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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [before 17 March 1855]1

baseless the whole thing is he adduced one fact as opposed, which is just what I should have thought favorable, viz the absence of Ophrys an aboundant S. Europe genus of many common species, but unknown in Madeira.2 Now this has such minute seeds & such millions of them, & if the Madeira plants were transported aerially, one cannot conceive the absence of Ophrys. To me such cases as Ophrys are extremely important, as indicating a sequence in the creation of Groups,—for if Ophrys was as abundant & wide spread when Atlantis existed as now, it must have been there too then & we take for granted would be now, on the other hand—assuming the wind as the agent if Ophrys had existed in Europe as long as the other species that are common to Europe & Madeira its seeds must have got wafted across..

The fact of Apterous Coleoptera3 strikes me too as extremely curious & reminds me of an old remark I made that not only the few beetles of Kerguelens land were apterous but the only Lepidopterous insect on the Island was so too!

Your final cause for so many of the insects being apterous is very pretty &, no doubt good, but how does it square with the fact that so large a proportion of Desert (Sahara, Pampas, Australian) Coleoptera are apterous—that in fact where wings would be most wanted, & where it is to be assumed that great areas must be traversed for either animal or vegetable food, that there the insects have smallest power of locomotion—that where the deer, birds & Carnivora have the longest legs the insects have the shortest. Had the Madeira coleoptera unusually strong powers of flight would we not have said that this was to enable them to make for shore again after being blown out to sea.4

Kippist5 demurred about the books in the Linn. Soc library, & I suggested that you should take out in your own, mine, & my Father’s names—which will answer the purpose equally well.6 I never took a book out in my life, & my Father never even sent for one but once & could not get it! so you need not fear clashing with us! & take as many as Kippist will give you.

I will take Flora Cestrica & A Gray to the Atheneæum.7

I entirely agree in your verdict on Johnstones Phys Atlas,8 but it is high treason to say so. The great difficulty is to know in what intelligeable terms to designate the Bot. provinces; a modification of the circles crossing &c is certainly the only way, & to start with a few types: but untill we get some definite ideas of the contents of some large tracts we cannot do much.— I shall however collect materials towards the object for the next few years—

I have just (thanks to Bentham’s9 kind aid) concluded a good & complete catalogue of the Australian Leguminae,10 & shall probably work it up. There is but one Europeæn species, the common Lotus corniculatus; it abounds in marshes of New South Wales & Tasmania, but is not found wild elsewhere out of Europe that I know of in the Southern hemisphere— these are the extraordinary facts that will not be accounted for.

Out of fully 800 species I do not think that there are a dozen common to South East & South West Australia; whole well marked genera containing many sections & species are absolutely confined to S.W. Australia.— There is nothing like this in any other part of the world: it is utterly astounding, & though I thought myself rather well up in the Australian Flora I was not prepared for this to such an extent. Also taken as a whole the Flora of Tasmania does not present so many species hardly distinct from S.E. Australian ones as it ought; The Tasmanian species are either very distinct, or quite the same, & what is most curious, this applies as well to the alpine plants, though the climate of the Australian Alps must be a good deal different from that of the Tasmanian ones.

There is another point to be worked in your apterous insect case— viz is the proportion apterous European species in Madeira great or small? if over-sea migration were the means of peopling Madeira with insects, then the European species should be winged ones—11 There is still another point— Do you suppose that the majority are apterous because the winged ones have been blown out to sea & perished miserably?— Really these questions are like Cerberus & his heads, the more arguments one disposes of the more rise up in grim array

Ever yrs | Jos D Hooker.

CD annotations

1.2 Ophrys … creation of 1.6] ‘Might not Ophrys have been driven S. by Glacial Period.’ added ink
double scored ink
double scored ink
‘This applies to Wollaston’added ink
crossed pencil
7.2 There is] after ‘[’ added pencil
7.3 marshes] underl pencil
8.7 ones] ‘es’ added pencil for clarity
scored pencil
8.9 alpine plants,] underl pencil
crossed pencil
Top of first page: ‘About Madeira & Bunbury’s Paper on.—’ ink


Dated on the basis of CD’s notes about the letter which are headed ‘March 17th’ (see n. 4, below).
The reference is to Charles James Fox Bunbury’s paper on Madeira and Tenerife, read at the Linnean Society on 6 March and 3 April 1855 (C. J. F. Bunbury 1857).
CD made the following note about Hooker’s comments on his theory (DAR 197.4): March 17th Hooker tells me that not only the few Coleoptera, but the one Lepidoptera at Kerguelen Ld. were apterous! Hooker objects to Desert insects being apterous; but then these are chiefly Heteromera, & do not require in any case God knows why are everywhere commonly apterous: of course I do not pretend that my theory is only cause of apterous conditions. Objects that if Madeira insects were powerfully winged it might have been said it was to recover the [added] land: very true: but by my theory, it wd depend on what proportion were lost & what proportion recovered land. whether most survived by not being blown out, or by getting back. Remarks, I ought to ascertain whether the proportions of apterous Europæan [interl] insects [‘is whi’ del] is great or small. This ought to be worked out as showing means of transport.— as Hooker remarks.— I think it wd be very curious to make out in Stephens what proportion of British Coleoptera are apterous.— CD refers to Stephens 1829. Next to his note, CD added: ‘The Deer long-legged & fleet in Deserts.’
Richard Kippist, librarian of the Linnean Society from 1842 to 1880 (Gage 1938, p. 159).
See letter from J. D. Hooker, [before 7 March 1855]. CD wished to borrow books from the library of the Linnean Society.
A. K. Johnston ed. 1856. See letter to J. D. Hooker, 7 March [1855].
See letter to J. D. Hooker, 11 [December 1854]. Bentham eventually included this material in his Flora Australiensis (Bentham 1863–78). Hooker discussed the Leguminosae in the introductory essay of his Flora Tasmaniæ (J. D. Hooker 1855–60).
See n. 4, above.


Bentham, George and Mueller, Ferdinand von. 1863–78. Flora Australiensis: a description of the plants of the Australian territory. 7 vols. London: Lovell Reeve and Company.

Gage, Andrew Thomas. 1938. A history of the Linnean Society of London. London: Linnean Society of London.

Hooker, Joseph Dalton. 1855–60. Flora Tasmaniæ. Pt 3 of The botany of the Antarctic voyage of HM Discovery Ships Erebus and Terror, in the years 1839–1843, under the command of Captain Sir James Clark Ross. 2 vols. London.

Stephens, James Francis. 1829a. A systematic catalogue of British insects: being an attempt to arrange all the hitherto discovered indigenous insects in accordance with their natural affinities. London: Baldwin and Cradock.


JDH criticises C. J. F. Bunbury’s paper on Madeira [J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (Bot.) 1 (1857): 1–35].

Absence of Ophrys on Madeira suggests to JDH a sequence in creation of groups.

Why are flightless insects common in desert?

Australian endemism.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 104: 210–13
Physical description
ALS 8pp inc †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 1644,” accessed on 24 May 2024,

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