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Y E S I have sometimes known you make in
LOA quiries about several kinds of insects, I AKSI shall here send you an account of one
sort which I little expected to have found in this kingdom. I have often observed that one particular part of a vine growing on the walls of my house was covered in the autumn with a black dustlike appearance, on which the flies fed eagerly; and that the shoots and leaves thus affected did not thrive ; nor did the fruit ripen. To this substance I applied my glasses; but could not discover that it had anything to do with animal life, as I at first expected: but, upon a closer examination behind the larger boughs, we were surprised to find that they were coated over with husky shells, from whose sides proceeded a cotton-like substance, surrounding a multitude of eggs. This curious and uncommon production put me upon recollecting what I have heard and read concerning the coccus vitis vinifera of Linnæus, which, in the south of Europe, infests many vines, and is an horrid and loathsome pest. As soon as I had turned to the accounts given of this insect, I saw at once that it swarmed on my vine; and did not appear to have been at all checked by the preceding winter, which had been uncommonly severe.
Not being then at all aware that it had anything to do with England, I was much inclined to think that it came from Gibraltar among the many boxes and packages of plants and birds which I had formerly received from thence; and especially as the vine infested, grew immediately under my studywindow, where I usually kept my specimens. True it is that I had received nothing from thence for some years: but as insects are, we know, conveyed from one country to another in a very unexpected manner, and have a wonderful power of maintaining their existence till they fall into a nidus proper for their support and increase, I cannot but suspect still that these cocci came to me originally from Andalusia. Yet, all the while, candour obliges me to confess that Mr. Lightfoot has written me word that he once, and but once, saw these insects on a vine at Weymouth in Dorsetshire; which, it is here to be observed, is a sea-port town, to which the coccus might be conveyed by shipping.
As many of my readers may possibly never have heard of this strange and unusual insect, I shall here transcribe a passage from a natural history of Gibraltar, written by the Reverend John White, late vicar of Blackburn in Lancashire, but not yet published :
“In the year 1770 a vine which grew on the east side of my house, and which had produced the finest crops of grapes for years past, was suddenly overspread on all the woody branches with large lumps of a white fibrous substance resembling spider's webs, or rather raw cotton. It was of a very clammy quality, sticking fast to everything that touched it, and capable of being spun into long threads. At first I suspected it to be the product of spiders, but could find none. Nothing was to be seen connected with it but many brown oval husky shells, which by no means looked like insects, but rather resembled bits of the dry bark of the vine. The tree had a plentiful crop of grapes set, when this pest appeared upon it; but the fruit was manifestly injured by this foul incumbrance. It remained all the summer, still increasing, and loaded the woody and bearing branches to a vast degree. I often pulled off great quantities by handfuls : but it was so slimy and tenacious that it could by no means be cleared. The grapes never filled to their natural perfection, but „urned watery and vapid. Upon perusing the works afterwards of M. de Reaumur, I found this matter perfectly described and accounted for. Those husky shells, which I had observed, were no other than the female coccus, from whose sides this cotton-like substance exudes, and serves as a covering and security for their eggs."*
To this account I think proper to add, that, though the female cocci are stationary, and seldom remove
• This troublesome insect rarely survives the winter in the open air, and can therefore scarcely be regarded 'otherwise than an importation, probably introduced from time to time with new varieties subjected to hot-house culture. It is quite remarkable how these exotic insects get introduced from time to time. The writer once lived next door to a family having West Indian connections, and he soon realized this fact; for a few straggling individuals of a very small red ant soon began to make their appearance in the larder ; presently they swarmed and covered everything eatable, and finally they were partly instrumental in driving him from the house. -Ed.
from the place to which they stick, yet the male is a winged insect; and that the black dust which I saw was undoubtedly the excrement of the females, which is eaten by ants as well as flies. Though the utmost severity of our winter did not destroy these insects, yet the attention of the gardener in a summer or two has entirely relieved my vine from this filthy annoyance.
As we have remarked above that insects are often conveyed from one country to another in a very unaccountable manner, I shall here mention an emigration of small aphides, which was observed in the village of Selborne no longer ago than August the 1st, 1785.
At about three o'clock in the afternoon of that day, which was very hot, the people of this village were surprised by a shower of aphides, or smotherflies, which fell in these parts. Those that were walking in the street at that juncture found themselves covered with these insects, which settled also on the hedges and gardens, blackening all the vegetables where they alighted. My annuals were discoloured with them, and the stalks of a bed of onions were quite coated over for six days after. These armies were then, no doubt, in a state of emigration, and shifting their quarters; and might have come, as far as we know, from the great hop-plantations of Kent or Sussex, the wind being all that day in the easterly quarter. They were observed at the same time in great clouds about Farnham, and all along the vale from Farnham to Alton.*
SELBORNE, March 9, 1775.
* For various methods by which several insects shift their quarters, see Derham's Physico-Theology,
A HEN I happen to visit a family where
gold and silver fishes are kept in a glass TAVAVI bowl, I am always pleased with the ocal currence, because it offers me an opportunity of observing the actions and propensities of those beings with whom I can be little acquainted in their natural state. Not long since I spent a fortnight at the house of a friend where there was such a vivarium, to which I paid no small attention, taking every occasion to remark what passed within its narrow limits. It was here that I first observed the manner in which fishes die. As soon as the creature sickens, the head sinks lower and lower, and it stands as it were on its head; till, getting weaker, and losing all poise, the tail turns over, and at last it floats on the surface of the water with its belly uppermost.f The reason why fishes, when
* First published in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1786, under the signature V.
| How much gratified our author would have been had he lived in the present day, when he would see, in the numerous and elegant vivaria, how fishes and other aquatic creatures live and enjoy themselves, as well as how they die.-ED.