skip to content

Darwin Correspondence Project

To John Lubbock   17 November 1871

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

Nov 17. 1871

My dear Lubbock

Your essay is capital, & not at all too rash.1

If it is any satisfaction to you I’ll swear that every word is true. Your case of polynema passed thro’ my mind when I was thinking on the subject; but do not you suppose that the wings of this insect have been reduced for the special purpose of swimming?2

I have put a pencil alteration to shew what I mean, & have made 2 other suggestions in pencil which you can easily rub out. That is a good remark of yours about the different methods of aquatic respiration of larvæ.3

Farewell— I am very glad to have learnt with certainty how insects acquired their wings! | Ever yours | Ch. Darwin


CD refers to Lubbock’s article ‘On the origin of insects’ (Lubbock 1871b).
Lubbock suggested that the wings of insects had originated as organs for aquatic locomotion and respiration. He gave the example of the aquatic insect, Polynema natans (a parasitic wasp of the family Mymaridae; now Caraphractus cinctus), which used its wings for swimming (see Lubbock 1871b, p. 425). Lubbock had first described the insect in 1862 (see Correspondence vol. 10, letter from John Lubbock, 23 August 1862, and Lubbock 1863).
Lubbock described the vibration of the branchiae (gills) in respiration, noting that the branchiae are located in different places in different insect groups, and suggesting how thoracic and abdominal branchiae could become specialised (Lubbock 1871b, p. 425).


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


Praises and comments on JL’s essay on insects ["Origin of insects", J. Linn. Soc. Lond. 11 (1873): 422–5].

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
John Lubbock, 4th baronet and 1st Baron Avebury
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 261.7: 7 (EH 88205932)
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8072,” accessed on 17 September 2021,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 19