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Darwin Correspondence Project

From John Hellins   20 April 1868

Chaplains House, | County Prison, | Exeter.

April 20. 1868

Dear Sir,

I wrote secondly to Mr Stainton—after glancing thro my note books—& told him I thought I had so little recorded on the numerical relation of the sexes in Lepidoptera, that it was not worth while troubling you with it;1 however as you seem to think that I have formed a wrong impression on the matter, I will give you just the few facts about wh I am quite clear, & wh will show you the sort of evidence on wh I have relied.2

You must remember that I have been breeding Lepidoptera from the egg—partly because I found this a fascinating recreation (just as others take to gardening or fishing) & partly because I had formed an intimate friendship with Mr Buckler, who was desirous of figuring the larvæ of our Macrolepidopteræ;3 I have not therefore—as I told Mr Stainton—tried to rear a number of specimens— 6 or 7 of a species contented me; but when I say that I dont mean that in a general way I had the chance of selecting 6 or 7 larvæ out of a large number; I simply collected as many as I wanted (that is if I could get them) & then stopt; or if offered eggs—I told my friend to send me a few; besides I think that if in the case of such species as Eriogaster lanestris or Bombyx neustria4 I may have selected a few larvæ out of a nest, had I taken the finest I should have expected rather they would have produced male moths—as being more advanced than their fellows, & therefore likely to be the first to emerge from pupa,—& certainly the ♂s as a rule do appear before the ♀s in the perfect state.

As to the priced lists of dealers I can quite understand that males would be very much cheaper than females5—except in the case of species wh are only found in the larva stage, for of many species you may catch 20 ♂s before you will see 1 ♀—examples of wh you will find noted on the other paper.

Of course the fairest way would be to take large batches of eggs from the same female, & do one’s best to rear as many specimens as possible—but this I have seldom cared to do—generally giving away eggs or larvæ to my friends if I had more than a score.

But I reason in this way—if I in my rambles pick up one or two or three larvæ or pupæ of a species, and oftener rear a ♀ moth than a ♂—there must be some way of accounting for this—& I try to do so by saying ♀s are more abundant than ♂s—& therefore more likely to be captured in those stages in wh their powers of flight do not come into play.

I wish I could have given you better help, & during this season will note the sex of every specimen I breed—common or rare.

