me an opportunity, I shall endeavour to act further on Mr. M’s. suggestion.3

James D. Hague.

San Francisco, June 26


CD’s last extant letter to Hague is dated 25 April [1873]. Hague had sent CD observations of ants (see letter from J. D. Hague, 26 February 1873, and second letter to Nature, [before 3 April 1873]).
CD had sent Hague comments on ant behaviour by John Traherne Moggridge; Moggridge’s note has not been found (see letter to J. D. Hague, 25 April [1873]).
CD sent Hague’s letter to Nature, where it was published together with a note by CD (see letter to Nature, [before 24 July 1873]).


Confirms previous observations on ants [see 8788].

Letter details

Letter no.
James Duncan Hague
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
San Francisco
Source of text
Nature, 24 July 1873, p. 244

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8954,” accessed on 6 July 2020,

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