Owing to the favourable combination of heat, moisture, and vegetation, the myriads of insects in Ceylon form one of the characteristic features of the island. In the solitude of the forests there is a perpetual music from their soothing and melodious hum, which frequently swells to a startling sound as the cicada trills his sonorous drum on the sunny bark of some tall tree. At morning the dew hangs in diamond drops on the threads and gossamer which the spiders suspend across every pathway; and above the pool dragon-flies, of more than metallic lustre, flash in the early sunbeams. The earth teems with countless ants, which emerge from beneath its surface, or make their devious highways to ascend to their nests in the trees. Lustrous beetles, with their golden elytra, bask on the leaves, whilst minuter species dash through the air in circles, which the ear can follow by the booming of their tiny wings. Butterflies of large size and gorgeous colouring, flutter over the endless expanse of flowers, and at times the extraordinary sight presents itself of flights of these delicate creatures, generally of a white or pale yellow hue, apparently miles in breadth, and of such prodigious extension as to occupy hours, and even days, uninterruptedly in their passage—whence coming no one [pg 404] knows; whither going no one can tell. 1 As day declines, the moths issue from their retreats, the crickets add their shrill voices to swell the din; and when darkness descends, the eye is charmed with the millions of emerald lamps lighted up by the fire-flies amidst the surrounding gloom.
As yet no attempt has been made to describe the insects of Ceylon systematically, much less to enumerate the prodigous number of species that abound in every locality. Occasional observers have, from time to time, contributed notices of particular families to the Scientific Associations of Europe, but their papers remain undigested, and the time has not yet arrived for the preparation of an Entomology of the island.
What DARWIN remarks of the Coleoptera of Brazil is nearly as applicable to the same order of insects in Ceylon: "The number of minute and obscurely coloured beetles is exceedingly great; the cabinets of Europe can as yet, with partial exceptions, boast only of the larger species from tropical climates, and it is sufficient to disturb the composure of an entomologist to look forward to the future dimensions of a catalogue with any pretensions to completeness." 2 M. Nietner, a German entomologist, who has spent some years in Ceylon, has recently published, in one of the local [pg 405] periodicals, a series of papers on the Coleoptera of the island, in which every species introduced is stated to be previously undescribed. 3
COLEOPTERA.—Buprestidæ; Golden Beetles.—In the morning the herbaceous plants, especially on the eastern side of the island, are studded with these gorgeous beetles, whose golden wing-cases 4 are used to enrich the embroidery of the Indian zenana, whilst the lustrous joints of the legs are strung on silken threads, and form necklaces and bracelets of singular brilliancy.
These exquisite colours are not confined to one order, and some of the Elateridæ 5 and Lamellicorns exhibit hues of green and blue, that rival the deepest tints of the emerald and sapphire.
Scavenger Beetles.—Scavenger beetles 6 are to be seen wherever the presence of putrescent and offensive matter affords opportunity for the display of their repulsive but most curious instincts; fastening on it with eagerness, severing it into lumps proportionate to their strength, and rolling it along in search of some place sufficiently soft in which to bury it, after having deposited their eggs in the centre. I had frequent opportunities, especially in traversing the sandy jungles in the level plains to the north of the island, of observing the unfailing appearance of these creatures instantly on the dropping of horse dung, or any other substance [pg 406] suitable for their purpose; although not one was visible but a moment before. Their approach on the wing is announced by a loud and joyous booming sound, as they dash in rapid circles in search of the desired object, led by their sense of smell, and evidently little assisted by the eye in shaping their course towards it. In these excursions they exhibit a strength of wing and sustained power of flight, such as is possessed by no other class of beetles with which I am acquainted, but which is obviously indispensable [pg 407] for the due performance of the useful functions they discharge.
The Coco-nut Beetle.—In the luxuriant forests of Ceylon the extensive family of Longicorns 7 and Passalidæ live in destructive abundance. To the coco-nut planters the ravages committed by beetles are painfully familiar. 8 The larva of one species of Dynastida, the Oryctes rhinoceros, called by the Singhalese "Gascooroominiya," makes its way into the younger trees, descending from the top, and after perforating them in all directions, forms a cocoon of the gnawed wood and sawdust, in which it reposes during its sleep as a pupa, till the arrival of the period when it emerges as a perfect beetle. Notwithstanding the repulsive aspect of the large pulpy larvæ of these beetles, they are esteemed a luxury by the Malabar coolies, who so far avail themselves of the privilege accorded by the Levitical law, which permitted the Hebrews to eat "the beetle after his kind." 9
Amongst the superstitions of the Singhalese arising out of their belief in demonology, one remarkable one is connected with the appearance of a beetle when observed on the floor of a dwelling-house after nightfall. The popular belief is that in obedience to a certain form of incantation (called cooroominiya-pilli) a demon [pg 408] in the shape of a beetle is sent to the house of some person or family whose destruction it is intended to compass, and who presently falls sick and dies. The only means of averting this catastrophe is, that some one, himself an adept in necromancy, should perform a counter-charm, the effect of which is to send back the disguised beetle to destroy his original employer; for in such a conjuncture the death of one or the other is essential to appease the demon whose intervention has been invoked. Hence the discomfort of a Singhalese on finding a beetle in his house after sunset, and his anxiety to expel but not to kill it.
Tortoise Beetles.—There is one family of insects, the members of which cannot fail to strike the traveller by their singular beauty, the Cassididæ or tortoise beetles, in which the outer shell overlaps the body, and the limbs are susceptible of being drawn entirely within it. The rim is frequently of a different tint from the centre, and one species which I have seen is quite startling from the brilliancy of its colouring, which gives it the appearance of a ruby enclosed in a frame of pearl; but this wonderful effect disappears immediately on the death of the insect.
ORTHOPTERA. Leaf-insects.—But in relation to the insects of Ceylon the admiration of their colours is still less exciting than the astonishment created by the forms in which some of the families present themselves; especially the "soothsayers" (Mantidæ) and "walking leaves." The latter 10 , exhibiting the most cunning of all nature's devices for the preservation of her creatures, are found in the jungle in all varieties of hues, from the pale yellow of an opening bud to the rich green of [pg 409] the full-blown leaf, and the withered tint of decay. So perfect is the imitation of a leaf in structure and articulation, that this amazing insect when at rest is almost undistinguishable from the foliage around: not only are the wings modelled to resemble ribbed and fibrous follicles, but every joint of the legs is expanded into a broad plait like a half-opened leaflet.[pg 410]
It rests on its abdomen, the legs serving to drag it slowly along, and thus the flatness of its attitude serves still further to add to the appearance of a leaf. One of the most marvellous incidents connected with its organisation was exhibited by one which I kept under a glass shade on my table, it laid a quantity of eggs, that, in colour and shape, were not to be distinguished from seeds. They were brown, and pentangular, with a short stem, and slightly punctured at the intersections.
The "soothsayer," on the other hand (Mantis superstitiosa. Fab. 11 ), little justifies by its propensities the appearance of gentleness, and the attitudes of sanctity, which have obtained for it the title of the "praying mantis." Its habits are carnivorous, and degenerate into cannibalism, as it preys on the weaker individuals of its own species. Two which I enclosed in a box were both found dead a few hours after, literally severed limb from limb in their encounter. The formation of the foreleg enables the tibia to be so closed on the sharp edge of the thigh as to amputate any slender substance grasped within it.
The Stick-insect.—The Phasmidæ or spectres, another class of orthoptera, present as close a resemblance to small branches or leafless twigs as their congeners do to green leaves. The wing-covers, where they exist, instead of being expanded, are applied so closely to the body as to detract nothing from its rounded form, and [pg 411] hence the name which they have acquired of "walking-sticks." Like the Phyllium, the Phasma lives exclusively on vegetables, and some attain the length of several inches.
Of all the other tribes of the Orthoptera Ceylon possesses many representatives; in swarms of cockroaches, grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets.
NEUROPTERA. Dragon-flies.—Of the Neuroptera, some of the dragon-flies are pre-eminently beautiful; one species, with rich brown-coloured spots upon its gauzy wings, is to be seen near every pool. 12 Another 13 , which dances above the mountain streams in Oovah, and amongst the hills descending towards Kandy, gleams in the sun as if each of its green enamelled wings had been sliced from an emerald.
