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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Edward Blyth   1 October 1868

Oct. 1 /68—

Dear Mr. Darwin,

A note from you has remained for some days unanswered, in fact until I could reply to your question as to where my observations on birds differing in plumage in one sex only were published.1 I find that it is in the ‘Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal’, Vol. XIX, p. 223.2

I have just remarked, though not for the first time, a curious fact with regard to the moulting of birds. It often happens with a cage bird, that people pluck out any broken tail-feathers, commonly the whole of them, which are immediately renewed; but however late this may have taken place, even a few weeks prior to the regular moulting season, those newly developed feathers will be then cast with the rest and again renewed. Thus a linnet-mule which I have is now throwing out a second series of tail-feathers in about two months or less, their predecessors having been quite new, but nevertheless, shed at the usual moulting season!

The following quotation from Chapman’s ‘Travels in the Interior of South Africa’, Vol. 1, p. 251, will interest you much. Accompanied by his follower “Molihie” and about 30 Bushmen, three elephants were attacked by the party. Chapman wounded one of them, and writes—“But while I was endeavouring to drive the elephant towards a more open ground, I heard a loud trumpeting a short distance westward, and, looking round, beheld Molihie in a somewhat similar plight to what had just been my own, being chased by the elephant he had singled out. But the most extraordinary part of the affair was this: the elephant not being able to overtake his enemy, I saw him pull up successively two trees by the roots and cast them after Molihie, nearly striking his horse with one of them. This singular act of sagacity surprised me not a little, being under the impression at the time, as I am to this present day, that the act of thus hurling the trees was not accidental, but intentional. Each of these trees was nearly twenty inches in diameter, and they were thrown twelve or fifteen yards from the spot where they grew, so that, leaving the intent out of the question, it was in itself a prodigious feat of animal strength”.3

I will call Lyell’s4 attention to this— | Yours very truly, | E Blyth


CD’s letter has not been found.
CD cited this page of Blyth 1850 in Descent 2: 190 and n. 5.
Blyth refers to James Chapman. The quotation is from Chapman 1868.
Charles Lyell.


Blyth, Edward. 1850. Remarks on the modes of variation of nearly affined species or races of birds, chiefly inhabitants of India. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 19: 221–9.

Chapman, James. 1868. Travels in the interior of South Africa: comprising fifteen years’ hunting and trading; with journeys across the continent from Natal to Walvis Bay, and visits to Lake Ngami and the Victoria Falls. 2 vols. London: Bell & Daldy.

Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.


Gives CD a reference to one of his papers ["Remarks on the modes of variation of nearly affined species or races of birds", J. Asiat. Soc. Bengal 19 (1850): 221–9]

and discusses moulting in birds.

Quotes instance of an action by an elephant that apparently displays considerable intelligence.

Letter details

Letter no.
Edward Blyth
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 160: 223
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 6406,” accessed on 4 December 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 16