Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

Insects as a class, allowing our feelings of dislike to weigh with us only where they are really deserved. Much, perhaps, of the popular dislike of insects arises from their being seen under circumstances at once foreign to their nature, and painful to them. Garden and rustic insects, borne unwillingly on the breeze, through open windows, into our houses, or losing their way, and entering unwittingly and probably frightened, may well appear uninteresting. They are out of place. They are like those unfortunate quadrupeds which Italian organ-boys carry about the streets. Could we see those identical monkeys in their native woods, playing forth their sprightly instincts amid the branches, living, in a word, as nature intended them to live, they would no longer be odious. We should perceive that the tree was made for the animal, and the animal for the tree, and be filled with admiration and rtainment. Just so, in order to form a true idea of insects, we should not think merely from the parasites and the vermin, the beetles, the meatflies, and the wasps ; nor yet from the long-legged Tipulas that struggle against the window-panes, conscious only of imprisonment; but from their kindred and from themselves, as inhabitants of the fields and woods and waters, their proper homes, where they are always beautiful, and which they in turn make more beautiful by their presence. Whoever has enjoyed the sweet and serene delight of a day in the woods, while Midsummer is saturating them with sunshine, would sadly miss one of the most charming attributes of sylvan life, were the hum of their invisible myriads to be hushed when he went again. Even the still pools and tiny lakes, which we admire for their limpid clearness, and the sweet inverted pictures that lie painted in their depths, gain perhaps their larger beauty from the eccentric dances of the water-beetles, whose polished corselets twinkle with light like that of dewdrops.

Let us then consider in detail a few of the facts of Entomology. They are fully as attractive as those of Botany, and being connected with the history of active and conscious creatures, they open our perceptions still more powerfully in regard to the inexpressible goodness of God.

We found, when considering flowers, that protection is a leading idea in them. The same principle is manifested very wonderfully in insects, especially in the care with which the parent disposes her eggs. Few insects ever see their offspring. The blessedness of human life consists in the feast of the eyes of father and mother, when round, happy faces form a shining circle in the firelight, and proud rich hope skips twenty years for each, and fashions all that is good and noble for their destiny. Birds, who build pretty nests for their young, are probably happy in feeding the little' featherless occupants. Brute creatures that give suck,

have been envied before now. Even fishes, even reptiles, live some time after the birth of their progeny. But insects, excepting ants, wasps and social bees, end their little lives unknowing either progenitor or child; every successive generation is isolated from that which precedes and follows; they exist, feed, repose, associate in love, leave eggs, and

, depart in peace. Moths, butterflies, and others, seldom live more than a few days after laying their eggs, and although some of their kinds do certainly survive for several months, they are only exceptions to the general rule that insects, after depositing their eggs, very soon die. We find accordingly, that the Divine Benevolence has endued the female insect with the most amazingly acute knowledge of the wants that will be felt by her unborn young, when they have no mother to direct or provide for them. The solitary bees and wasps (which constitute different races altogether from those that live in companies, and construct waxen or paper cities), labour with inexpressible industry in excavating cave-like nests in wood and stone, and in building cradles of clay, leaves, cotton, and other materials, according to their special requirements and opportunities.

Other insects, though they themselves take little or no food, and that little in the shape of honey procured from flowers, and which cannot be supposed to have any personal care about eating, deposit their eggs upon the leaves and stems of particular plants that will supply abundance of agreeable diet to the infant grubs. A third set, not satisfied with depositing their eggs in a place of safety, cover them up tenderly against the cold of winter. The female of the gipsy-moth has the lower portion of her body thickly clothed with soft down of the eolour of human brown hair, and with this, while laying her eggs, she forms a little bed for each, detaching the hairs with consummate ingenuity, and consuming about two days in the operation. Her partner in married life has no such down upon his body, evidently because he would find no such useful purpose to apply it to.

The brown-tail and the golden-tail moths, whose caterpillars spin warm nests for themselves before winter sets in, understand the importance also of protecting their eggs from the too-great heat of July and August, at which time they are generally laid, excessive heat being quite as hurtful as excessive cold. They adopt precisely the same plan as that in use among the Neapolitan peasantry, who convey snow from Mount Vesuvius to Naples in the midst of summer, for the same purposes of luxury that ice is used in England, by covering it up in wool, wool being a slow conductor of heat, and preserving the snow unmelted. The female of each of these insects is possessed of a thick tuft of shining hair upon [Enl. Series.—No. 99, vol. ix.]

8

her tail, in which part she is also provided with a pair of living tweezers, the latter being employed to pluck out the former, a pinch at a time, after which she places the egg in the centre, cements it down and smoothens it over. Another curious kind of defence from the rays of the sun, -not however on the part of the parent, but practised by the child-insect, is one with which everybody who has ever noticed things in the country, is familiar. We allude to the oozing out of those little masses of white froth, which hang so thickly upon the herbage of the hedge-banks in early summer, and in the interior of which we may find the beautiful and cool little tenant. This froth is popularly referred to the cuckoo, and commonly called "cuckoo-spit.” The creature is green, with large and conspicuous eyes, like those which the pbrenologists say are indicative of a great capacity for language. When mature, it is brown, and if its tail be touched will jump the length of a yard. In English it is called "frog-hopper," in Latin, Tettigonia spumaria.