The Ant-Lion.—Of the ant-lion, whose larvæ have earned a bad renown from their predaceous ingenuity, Ceylon has, at least, four species, which seem peculiar to the island. 14 This singular creature, preparatory to its pupal transformation, contrives to excavate a conical pitfall in the dust to the depth of about an inch, in the bottom of which it conceals itself, exposing only its open mandibles above the surface; and here every ant and soft-bodied insect which curiosity tempts to descend, or accident may precipitate into the trap, is ruthlessly seized and devoured by its ambushed inhabitant.
The White Ant.—But of the insects of this order the most noted are the white ants or termites (which are ants only by a misnomer). They are, unfortunately, at once ubiquitous and innumerable in every spot where [pg 412] the climate is not too chilly, or the soil too sandy, for them to construct their domed edifices.
These they raise from a considerable depth under ground, excavating the clay with their mandibles, and moistening it with tenacious saliva 15 until it assume the appearance, and almost the consistency, of sandstone. So delicate is the trituration to which they subject this material, that the goldsmiths of Ceylon employ the powdered clay of the ant hills in preference to all other substances in the preparation of crucibles and moulds for their finer castings: and KNOX says, "the people use this finer clay to make their earthen gods of, it is so pure and fine." 16 These structures the termites erect with such perseverance and durability that they frequently rise to the height of ten or twelve feet from [pg 413] the ground, with a corresponding diameter. They are so firm in their texture that the weight of a horse makes no apparent indentation on their solidity; and even the intense rains of the monsoon, which no cement or mortar can long resist, fail to penetrate the surface or substance of an ant hill. 17 In their earlier stages the termites proceed with such energetic rapidity, that I have seen a pinnacle of moist clay, six inches in height and twice as large in diameter, constructed underneath a table between sitting down to dinner and the removal of the cloth.
As these lofty mounds of earth have all been carried up from beneath the surface, a cave of corresponding dimensions is necessarily scooped out below, and here, under the multitude of miniature cupolas and pinnacles which canopy it above, the termites hollow out the royal chamber for their queen, with spacious nurseries surrounding it on all sides; and all are connected by arched galleries, long passages, and doorways of the most intricate and elaborate construction. In the centre and underneath the spacious dome is the recess for the queen—a hideous creature, with the head and thorax of an ordinary termite, but a body swollen to a hundred [pg 414] times its usual and proportionate bulk, and presenting the appearance of a mass of shapeless pulp. From this great progenitrix proceed the myriads that people the subterranean hive, consisting, like the communities of the genuine ants, of labourers and soldiers, which are destined never to acquire a fuller development than that of larvæ, and the perfect insects which in due time become invested with wings and take their departing flight from the cave. But their new equipment seems only destined to facilitate their dispersion from the parent nest, which takes place at dusk; and almost as quickly as they leave it they divest themselves of their ineffectual wings, waving them impatiently and twisting them in every direction till they become detached and drop off, and the swarm, within a few hours of their emancipation, become a prey to the night-jars and bats, which are instantly attracted to them as they issue in a cloud from the ground. I am not prepared to say that the other insectivorous birds would not gladly make a meal of the termites, but, seeing that in Ceylon their numbers are chiefly kept in check by the crepuscular birds, it is observable, at least as a coincidence, that the dispersion of the swarm generally takes place at twilight. Those that escape the caprimulgi fall a prey to the crows, on the morning succeeding their flight.
The strange peculiarity of the omnivorous ravages of the white ants is that they shrink from the light; in all their expeditions for providing food they construct a covered pathway of moistened clay, and their galleries above ground extend to an incredible distance from the central nest. No timber, except ebony and ironwood, which are too hard, and those which are strongly impregnated [pg 415] with camphor or aromatic oils, which they dislike, presents any obstacle to their ingress. I have had a case of wine filled, in the course of two days, with almost solid clay, and only discovered the presence of the white ants by the escape from the corks. I have had a portmanteau in my tent so peopled with them in the course of a single night that the contents were found worthless in the morning. In an incredibly short time a detachment of these pests will destroy a press full of records, reducing the paper to fragments; and a shelf of books will be tunnelled into a gallery if it happen to be in their line of march. The timbers of a house when fairly attacked are eaten from within till the beams are reduced to an absolute shell, so thin that it may be punched through with the point of the finger: and even kyanized wood, unless impregnated with an extra quantity of corrosive sublimate, appears to occasion them no inconvenience. The only effectual precaution for the protection of furniture is incessant vigilance—the constant watching of every article, and its daily removal from place to place, in order to baffle their assaults.
They do not appear in the hills above the elevation of 4000 or 5000 feet. One species of white ant, the Termes Taprobanes, was at one time believed by Mr. Walker to be peculiar to the island, but it has recently been found in Sumatra and Borneo, and in some parts of Hindustan.
There is a species of Termes in Ceylon (T. monoceros), which always builds its nest in the hollow of an old tree; and, unlike the others, carries on its labours without the secrecy and protection of a covered way. A marching column of these creatures may be observed at early [pg 416] morning in the vicinity of their nest, returning laden with the spoils collected during their foraging excursions. These consist of comminuted vegetable matter, derived, it may be, from a thatched roof, if one happens to be within reach, or from the decaying leaves of a coco-nut. Each little worker in the column carries its tiny load in its jaws; and the number of individuals in one of these lines of march must be immense, for the column is generally about two inches in width, and very densely crowded. One was measured which had most likely been in motion for hours, moving in the direction of the nest, and was found to be upwards of sixty paces in length. If attention be directed to the mass in motion, it will be observed that flanking it on each side throughout its whole length are stationed a number of horned soldier termites, whose duty it is to protect the labourers, and to give notice of any danger threatening them. This latter duty they perform by a peculiar quivering motion of the whole body, which is rapidly communicated from one to the other for a considerable distance: a portion of the column is then thrown into confusion for a short time, but confidence soon returns, and the progress of the little creatures goes on with steadiness and order as before. The nest is of a black colour, and resembles a mass of scoriæ; the insects themselves are of a pitchy brown. 18
HYMENOPTERA. Mason Wasp.—In Ceylon as in all other countries, the order of hymenopterous insects arrests us less by the beauty of their forms than the marvels of their sagacity and the achievements of their [pg 417] instinct. A fossorial wasp of the family of Sphegidæ, 19 which is distinguished by its metallic lustre, enters by the open windows, and converts irritation at its movements into admiration of the graceful industry with which it stops up the keyholes and similar apertures with clay in order to build in them a cell. Into this it thrusts the pupa of some other insect, within whose body it has previously introduced its own eggs. The whole is surrounded with moistened earth, through which the young parasite, after undergoing its transformations, gnaws its way into light, to emerge as a four-winged fly. 20
A formidable species (Sphex ferruginea of St. Fargeau), which is common to India and most of the eastern islands, is regarded with the utmost dread by the unclad natives, who fly precipitately on finding themselves [pg 418] in the vicinity 21 of its nests. These are of such ample dimensions, that when suspended from a branch, they often measure upwards of six feet in length. 22
Bees.—Bees of several species and genera, some unprovided with stings, and some in size scarcely exceeding a house-fly, deposit their honey in hollow trees, or suspend their combs from a branch. The spoils of their industry form one of the chief resources of the uncivilised Veddahs, who collect the wax in the upland forests, to be bartered for arrow points and clothes in the lowlands. 23 I have never heard of an instance of persons being attacked by the bees of Ceylon, and hence the natives assert, that those most productive of honey are destitute of stings.
