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THE DEATH-WATCH PTINUS.
THE DEATH-WATCH PTINUS.
Notwithstanding its smallness, this creature is often the cause of serious alarm among the superstitious, from the noise which it makes, at a certain season of the year, resembling the ticking of a watch. From this it bas its name; for, whenever this faculty is exerted, it is esteemed portentive of death to some one of the family in the house where it is heard. The philosopher and the naturalist may smile at a notion thus absurd; yet Sir Thomas Brown has remarked, with great earnestness, that the man, “who could eradicate this error from the minds of the people, would save from many a cold sweat the meticulous heads of nurses and grandmothers."
It is generally in the advanced state of spring, that these insects commence their noise. This is nothing more than a call or signal, by which they are mutually attracted to each other; and it may be considered as analogous to the call of birds. It is not occasioned by the voice, but by the insect's beating on any hard substance with the shield or fore part of its head. The general number of successive distinct strokes, is from seven to nine or eleven. These are given in tolerably quick succession, and are repeated at uncertain intervals; and in old houses, where the insects are numerous, they may be heard during warm weather almost every hour in the day. The noise exactly resembles that made by beating with a nail upon the table.
This insect, from its obscure grayish brown color, nearly resem. bling that of decayed wood, is difficult to discover: it is consequently not always easy to say from what exact spot the sound proceeds. Mr. Stack house observed carefully the manner of its beating. He says, the insect raises itself on its hind legs, and, with the body somewhat inclined, beats its head with great force and agility against the place on which it stands. One of them, on a sedge-bottomed chair, exerted so much force, that its strokes were impressed and visible in the exterior coat of the sedge, for a space equal to that of a silver penny. Mr. Stackhouse took this insect and put it into a box. On the following day he opened the box, and set it in the sun. The insect seemed very brisk, and crept about with great activity on the bits of sedge and rotten wood, till at last, getting to the end of the pieces, it extended its wings, and was about to take flight. He then shut down the lid, when it withdrew them, and remained quiet. He kept it by him about a fortnight.
The idea of taming this little animal may appear absurd : it has, however, been so much familiarized, as to be made to beat occasionally. On taking it out of its confinement, and beating with the nail or the point of a pen on a table or board, it will answer the beats very readily, and will even continue to repeat its efforts as long as it is required.
Dr. Derham kept a male and female together in a box for about three weeks; and by imitating their noise, he made them beat when. ever he pleased. At the end of this time one of them died; and soon afterwards the other gnawed its way out and escaped.
This insect, which is the real Death-watch of the vulgar, emphati. cally so called, must not be confounded with a wingless insect, not much unlike a louse, which makes a ticking noise like a watch, but which, instead of beating at intervals, continues its noise for a considerable length of time without intermission. The latter belongs to a tribe very different from this: it is the Termes Pulsatorium of Linnæus, and will be hereafter described.
OF THE SILPIÆ, OR CARRION BEETLES,
THESE insects are chiefly found, both in a perfect and larvæ state, in the half-decayed and putrid bodies of animals. Their antenne are clavate, and the club is perfoliate. The elytra or wing-cases are margined; and the head is prominent. The thorax is soinewbat flattened, and also margined.
THE BURYING SYLPH,
The best account that I have seen of the habits and economy of these interesting insects, is that written by M. Gleditsch, a well known writer on natural history. This gentlernan bad, at different times, observed, that Moles which had been left upon the ground after they had been killed, very unaccountably disappeared. He therefore was determined, if possible, to ascertain by experiment, what could be the cause of this singular occurrence.
On the twenty-fifth of May, he accordingly obtained a dead mole, which he placed on the moist, soft earth of his garden, and in two days he found it sunk to the depth of four fingers' breadth into the earth : it was in the same position in which he had placed it, and its grave corresponded exactly with the length and breadth of its body. The day following this grave was half filled up; and he cautiously drew out the mole, (which exhaled a horrible stench,) and found, directly under it, little holes, in which were four Beetles of the present species. Discovering at this time, nothing but these Beetles, he put them into the hollow, and they quickly hid themselves among the earth. He then replaced the mole as he found it, and, having spread a little soft earth over it, left it without looking at it again for the space of six days. On the twelfth of June he again took up the same carcass, wbich he found in the highest state of corruption, swarming with small, thick, whitish worms, that appeared to be the family of the Beetles. These circumstances induced him to suppose that it was the Beetles that had thus buried the mole, and that they had done this for the sake of lodging in it their offspring.
Mr. G. then took a glass vessel, and half filled it with moist earth into this he put the four Beetles with their young ones, and they im
THE BURYING SYLPH.
mediately concealed themselves. This glass, covered with a cloth, was placed on the open ground, and in the course of fifty days, the four Beetles interred the bodies of four frogs, three small birds, two grasshoppers, and one mole, besides the entrails of a fish, and two small pieces of the lungs of an Ox.
Of the mode in which they performed this very singular operation, the following is an account: A Linnet that had been dead six hours was placed in the middle of the cucurbit: in a few moments the Beetles quitted their holes, and traversed the body. After a few hours, one pair of the Beetles only was seen about the bird : the largest of these was suspected to be the female. They began their work by hollowing out the earth from under the bird. They arranged a cavity the size of the bird, by pushing all around the body the earth which they removed. To succeed in these efforts, they leaned them. selves strongly upon their collars, and, bending down their heads, forced out the earth around the bird like a kind of rampart. The work being finished, and the bird having fallen into the hollow, they covered it, and thus closed the grave.
