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Darwin Correspondence Project

From G. R. Waterhouse   11 November 1854

Brit. Mus.

Novr. 11—54

My dear Darwin—

I have got your note & am glad to learn that the little Catalogue1 I lent you is of some help— oh!— Ho! Ha! umph! what a deal there seems to be which ought to be said on the subject under consideration—2 But I will first give you a list of the more curious & aberrant forms of Curculionidæ that I am acquainted with— They are as follows—3

42 Camarotus {F 2} 62 Tanaos {3} 48.a Mesoptilius {1} 63 Ramphus {3} 52 Belus {6} 64 Tachygonus {3} 54 Homalocerus {3} 84 Calodromus {1} 55 Ithycerus {{Fam.}1} 86 Oxycorynus {2F} 57 Myrmacicelus {1} 87 Antliarhinus {5}

— 90 Ulocerus {4}

{14} — 91 Episus {18} {21} 92 Oxyrhynchus {3} 469 Læmosaccus {10} 93 Brachycerus {172} 480 Phænomerus {1} 95 Microcercus {8} 483 Apostasimerus {1} 210 Rhadinosomus {1} 491 Scambus {3} 231 Lithinus {2} 505 Sphadasmus {3} 247 Bastactes {1} 519–20 Synthliborhynchus {1} 265 Byrsops {25} 459 Heteropus {1} 275 Pteroplectus {1} 570 Mecopus {7} 287 Euomus {8} 585 Conophorus {1 Fam} 313 Cosmorhinus {2} 590 Campyloscelus {1} 341 Hyphantus {3} 591 & 2 perhaps equally 357–8 Strongylorhinus {1} or more aberrant {1} 366 Cnemidophorus {1 [‘1’ over ‘8’]} but I do not know them4 {2} 390 Otidocephalus {20} 593 Rhina {7} 396 Prionomerus {11} 595 Sipalus {17 [‘7’ over ‘6’]} 429 Anoplus {1} 597 Strombocerus {1} 437 Rhinaria {11} 631 Dryophthorus {4 Fam.}

—– 438 Orchestes {39} {60} 450 Rhinastus {2} {{478 Species}} 460 Nettarhinus {3} There are many genera 463 Trypetes {2} which I have good reason 468 Haplonyx {41} to believe are very aberrant

—– but which I have not seen—

{383 [before del ‘393’]} I know them only imperfectly

thro’ descriptions

{{62 Genera}}

Keeping in mind a sort of abstract idea of a type of each of the families of Curculeonidæ, the foregoing afford a very good notion I think, of the most aberrant forms—or, I should say, very aberrant forms, for there are many genera I am not acquainted with & perhaps among them are forms more aberrant than those enumerated—

This is without any theory of any kind— Stop!— You will see in my list that in certain cases I have given as aberrant certain genera which contain the only representatives of the family as constituted by Schonherr (such for instance, as Dryophthorus)5 & of course you will ask how it is that I can give such a genus as an aberrant example of the family— I answer, I could not help putting them down & you may run your pen thro’ them if you like— Here theory has swayed me a little— I have not the slightest faith in the families which contain one or two species only,—as a general rule

now as I am rather inclined to bother you with some miscellaneous talk I will put it on a separate bit of paper warning you not to read it—

In the first place, I will tell you that, in my opinion Schonherr’s classification is very defective in some parts—very very artificial—, but in order to explain myself to you on this point I should require a collection at hand & you present to see it I will hope that you will give me a little of your time some evening when you are in town— for the present I will only call your attention to one or two points— You know anthribus or Platyrhinus perhaps—two genera of Curculeonidæ which we have in England & which belong to the orthoceri— well the first of these 2 genera furnishes a very good type of the whole group of Orthoceri—that is to say it presents all the characters of the group well balanced— the great section orthoceri is preeminently distinguished by antennæ which are not geniculated—