The Carpenter Bee.—The operations of one of the most interesting of the tribe, the Carpenter bee 24 , I have watched with admiration from the window of the Colonial [pg 419] Secretary's official residence at Kandy. So soon as the day grew warm, these active creatures were at work perforating the wooden columns which supported the verandah. They poised themselves on their shining purple wings, as they made the first lodgment in the wood, enlivening the work with an uninterrupted hum of delight, which was audible to a considerable distance. When the excavation had proceeded so far that the insect could descend into it, the music was suspended, but renewed from time to time, as the little creature came to the orifice to throw out the chips, to rest, or to enjoy the fresh air. By degrees, a mound of saw-dust was formed at the base of the pillar, consisting of particles abraded by the mandibles of the bee. These, when the hollow was completed to the depth of several inches, were partially replaced in the excavation after being agglutinated to form partitions between the eggs, as they were deposited within. The mandibles 25 of these bees are admirably formed for the purpose of working out the tunnels required, being short, stout, and usually furnished at the tip with two teeth which are rounded somewhat into the form of cheese-cutters.[pg 420]
These when brought into operation cut out the wood in the same way as a carpenter's double gouge, the teeth being more or less hollowed out within. The female alone is furnished with these powerful instruments. In the males the mandibles are slender as compared with those of the females. The bores of some of these bees are described as being from twelve to fourteen inches in length.
Ants.—As to ants, I apprehend that, notwithstanding their numbers and familiarity, information is very imperfect relative to the varieties and habits of these marvellous insects in Ceylon. 26 In point of multitude it is scarcely an exaggeration to apply to them the figure of "the sands of the sea." They are everywhere; in the earth, in the houses, and on the trees; they are to be seen in every room and cupboard, and almost on every plant in the jungle. To some of the latter they are, perhaps, attracted by the sweet juices secreted by the aphides and coccidæ. 27 Such is the passion [pg 421] of the ants for sugar, and their wonderful faculty of discovering it, that the smallest particle of a substance containing it is quickly covered with them, though placed in the least conspicuous position, where not a single one may have been visible a moment before. But it is not sweet substances alone that they attack; no animal or vegetable matter comes amiss to them: no aperture appears too small to admit them; it is necessary to place everything which it may be desirable to keep free from their invasion, under the closest cover, or on tables with cups of water under every foot. As scavengers, they are invaluable; and as ants never sleep, but work without cessation during the night as well as by day, every particle of decaying vegetable or putrid animal matter is removed with inconceiveable speed and certainty. In collecting shells, I have been able to turn this propensity to good account; by placing them within their reach, the ants in a few days removed every vestige of the mollusc from the innermost and otherwise inaccessible whorls; thus avoiding all risk of injuring the enamel by any mechanical process.
But the assaults of the ants are not confined to dead animals alone, they attack equally such small insects as they can overcome, or find disabled by accidents or wounds; and it is not unusual to see some hundreds of them surrounding a maimed beetle, or a bruised cockroach, and hurrying it along in spite of its struggles. I have, on more than one occasion, seen a contest between, them and one of the viscous ophidians, Cæcilia, glutinosa 28 , a reptile resembling an enormous earthworm, common in the Kandyan hills, of an inch in diameter, [pg 422] and nearly two feet in length. On these occasions it would seem as if the whole community had been summoned and turned out for such a prodigious effort; they surround their victim literally in tens of thousands, inflicting wounds on all parts, and forcing it along towards their nest in spite of resistance. In one instance to which I was a witness, the conflict lasted for the latter part of a day, but towards evening the Coecilia was completely exhausted, and in the morning it had totally disappeared, having been carried away either whole or piecemeal by its assailants.
The species I here allude to is a very small ant, which the Singhalese call by the generic name of Koombiya. There is a species still more minute, and evidently distinct, which frequents the caraffes and toilet vessels. A third, probably the Formica nidificans of Jerdan, is black, of the same size as that last mentioned, and, from its colour, called the Kalu koombiga by the natives. In the houses its propensities and habits are the same as those of the others; but I have observed that it frequents the trees more profusely, forming small paper cells for its young, like miniature wasps' nests, in which it deposits its eggs, suspending them from a twig.
The most formidable of all is the great red ant or Dimiya. 29 It is particularly abundant in gardens, and on fruit trees; it constructs its dwellings by glueing the leaves of such species as are suitable from their shape and pliancy into hollow balls, and these it lines with a kind of transparent paper, like that manufactured by the wasp. I have watched them at the interesting operation of forming these dwellings;—a line of ants standing on the edge of one leaf bring another into contact [pg 423] with it, and hold both together with their mandibles till their companions within attach them firmly by means of their adhesive paper, the assistants outside moving along as the work proceeds. If it be necessary to draw closer a leaf too distant to be laid hold of by the immediate workers, they form a chain by depending one from the other till the object is reached, when it is at length brought into contact, and made fast by cement.
Like all their race, these ants are in perpetual motion, forming lines on the ground along which they pass, in continual procession to and from the trees on which they reside. They are the most irritable of the whole order in Ceylon, biting with such intense ferocity as to render it difficult for the unclad natives to collect the fruit from the mango trees, which the red ants especially frequent. They drop from the branches upon travellers in the jungle, attacking them with venom and fury, and inflicting intolerable pain both upon animals and man. On examining the structure of the head through a microscope, I found that the mandibles, instead of merely meeting in contact, are so hooked as to cross each other at the points, whilst the inner line is sharply serrated throughout its entire length; thus occasioning the intense pain of their bite, as compared with that of the ordinary ant.
To check the ravages of the coffee bug 30 (Lecanium coffeæ, Walker), which for some years past has devastated some of the plantations in Ceylon, the experiment was made of introducing the red ants, who feed greedily on the Coccus. But the remedy threatened to be attended with some inconvenience, for the Malabar Coolies, with bare and oiled skins, were so frequently and fiercely assaulted by the ants as to endanger their stay on the estates.[pg 424]
The ants which burrow in the ground in Ceylon are generally, but not invariably, black, and some of them are of considerable size. One species, about the third of an inch in length, is abundant in the hills, and especially about the roots of trees, where they pile up the earth in circular heaps round the entrance to their nests, and in doing this I have observed a singular illustration of their instinct. To carry up each particle of sand by itself would be an endless waste of labour, and to carry two or more loose ones securely would be to them embarrassing, if not impossible. To overcome the difficulty they glue together with their saliva so much earth or sand as is sufficient for a burden, and each ant may be seen hurrying up from below with his load, carrying it to the top of the circular heap outside, and throwing it over, the mass being so strongly attached as to roll to the bottom without breaking asunder.
The ants I have been here describing are inoffensive, differing in this particular from the Dimiya and another of similar size and ferocity, which is called by the Singhalese Kaddiya. They have a legend illustrative of their alarm for the bites of the latter, to the effect that the cobra de capello invested the Kaddiya with her own venom in admiration of the singular courage displayed by these little creatures. 31
LEPIDOPTERA. Butterflies.—In the interior of the island butterflies are comparatively rare, and, contrary to the ordinary belief, they are seldom to be seen in the sunshine. They frequent the neighbourhood of the jungle, and especially the vicinity of the rivers and [pg 425] waterfalls, living mainly in the shade of the moist foliage, and returning to it in haste after the shortest flights, as if their slender bodies were speedily dried up and exhausted by exposure to the intense heat.
Among the largest and most gaudy of the Ceylon Lepidoptera is the great black and yellow butterfly (Ornithoptera darsius, Gray); the upper wings of which measure six inches across, and are of deep velvet black, the lower ornamented by large particles of satiny yellow, through which the sunlight passes. Few insects can compare with it in beauty, as it hovers over the flowers of the heliotrope, which furnish the favourite food of the perfect fly, although the caterpillar feeds on the aristolochia and the betel leaf, and suspends its chrysalis from its drooping tendrils.
Next in size as to expanse of wing, though often exceeding it in breadth, is the black and blue Papilio Polymnestor, which darts rapidly through the air, alighting on the ruddy flowers of the hibiscus, or the dark green foliage of the citrus, on which it deposits its eggs. The larvæ of this species are green with white bands, and have a hump on the fourth or fifth segment. From this hump the caterpillar, on being irritated, protrudes a singular horn of an orange colour, bifurcate at the extremity, and covered with a pungent mucilaginous secretion. This is evidently intended as a weapon of defence against the attack of the ichneumon flies, that deposit their eggs in its soft body, for when the grub is pricked, either by the ovipositor of the ichneumon, or by any other sharp instrument, the horn is at once protruded, and struck upon the offending object with unerring aim.
