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Darwin Correspondence Project

To T. B. Leffen   7 May 1873

Down, | Beckenham, Kent.

May 7 1873

Dear Sir

I write merely to thank you for your note & information, & to express a hope that you may receive benefit from your present residence. I had previously heard of the Australian caterpillars; but no one knows how they cause such severe pain.1 In Africa there is a species believed to belong to the same genus, which is so venomous that if a hand touches a surface previously touched by the caterpillar, dreadful inflammation follows over nearly the whole surface of the body.

With my thanks & hopes for your recovery I remain | dear Sir | yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin


Leffen’s letter has not been found. He probably wrote in response to CD’s discussion of the protective mechanisms of caterpillars in Descent 1: 416. Leffen may have written about caterpillars of cup moths (Limacodidae), which have retractable stinging spines that cause irritation, and are fairly common in Australia.


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


Thanks for note and information.

Mentions venomous caterpillars in Africa and Australia.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Thomas Bray Leffen
Sent from
Source of text
State Library Victoria, Melbourne (MS 6219, Box 231/3. Diary of G. F. Belcher vol. 3)
Physical description
LS 2pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8903,” accessed on 19 May 2022,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21