RECORD: Darwin, C. R. 1882. On the dispersal of freshwater bivalves. Nature. A Weekly Illustrated Journal of Science 25 (6 April): 529-530.

REVISION HISTORY: Scanned, OCRed, corrected and edited by John van Wyhe 2003-8, textual corrections by Sue Asscher 3.2007. RN5

[page] 529


THE wide distribution of the same species, and of closely-allied species of freshwater shells must have surprised every one who has attended to this subject. A naturalist, when he collects for the first time freshwater animals in a distant region, is astonished at their general similarity to those of his native European home, in comparison with the surrounding terrestrial animals and plants. Hence I was led to publish in NATURE (vol. xviii. p. 120)2 a letter to me from Mr. A. H. Gray, of Danversport, Massachusetts, in which he gives a drawing of a living shell of Unio complanatus, attached to the tip of the middle toe of a duck (Querquedula discors) shot on the wing. The toe had been pinched so hard by the shell that it was indented and abraded. If the bird had not been killed, it would have alighted on some pool, and the Unio would no doubt sooner or later have relaxed its hold and dropped off. It is not likely that such cases should often be observed, for a bird when shot would generally fall on the ground so heavily that an attached shell would be shaken off and overlooked.

I am now able to add, through the kindness of Mr. W. D. Crick,3 of Northampton, another and different case. On February 18 of the present year, he caught a female Dytiscus marginalis,4 with a shell of Cyclas cornea clinging to the tarsus of its middle leg. The shell was .45 of an inch from end to end, .3 in depth, and weighed (as Mr. Crick informs me) .39 grams, or 6 grains. The valves

1 Bivalves: mollusks belonging to the class Bivalvia which typically have two-part shells.

2 Darwin 1878.

3 Walter Drawbridge Crick (1857-1903), shoe manufacturer, amateur geologist, palaeontologist and grandfather of Francis Crick (1916-2004).

4 The great diving beetle.

[page] 530

clipped only the extremity of the tarsus for a length of .1 of an inch. Nevertheless, the shell did not drop off, on the beetle when caught shaking its leg violently. The specimen was brought home in a handkerchief, and placed after about three hours in water, and the shell remained attached from February 18 to 23, when it dropped off, being still alive, and so remained for about a fortnight while in my possession. Shortly after the shell had detached itself, the beetle dived to the bottom of the vessel in which it had been placed, and having inserted its antennæ between the valves, was again caught for a few minutes. The species of Dytiscus often fly at night, and no doubt they generally alight on any pool of water which they may see; and I have several times heard of their having dashed down on glass cucumber frames, no doubt mistaking the glittering surface for water. I do not suppose that the above weight of 6 grains would prevent so powerful an insect as a Dytiscus from taking flight. Anyhow this beetle could transport smaller individuals; and a single one would stock any isolated pond, as the species is an hermaphrodite form. Mr. Crick tells me that a shell of the same kind, and of about the same size, which he kept in water "extruded two young ones, which seemed very active and able to take care of themselves." How far a Dytiscus could fly is not known; but during the voyage of the Beagle a closely-allied form, namely, a Colymbetes, flew on board when the nearest point of land was forty-five miles distant; and it is an improbable chance that it had flown from the nearest point.1

Mr. Crick visited the same pond a fortnight afterwards, and found on the bank a frog which appeared to have been lately killed; and to the outer toe of one of its hind legs a living shell of the same species was attached. The shell was rather smaller than in the previous case. The leg was cut off and kept in water for two days, during which time the shell remained attached. The leg was then left in the air, but soon became shrivelled; and now the shell being still alive detached itself.

Mr. F. Norgate,2 of Sparham, near Norwich, in a letter dated March 8, 1881, informs me that the larger water-beetles and newts in his aquarium "frequently have one foot caught by a small freshwater bivalve (Cyclas cornea ?), and this makes them swim about in a very restless state, day and night, for several days, until the foot or toe is completely severed." He adds that newts migrate at night from pond to pond, and can cross over obstacles which would be thought to be considerable. Lastly, my son Francis, while fishing in the sea off the shores of North Wales, noticed that mussels were several times brought up by the point of the hook; and though he did not particularly attend to the subject, he and his companion thought that the shells had not been mechanically torn from the bottom, but that they had seized the point of the hook. A friend also of Mr. Crick's tells him that while fishing in rapid streams he has often thus caught small Unios. From the several cases now given, there can, I think, be no doubt that living bivalve shells must often be carried from pond to pond, and by the aid of birds occasionally even to great distances. I have also suggested in the "Origin of Species" means by which freshwater univalve shells might be far transported.3 We may therefore demur to the belief doubtfully expressed by Mr. Gwyn Jeffreys in his "British Conchology,' namely, that the diffusion of freshwater shells "had a different and very remote origin, and that it took place before the present distribution of land and water."4


1 See Darwin's insects p. 59. This case was also cited in Origin p. 386. This was Darwin's last publication before his death, thirteen days after it was published.

2 Francis Norgate, ornithologist.

3 Origin 6th edn p. 345.

4 Jeffreys 1862, p. lxxx.

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