Amongst the more common of the larger butterflies [pg 426] is the P. Hector, with gorgeous crimson spots set in the black velvet of the inferior wings; these, when fresh, are shot with a purple blush, equalling in splendour the azure of the European "Emperor."
The Spectre Butterfly.—Another butterfly, but belonging to a widely different group, is the "sylph" (Hestia Jasonia), called by the Europeans by the various names of Floater, Spectre, and Silver-paper fly, as indicative of its graceful flight. It is found only in the deep shade of the damp forest, usually frequenting the vicinity of pools of water and cascades, about which it sails heedless of the spray, the moisture of which may even be beneficial in preserving the elasticity of its thin and delicate wings, that bend and undulate in the act of flight.
The Lycanidæ 32 , a particularly attractive group, abound near the enclosures of cultivated grounds, and amongst the low shrubs edging the patenas, flitting from flower to flower, inspecting each in turn, as if attracted by their beauty, in the full blaze of sun-light; and shunning exposure less sedulously than the other diurnals. Some of the more robust kinds 33 are magnificent in the bright light, from the splendour of their metallic blues and glowing purples, but they yield in elegance of form and variety to their tinier and more delicately-coloured congeners.
Short as is the eastern twilight, it has its own peculiar forms, and the naturalist marks with interest the small, but strong, Hesperidæ 34 , hurrying, by abrupt and jerking flights, to the scented blossoms of the champac or [pg 427] the sweet night-blowing moon-flower; and, when darkness gathers around, we can hear, though hardly distinguish amid the gloom, the humming of the powerful wings of innumerable hawk moths, which hover with their long proboscides inserted into the starry petals of the periwinkle.
Conspicuous amidst these nocturnal moths is the richly-coloured Acherontia Satanas, one of the Singhalese representatives of our Death's-head moth, which utters a sharp and stridulous cry when seized. This sound has been conjectured to be produced by the friction of its thorax against the abdomen;—Reaumur believed it to be caused by the rubbing of the palpi against the tongue. I have never been able to observe either motion, and Mr. E.L. Layard is of opinion that the sound is emitted from two apertures concealed by tufts of wiry bristles thrown out from each side of the inferior portion of the thorax. 35
Moths.—Among the strictly nocturnal Lepidoptera are some gigantic species. Of these the cinnamon-eating Atlas, often attains the dimensions of nearly a foot in the stretch of its superior wings. It is very common in the gardens about Colombo, and its size, and the transparent talc-like spots in its wings, cannot fail to strike even the most careless saunterer. But little inferior to it in size is the famed Tusseh silk moth 36 , which feeds on the country almond (Terminalia catappa) and the palma Christi or Castor-oil plant; it is easily distinguishable from the Atlas, which has a triangular wing, whilst its is falcated, and the transparent spots are covered with a curious thread-like division drawn across them.[pg 428]
Towards the northern portions of the island this valuable species entirely displaces the other, owing to the fact that the almond and palma Christi abound there. The latter plant springs up spontaneously on every manure-heap or neglected spot of ground; and might be cultivated, as in India, with great advantage, the leaf to be used as food for the caterpillar, the stalk as fodder for cattle, and the seed for the expression of castor-oil. The Dutch took advantage of this facility, and gave every encouragement to the cultivation of silk at Jaffna 37 , but it never attained such a development as to become an article of commercial importance. Ceylon now cultivates no silkworms whatever, notwithstanding this abundance of the favourite food of one species; and the rich silken robes sometimes worn by the Buddhist priesthood are imported from China and the continent of India.
In addition to the Atlas moth and the Mylitta, there are many other Bombycidæ; in Ceylon; and, though the [pg 429] silk of some of them, were it susceptible of being unwound from the cocoon, would not bear a comparison with that of the Bombyx mori, or even of the Tusseh moth, it might still prove to be valuable when carded and spun. If the European residents in the colony would rear the larvæ of these Lepidoptera, and make drawings of their various changes, they would render a possible service to commerce, and a certain one to entomological knowledge.
Stinging Caterpillars.—The Dutch carried to their Eastern settlements two of their home propensities, which distinguish and embellish the towns of the Low Countries; they indulged in the excavation of canals, and they planted long lines of trees to diffuse shade over the sultry passages in their Indian fortresses. For the latter purpose they employed the Suriya (Hibiscus populneus), whose broad umbrageous leaves and delicate yellow flowers impart a delicious coolness, and give to the streets of Galle and Colombo the fresh and enlivening aspect of walks in a garden.
In the towns, however, the suriya trees are productive of one serious inconvenience. They are the resort of a hairy greenish caterpillar 38 , longitudinally striped, great numbers of which frequent them, and at a certain stage of growth descend by a silken thread to the ground and hurry away, probably in search of a suitable spot in which to pass through their metamorphoses. Should they happen to alight, as they often do, upon some lounger below, and find their way to his unprotected skin, they inflict, if molested, a sting as pungent, but far more lasting, than that of a nettle or a star-fish.[pg 430]
Attention being thus directed to the quarter whence an assailant has lowered himself down, the caterpillars above will be found in clusters, sometimes amounting to hundreds, clinging to the branches and the bark, with a few straggling over the leaves or suspended from them by lines. These pests are so annoying to children as well as destructive to the foliage, that it is often necessary to singe them off the trees by a flambeau fixed on the extremity of a pole; and as they fall to the ground they are eagerly devoured by the crows and domestic fowls. 39
The Wood-carrying Moth.—There is another family of insects, the singular habits of which will not fail to attract the traveller in the cultivated tracts of Ceylon—these are moths of the genus Oiketicus 40 , of which the females are devoid of wings, and some possess no articulated feet. Their larvæ construct for themselves cases, which they suspend to a branch frequently of the pomegranate 41 , surrounding them with the stems of leaves, and thorns or pieces of twigs bound together by threads, till the whole presents the appearance of a bundle of rods about an inch and a half long; and, from the resemblance of this to a Roman fasces, one [pg 431] African species has obtained the name of "Lictor." The German entomologists denominated the group Sackträger, the Singhalese call them Dara-kattea or "billets of firewood," and regard the inmates as human beings, who, as a punishment for stealing wood in some former state of existence, have been condemned to undergo a metempsychosis under the form of these insects.
The male, at the close of the pupal rest, escapes from one end of this singular covering, but the female makes it her dwelling for life; moving about with it at pleasure, and entrenching herself within it, when alarmed, by drawing together the purse-like aperture at the open end. Of these remarkable creatures there are five ascertained species in Ceylon: Psyche Doubledaii, Westw.; Metisa plana; Walker; Eumeta Cramerii, Westw.; [pg 432] E. Templetonii, Westw.; and Cryptothelea consorta, Temp.
All the other tribes of minute Lepitoptera have abundant representatives in Ceylon; some of them most attractive from the great beauty of their markings and colouring. The curious little split-winged moth (Pterophorus) is frequently seen in the cinnamon gardens and in the vicinity of the fort, hid from the noon-day heat among the cool grass shaded by the coco-nut topes. Three species have been captured, all characterised by the same singular feature of having the wings fan-like, separated nearly their entire length into detached sections, resembling feathers in the pinions of a bird expanded for flight.
HOMOPTERA. Cicada.—Of the Homoptera, the one which will most frequently arrest attention is the cicada, which, resting high up on the bark of a tree, makes the forest re-echo with a long-sustained noise so curiously resembling that of a cutler's wheel that the creature producing it has acquired the highly-appropriate name of the "knife-grinder."
In the jungle which adjoined the grounds attached to my official residence at Kandy, the shrubs were frequented by an insect covered profusely with a snow-white powder, arranged in delicate filaments that curl like [pg 433] a head of dressed celery. These it moves without dispersing the powder: but when dead they fall rapidly to dust. I regret that I did not preserve specimens, but I have reason to think that they are the larvæ of the Flata limbata, or of some other closely allied species 42 , though I have not seen in Ceylon any of the wax produced by the flata.
HEMIPTERA. Bugs.—On the shrubs in his compound the newly-arrived traveller will be attracted by an insect of a pale green hue and delicately-thin configuration, which, resting from its recent flight, composes its scanty wings, and moves languidly along the leaf. But experience will teach him to limit his examination to a respectful view of its attitudes; it is one of a numerous family of bugs, (some of them most attractive 43 in their colouring,) which are inoffensive if unmolested, but if touched or irritated, exhale an odour that, once endured, is never afterwards forgotten.
