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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Frederick Smith   [before 9 March 1858]1


(1) In your work on Bees, you state that you have seen stray workers inhabiting the nest of a distinct species.2 Have you ever seen a stray fertile female Bombus inhabiting the nest of other species?3

(2) In Ants, which do not make slaves, have you ever seen stray workers of one species inhabiting the nest of another species?4

(3) Do you believe that Formica sanguinea always & invariably makes slaves; or is it only an occasional yet frequent instinct?5

(4) In relation to the habit of F. nigra & cunicularia, when acting as slaves to to F. rufescens, of feeding their masters, do you know whether F. nigra & cunicularia actually feed their own Queens or males in their own nests? or do the Queens & males of these species feed themselves on food brought by the workers?6


CD evidently sent Smith this list of queries, which Smith answered and returned. The date is based on the inclusion of information from the memorandum in chapter 10 of CD’s species book (see n. 4, below). CD recorded the completion of the chapter on 9 March 1858 (‘Journal’; Appendix II).
Smith wrote ‘never’ on the letter.
Smith wrote: ‘Not stray workers—there are communities of Myrmica nitidula & M. muscorum that live in harmony with Formica rufa I never saw stray workers in nests of non-slavemaking species—’. CD included this information as a note to his discussion of slave-making ants (Natural selection, p. 511n. 1).
Smith wrote: ‘I believe always I never myself met with a community without numbers of other species (say about eight in twenty)—no one has recorded any different habit—’.
Smith wrote: ‘This question I cannot answer—as I never saw slaves entering or issuing from the nests of their masters I am induced to believe they are employed in carry in the eggs brood &c above or below in the nests as the temperature requires also in enlarging the nest &c—the food of the community appears to be supplied by the workers of sanguinea alone—I have seen hundreds of them on young larch trees attending on a black swollen Aphis.’


Natural selection: Charles Darwin’s Natural selection: being the second part of his big species book written from 1856 to 1858. Edited by R. C. Stauffer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1975.

Smith, Frederick. 1855. Catalogue of British Hymenoptera in the collection of the British Museum. Pt 1. Apidæ–bees. Edited by John Edward Gray. London.


Four queries regarding the habits of bees and ants with answers by FS interlined between each query.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Frederick Smith
Sent from
Source of text
DAR Pamphlet collection (bound with Smith, Frederick (a) 1854)
Physical description
Amem 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2235A,” accessed on 21 October 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 7