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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Osbert Salvin   10 September [1871]

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Sept. 10th

My dear Mr. Salvin

I am going to beg a favour of you,—that is if you can grant it easily.— I believe that you have studied the Duck-family, & I want to know something about the gradation of character in the lamellæ of their beaks, just to illustrate another point.1 In the Shoveller I find that the lamellæ are very prominent & fine, & in the Australian Malacorhynchus even finer; but I have not as yet carefully cleaned & compared the beaks of my specimens.—2 In the common Duck they are far less developed & prominent;3 & in the common Goose even less so, & seem to serve more as teeth, rather than as a sifting apparatus.—4 Now can you tell me whether the lamellæ are less developed in any true Duck than in the common Duck? As it would be fairer to end the series with a Duck rather than with a Goose.— I shd., however, much like to know whether the lamellæ are less developed or prominent in any other species of goose than in the common kind.—

Are the lamellæ more prominent & finer in any Duck than in the Shoveller & Malacorhynchus? Pray do not for one moment suppose that I am so unreasonable as to ask you to compare many species for me; but I have thought that your memory might guide you to one or two species, & then a glance would answer my query.

Pray forgive me for troubling you & believe me | Yours very sincerely | Ch. Darwin


For a description of the lamellae of ducks, see Origin 6th ed., pp. 183–4.
The shoveller, Spatula clypeata, is now the northern shoveller, Anas clypeata. The ‘Australian Malacorhynchus’ is Malacorhynchus membranaceus, the pink-eared duck.
CD used the term ‘common duck’ to refer to a number of varieties of domestic duck, all of which CD believed were descended from Anas boschas (now Anas platyrhynchos; Variation 1: 338–9).
The common goose is probably the domestic goose, Anser anser domesticus. In Variation 1: 287, CD says the most likely ancestor of the domestic goose is the grey-lag (A. ferus, now Anser anser).


Origin 6th ed.: The origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. 6th edition, with additions and corrections. By Charles Darwin. London: John Murray. 1872.

Variation: The variation of animals and plants under domestication. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1868.


CD is interested in the gradation of character in the lamellae of the beaks of ducks. He finds that they are less developed or prominent in the common duck and goose than in true ducks. Is OS able to provide him with any information on this subject?

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Osbert Salvin
Sent from
SP 11 71
Source of text
Sybil Rampen (private collection)
Physical description
ALS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 7932A,” accessed on 23 March 2023,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19