APHANIPTERA. Fleas.—Fleas are equally numerous, and may be seen in myriads in the dust of the streets or skipping in the sunbeams which fall on the clay floors of the cottages. The dogs, to escape them, select for their sleeping places spots where a wood fire has been previously kindled; and here prone on the white ashes, [pg 434] their stomachs close to the earth, and their hind legs extended behind, they repose in comparative coolness, and bid defiance to their persecutors.
DIPTERA. Mosquitoes.—But of all the insect pests that beset an unseasoned European the most provoking by far is the truculent mosquito. 44 Next to the torture which it inflicts, its most annoying peculiarities are the booming hum of its approach, its cunning, its audacity, and the perseverance with which it renews its attacks however frequently repulsed. These characteristics are so remarkable as fully to justify the conjecture that the mosquito, and not the ordinary fly, constituted the plague inflicted upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. 45[pg 435]
Even in the midst of endurance from their onslaughts one cannot but be amused by the ingenuity of their movements; as if aware of the risk incident to an open assault, a favourite mode of attack is, when concealed by a table, to assail the ankles through the meshes of the stocking, or the knees which are ineffectually protected by a fold of Russian duck. When you are reading, a mosquito will rarely settle on that portion of your hand which is within range of your eyes, but cunningly stealing by the underside of the book fastens on the wrist or little finger, and noiselessly inserts his proboscis there. I have tested the classical expedient recorded by Herodotus, who states that the fishermen inhabiting the fens of Egypt, cover their beds with their nets, knowing that the mosquitoes, although they bite through linen robes, will not venture through a net. 46 But, notwithstanding the opinion of Spence 47 , that nets with meshes an inch square will effectually exclude them, I have been satisfied by painful experience that (if the theory be not altogether fallacious) at least the modern mosquitoes of Ceylon are uninfluenced by the same considerations which restrained those of the Nile under the successors of Cambyses.[pg 436]
The Coffee-Bug.—Allusion has been made in a previous passage to the coccus known in Ceylon as the "Coffee-Bug" (Lecanium Caffeæ, Wlk.), which of late years has made such destructive ravages in the plantations in the Mountain Zone. 48 The first thing that attracts attention on looking at a coffee tree infested by it, is the number of brownish wart-like bodies that stud the young shoots and occasionally the margins on the underside of the leaves. 49 Each of these warts or scales is a transformed female, containing a large number of eggs which are hatched within it.
When the young ones come out from their nest, they run about over the plant like diminutive wood-lice, and at this period there is no apparent distinction between male and female. Shortly after being hatched the males seek the underside of the leaves, while the females prefer the young shoots as a place of abode. If the under surface of a leaf be examined, it will be found to be studded, particularly on its basil half, with minute yellowish-white specks of an oblong form. 50 These are the larvæ of the males undergoing transformation into pupæ, beneath their own skins; some of these specks are always in a more advanced state than the others, the full-grown ones being whitish and scarcely a line [pg 437] long. Some of this size are translucent, the insect having escaped; the darker ones still retain it within, of an oblong form, with the rudiment of a wing on each side attached to the lower part of the thorax and closely applied to the sides; the legs are six in number, the four hind ones being directed backwards, the anterior forwards (a peculiarity not common in other insects); the two antennæ are also inclined backwards, and from the tail protrude three short bristles, the middle one thinner and longer than the rest.
When the transformation is complete, the mature insect makes its way from beneath the pellucid case 51 , all its organs having then attained their full size: the head is sub-globular, with two rather prominent black eyes, and two antennæ, each with eleven joints, hairy throughout, and a tuft of rather longer hairs at the apices; the legs are also covered with hairs, the wings are horizontal, of an obovate oblong shape, membranous, and extending a little farther than the bristles of the tail. They have only two nerves, neither of which reaches so far as the tips; one of them runs close to the costal margin, and is much thicker than the other, which branches off from its base and skirts along the inner margin; behind the wings is attached a pair of minute halteres of peculiar form. The possession of wings would appear to be the cause why the full-grown male is more rarely seen on the coffee bushes than the female.
The female, like the male, attaches herself to the surface of the plant, the place selected being usually [pg 438] the young shoots; but she is also to be met with on the margins of the undersides of the leaves (on the upper surface neither the male nor female ever attach themselves); but, unlike the male, which derives no nourishment from the juices of the tree (the mouth being obsolete in the perfect state), she punctures the cuticle with a proboscis (a very short three-jointed promuscis), springing as it were from the breast, but capable of being greatly porrected, and inserted in the cuticle of the plant, and through this she abstracts her nutriment. In the early pupa state the female is easily distinguishable from the male, by being more elliptical and much more convex. As she increases in size her skin distends and she becomes smooth and dry; the rings of the body become effaced; and losing entirely the form of an insect, she presents, for some time, a yellowish pustular shape, but ultimately assumes a roundish conical form, of a dark brown colour. 52
Until she has nearly reached her full size, she still possesses the power of locomotion, and her six legs are easily distinguishable in the under surface of her corpulent body; but at no period of her existence has she wings. It is about the time of her obtaining full size that impregnation takes place 53 ; after which the scale becomes somewhat more conical, assumes a darker [pg 439] colour, and at length is permanently fixed to the surface of the plant, by means of a cottony substance interposed between it and the vegetable cuticle to which it adheres. The scale, when full grown, exactly resembles in miniature the hat of a Cornish miner 54 , there being a narrow rim at the base, which gives increased surface of attachment. It is about 1/8 inch in diameter, by about 1/12 deep, and it appears perfectly smooth to the naked eye; but it is in reality studded over with a multitude of very minute warts, giving it a dotted appearance. Except the margin, which is ciliated, it is entirely destitute of hairs. The number of eggs contained in one of the scales is enormous, amounting in a single one to 691. The eggs are of an oblong shape, of a pale flesh colour, and perfectly smooth. 55 In some of the scales, the eggs when laid on the field of the microscope resemble those masses of life sometimes seen in decayed cheese. 56 A few small yellowish maggots are sometimes found with them, and these are the larvæ 57 of insects, the eggs of which have been deposited in the female while the scale was soft. They escape when mature by cutting a small round hole in the dorsum of the scale.
It is not till after this pest has been on an estate for two or three years that it shows itself to an alarming extent. During the first year a few only of the ripe scales are seen scattered over the bushes, generally on the younger shoots; but that year's crop does not suffer much, and the appearance of the tree is little altered.[pg 440]
The second year, however, brings a change for the worse; if the young shoots and the underside of the leaves he now examined, the scales will be found to have become much more numerous, and with them appear a multitude of white specks, which are the young scales in a more or less forward state. The clusters of berries now assume a black sooty look, and a great number of them fall off before coming to maturity; the general health of the tree also begins to fail, and it acquires a blighted appearance. A loss of crop is this year sustained, but to no great extent.
The third year brings about a more serious change, the whole plant acquires a black hue, appearing as if soot had been thrown over it in great quantities; this is caused by the growth of a parasitic fungus 58 over the shoots and the upper surface of the leaves, forming a fibrous coating, somewhat resembling velvet or felt. This never makes its appearance till the insect has been a considerable time on the bush, and probably owes its existence there to an unhealthy condition of the juices of the leaf, consequent on the irritation produced by the coccus, since it never visits the upper surface of the leaf until the latter has fully established itself on the lower. At this period the young shoots have an exceedingly disgusting look from the dense mass of yellow pustular bodies forming on them, the leaves get shrivelled, and the infected trees become conspicuous in the row. The black ants are assiduous in their visits to them. Two-thirds of the crop is lost, and on many trees not a single berry forms.[pg 441]
This Lecanium, or a very closely allied species, has been observed in the Botanic Garden at Peradenia, on the Citrus acida, Psidium pomiferum, Myrtus Zeylanica, Rosa Indica, Careya arborea, Vitex Negundo, and other plants. The coffee coccus has generally been first observed in moist, hollow places sheltered from the wind; and thence it has spread itself even over the driest and most exposed parts of the island. On some estates, after attaining a maximum, it has generally declined, but has shown a liability to reappear, especially in low sheltered situations, and it is believed to prevail most extensively in wet seasons. While in its earlier stages, it is easily transmitted from one estate to another, on the clothes of human beings, and in various other ways, which will readily suggest themselves. Dr. Gardner, after a careful consideration and minute examination of estates, arrived at the conclusion, that all remedies suggested up to that time had utterly failed, and that none at once cheap and effectual was likely to be discovered. He seems also to have been of opinion that the insect was not under human control; and that even if it should disappear, it would only be when it should have worn itself out as other blighte have been known to do in some mysterious way. Whether this may prove to be the case or not, is still very uncertain, but every thing observed by Dr. Gardner tends to indicate the permanency of the pest.