The immense capacity for enjoyment, given to every creature in some way or other, strikingly appears when we consider it in connection with the insect tribes. Descending from the noble forms which enjoyment possesses in man, through the successive grades of animals below him, we still at every step find representations of it. There is not a creature unacquainted with gratification, in some shape or another, deriving it from the circumstances amid which it exists, and quietly suggesting to ourselves that our best and purest pleasures are to be found at our very feet,—that they are not necessarily the fruit of toil and outlay, but that they flow to us out of the very nature of things, if we will but be content with what is simple and genuine. Insects, above all the minor creatures, seem to relish life. The inhabitants of the pretty shells that strew the sandy expanse uncovered by the retiring waves, adorning its brown wrinkles with sea-born jewellery, yellow, white and pink, no doubt have their full enjoyment of existence, but one would imagine it must be marred by their exposure every time they are forsaken by the tide; the little fishes that play about in the clear water-brooks are no doubt brimfull at once of food and satisfaction; the lizards on the sand-hills, glittering with green and gold ; the tritons in the weedy ponds, and the small birds that hide amid the leaves, no doubt have every one of them their abundant share of animal happiness; still they none of them seem to manifest so much enjoyment as insects do. This may perhaps be accounted for, at least in part, by the fact of insects being principally (always indeed, when in their perfect form) aërial creatures. In this respect they agree with birds; and all things that get much fresh air, and can sail when they like, and in whatever direction they may fancy,

[ocr errors]

through the sunshine and scented atmosphere that hangs over the green fields, and the dear pastoral or heathy hills of the country, must needs have a larger and wider sensation of physical pleasure than those which are confined to the surface of the earth, or are unable to travel far from a given spot.

Do we not find it so ourselves? The foot that is familiar with the grass belongs usually to a man of lighter heart than he whose soles seldom wander from the pavement; and the best elixir vitae is a run, as often as we can contrive it, into the sweets of new and lovely scenery, where nature sits, fresh from the hand of the Creator, almost chiding us for our delay. To take special instances, however, of the enjoyment given to insects, and thus of the benevolence of Him who ordains all these good things, let us cite the case of the dancing gnats. Every one has noticed in calm summer evenings, what vast multitudes of these little creatures thus disport themselves. They may be traced, while the light wanes, till the eye can follow no further, and as the motions evidently serve no purpose of sustenance or of reproduction, it cannot be doubted that the object is purely one of pleasure. Whenever we see the wings of insects vibrating, unless they are actually using them to pass from one place to another, we may be assured that it indicates the same kind of pleasant sensation which induces the nestling sparrow, when fed by its mother, to stretch its little pinions, and the lambkins, while sucking, to wag its tail. The pretty birds called “wagtails,” from the circumstance of the movement they make when feeding, would seem to have a special pleasure, as members of the feathered tribes, when fulfilling this great instinct of their being. What can be more beautiful than the gaiety and frolic of butterflies in the air? They frisk about, ascending, descending, moving in every possible direction, performing zig-zag pirouettes of the most elegant and varied kind, just as kittens do when upon the ground, in their more clumsy but not less sportive gambols.

Here, again, there is no purpose of direct physical utility subserved, the movements are all tokens and expressions of pleasure. Have bees no pleasure in rambling from flower to flower, and securing the sweet spoil for the security of which they have built those beautiful little many-chambered warehouses we call honeycombs ? Pleasure always attends honest and productive labour, and it would be contrary to all the analogy and harmony of nature to suppose that the bees work away with no more enjoyment than a watch possesses. It is difficult to suppose that they have not indeed a pleasure in the exercise of their little wits, over and above that of collecting the floral nectar. We

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

hardly think what excellent botanists the bees are. They do not know what "species” are, it is true, and for the matter of that, no more do our philosophers and savans. But they do know how to distinguish

genera," and may be watched going from one kind of flower to another, as cleverly as if they had had lessons from a professor. The physical allurement of course consists in the greater or less quantity of honey that particular kinds of flowers secrete, some producing it in large drops, others yielding only a taste. See, too, how admirably the bees are provided with instruments for procuring what they desire. Many flowers are so constructed that the bee cannot enter bodily: to meet this difficulty the little creature is provided with a long suckingtube, which it can push far down into the blossom, so as to reach the contents.

It is beautiful to note how thoroughly the bee and the flower are adapted one to the other. They are like the old tree and the woodpecker, the fir-cone and the cross-bill; and it is wonderfully interesting too that in reading the records of primæval ages, held up to us by Geology, we find that it was not until flowers, essentially so-called, honey-yielding, fragrant, and painted flowers, began to unroll their sweet petals to the sun of this world, that the little creatures we call bees were introduced as members of its animal population. Trees and plants, as well as animals, both small and great, have existed upon the surface of our planet from a past so remote that no man can speculate on the date of its beginning; but flowers have not so existed,—at least there is no trace of them among the myriad fossils that are wrapped up in the rocks beneath us, while of all other parts of plants, and of organs equivalent to flowers, for the purposes of reproduction, there are abundant traces. Butterflies also would seem to be a comparatively recent dynasty. Neither they nor bees existed upon this earth very long anterior to the commencement of the human period, shewing over again that nothing appears in nature before it is wanted, but that all comes in at the right time, and when its purpose is accomplished, departs. It is in this grand locking together of things, this method and universal adaptation and harmony of nature, that we have the best and truest external evidences of its Divine origin. The forms are superb, the colours are inexpressibly exquisite, but it is the unity of the whole that impresses us most deeply, and echoes in most beautiful tone"Have I been so long with thee, Philip, and thou hast not known me?"

A few words respecting the life of insects may not be altogether superfluous here. And, first, as to their changes of shape. The larger

« ForrigeFortsæt »