Yours faithfully | J. Hellins

C. Darwin Esqre


Argynnis adippe.6 I have not gone butterfly hunting for years—but I remember well—when amongst this species—quite failing to see a ♀ on thewing, tho I took several ♂s
aglaia.7 I have taken a great many ♂s on the wing—but only 1 ♀.
Smerinthus populi.8 I see some years ago from a few pupæ collected at random I bred 6 moths—4 ♀s— 1♂—& 1 sex not recorded.
tiliæ9 In the same season from pupæ collected at random I bred 35 specimens—of wh 21♀s—8 ♂—& 6 sex not recorded.
Chærocampa elpenor10 In various years I have altogether bred 4specimens from larvæ or pupæ found bychance in gardens—of these I see 3♀s and 1 ♂.
Cossus ligniperda11 I never bred but 1 moth of this—& that froma larva caught crawling on the road—this isa ♀
Eulepia cribrum12 —I once bred one moth   a ♀.
Arctia fuliginosa13 I picked up 1 larva this spring—I see this has produced a ♂
Angerona prunaria14 I have seen & captured the ♂s by scores—but never took more than 1 of 2 ♀son the wing; whilst out of 4 or 5 larvæ wh I have reared I obtained only 1 ♂.
Ennomos alniaria.15 Of 5 specimens reared from the egg in 1866—4 were ♂s & 1 ♀tiliaria.16 a single specimen reared in 1866 was a ♀ fuscantaria.17 2 or 3 specimens reared in various years were♀s.
Himera pennaria.18 A few larvæ captured in various years   for the most part produced ♂s.
Nyssia hispidaria19 2 larvæ captured promiscuously in 1866—produced 2 ♀s.
Pseudoterpna cytisaria20 I see the last time I bred this species I reserved 2 larvæ for myself wh produced♀s.
Phorodesma bajularia.21 Some seasons ago I captured a score of♂s on the wing—not one ♀. Ayear or two since I bred one moth—a♀.
Hyria auroraria22 From a few larvæ reared from some eggs sent me—I reared 6 or 7 moths all ♀s
Acidalia rubricata23 the only specimen I ever bred was a ♀Acidalia caspitaria24
remutata25 — I once bred about 8 or 9 moths—only 1 ♂ amongst them.
— —emutaria26 —Last year I bred 2 moths—both ♀s.
Selidosema plumaria27 I once bred 1 moth a ♀
Sterrha sacraria28 Of the six specimens bred in /65 4 were♀s & 2 ♂s.
Anisopteryx æscularia29 of 16 moths bred in 1862—I have recorded8 ♀s, 6 ♂s—2 undetermined.
Lobophora sexalata30 From 3 larvæ captured in various years Ibelieve I have had 2 ♀s& 1 ♂.
hexapterata31 the only moth I ever bred was ♀.
Camptogramma fluviata32 The first six I bred in 1858 were 5♀s & 1 ♂. Last year I bred about a score & these were only 5 or 6 ♀s among them.
Chesias spartiata33 I once bred two or three— I know 2 were♂s.
Stauropus fagi34 I once captured 1 moth a ♂
Petasia cassinea35 The ♂s are not uncommon at lamps but I never captured the ♀ on the wing. I once bred 1 moth a ♀.
Ptilodontis palpina36 I once bred 2 moths both ♂s.
Notodonta cucullina37 I once found a pupa sh produced a ♀.
Notodonta trepida38 —In various seasons I have bred about a dozenmoths from pupæ obtained promiscuously—of these I am sure not more than 3 were ♂s
— — Chaonia39 in 1862 I bred 3 moths 2 ♂s 1 ♀since then I have in various seasons bred 3or 4 more—I believe 2 ♀s & 1♂.
Cymatophora ridens.40 In different seasons I have bred 4 moths 2♂ 2 ♀s.
Heliophobus hispida.41 A season or two since I bred 8 or 10moths—certainly not more than 3 of them♂s
Noctua ditrapezium42 I once had 4 larvæ sent me—taken atrandom from amongst others—all produced ♀s.
dasycampa rubiginea.43 I have known of some 50 or 60 specimens of the moth captured in the last 10 years—&only 2 ♀s among them—tho we watched for them narrowly in hopes of getting eggs.
Hadena protea 44 I captured 2 or 3 larvæ last year—only 2 moths were produced both ♀s.
Fumea nitidella45 —In various seasons I have picked up cocoons—but never yet bred a ♂.

CD annotations

2.1 I have … the egg—] scored blue crayon
2.1 from the egg—] underl blue crayon
2.10 had I … moths— 2.12] scored blue crayon
2.10 had I … state. 2.14] ‘I do not believe more advanced | Dr [Waters] paper on size’ added pencil
5.1 if I … ♂s— 5.3] scored blue crayon
Smerinthus tiliæ: 21 ♀s … recorded] underl red crayon
Chærocampa elpenor: 3 ♀s and 1 ♂.] underl red crayon
Arctia fuliginosa: a ♀] underl red crayon
Ennomos alniaria: 4 were ♀s & 1 ♂] underl red crayon
Ennomos tiliaria: a ♀] underl red crayon
Nyssia hispidaria: 2 ♀s.] underl red crayon
Pseudoterpna cytisaria: ♀s.] underl red crayon
Acidalia rubricata: I ever bred] underl red crayon
Top of enclosure: ‘Rev J. Hellins | (1) Certainly evidence strong that more ♀ bred & [illeg below del illeg] from eggs. | It is possible the ♀ larvæ may be weaker, for it seems certain that males are commoner— & Doubleday doubts whether wandering habits will account for this.—’46 pencil