For the following list of the insects of the island, and the remarks prefixed to it, I am indebted to Mr. F. Walker, by whom it has been prepared after a careful inspection of the collections made by Dr. Templeton, Mr. E.L. Layard, and others: as well as of those in the British Museum and in the Museum of the East India Company. 59
"A short notice of the aspect of the island will afford the best means of accounting, in some degree, for its entomological Fauna: first, as it is an island, and has a mountainous central region, the tropical character of its productions, as in most other cases, rather diminishes, and somewhat approaches that of higher latitudes.
"The coast-region of Ceylon, and fully one-third of its northern part, have a much drier atmosphere than that of the rest of its surface; and their climate and vegetation are nearly similar to those of the Carnatic, with which this island may have been connected at no very remote period. 60 But if, on the contrary, the land in Ceylon is gradually rising, the difference of its Fauna from that of Central Hindustan is less remarkable. The peninsula of the Dekkan might then be conjectured to have been nearly or wholly separated from the central part of Hindustan, and confined to the range of mountains along the eastern coast; the insect-fauna of which is as yet almost unknown, but will probably be found to have more resemblance to that of Ceylon than to the insects of northern and western India—just as the insect-fauna of Malaya appears more to resemble the similar productions of Australasia than those of the more northern continent.[pg 443]
"Mr. Layard's collection was partly formed in the dry northern province of Ceylon; and among them more Hindustan insects are to be observed than among those collected by Dr. Templeton, and found wholly in the district between Colombo and Kandy. According to this view the faunas of the Nilgherry Mountains, of Central Ceylon, of the peninsula of Malacca, and of Australasia would be found to form one group;—while those of Northern Ceylon, of the western Dekkan, and of the level parts of Central Hindustan would form another of more recent origin. The insect-fauna of the Carnatic is also probably similar to that of the lowlands of Ceylon; but it is still unexplored. The regions of Hindustan in which species have been chiefly collected, such as Bengal, Silbet, and the Punjaub, are at the distance of from 1300 to 1600 miles from Ceylon, and therefore the insects of the latter are fully as different from those of the above regions as they are from those of Australasia, to which Ceylon is as near in point of distance, and agrees more with regard to latitude.
"Dr. Hagen has remarked that he believes the fauna of the mountains of Ceylon to be quite different from that of the plains and of the shores. The south and west districts have a very moist climate, and as their vegetation is like that of Malabar, their insect-fauna will probably also resemble that of the latter region.
"The insects mentioned in the following list are thus distributed:—
"The recorded species of Cicindelidæ inhabit the plains or the coast country of Ceylon, and several of them are also found in Hindustan.
"Many of the species of Carabidæ and of Staphylinidæ, especially those collected by Mr. Thwaites, near Kandy, and by M. Nietner at Colombo, have much resemblance to the [pg 444] insects of these two families in North Europe; in the Scydmænid, Ptiliadæ, Phalacridæ, Nitidulidæ, Colydiadæ, and Lathridiadæ the northern form is still more striking, and strongly contrasts with the tropical forms of the gigantic Copridæ, Buprestidæ, and Cerambycidæ, and with the Elateridæ, Lampyridæ, Tenebrionidæ, Helopidæ, Meloidæ, Curculionidæ, Prionidæ, Cerambycidæ, Lamiidæ, and Endomychidæ.
"The Copridæ, Dynastidæ, Melolonthidæ, Cetoniadæ, and Passalidæ are well represented on the plains and on the coast, and the species are mostly of a tropical character.
"The Hydrophilidæ have a more northern aspect, as is generally the case with aquatic species.
"The order Strepsiptera is here considered as belonging to the Mordellidæ, and is represented by the genus Myrmecolax, which is peculiar, as yet, to Ceylon.
"In the Curculionidæ the single species of Apion will recall to mind the great abundance of that genus in North Europe.
"The Prionidæ and the two following families have been investigated by Mr. Pascoe, and the Hispidæ, with the five following families, by Mr. Baly; these two gentlemen are well acquainted with the above tribes of beetles, and kindly supplied me with the names of the Ceylon species.
"These insects in Ceylon have mostly a tropical aspect. The Physapoda, which will probably be soon incorporated with them, are likely to be numerous, though only one species has as yet been noticed.
"The list here given is chiefly taken from the catalogue published by Dr. Hagen, and containing descriptions of the species named by him or by M. Nietner. They were found in the most elevated parts of the island, near Rangbodde, and Dr. Hagen informs me that not less than 500 species have been noticed in Ceylon, but that they are not yet recorded, with [pg 445] the exception of the species here enumerated. It has been remarked that the Trichoptera and other aquatic Neuroptera are less local than the land species, owing to the more equable temperature of the habitation of their larvæ, and on account of their being often conveyed along the whole length of rivers. The species of Psocus in the list are far more numerous than those yet observed in any other country, with the exception of Europe.
"In this order the Formicidæ and the Poneridæ are very numerous, as they are in other damp and woody tropical countries. Seventy species of ants have been observed, but as yet few of them have been named. The various other families of aculeate Hymenoptera are doubtless more abundant than the species recorded indicate, and it may be safely reckoned that the parasitic Hymenoptera in Ceylon far exceed one thousand species in number, though they are yet only known by means of about two dozen kinds collected at Kandy by Mr. Thwaites.
"The fauna of Ceylon is much better known in this order than in any other of the insect tribes, but as yet the Lepidoptera alone in their class afford materials for a comparison of the productions of Ceylon with those of Hindustan and of Australasia; nine hundred and thirty-two species have been collected by Dr. Templeton and by Mr. Layard in the central, western, and northern parts of the island. All the families, from the Papilionidæ to the Tineidæ, abound, and numerous species and several genera appear, as yet, to be peculiar to the island. As Ceylon is situate at the entrance to the eastern regions, the list in this volume will suitably precede the descriptive catalogues of the heterocerous Lepidoptera of Hindustan, Java, Borneo, and of other parts of Australasia, which are being prepared for publication. In some of the heterocerous families several species are common to Ceylon and to Australasia, and in various cases the faunas of Ceylon and of [pg 446] Australasia seem to be more similar than those of Ceylon and of Hindustan. The long intercourse between those two regions may have been the means of conveying some species from one to the other. Among the Pyralites, Hymenia recurvalis inhabits also the West Indies, South America, West Africa, Hindustan, China, Australasia, Australia, and New Zealand; and its food-plant is probably some vegetable which is cultivated in all those regions; so also Desmia afflictalis is found in Sierra Leone, Abyssinia, Ceylon, and China.
"About fifty species were observed by Dr. Templeton, but most of those here recorded were collected by Mr. Thwaites at Kandy, and have a great likeness to North European species. The mosquitoes are very annoying on account of their numbers, as might be expected from the moisture and heat of the climate. Culex laniger is the coast species, and the other kinds here mentioned are from Kandy. Humboldt observed that in some parts of South America each stream had its peculiar mosquitoes, and it yet remains to be seen whether the gnats in Ceylon are also thus restricted in their habitation. The genera Sciara, Cecidomyia, and Simulium, which abound so exceedingly in temperate countries, have each one representative species in the collection made by Mr. Thwaites. Thus an almost new field remains for the Entomologist in the study of the yet unknown Singhalese Diptera, which must be very numerous.