It appeared as if the bird moved alternately its head, its tail, its wings, or feet. Every time that any of these movements were observed, the efforts that the Beetles made to draw the body into the grave, which was now nearly completed, might be remarked : in effecting this, they jointly drew it by its feathers below. This operation lasted full two hours, when the smallest or male Beetle drove away the female from the grave, and would not allow her to return, forcing her to enter the hole as often as she attempted to come out of it.
This Beetle continued the work alone for at least five hours; and it was truly astonishing to observe the great quantity of earth which he removed in that time: but the surprise of Mr. G. was much augmented, when he saw the little animal stiffening its collar, and exerting all its strength, lift up the bird, make it change its place, turn, and, in some measure, arrange it in the grave that it had prepared ; which was so spacious, and so far cleared, that he could perceive exactly under the bird, all the movements and all the actions of the Beetle.
From time to time, the Beetle coming out of its hole, mounted upon the bird, and appeared to tread it down; then, returning to the charge, it drew the bird more and more into the earth, till it was sunk to a considerable depth. The Beetle, in consequence of this uninterrupted labor, appeared to be tired : leaning its head upon the earth, it continued in that position nearly an hour, without motion; and it then retired completely underground.
Early in the morning the body was drawn entirely underground, to the depth of two fingers' breadth, in the same position that it had when laid on the earth ; so that this little corpse seemed as if it were laid out on a bier, with a small mount or rampart all round, for the purpose of covering it. In the evening the bird was sunk about half a fingers' breadth deeper in the earth ; and the operation was continued for nearly two days more, when the work obtained its final com. pletion.
A single Beetle was put into the glass cucurbit, with the body of a mole, and covered, as before, with a fine linen cloth. About seven o'clock in the morning, the Beetle had drawn the head of the mole below; and, in pushing the earth backward, had formed a tolerably high rampart around it. The interment was completed in this instance, by four o'clock in the afternoon, a space of time so short, that one could scarcely have imagined the operation possible, by so small a creature, without any assistance, and considering that the body of the mole must have exceeded the insect in bulk and weight at least thirty times.
While engaged in these experiments, a friend, who wished to dry a Toad in the shade, fixed it to a stick which he stuck into the ground. When it began to putrefy, the Beetles, allured by the smell, having loosened the end of the stick that was fixed in the earth, brought it to the ground, and they then interred both the Toad and the stick.
The interment of these animals, which generally takes place from about the middle of April to the end of October, has been sufficiently proved to be not merely for food, but as a proper nidus for the eggs of the insects, and to nourish the young family of grubs that proceeds from them. If they wanted them for food only, they would no doubt consume them above ground; but in the continuation of the species, it is necessary to have them below, since, otherwise, Foxes, Ravens
, Kites, and other carnivorous animals, would seize on the bodies, and, along with them, would swallow the grubs of the Beetles.
OF THE COCCINELLA, OR LADY-BUG TRIBE.
THE principal food of these insects consists of aphides or plant-lice, by destroying which, in immense numbers, they render a most important service to mankind.
Their antennæ are club-shaped, and the club is solid. The thorax and elytra are margined. The body is hemispherical, and the abdomen flat. The larvæ or grubs of some of the species, have their bodies covered with scaly plates; others have hairs on the upper parts of the body, and on the sides; and there are others still different.
THE SEVEN-SPOTTED AND TWO-SPOTTED LADY-BUG.
Few insects are either more common or better known than theso. They are usually found on plants, where they repose with the legs concealed under their body, and their antennæ beneath the head. In winter they hide themselves and become torpid, and they again appear abroad in the spring.
The females deposit their eggs on such plants as abound with ap hides or plant-lice. The larvæ have each six feet, and a conical body divided into twelve rings. At the extremity of the posterior ring, there is a kind of fleshy teat, by which they are able to adhere to solid bodies, and firmly to support themselves while employed in seizing
and devouring their food. They are so extremely voracious, that when other food is scarce, they will sometimes eat even their own species.
In order to change into the pupa state, they attach themselves by their fleshy feet, to the leaves or branches of trees. Here they drop a small quantity of glutinous liquor, which fixes them to the spot, and, in a position contrary to that of tae plane to which they adhere. Little by little their body contracts, and at the end of two or three days they undergo their transformation. In freeing themselves from their skin, they make it pass towards the hinder part of their body, where it continues like a little pellet.
The pupce are beautifully spotted with black and other colors. The only motion observable in them, is that of alternately elevating and depressing their body, particularly if touched. They finally quit their envelope in about six days after this last change. When they first come into the world as perfect insects, their wing.cases are of a yellowish white color, soft and flexible. These soon harden by their contact with the external air; and shortly afterwards assume their proper spots and colors.
Lady Bugs have in France the name of Bête à Dieu, Vache-à-Dieu, and Bête de la Vierge.
OF THE CURCULIO, OR WEEVIL TRIBE.
THE larve of the Weevils, like those of other coleopterous insects, have each six legs and a scaly bead. They have a resemblance to oblong soft worms. Some of them infest granaries, where, from their numbers and voracity, they often commit great ravages among the corn: some live in fruits, the insides of artichokes, thistles, and other plants; and others devour the leaves of trees and vegetables,
One division of the Weevils feed on trees and shrubs, inserting their beaks into the tender branches, and by this means extracting their joices. The Curculio alliarice bas been observed with its beak plunged into the twig of a crab-tree, as far as the place whence the antenna arise. Another division feed solely on plants. Others live on grain, wood, and on some of the species of fungi; and a few under the surface of the earth.
THE CORN WEEVIL.
The Corn Weevil is well known to most farmers, from the devastation that it makes in their granaries. The parent insect lays its eggs in grains of corn, probably one in each grain. Here the larvæ, on being hatched, continue for some time to live, and it is very difficult to discover them, as they lie concealed within. They increase their size, and with it their dwelling, at the expense of the interior or