orthoceri gonitoceri funiculus club scape

the first joint of the antennæ is here not distinctly, or not at all, longer than the others, & the 7 following joints (forming what is termed the funiculus) are not bent at angle with the first, which is called the scape— The Orthoceri & Gonitoceri form two good natural sections; Well, it so happens that in the great division Gonatoceri there is a very extensive genus of African Curculeonidæ which have the scape of the antennæ very short—shorter perhaps than in another genus of gonatoceri— now says Schonherr to himself, because the orthoceri have the scape or basal jt. short, I will commence the Gonitoceri with those species in which the scape is the shortest & so he begins with Brachycerus6 —& all this seems very nice, & logical, but to me it appears a proof that Schonherr’s notions of classification were extremely artificial—for Brachycerus is nearly as unlike to any of the Orthoceri as it possibly could be in every respect excepting the one mentioned— the shortness of the basal joint is followed by extreme shortness in all the other joints, so that in Brachycerus you have a Curculio in which the antennæ are in regard to length, at the minimum, or thereabouts, whilst in the orthoceri they attain the maximum length— they are constantly mistaken for Cerambyces— Fabricus7 describes one as a Cerambyx— some have the antennæ 6 & 8 times the length of the body!

On the other hand there is a family of African Curculeonidæ in which the species are so like Brachyceri that they are frequently mistaken for them & further, they approach the Brachyceri in all their essential characters well this group is separated from Brachycerus by Schonherr by shall I say hundreds of genera—at least a very great number8 & whilst in the one case genera are approximated from the consideration of a single character so in the other are they separated from a similar consideration—

The family alluded to as being in my opinion closely allied to Brachycerus is the Byrsopsidæ see p. 114 of Catalogue— it is a natural family but Pteroplectus genus 274–5 has nothing to do with it,9 being undoubtedly one of the Cryptorhynchidæ— Epipedus (genus 274) I do not know—

At p. 51 of Cat. you will find a great genus of African Curculeonidæ called Hipporhinus in which is placed a new Holland species I mean species 20 (not species 78 that is only placed in the genus provisionally10 Schonherr does not know the insect) Well I must warn you that the Hipporhinus tribulus can scarcely be separated from genus Leptops gen. 229, which is a new Holld genus—but without affirming that Hipp. tribulus is not properly placed in the genus Hipporhinus I will affirm that Hipporhinus is out of place & should be next to Leptops—

Then, genus 104–5 Mythetes which is placed in the Entimides11 & which is a new Holld genus, agrees in all essential characters with the genus Euomus , and at most can only form a poor subgenus— (Amisallus a new Holld genus which catches my eye in the Catalogue I do not know)

The genus Euomus just mentd you will find at page 122— that and the allied genera I have particularly studied— I believe that Euomus, Amycterus, Acantholophus (& some allied genera not in Schonherr) form a very natural family apart, & which is peculiar to New Holland— Germar describes a certain New Holld insect under the name Brachycerus australis which belongs to the family—12 Brachycerus being an African genus he should have looked a little closely at his insect & he would readily found out that it was very different— The familyof australian Curculios referrd to I have called Amycteridæ—amongst other Characters they have this in common that they have only 6 joints to the funiculus of the antennæ—the normal number on the Curculeonidæ being 7—

Now I have been writing all the above in order to caution you against putting over much faith in the Catalogue which I placed in your hands— Before we can make good generalization in geographl distributn questions we must look to the classification of the groups & it is with the view of reviewing the classification of the Curculeonidæ with the ulterior intention of working out geographical distribution that I have for many years past been studying that group—13

I shall be most glad to discuss geographical distribution with you—it is a subject which interests me immensely

CD annotations14

0.3 My … consideration— 1.3] crossed pencil
2.1 type of … Curculeondiæ, 2.2]underl brown crayon
2.1 Keeping … enumerated— 2.5] ‘Hence I must say aberrant with respect to groups higher than Families.—’ added ink
3.6 Here theory … rule— 3.8] scored brown crayon; scored pencil; ‘[reverse question mark]added pencil
3.7 I have not … rule— 3.8] ‘Cd. make no good answer to being result of Extinction’ added ink, circled ink
4.1 now as … it— 4.2] crossed pencil
5.1 In the first … points— 5.5] ‘The rest of letter shows that Catalogue of Schoenherr artificial in higher groups.’ added pencil
5.9 orthoceri] ‘orthoceri’ added pencil