"The species of this order in the list are too few and too similar to those of Hindustan to need any particular mention. Lecanium coffeæ may be noticed, on account of its infesting the coffee plant, as its name indicates, and the ravages of other species of the genus will be remembered, from the fact that one of them, in other regions, has put a stop to the cultivation of the orange as an article of commerce.[pg 447]
"In conclusion, it may be observed that the species of insects in Ceylon may be estimated as exceeding 10,000 in number, of which about 2000 are enumerated in this volume.
"Four or five species of spiders, of which the specimens cannot be satisfactorily described; one Ixodes and one Chelifer have been forwarded to England from Ceylon by Mr. Thwaites."
NOTE.—The asterisk prefixed denotes the species discovered in Ceylon since Sir J.E. Tennent's departure from the Island in 1849.
The butterflies I have seen in these wonderful migrations in Ceylon were mostly Callidryas Hilariæ, C. Alcmeone, and C. Pyranthe, with straggling individuals of the genus Euplæa, E. Coras, and E. Prothoe. Their passage took place in April and May, generally in a north-easterly direction. The natives have a superstitious belief that their flight is ultimately directed to Adam's Peak, and that their pilgrimage ends on reaching the sacred mountain. A friend of mine travelling from Kandy to Kornegalle, drove for nine miles through a cloud of white butterflies, which were passing across the road by which he went.
Nat. Journal, p. 39.
Republished in the Ann. Nat. Hist.
Sternocera Chrysis; S. sternicornis.
Of the family of Elateridæ, one of the finest is a Singhalese species, the Campsosternus Templetonii, of an exquisite golden green colour, with blue reflections (described and figured by Mr. WESTWOOD in his Cabinet of Oriental Entomology, pl. 35, f. 1). In the same work is figured another species of large size, also from Ceylon, this is the Alaus sordidus.—WESTWOOD, l. c. pl. 35, f. 9.
Ateuchus sacer; Copris sagax; C. capucinus, &c. &c.
The engraving on the preceding page represents in its various transformations one of the most familiar and graceful of the longicorn beetles of Ceylon, the Batocera rubus.
There is a paper in the Journ. of the Asiat. Society of Ceylon, May, 1845, by Mr. CAPPER, on the ravages perpetrated by these beetles. The writer had recently passed through several coco-nut plantations, "varying in extent from 20 to 150 acres, and about two to three years old: and in these he did not discover a single young tree untouched by the cooroominiya."—P. 49.
Leviticus, xi. 22.
M. aridifolia and M. extensicollis, as well as Empusa gongylodes, remarkable for the long leaf-like head, and dilatations on the posterior thighs, are common in the island.
Palpares contrarius, Walker; Myrmeleon gravis, Walker; M. dirus, Walker; M. barbarus, Walker.
It becomes an interesting question whence the termites derive the large supplies of moisture with which they not only temper the clay for the construction of their long covered ways above ground, but for keeping their passages uniformly damp and cool below the surface. Yet their habits in this particular are unvarying, in the seasons of droughts as well as after rain; in the driest and least promising positions, in situations inaccessible to drainage from above, and cut off by rocks and impervious strata from springs from below. Dr. Livingstone, struck with this phenomenon in Southern Africa, asks: "Can the white ants possess the power of combining the oxygen and hydrogen of their vegetable food by vital force so as to form water?"—Travels, p. 22. And he describes at Angola, an insect 61 resembling the Aphrophora spumaria; seven or eight individuals of which distil several pints of water every night.—P. 414. It is highly probable that the termites are endowed with some such faculty: nor is it more remarkable that an insect should combine the gases of its food to produce water, than that a fish should decompose water in order to provide itself with gas. FOURCROIX found the contents of the air-bladder in a carp to be pure nitrogen.—Yarrell, vol. i. p. 42. And the aquatic larva of the dragon-fly extracts air for its respiration from the water in which it is submerged. A similar mystery pervades the inquiry whence plants under peculiar circumstances derive the water essential to vegetation.
KNOX'S Ceylon, Part i, ch. vi, p.24.
A. goudotti? Bennett.
Dr. HOOKER, in his Himalayan Journal (vol. i. p. 20) is of opinion that the nests of the termites are not independent structures, but that their nucleus is "the debris of clumps of bamboos or the trunks of large trees which these insects have destroyed." He supposes that the dead tree falls leaving the stump coated with sand, which the action of the weather soon fashions into a cone. But independently of the fact that the "action of the weather" produces little or no effect on the closely cemented clay of the white ants' nest, they may be daily seen constructing their edifices in the very form of a cone, which they ever after retain. Besides which, they appear in the midst of terraces and fields where no trees are to be seen: and Dr. Hooker seems to overlook the fact that the termites rarely attack a living tree; and although their nests may be built against one, it continues to flourish not the less for their presence.
For these particulars of the termes monoceros, I am indebted to Mr. Thwaites, of the Roy. Botanic Garden at Kandy.
It belongs to the genus Pelopæus, P. Spinolæ, of St. Fargean. The Ampulex compressa, which drags about the larvæ of cockroaches into which it has implanted its eggs, belongs, to the same family.
Mr. E.L. Layard has given an interesting account of this Mason wasp in the Annals and Magazine of Nat. History for May, 1853. "I have frequently," he says, "selected one of these flies for observation, and have seen their labours extend over a period of a fortnight or twenty days; sometimes only half a cell was completed in a day, at others as much as two. I never saw more than twenty cells in one nest, seldom indeed that number, and whence the caterpillars were procured was always to me a mystery. I have seen thirty or forty brought in of a species which I knew to be very rare in the perfect state, and which I had sought for in vain, although I knew on what plant they fed.
"Then again how are they disabled by the wasp, and yet not injured so as to cause their immediate death? Die they all do, at least all that I have ever tried to rear, after taking them from the nest.
"The perfected fly never effects its egress from the closed aperture, through which the caterpillars were inserted, and when cells are placed end to end, as they are in many instances, the outward end of each is always selected. I cannot detect any difference in the thickness in the crust of the cell to cause this uniformity of practice. It is often as much as half an inch through, of great hardness, and as far as I can see impervious to air and light. How then does the enclosed fly always select the right end, and with what secretion is it supplied to decompose this mortar?"
It ought to be remembered in travelling in the forests of Ceylon that sal volatile applied immediately is a specific for the sting of a wasp.
At the January (1839) meeting of the Entomological Society, Mr. Whitehouse exhibited portions of a wasps' nest from Ceylon, between seven and eight feet long and two feet in diameter, and showed that the construction of the cells was perfectly analogous to those of the hive bee, and that when connected each has a tendency to assume a circular outline. In one specimen where there were three cells united the outer part was circular, whilst the portions common to the three formed straight walls. From this Singhalese nest Mr. Whitehouse demonstrated that the wasps at the commencement of their comb proceed slowly, forming the bases of several together, whereby they assume the hexagonal shape, whereas, if constructed separately, he thought each single cell would be circular. See Proc. Ent. Soc., vol. iii. p. 16.
A gentleman connected with the department of the Surveyor-General writes to me that he measured a honey-comb which he found fastened to the overhanging branch of a small tree in the forest near Adam's Peak, and found it nine links of his chain or about six feet in length and a foot in breadth where it was attached to the branch, but tapering towards the other extremity. "It was a single comb with a layer of cells on either side, but so weighty that the branch broke by the strain."
Xylocopa tenuiscapa, Westw.; Another species found in Ceylon is the X. latipes, Drury.
See figure above.
Mr. Jerdan, in a series of papers in the thirteenth volume of the Annals of Natural History, has described forty-seven species of ants in Southern India. But M. Nietner has recently forwarded to the Berlin Museum upwards of seventy species taken by him in Ceylon, chiefly in the western province and the vicinity of Colombo. Of these many are identical with those noted by Mr. Jerdan as belonging to the Indian continent. One (probably Drepanognathus saltator of Jerdan) is described by M. Nietner as occasionally "moving by jumps of several inches at a spring."
