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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Berry Benson   10 April 1874

Augusta, Ga.,

10 April 1874.

Chas. Darwin Esq.

Dear Sir:

Knowing that your time must be very valuable I hope not to occupy too much with this letter, I shall try to make it concise. I wish to call your attention to an error into which you have fallen;— how, I cannot imagine, unless it be from the habits of the animals in question differing in our two countries. In your book, “Expr. of the Emo.” you write, in Chap. 1, under the head of “Associated habitual movements in the lower animals”, (p. 44 in the American edition,):—

“Dogs and jackals take much pleasure in rolling & rubbing their necks & backs on carrion. The odour seems delightful to them, though dogs at least do not eat carrion.”1

Now, I beg to assure you that in this country dogs do eat carrion, as I have myself often been eye-witness to, and as recently as yesterday when I stopped for some time to 〈    〉 well assured of the fact, having your statement in 〈    〉 the time. Lest you might suppose that the 〈2 or 3 words〉 that of a horse,) was but just dead & so 〈2 or 3 words〉 be denominated “carrion”, I will add that there was little of it left but the bones, & it had been extremely offencive for some days, as I had known to my annoyance having had to pass it every evening on my way home 〈1 or 2 words〉try. I doubt not you could 〈5 or 6 words〉 of my evidence on this point, should you think the 〈4 or 5 words〉 Whether dogs are impelled to the 〈4 or 5 words〉 necessity, being ill-fed,2 I cannot 〈3 or 4 words〉 am not sure, I think that every 〈3 or 4 words〉 are guilty of eating it.

In your “Nat. Voyage round the World” 〈3 or 4 words〉 〈  〉tion of the “mud-wasps” as occurring in 〈  〉. With us they are very common, their nests are to be found everywhere, especially in outhouses where care is not taken to keep them knocked down. In the woods they are generally found in the sheltered crevices of old stumps or rocks. As each nest contains quite a number of torpid or poisoned spiders, (I do not think they are dead), I have thought some entomologist might be glad to get them, and I would be glad to serve the interests of science by furnishing them if he would undertake to pay the small express freight.3 The collecting would cost nothing, as little boy friends of mine would undertake that as sport. If the spiders would “keep”, out of the nests, they could be sent by post in pasteboard boxes, & the expense of carriage would then be very light, & I could prepay 〈    〉 I was once witness to a combat betwixt 〈    〉 large spider, which lasted for several days and ended in the death (or paralysis) 〈3 or 4 words〉 The death (?)-blow was given with 〈2 or 3 words〉 forward portion of the body, 〈5 or 6 words〉 it at the time, being then a 〈1 line〉 witnessed quite an instance of injury 〈4 or 5 words〉 of one of these mud-wasps. Sit-〈4 or 5 words〉 she saw one approach a web ma〈de〉 〈    〉 spider &, raising one of his fore legs, take 〈    〉 web, & give it a shake. This was done 〈2 or 3 words〉 evidently with the intention of deluding 〈    〉 spider into the belief that an insect was entangled & was struggling in the web. Out ran the spider to see, but no sooner had he caught sight of his enemy than, letting go his hold, he dropped down upon the piazza-floor, where he was followed by the wasp, but the spider escaped. A little while afterwards, the wasp came back to the web and gave it another shake.

With regard to cross-fertilisation, I think the trumpet flower here,4 in its arrangement of pistil & stamens, shows a marked evidence of the agency of insects, but as you probably know the flower, I will not add more to 〈    〉 already too long letter.

Please do not consider it as at all incumbent upon 〈you to〉 answer this, as in calling your attention to 〈    〉 〈conce〉rning the dogs my purpose in writing 〈    〉 restricted. Unless, indeed, you would find 〈    〉 〈spi〉ders which I could send, of service 〈    〉 I would be glad to know it, 〈    〉 pleasure in forwarding them

Yours truly | Berry Benson

CD annotations

Top of letter: ‘The 〈    〉[insistent] that Dogs do eat carrion so add (at least well-fed dogs)’ ink


The passage is from Expression, p. 44.
In Expression 2d ed., p. 47, the passage is modified: ‘dogs (at least well-fed dogs) do not eat carrion’.
In Journal of researches 2d ed., pp. 35–6, CD had described wasps’ nests in Brazil full of half-dead and paralysed spiders, and the manner in which wasps preyed upon spiders. CD did not refer to ‘mud wasps’ (or mud daubers), a name commonly applied to wasps that build their nests from mud.
The reference is possibly to angel’s trumpet; one genus (Datura) is native to the United States and Mexico.


Expression 2d ed.: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. 2d edition. Edited by Francis Darwin. London: John Murray. 1890.

Expression: The expression of the emotions in man and animals. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Journal of researches 2d ed.: Journal of researches into the natural history and geology of the countries visited during the voyage of HMS Beagle round the world, under the command of Capt. FitzRoy RN. 2d edition, corrected, with additions. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1845.


Supplies evidence to the contrary of CD’s assertion in Expression that dogs do not eat carrion.

Offers to send mud-wasps.

Letter details

Letter no.
Berry Benson
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Augusta, Ga.
Source of text
DAR 160: 149
Physical description
3pp damaged †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9401,” accessed on 22 October 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 22