« السابقةمتابعة »
changes of form which they undergo at certain periods of their existence, attract the notice of the most incurious. The infant that scarce can run alone, leaving his lapful of daisies and kingcups, hails them with his bright stare of wonder and cry of delight, as he totters on far in the rear of their rapid course. The school-boy, in the pardonable pride of his newly-acquired knowledge of genera and species, captures and arranges them in his home-made cabinet; and perhaps, when years have flown by, looks upon them with chastened but scarce-diminished interest, as symbolising, in the tomb of the chrysalis and the subsequent waking to light and life of the butterfly, that future which awaits himself.
The Lepidoptera* receive their name from the peculiarity of their wings, which, although gauzy and membranous, like those of the bee, are so closely covered with minute scales of various colours, as completely to hide their real texture. These scales appear, to the naked eye, to be simply a fine bloom or dust; but the microscope exhibits them as little plumes, disposed with exquisite regularity, the projecting point or stem of each being fixed in a minute depression in the membrane of the wing. This general characteristic distinctly marks out the order to which these beautiful insects are referred : a secondary and perfectly natural sub-division separates them into three groups, differing both in habits and conformation. first, the Diurna, or day-fliers; butterflies, properly so called, at once recognised by their wings closing vertically over their backs when at rest: second, the Crepuscularia, or twilight-flyers, well known under the name of hawkmoths, with wings closing horizontally in repose, and furnished with thick or club-shaped antennæ: thirdly, the true moths, or Nocturna, which are exclusively nightflying species, resembling the second division in the position of their wings, but exhibiting slender and regularly-tapering antennæ.
• Derived from the Greek denis (lepis), “a scale," and Ttepóv (pleron), "a wing."
It is to the first group, the Diurna, that we at present confine our attention. Their clustered eggs, deposited under the unerring guidance of instinet, in spots where there will be abundance of food for the future caterpillar, are warmed into life by the returning spring, and forth creeps a tiny worm, with appetite strangely disproportioned to its diminutive size. Leaf after leaf is consumed in rapid succession ; and in a few days, the insignificant inhabitant of an egg, almost too small for sight, becomes so large that its conformation can be readily distinguished. Its body consists of twelve segments, exclusive of the head; and along each side nine spiracles, or breathing pores, are arranged. Six horny feet are attached to the first three segments, whilst the hinder portion of the body is supported by five pairs of short membranous supporters of a totally different character. Time passes on; the caterpillar, continually increasing in size, and casting its skin repeatedly, at length refuses its food, seeks out a place of concealment, and there undergoes its second chrysalid change. It now exhibits but few tokens of animation, the hinder limbs, if such they may be called, have disappeared, and the outlines of the head and fore-legs can with difficulty be traced as faint wrinkles in the polished swathing of the insectmummy. But the principle of life is active within, respiration is carried on through two apertures on the under side, and after a few weeks the perfect insect is fully formed. The outer skin, now dry and brittle, splits from the head and chest, and with a few violent convulsive efforts, the newborn Psyche escapes from her cerements, and, when the sun has dried the moisture from her wings, essays her first flight, rejoicing perhaps in the gladsome life to which the long sleep of the gloomy tomb has conducted her.
“ The very first butterfly," to quote from Knapp's “ Journal of a Naturalist,” “that will
aloft repair, To sport and flutter in the fields of air,' is the Sulphur Butterfly, (Goniapteryx Rhamni,) which, in
the bright sunny mornings of March, we so often see under the warm hedge, or by the side of some sheltered copse, undulating and vibrating like the petal of a primrose in the breeze.” This pretty species becomes more numerous as spring ripens into summer, and may be found even as late as the month of September. The wings of both sexes are sharply angled; those of the male are of a bright sulphur-yellow colour, which in the female fades into a pale greenish white. A small spot of orange marks the centre of the wings, while the base, close to the body, is somewhat dusky. The caterpillar is green, with minute black specks upon the back, and feeds upon the leaves of the buckthorn.