Dr. DAVY, in a paper on Tropical Plants, has introduced the following passage relative to the purification of sugar by ants:
"If the juice of the sugar-cane—the common syrup as expressed by the mill—be exposed to the air, it gradually evaporates, yielding a light-brown residue, like the ordinary muscovado sugar of the best quality. If not protected, it is presently attacked by ants, and in a short time is, as it were, converted into white crystalline sugar, the ants having refined it by removing the darker portion, probably preferring that part from it containing azotized matter. The negroes, I may remark, prefer brown sugar to white: they say its sweetening power is greater; no doubt its nourishing quality is greater, and therefore as an article of diet deserving of preference. In refining sugar as in refining salt (coarse bay salt containing a little iodine), an error may be committed in abstracting matter designed by nature for a useful purpose."
See ante, p. 317.
Formica smaragdina, Fab.
For an account of this pest, see p. 437.
KNOX'S Historical Relation of Ceylon, pt. i. ch. vi. p. 23.
Lycæna polyommatus, &c.
Amblypodia pseudocentaurus, &c.
Pamphila hesperia, &c.
There is another variety of the same moth in Ceylon which closely resembles it in its markings, but in which I have never detected the uttering of this curious cry. It is smaller than the A. Satanas, and, like it, often enters dwellings at night, attracted by the lights; but I have not found its larvæ, although that of the other species is common on several widely different plants.
Antheræa mylitta, Drury.
The Portuguese had made the attempt previous to the arrival of the Dutch, and a strip of land on the banks of the Kalany river near Colombo, still bears the name of Orta Seda, the silk garden. The attempt of the Dutch to introduce the true silkworm, the Bombyx mori, took place under the governorship; of Ryklof Van Goens, who, on handing over the administration to his successor in A.D. 1663, thus apprises him of the initiation of the experiment:—"At Jaffna Palace a trial has been undertaken to feed silkworms, and to ascertain whether silk may be reared at that station. I have planted a quantity of mulberry trees, which grow well there, and they ought to be planted in other directions."—VALENTYN, chap. xiii. The growth of the mulberry trees is noticed the year after in a report to the governor-general of India, but the subject afterwards ceased to be attended to.
The species of moth with which it is identified has not yet been determined, but it most probably belongs to a section of Boisduval's genus Bombyx allied to Cnethocampa, Stephens.
Another caterpillar which feeds on the jasmine flowering Carissa, stings with such fury that I have known a gentleman to shed tears while the pain was at its height. It is short and broad, of a pale green, with fleshy spines on the upper surface, each of which seems to be charged with the venom that occasions this acute suffering. The moth which this caterpillar produces, Neæra lepida, Cramer; Limacodes graciosa, Westw., has dark brown wings, the primary traversed by a broad green band. It is common in the western side of Ceylon. The larvæ of the genus Adolia are also hairy, and sting with virulence.
The singular instincts of a species of Thecla, Dipsas Isocrates, Fab., in connection with the fruit of the pomegranate, were fully described by Mr. Westwood, in a paper read before the Entomological Society of London in 1835.
Amongst the specimens of this order which I brought from Ceylon, two proved to be new and undescribed, and have been named by Mr. A. WHITE Elidiptera Emersoniana and Poeciloptera Tennentina.
Such as Cantuo ocellatus, Leptoscelis Marginalis, Callidea Stockerius, &c. &c. Of the aquatic species, the gigantic Belostoma Indicum cannot escape notice, attaining a size of nearly three inches.
Culex laniger? Wied. In Kandy Mr. Thwaites finds C. fuscanns, C. circumcolans, &c., and one with a most formidable hooked proboscis, to which he has assigned the appropriate name C. Regius.
The precise species of insect by means of which the Almighty signalised the plague of flies, remains uncertain, as the Hebrew term arob or oror which has been rendered in one place. "Divers sorts of flies," Ps. cv. 31; and in another, "swarms of flies," Exod. viii. 21, &c., means merely "an assemblage." a "mixture" or a "swarm," and the expletive. "of flies" is an interpolation of the translators. This, however, serves to show that the fly implied was one easily recognisable by its habit of swarming; and the further fact that it bites, or rather stings, is elicited from the expression of the Psalmist, Ps. lxxviii. 45, that the insects by which the Egyptians were tormented "devoured them," so that here are two peculiarities inapplicable to the domestic fly, but strongly characteristic of gnats and mosquitoes.
Bruce thought that the fly of the fourth plague was the "zimb" of Abyssinia which he so graphically describes: and WESTWOOD, in an ingenious passage in his Entomologist's Text-book. p. 17, combats the strange idea of one of the bishops, that it was a cockroach! and argues in favour of the mosquito. This view he sustains by a reference to the habits of the creature, the swarms in which it invades a locality, and the audacity with which it enters the houses; and he accounts for the exemption of "the land of Goshen in which the Isrælites dwelt," by the fact of its being sandy pasture above the level of the river; whilst the mosquitoes were produced freely in the rest of Egypt, the soil of which was submerged by the rising of the Nile.
In all the passages in the Old Testament in which flies are alluded to, otherwise than in connection with the Egyptian infliction, the word used in the Hebrew is zevor, which the Septuagint renders by the ordinary generic term for flies in general, [Greek: muia], "musca" (Eccles. x. 1, Isaiah vii. 10); but in every instance in which mention is made of the miracle of Moses, the Septuagint says that the fly produced was the [Greek: kunomyia], the "dog-fly." What insect was meant by this name it is not now easy to determine, but ÆLIAN intimates that the dogfly both inflicts a wound and emits a booming sound, in both of which particulars it accords with the mosquito (lib. iv, 51); and PHILO-JUDÆUS, in his Vita Mosis, lib. i. ch. xxiii., descanting on the plague of flies, and using the term of the Septuagint, [Greek: kunomyia], describes it as combining the characteristic of "the most impudent of all animals, the fly and the dog, exhibiting the courage and the cunning of both, and fastening on its victim with the noise and rapidity of an arrow"—[Greek: meta roizou kathaper belos]. This seems to identify the dog-fly of the Septuagint with the description of the Psalmist, Ps. lxxviii. 45, and to vindicate the conjecture that the tormenting mosquito, and not the house-fly, was commissioned by the Lord to humble the obstinacy of the Egyptian tyrant.
HERODOTUS, Euterpe. xcv.
KIRBY and SPENCE'S Entomology, letter iv.
The following notice of the "coffee-bug," and of the singularly destructive effects produced by it on the plants, has been prepared chiefly from a memoir presented to the Ceylon Government by the late Dr. Gardner, in which he traces the history of the insect from its first appearance in the coffee districts, until it had established itself more or less permanently in all the estates in full cultivation throughout the island.
See the annexed drawing, Fig. 1.
Figs. 2, and 3 and 5 in the engraving, where these and all the other figures are considerably enlarged.
Fig. 4. Mr. WESTWOOD, who observed the operation in one species, states that they escape backwards, the wings being extended flatly over the head.
Figs. 6 and 7. There are many other species of the Coccus tribe in Ceylon, some (Pseudococcus?) never appearing as a scale, the female wrapping herself up in a white cottony exudation; many species nearly allied to the true Coccus infest common plants about gardens, such as the Nerium Oleander, Plumeria Acuminata, and others with milky juices; another subgenus (Ceroplastes?), the female of which produces a protecting waxy material, infests the Gendurassa Vulgaris, the Furrcæa Gigantea, the Jak Tree, Mango, and other common trees.
REAUMUR has described the singular manner in which this occurs. Mem. tom. iv.
Figs. 10, 11.
Of the parasitic Chalcididiæ, many genera of which are well known to deposit their eggs in the soft Coccus, viz.: Encystus, Coccophagus, Pteromalus, Mesosela, Agonioneurus; besides Aphidius, a minutely sized genus of Ichneumonidæ. Most, if not all, of these genera are Singhalese.
Racodium? Species of this genus are not confined to the coffee plant alone in Ceylon, but follow the "bugs" in their attacks on other bushes. It appears like a dense interlaced mesh of fibres, each made up of a single series of minute oblong vesicles applied end to end.
The entire of the new species contained in this list have been described in a series of papers by Mr. WALKER in successive numbers of the Annals of Natural History (1858-61): those, from Dr. TEMPLETON'S collection of which descriptions have been taken, have been at his desire transferred to the British Museum for future reference and comparison.
On the subject of this conjecture see ante, p. 60.