« EelmineJätka »
it into a ball, and prepared to carry it off. Being at the time amidst a thick mass of a fine-leaved climbing plant, it proceeded, before flying away, to take note of the place where it was leaving the other half. To do this, it hovered in front of it for a few seconds, then took small circles in front of it, then larger ones round the whole plant. I thought it had gone, but it returned again, and had another look at the opening in the dense foliage down which the other half of the caterpillar lay. It then flew away, but must have left its burden for distribution with its comrades at the nest, for it returned in less than two minutes, and making one circle around the bush, descended to the opening, alighted on a leaf, and ran inside. The green remnant of the caterpillar was lying on another leaf inside, but not connected with the one on which the wasp alighted, so that in running in it missed it, and soon got hopelessly lost in the thick foliage. Coming out again, it took another circle, and pounced down on the same spot again, as soon as it came opposite to it. Three small seed-pods, which here grew close together, formed the marks that I had myself taken to note the place, and these the wasp seemed also to have taken as its guide, for it flew directly down to them, and ran inside; but the small leaf on which the fragment of caterpillar lay, not being directly connected with any on the outside, it again missed it, and again got far away from the object of its search. It then flew out again, and the same process was repeated again and again. Always when in circling round it came in sight of the seed-pods down it pounced, alighted near them, and recommenced its quest on foot. I was surprised at its perseverance, and thought it would have given up the
search ; but not so, it returned at least half-a-dozen times, and seemed to get angry, hurrying about with buzzing wings. At last it stumbled across its prey, seized it eagerly, and as there was nothing more to come back for, flew straight off to its nest, without taking any further note of the locality. Such an action is not the result of blind instinct, but of a thinking mind; and it is wonderful to see an insect so differently constructed using a mental process similar to that of man. It is suggestive of the probability of many of the actions of insects that we ascribe to instinct being the result of the possession of reasoning powers.
Where the tramway terminated at San Benito mine, the valley had greatly contracted in width, and the stream, excepting in time of flood, had dwindled to a little rill. A small rough path, made by the miners to bring in their timber, continued up the brook, crossing and recrossing it. The sides of the valley were very steep, and covered with trees and undergrowth. The foliage arched over the water, forming beautiful little dells, with small, clear pools of water. One of these was a favourite resort of humming-birds, who came there to bathe, for these gem-like birds are very frequent in their ablutions, and I spent many a half-hour in the evenings leaning against a trunk of a tree that had fallen across the stream four or five yards below the pool, and watching them. At all times of the day they occasionally came down, but during the short twilight there was a mass of bathers, and often there were two or three at one time hovering over the pool, which was only three feet across, and dipping into it. Some would delay their evening toilet until the shades of night were thickening, and it became almost too dark to distinguish them from my stand. Three species regularly frequented the pool, and three others occasionally visited it. The commonest was the Thulurania venusta (Gould), the male of which is a most beautiful bird,—the front of the head and shoulders glistening purple, the throat brilliant light green, shining in particular lights like polished metal, the breast blue, and the back dark green. It was a beautiful sight to see this bird hovering over the pool, turning from side to side by quick jerks of its tail, now showing its throat a gleaming emerald, now its shoulders a glistening amethyst, then darting beneath the water, and rising instantly, throw off a shower of spray from its quivering wings, and again fly up to an overhanging bough and commence to preen its feathers. All humming-birds bathe on the wing, and generally take three or four dips, hovering, between times, about three inches above the surface.
Sometimes when the last-mentioned species was suspended over the water, its rapidly vibrating wings looking like a mere film, a white speck, like a snow-flake, shot down the valley swift as the flight of an arrow, and stopped suddenly over the pool, startling the emeraldthroat, and frightening it up amongst the overhanging branches. The intruder was the white-cap (Microchera parvirostris, Lawr.), the smallest of thirteen different kinds of humming-birds that I noticed around Santo Domingo; being only a little more than two and a half inches in length, including the bill; but it was very pugnacious, and I have often seen it drive some of the larger birds away from a flowering tree. Its body is purplishred, with green reflections, the front of its head flat, and pearly white, and, when flying towards one, its white
NOTES OF HUMMING-BIRDS.
head is the only part seen.
Sometimes the green-throat would hold its ground, and then it was comical to see them hovering over the water, jerking round from side to side, eyeing each other suspiciously, the one determining to dip, but apparently afraid to do so, for fear the other would take a mean advantage, and do it some mischief whilst under water; though what harm was possible I could not see, as there were no clothes to steal. I have seen timid bathers acting just like the birds, though from a different cause, bobbing down towards the water, but afraid to dip overhead; and the idea of comicality arose, as it does in most of the ludicrous actions of animals, from their resemblance to those of mankind. The dispute would generally end by the green-throat giving way, and leaving the pugnacious little white-cap in possession of the pool.
Besides the humming-birds I have mentioned, there were four or five other small ones that we used to call squeakers, as it is their habit for a great part of the day to sit quietly on branches and every now and then to chirp out one or two shrill notes. At first I thought these sounds proceeded from insects, as they resemble those of crickets; but they are not so continuous. After a while I got to know them, and could distinguish the notes of the different species. It was not until then I found out how full the woods are of humming-birds, for they are most difficult to see when perched amongst the branches, and when flying they frequent the tops of trees in flower, where they are indistinguishable. I have sometimes heard the different chirps of more than a dozen individuals, although unable to get a glimpse of one of them, as they are mere brown specks on the
branches, their metallic colours not showing from below, and the sound of their chirpings—or rather squeakingsis most deceptive as to their direction and distance from the hearer. My conclusion, after I got to know their voices in the woods, was that the humming-birds around Santo Domingo equalled in number all the rest of the birds together, if they did not greatly exceed them. Yet one may sometimes ride for hours without seeing one. They build their nests on low shrubs—often on branches overhanging paths, or on the underside of the large leaves of the shrubby palm-trees. They are all bold birds, suffering you to approach nearer than any other kinds, and often flying up and hovering within two or three yards from you. This fearlessness is probably owing to the great security from foes that their swiftness of flight ensures to them. I have noticed amongst butterflies that the swiftest and strongest flyers, such as the Hesperide, also allow
you to approach much nearer to them than those with weaker wings, feeling confident that they can dart away from any threatened danger-a misplaced confidence, however, so far as the net of the collector is concerned.
At the head of the tramway, near the entrance to the San Benito mine, we planted about three acres of the banks of the valley with grass. In clearing away the fallen logs and brushwoods, many beetles, scorpions, and centipedes were brought to light. Amongst the last was a curious species belonging to the sucking division of the Myriapods (Sugantia, of Brandt), which had a singular method of securing its prey. It is about three inches long, and sluggish in its movements; but from its tubular mouth it is able to discharge a viscid fluid to the distance