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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Virginius Dabney   3 November 1873

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Nov 3. 1873

Dear Sir

I am much obliged for yr very kind & interesting letter.1 A good many cases have been recorded of caterpillars selecting with unerring skill introduced plants belonging to the same natural family with that on which they properly feed; but I am glad to hear of your new & striking case.

The fact of hogs not feeding on certain plants thro’ the same principle, because others belonging to the same family are poisonous, strikes me as much more curious, & is I believe quite new—2

With my best thanks I remain dear Sir | yours faithfully | Charles Darwin


In his letter of 18 October 1873, Dabney discussed tobacco worms feeding on the tobacco plant and plants of the same family, and hogs avoiding eating plants of the same family as poisonous plants even if some members of the family would be nutritious to it.


Thanks VD for information on caterpillars selecting food plants from within one family,

and on similar behaviour in hogs, which will not eat any plants from a family containing some poisonous members.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Virginius Dabney
Sent from
Source of text
University of Virginia Library, Special Collections (3314 1: 56 MSS 3082-a)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 9128,” accessed on 23 January 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21