Henry Tibbats Stainton had enclosed a letter from Hellins with his letter to CD of 29 February 1868.
See enclosure.
William Buckler relied on Hellins to provide many of the larvae that he illustrated (Salmon 2000, pp. 158–9).
Eriogaster lanestris is the small eggar; Bombyx neustria (now Malacosoma neustria) is the lackey.
CD had been sent a catalogue of Lepidoptera by Henry Doubleday (see letter from Henry Doubleday, 3 April 1868 and n. 1). The price of female specimens was usually higher.
Argynnis adippe: the high brown fritillary.
Argynnis aglaia: the dark green fritillary.
Smerinthus populi is now Laothoe populi, the poplar hawk-moth.
Smerinthus tiliæ is now Mimas tiliae, the lime hawk-moth.
Chaerocampa elpenor is now Deilephila elpenor, the large elephant hawk-moth.
Cossus ligniperda is now C. cossus, the goat moth).
Eulepia cribrum is now Coscinia cribraria, the speckled footman.
Arctia fuliginosa is now Phragmatobia fuliginosa, the ruby tiger.
Angerona prunaria: the orange moth.
Ennomos alniaria: the canary-shouldered thorn.
Ennomos tiliaria is now considered a synonym of E. alniaria.
Ennomos fuscantaria is the dusky thorn.
Himera pennaria is now Colotois pennaria, the feathered thorn.
Nyssia hispidaria is now Apocheima hispidaria, the small brindled beauty.
Pseudoterpna cytisaria is now Pseudoterpna pruinata, the grass emerald.
Phorodesma bajularia is now Comibaena bajularia, the blotched emerald.
Hyria auroraria is now Idaea muricata, the purple-bordered gold.
Acidalia rubricata is now Scopula rubiginosa, the tawny wave.
Acidalis caspitaria is now Scopula immutata, the lesser cream wave.
Acidalia remutata is now Scopula floslactata, the cream wave.
Acidalia emutaria is now Scopula emutaria, the rosy wave.
Selidosema plumaria is now S. brunneria, the bordered grey.
Sterrha sacraria is now Rhodometra sacraria, the vestal.
Anisopteryx aescularia is now Alsophila aescularia, the March moth.
Lobophora sexalata is now Pterapherapteryx sexalata, the small seraphim.
Lobophora hexapterata is now L. halterata, the seraphim.
Camptogramma fluviata is now Orthonama obstipata, the gem.
Chesias spartiata is now C. legatella, the streak.
Stauropus fagi: the lobster moth.
Petasia cassinia is now Brachionycha sphinx, the sprawler.
Ptilodontis palpina is now Pterostoma palpina, the pale prominent.
Notodonta cucullina is now Ptilodontella cucullina, the maple prominent.
Notodonta trepida is now Peridea anceps, the great prominent.
Notodonota chaonia is now Drymonia ruficornis, the lunar mottled brown.
Cymatophora ridens is now Polyploca ridens, the frosted green.
Heliophobus hispida is now Leucochlaena oditis, the beautiful gothic.
Noctua ditrapezium is now Xestia ditrapezium, the triple-spotted clay.
Dasycampa rubiginea is now Conistra rubiginea, the dotted chestnut.
Hadena protea is now Dryobotodes eremita, the brindled green.
Fumea nitidella is now Psyche casta, the common bagworm.


Salmon, Michael A. 2000. The Aurelian legacy: British butterflies and their collectors. With additional material by Peter Marren and Basil Harley. Colchester: Harley Books.


Gives the evidence on which he relied for his view, which CD thinks is erroneous, of proportion of sexes in Lepidoptera.

Letter details

Letter no.
John Hellins
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 85: B71–75, B79–82
Physical description
9pp †, encl 4pp †

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6133,” accessed on 28 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16