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Darwin Correspondence Project

To Journal of Horticulture   [before 27 December 1862]1

If any of your readers have kept Penguin Ducks, and will have the kindness to observe one little point, and communicate the result, I should be greatly obliged.2 On examining the skeleton, I find that certain bones of the leg are longer than in the other breeds. I formerly kept these birds alive, and as far as I dare trust my memory, they could run considerably faster than other Ducks.3 Is this the case? It would, perhaps, be a good way to test their running powers to call the two kinds, when hungry, from a distance to their food, and see which arrived first.—

Charles Darwin, Down, Bromley, Kent.


The letter was published in the issue of 27 December 1862.
According to his ‘Journal’, CD prepared a draft of the section of Variation relating to ducks (Variation 1: 276–87) between 16 and 31 May 1861 (see Correspondence vol. 9, Appendix II).
CD discussed the osteological peculiarities distinctive of penguin ducks in Variation 1: 281–6, noting that this was ‘the most remarkable of all the breeds’ of domestic duck (p. 281), and stating that the elongation of the femur and metatarsus, relative to the same bones in the wild duck, was ‘no doubt connected with its peculiar upright manner of walking’ (p. 284).


Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

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


Inquires whether penguin ducks can run faster than other kinds.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Journal of Horticulture
Sent from
Source of text
Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, and Country Gentleman n.s. 3 (1862): 797

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 3883F,” accessed on 21 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 10