RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 6.1848. [Instincts in wasps and bees]. CUL-DAR73.21-22. Edited by John van Wyhe (Darwin Online,

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker, corrections and editing by John van Wyhe, corrections against the manuscript by Gordon Chancellor 2.2014. RN2

NOTE: Reproduced with the permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library and William Huxley Darwin.


June/48/ In wasps & Humble Bees, in which (I believe) females at first work, there is no difficulty in their structure & instincts being varyed & transmitting such to their neuters. Even if the female came to cease to work, the neuters might readily retain such instincts when once thus acquired, & their instincts might be made to vary a very little by traditionary knowledge (where the society is perpetual) & by force of circumstances. —

But in case of to several species?? domestic Bees & Melipomes of America & still more of Ants & Termites (the neuters of which are only soldiers) are we to suppose that the parent of each species had a female which was a worker. Surely all the species of ants were probably derived from a form in which the Queen Ant was not a worker & so in Termites. How then have the neuters [continued on page 3]


[text is an addition to sentences on page 3]

Yet I am lately thought that experience was probably particularly hereditary in insects! rising from their power of varying their instincts
= Better leave this point open, state arguments on both sides.

[unconnected text]

The best way to put is, that a Breeder would be at an entire loss to improve to breed of the neuters by selection: if he found one hive with all the neuters in any respect better he cd do it. — His selection would be by families & not individuals — It wd be like selecting in cattle for a point which cd be ascertained only after death of individual, as meat streaked with fat, he wd then breed from parents of such fat-streaked beasts — This must be the case — & I have good argument that experience plays little part in acquiring instincts in insects.


of the several species of Ants and Termites acquired their different structures & instincts, as they never breed (& even when converted into Queens by peculiar food this takes place in earliest growth). This shows that experience in the neuters plays no part in the change — it is not hereditary habit, but hereditary instinctive sports.

[additional text on page 2]

Are we to suppose that by sports the offspring neuters vary in instincts & that those hives or nests whose neuters have some better instinct predominate; but this presupposes that all the neuters thus vary contemporaneously & this is opposed to all analogy: Otherwise we shd have variations differences in instincts of neuters in the same nests, which is not very probable - will we have soldiers & workers in ants1 — All the neuters assuming a new structure wd show the variation in some effect of law, then of chance.—

I must get up this subject — it is the greatest special difficulty I have met with. —


d will we have ... ants] in pencil and inserted.


(1) Are there many species of those genera in which the fertile females are not workers or better do not perform same office as the neuters.

(2) Are all in such cases permanent societies (for traditionary knowledge). —

(3) Are there not cases where neuters perform different offices & have different structures —

Read Kirby—Jardine on Bees—Rennie insect architecture. —1

1 Kirby, William and Spence, William. 1815-26. An introduction to entomology; or, elements of the natural history of insects. 4 vols. London.
Jardine, William, ed. 1840. The natural history of bees. vol. 38 in Jardine, William, ed., The naturalist's library. 40 vols. Edinburgh.
Rennie, James. 1830. Insect architecture. London: C. Knight.

This document has been accessed 4941 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, ed. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 30 April, 2022