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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer1   [20 June 1860]2

I once saw several individuals of a small moth apparently eating the pollen of the Mercurialis; is this physically possible? I have during several years watched the smaller clovers, such as Trifolium procumbens, and the Vicia hirsuta which has such extremely minute flowers, and I never saw a bee visit them. I am, however, aware from experience that it is very difficult to assert that bees do not visit any particular kind of plant. As Mr. F. Bond informs me that he has often seen moths visiting papilionaceous flowers,3 even such small ones as those of the trefoil, it has occurred to me that small moths may suck the flowers of T. procumbens and of V. hirsuta. From analogy we must believe that the smaller clovers secrete nectar; and it does not seem probable that the nectar would be wasted. I should esteem it a great favour if any Lepidopterists would communicate their experience on this point.—4

Charles Darwin,

Down, Bromley, Kent.


The letter, which was enclosed with the letter to H. T. Stainton, 20 June [1860], was intended for publication in the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer, of which Stainton was editor. The published version is preceded by the heading: ‘Do the Tineina or other small moths suck Flowers, and if so what Flowers?—’
Dated by the relationship to the letter to H. T. Stainton, 20 June [1860].
This information was probably in the section of the letter from Frederick Bond, [16 June 1860], that is now missing.
When this letter was published, it was followed by an editorial comment (Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer, 30 June 1860, pp. 103–4): In reply to Mr. Darwin’s enquiry we may observe that very many of the Tineina are provided with tongues, and that these appendages are naturally used in extracting the sweets of flowers. It is no uncommon sight to see an Umbellifer swarming with the pretty little Glyphipteryx Fischeriella, each with its proboscis extended sucking at the flowers. The Depressariæ, as is notorious to every collector of Noctuæ, come very freely to sugar, and no doubt naturally visit flowers. But the fertilization of flowers may be accomplished by insects in another way. Many species oviposit on the blooming flowers; they do not deposit all their eggs on a single plant, but sparingly a few here and a few there; a female protruding her ovipositor down the corolla of a flower, and then flying off to repeat the operation elsewhere may herself be “the priest who performs the marriage ceremony. CD’s copy of the issue of the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer in which his letter appeared is in DAR 76: 74.


Is it physically possible for moths to eat the pollen of Mercurialis? Believes moths may visit the smaller clovers to suck the nectar.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer
Sent from
Source of text
Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer, 30 June 1860, p. 103

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 2848,” accessed on 6 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 8