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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. D. Hooker   [23 December 1868]1



Dear Darwin

Is not enclosed a most charming description—writ by a Lady correspondent of mine in S Africa— please return it & I will send it to Linn. Socy.2

How are you all—? have you recovered the Busting?—3

Farrer’s is a capital paper. I shall quote it in my “Students British Flora”—4

Many happy returns of the Season to you & your’s my dear old Darwin.

Ever yr affec | Jos D Hooker


The ‘Stone Grasshopper’

Dr. Hooker in his Himalayan-Journal mentions a curious fact relative to a Lizard that he had captured in [those] regions. This reptile was party-colored, chiefly brown and yellow; upon its body were discoverd several ticks apparently of the same species, though differing in color; the ticks upon the brown portion of the Lizards body being brown, whereas those inhabiting the yellow parts were yellow.—5

Now let me tell you of just such another case which has come under my notice.— There is in this country a stout built square looking Grasshopper, which is called (from the great resemblance it bears to a piece of stone) the ‘Stone Grasshopper’.6 This insect though not common, is widely distributed over the country, frequenting stony ridges or rocky hill sides where the earth is but sparingly covered with shrubs and grasses: in such localities it is usually found dwelling amongst the loose broken rocks and pebbles from which (unless the creature is moving) it is scarcely distinguishable, so strikingly does it resemble in shape and color the stones amongst which it resides, and no matter what the formation or color of the rocks may be, our friend the ‘Stone Grasshopper’ will ‘follow suit’, it will be of precisely the same color or colors as the rocks and soil.

In the Valley of the Great Fish river7 where the argillaceous schist predominates, and from its friable nature is much broken up by the heat of the sun, it will be found that the color of this insect is blue like that of the blue slate-stone rocks, but upon the hills above (or the ‘Randt’8 as they are usually called) where the principle rocks are grey sandstone, its color is changed to a greyish yellow like that of the sandstone rocks.

Upon a ridge not far from this place (Highlands) where a conglomerate is croping out, and where the earth is strewn with many water-worn pebbles, some of them yellow and others of a mottled purple, I have found this species to occur in two different colors, some of the specimens being yellow like the yellow pebbles, and others of a mottled purple precisely of the same shades as the purple pebbles.

In the Queenstown9 district amongst the Syenitic dykes where the rocks and soil are of a dark color this insect pertaining to their nature is also of a dark color.

The outer coating or case of the ‘Stone Grasshopper’ is extremely hard and rough to the touch like the surface of a stone, and if by chance one of them is allowed to fall among the rocks the sound produced by its fall is like that made by one pebble striking against another, and the creature apparently receives no injury.

I have never seen this insect attempt to fly or move rapidly in any way whatever, unless in imminent danger of being trodden upon, when it will hop rather briskly out of the way— It seems contented to dwell forever upon or near the same spot and in all probability it has done so for ages from one generation to another, ever since this ancient continent of South Africa has stood in the same quiet and undisturbed position that it now occupies, until at length this grasshopper has grown to be the perfect creation that we now find it.

To some these facts may seem trifling but they are not in reality so, for they go a long way to advance and prove the truth of what Mr. Darwin has so cleverly described in his ‘Origin of Species’ that the innumerable species of the animal kingdom—throughout the universe adapt themselves to surrounding circumstances, and through long periods of time grow into what we now find them— Creatures wonderfully adapted to fulfil their destiny amid the most variable conditions of life, no matter where those conditions may be—the mighty Glaciers of the North Pole, the boundless Ocean, or the “Stony rocks” and so it is with our friend the ‘Stone Grasshopper’—unable to fly, bite, sting, run away, or even to creep into a hole, or to defend itself in any way whatever— how short lifed would be its destiny—how soon would not the species become extinct—were it not marvellously protected by a coating so closely resembling that of its brothers the stones and pebbles—that it is but rarely discovered by insectivorous animals and in its obscurity is comparatively safe.

I have told you that the case of the stone grasshopper is a hard case but (excuse the pun) let me hasten to undeceive you for his case is by no means a hard one, the “lines have fallen to him in pleasant places”10 he is a happy little creature living in ease and plenty, basking the live long day in the sunshine, and chirping his merry song, and dun though his coat may be, he can nevertheless boast of rainbow-colored hues, for upon the inner part of his thighs are placed the most brilliant of shot colors, purple—blue, and red, and these I have no doubt he occasionally displays,— as for the rain it cannot wet him through, and to the wind he is equally indifferent for like Friar John in Marmion—“But little cares he or kens which way it blows!—11

M. E. Barber.


The date is established by the relationship between this letter and the letter to J. D. Hooker, 25 December [1868]. In 1868, the Wednesday before 25 December was 23 December.
Hooker refers to Mary Elizabeth Barber and her paper ‘On the stone-grasshopper of Graham’s Town, South Africa’, read at the Linnean Society meeting of 4 February 1869 but not published (Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London (1868–9): xlii).
Hooker refers to CD’s having sat for the sculptor Thomas Woolner (see letter to J. D. Hooker, 26 November [1868] and nn. 6 and 7).
Hooker refers to Thomas Henry Farrer’s article ‘On the manner of fertilization of the scarlet runner and blue lobelia’ (Farrer 1868). For more on Hooker’s planned ‘Students British Flora’, see the letter from J. D. Hooker, [28 November 1868] and n. 7.
See J. D. Hooker 1854, 1: 37.
In a later paper on the topic, Roland Trimen identified the species he found in the Grahamstown area as Trachypetra bufo (R. Trimen 1871). Stone grasshoppers are now placed in the genus Trachypetrella.
The Great Fish river is in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
Randt (now ‘rand’): in South Africa, a rocky ridge or area of high sloping ground, especially overlooking a river-valley (OED).
Queenstown is in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa on the Komani river.
Barber refers to a passage from Psalms 16:6, ‘The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’
Barber refers to Walter Scott’s poem Marmion: a tale of Flodden Field (W. Scott 1808). In the poem the lines are (1st CantoXXIV): But, when our John hath quaff’d his ale, As little as the wind that blows, And warms itself against his nose, Kens he, or cares, which way he goes.


Farrer, Thomas Henry. 1868. On the manner of fertilization of the scarlet runner and blue lobelia. Annals and Magazine of Natural History 4th ser. 2: 255–63.

OED: The Oxford English dictionary. Being a corrected re-issue with an introduction, supplement and bibliography of a new English dictionary. Edited by James A. H. Murray, et al. 12 vols. and supplement. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1970. A supplement to the Oxford English dictionary. 4 vols. Edited by R. W. Burchfield. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1972–86. The Oxford English dictionary. 2d edition. 20 vols. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. Oxford English dictionary additional series. 3 vols. Edited by John Simpson et al. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993–7.

Scott, Walter. 1808. Marmion: a tale of Flodden Field. 3d edition. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and London: William Miller and John Murray.


T. H. Farrer’s paper is capital.

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Dalton Hooker
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 102: 247; Linnean Society of London MS. SP 56
Physical description
ALS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6511,” accessed on 17 April 2024,

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