Next appears the common and very destructive tribe of Cabbage Butterflies. The most frequent is the Pontia Brassice ; the other species, P. Chariclea and Napi being, perhaps, in reality, little more than constant varieties. These insects would soon, from their amazing fecundity, become a most destructive scourge, but for the continual attacks of the ichneumon flies, which deposit their ova in punctures made in the body of the caterpillar with their sharp ovipositor. Often and again do we find one of these siekly wretches slowly crawling up some paling or wall, as if to undergo its change into the chrysalid form; a change which never comes, for the young larve of the ichneumon pierce through the skin which has so long hidden them, and, grouping together, spin a yellow silken case, enshrouding themselves and part of the shrivelled carcase of their victim. In a few days they emerge, perfect ichneumon flies, each in their turn, and in a similar manner, to destroy myriads of noxious caterpillars.
Belonging to the same family is the Orange-tip (Pontia Cardamines). This beautiful little species needs no deseription, as its trivial English name points it out beyond the chance of mistake. It must, however, be remembered that the female is destitute of the orange tint so characteristie of her mate; but the prettily variegated yellow and green tints of the under side of the wings afford a certain mark of recognition.
The large and gaily-coloured genus Vanessa contains several common species. The noble Peacock Butterfly, (V. Io,) with its large eyelets so well simulating the glories of the bird whose name it bears; the equally splendid Red Admiral, (V. Atalanta,) defying the art of the painter adequately to represent the gorgeous red and white bands which marble the rich dark ground-tint of its wings; the humble yet very beautiful Tortoiseshell Butterfly, (V. Urticæ,) so marked with deep orange and black as to render its name no inapt description; all these are common and well known, and worthily show forth the characteristic splendour of colouring for which this genus is remarkable, especially in tropical countries.
In contrast with these, the aristocracy of the butterfly families, we find the pretty but less dazzling genus Hipparchia. There are few who have not observed, in June and July, a dusky, brown butterfly, hovering over the hedges in almost every green lane and meadow, and settling for an instant on the yellow blossoms of the vulgar ragwort or even on the bare ground. A faint dash of red and an obscure ocellus, or eyelike spot, are faintly discernible amid the dark hue of its wings. It is the Hipparchia Janira. Despite his sad-coloured garb, we have always cherished a fondness for this little brown butterfly; for when a passing cloud has discharged its welcome shower upon the fields, and sent all the painted dandies of the butterfly tribe to seek refuge in nooks and corners, the Janira, having no fine plumes to spoil, boldly braves it out on the sheltered side of some hedge. Many a time have we watched him, after a summer shower, perched on a bramble-blossom, shaking and drying his wings; and often, even as we stood, the hardy little fellow, feeling himself tolerably comfortable again, has started off, careering over bushes and underwood as merrily as ever.
There are several other common species of Hipparchia : for instance, the Ringlet, (H. Hyperanthus,) with its blackish wings, bearing the several clearly-defined circles to which it owes its name; the tawny yellow Heath Butterfly, (H. Pamphilus,) the smallest of the genus; and the pretty and abundant H. Megæra, well marked by the two distinct
white ocelli on the fore-wings. The very common blue batterfly which appears in May and August is the Polyommatus Alexis. Like the humming-bird, the tiniest of the feathered tribes, these little butterflies are the most pugnacious of their race, and never do two males meet without a sharp encounter, buffeting each other with their wings. The collector who wishes for a perfect specimen must therefore capture one that has but recently emerged from the chrysalis, or secure his object by rearing it from the caterpillar.
Here we must close; and, trusting that our remarks may assist some in recognising a few of our native butterflies, beg our readers to accompany us next month in a search for the nests and eggs of the more common British birds.
St. Mary's, Colchester.
EAGLES. THE marten and wild cat are favourite morsels with eagles. A tame one which Mr. St. John kept for some time, killed all the cats about the place. Sitting motionless on his perch, he waited quietly, and seemingly unheedingly, till the unfortunate animal came within reach of his chain; then down he flew, and enveloping the cat with his wings, seized her in his powerful talons, with one foot planted firmly on her loins,
and the other on her throat, and nothing more was seen of poor Grimalkin, except her skin, which the eagle left empty, and turned inside out, like a rabbitskin hung up by the cook; the whole of the carcase, bones and all, being stowed away in the bird's capacious maw.
Mr. Thompson, an eminent naturalist of Ireland, was once out hunting among the Belfast mountains, when suddenly an eagle appeared above the hounds as they came to fault on the ascent to Devis ; presently they came on the scent again, and were in full cry, the eagle hovering above them, when suddenly he dashed forward, and carried off the hare from under the very noses of the dogs. Mr. St. John has seen an eagle pounce on a pack of grouse, and with outspread wings so puzzle and confuse them, that he seized