skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project


From St G. J. Mivart   11 June 1870

7 North Bank | N.W.

June 11th. 1870

My dear Sir.

I should be very much obliged if you would kindly tell me by what action you think the curious resemblance of the Bee, Spider & Fly Ophrys to the several insects has been produced—1 It is I think far too marked & striking to be accidental!

I have also great difficulty in seeing by what possible action of natural or sexual selection the beauty of bivalves can have been produced and I should be grateful for any hint from you on the subject which (unless you tell me I may quote) I shall consider confidential2

I feel sure you will kindly excuse my thus troubling you & remain

My dear Sir | Always Your’s very truly | St G Mivart

C. Darwin Esqr.


The bee, spider, and fly ophrys are, in CD’s Orchids, Ophrys apifera, O. aranifera, and O. muscifera. Ophrys aranifera is a synonym of O. sphegodes; O. muscifera is a synonym of O. insectifera.
Mivart discussed the appearance of the bee, fly, and spider orchids, and of bivalve shellfish, in his book on the theory of natural selection, Mivart 1871, pp. 54–5. In Orchids, pp. 68–9, CD had written, ‘Robert Brown imagined that the flowers resembled bees in order to deter insects from visiting them; I cannot think this probable. The equal or greater resemblance of the Fly Ophrys to an insect does not deter the visits of some unknown insect, which, in that species, are indispensable for the act of fertilisation.’


Asks by what action CD believes bee, spider, and fly orchids came to resemble their namesakes

and how the beauty of bivalves could have been produced by natural or sexual selection.

Letter details

Letter no.
Mivart, St G. J.
Darwin, C. R.
Sent from
London, North Bank, 7
Source of text
DAR 171: 188
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7227,” accessed on 28 October 2016,