Jekel ed. 1849, an annotated edition of Carl Johan Schönherr 1833–45. CD recorded using Jekel ed. 1849 in his lists and notes on aberrant genera, DAR 205.9 (iii): 288–302.
CD had asked Waterhouse to supply him with a list of the aberrant genera of weevils in order that CD could count the number of species in each genus, as listed in Jekel ed. 1849. CD believed that aberrant genera generally possessed fewer species than those genera considered normal by taxonomists. He had discussed this idea at length with Waterhouse in 1843 (Correspondence vol. 2, letters to G. R. Waterhouse, [26 July 1843] and [31 July 1843], and letters from G. R. Waterhouse, [c. 2 August 1843] and 9 August 1843). The issue had arisen again in letters with Joseph Dalton Hooker (see Correspondence vol. 3, letter to J. D. Hooker, 31 March [1844], and, in this volume, [3 November 1854]). Correlated with CD’s idea that aberrant genera possessed only a few species was the suggestion, originally made by Waterhouse, that aberrant genera were also restricted in the extent of their geographical range (Correspondence vol. 3, letter from J. D. Hooker, 5 April 1844). For CD, this held out the possibility of aberrant genera being forms that were less well adapted and consequently liable to extinction (see Browne 1980, pp. 58–62). His copious notes and tables on Jekel ed. 1849 are in DAR 205.9 (iii): 288–302. CD also commented on Waterhouse’s list of aberrant genera as given in this letter. In DAR 205.9 (iii): 286, he wrote: ‘This list of Waterhouse’s aberrant genera, shows that such generally confined in ranges. Those having wide ranges, having also many species.—’(ink) ‘So that co-relation of large genera & wide range, shown even here.—’ (pencil).
The numbers and names of genera that follow were taken from Jekel ed. 1849. The numbers following the genus names were added by CD in pencil, as were the total numbers of genera and species. CD’s annotations on the list have been transcribed in curly brackets to distinguish them from Waterhouse’s text.
The genera are given as Amorbaius and Epithylax in the family of Campyloscelides (Jekel ed. 1849, p. 245).
Jekel ed. 1849, p. 259. The family Dryophthorides was composed of only one genus, Dryophthorus.
Jekel ed. 1849, p. 44.
Fabricius 1781, 1: 209–16.
Brachycerus was separated from Byrsops by 172 genera in Jekel ed. 1849, pp. 44–114.
The genus Pteroplectus was classified as belonging to the family Byrsopsides in Jekel ed. 1849, p. 117 (Jekel gave the spelling, incorrectly, as ‘Brysopsides’). It was the only genus in the entire family that was not native to Africa and included only one species, P. macleayi from New Zealand.
The species Hipporhinus tribulus was the only Australian weevil to be included in the South African genus Hipporhinus. The other species to which Waterhouse refers was H. clavus, and, although it also came from Australia, it was listed as dubious (Jekel ed. 1849, pp. 51, 53).
Jekel ed. 1849, p. 53, referring to Mythites tuberculatus, a species from Tasmania.
Germar 1848, p. 209.
Waterhouse eventually published a catalogue of the British Coleoptera, which included the weevils (Waterhouse 1858).
For CD’s annotations on the list given in the letter, see n. 3, above.


Browne, Janet. 1980. Darwin’s botanical arithmetic and the ‘principle of divergence’, 1854–1858. Journal of the History of Biology 13: 53–89.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Fabricius, Johann Christian. 1781. Species insectorum exhibentes eorum differentias specificas, synonyma auctorum, loca natalia, metamorphosin adiectis observationibus, descriptionibus. Hamburg and Kiel.

Germar, Ernst Friedrich. 1848. Beiträge zur Insektenfauna von Adelaide. Linnaea Entomologica 3: 153–247.

Waterhouse, George Robert. 1858. Catalogue of British Coleoptera. London.


Sends list of aberrant forms of Curculionidae.

Discusses in detail the artificiality of Carl Johan Schönherr’s classification. Sound generalisations about geographical distribution depend on sound classifications. Warns against putting too much faith in current catalogues.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Robert Waterhouse
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
British Museum
Source of text
DAR 205.9: 401
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1598,” accessed on 25 January 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 5