skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

From Richard Strachey   9 December 1873

Stowey House | Clapham Common

9 Decr /73

Dear Mr. Darwin

You may remember that when I had the pleasure of being at your house I spoke to you about Bees in the Himalaya cutting the tubes of flowers to facilitate the extraction of honey.1 You said that the cutting was done to save time & that where the flowers were not numerous in one place they were not cut. I mentioned this when writing to a friend of mine at Simla2 in whose garden I had seen the cutting and he now writes—

“Darwin is quite right. This year my fuschias flowered badly so that there were not many together & they were not cut. I will look out next season & try to catch the bee. My impression is that both kinds of bees suck at the opening when made in the tube— Which bee cuts I cannot say. I never saw the process of cutting going on”

The two sorts of bees are Humble & Hive.3 The former certainly cuts as I saw them doing it.

My friend also writes as follows— “During the rains here certain small snails let themselves down from trees by threads spun from their tails— The kind of snail that does this is a small semitransparent light brown shelled creature about the size of a sixpence & squat withal.

He comes down in a jerkey sort of way descending from 12 an Inch to 2 or 3 Inches at a jerk, and some times remaining a long time without making any progress— I have seen them thus descend about 15 feet, & some times they drop when within 6 feet or less from the ground— This perhaps is not voluntary. I have only seen them descend from the Simla Oak”4

Possibly this may interest you. He seems to imply that the descent has something to do with the rain though it is not distinctly stated   Can it be to get protection sooner as the progress of a Gasteropod of the size in question over the rough bark of a tree would be difficult & slow.

In case your son George is with you please say that I am trying to get the Geographical Society to give some money to make some actual trials of the Globe plans—5 I will let him know the result. I think I shall get what is wanted—

Believe me | Yours very truly | R Strachey

C. Darwin Esq

CD annotations

2.1 “Darwin … on” 2.4] ‘So Hive-Bees here profit by work, no doubt of Humble-Bees’ added pencil
4.1 My friend … stated 6.2] crossed pencil
6.2 Can it be … wanted— 7.3] crossed blue crayon


Strachey visited Down on 23 August 1873 (Emma Darwin’s diary (DAR 242)).
Simla (now Shimla) was the summer capital of British India (Columbia gazetteer of the world).
Strachey refers to the genera Bombus and Apis. European species of Apis do not cut nectar holes, but may use those made by Bombus species (see Asmussen 1993).
The snail described was probably a species of Macrochlamys such as M. indica (identification by Fred Naggs of the Natural History Museum, London).
George Howard Darwin had made a presentation about a portable globe to the geographical section at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in September 1873 (see letter from Richard Strachey, 25 August 1873 and n. 3).


Asmussen, C. B. 1993. Pollination biology of the sea pea, Lathyrus japonicus: floral characters and activity and flight patterns of bumblebees. Flora: Morphologie, Geobotanik, Oekophysiologie 188: 227–37.

Columbia gazetteer of the world: The Columbia gazetteer of the world. Edited by Saul B. Cohen. 3 vols. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998.


Sends observations from a friend in India confirming CD’s view that bees cut the tubes of flowers to extract [nectar] in order to save time.

Also observations on snails descending from trees on threads suspended from their tails.

Letter details

Letter no.
Richard Strachey
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Clapham Common
Source of text
DAR 46.2: C56–7
Physical description
4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9176,” accessed on 28 March 2020,

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