Beetle mania


Darwin's beetle collection. Courtesy of the University Museum of Zoology Cambridge.

As a student, Darwin spent so much of his time beetle collecting that one of his friends, Albert Way, drew a caricature of him riding his ‘hobby’. The Crucifix Ground Beetle was one of the greatest prizes for a collector. In a letter to his friend Leonard Jenyns in 1846, he related how:
…under a piece of bark I found two Carabi …& caught one in each hand, when lo & behold I saw a sacred Panagæus crux major; I could not bear to give up either of my Carabi, & to lose Panagæus was out of the question, so that in despair I gently seized one of the Carabi between my teeth, when to my unspeakable disgust & pain the little inconsiderate beast squirted his acid down my throat and I lost both Carabi & Panagæus!’ The beetle that escaped Darwin was rediscovered in Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire in 2008 after an absence of more than 50 years. Beetles were amongst the first specimens Darwin collected in South America.