Page images

eaters are kept off by their bad odour and taste, but are sufficiently invisible at night when it is of importance that their prey should not become aware of tbeir proximity.

It seems probable that in some cases that which would appear at first to be a source of danger to its possessor may really be a means of protection. Many sbowy and weak-flying butterflies have a very broad expanse of wing, as in the brilliant blue Morphos of Brazilian forests, and the large Eastern Papilios; yet these groups are tolerably plentiful. Now, specimens of these butterflies are often captured with pierced and broken wings, as if they had been seized by birds from whom they had escaped; but if the wings had been much smaller in proportion to the body, it seems probable that the insect would be more frequently struck or pierced in a vital part, and thus the increased expanse of the wings may have been indirectly beneficial.

In other cases the capacity of increase in a species is so great that however many of the perfect insect may be destroyed, there is always ample means for the continuance of the race. Many of the flesh flies, gnats, ants, palm-tree weevils and locusts are in this category. The whole family of Cetoniadse or rose chafers, so full of gaily-coloured species, are probably saved from attack by a combination of characters. They fly very rapidly with a zigzag or waving course; they bide themselves the moment they alight, either in the corolla of flowers, or in rotten wood, or in cracks and hollows of trees, and they are generally encased in a very hard and polished coat of mail which may render them unsatisfactory food to such birds as would be able to capture them. The causes which lead to the development of colour have been here able to act unchecked, and we see the result in a large variety of the most gorgeously-coloured insects.

Here, then, with our very imperfect knowledge of the life-history of animals, we are able to see that there are widely varied modes by which they may obtain protection from their enemies or concealment from their prey. Some of these seem to be so complete and effectual as to answer all the wants of the race, and lead to the maintenance of the largest possible population. When this is the case, we can well understand that no further protection derived from a modification of colour can be of the slightest use, and the most brilliant hues may be developed without any prejudicial effect upon the species. On some of the laws that determine the development of colour something may be said presently. It is now merely necessary to show that concealment by obscure or imitative tints is only one out of very many ways by which animals maintain their existence; and having done this we are prepared to consider the phenomena of what has been termed "mimicry." It is to be particularly observed, however, that the word is not here used in the sense of voluntary imitation, but to imply a particular kind of resemblance—a resemblance not in internal structure but in external appearance—a resemblance in those parts only that catch the eye—a resemblance that deceives. As this kind of resemblance has the same effect as voluntary imitation or mimicry, and as we have no word that expresses the required meaning, "mimicry" was adopted by Mr. Bates (who was the first to explain the facts), and has led to some misunderstanding; but there need be none, if it is remembered that both "mimicry" and "imitation" are used in a metaphorical sense, as implying that close external likeness which causes things unlike in structure to be mistaken for each other.


It has been long known to entomologists that certain insects bear a strange external resemblance to others belonging to distinct genera, families, or even orders, and with which they have no real affinity whatever. The fact, however, appears to have been generally considered as dependent upon some unknown law of " analogy "—some "system of nature," or "general plan," which had guided the Creator in designing the myriads of insect forms, and which we could never hope to understand. In only one case does it appear that the resemblance was thought to be useful, and to have been designed as a means to a definite and intelligible purpose. The flies of the genus Volucella enter the nests of bees to deposit their eggs, so that their larvae may feed upon the larvae of the bees, and these flies are each wonderfully like the bee on which it is parasitic. Kirby and Spence believed that this resemblance or " mimicry" was for the express purpose of protecting the flies from the attacks of the bees, and the connection is so evident that it was hardly possible to avoid this conclusion. The resemblance, however, of moths to butterflies or to bees, of beetles to wasps, and of locusts to beetles, has been many times noticed by eminent writers; but scarcely ever till within the last few years does it appear to have been considered that these resemblances had any special purpose, or were of any direct benefit to the insects themselves. In this respect they were looked upon as accidental, as instances of the "curious analogies" in nature which must be wondered at but which could not be explained. Recently, however, these instances have been greatly multiplied; the nature of the resemblances has been more carefully studied, and it has been found that they are often carried out into such details as almost to imply a purpose of deceiving the observer. The phenomena, moreover, have been shown to follow certain definite laws, which again all indicate their dependence on the more general law of the " survival of the fittest," or "the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life." It will, perhaps, be as well here to state what these laws or general conclusions are, and then to give some account of the facts which support them.

The first law is, that in an overwhelming majority of cases of mimicry, the animals (or the groups) which resemble each other inhabit the same country, the same district, and in most cases are to be found together on the very same spot.

The second law is, that these resemblances are not indiscriminate, but are limited to certain groups, which in every case are abundant in species and individuals, and can often be ascertained to have some special protection.

The third law is, that tho species which resemble or "mimic " these dominant groups, are comparatively less abundant in individuals, and are often very rare.

These laws will be found to hold good, in all the cases of true mimicry among various classes of animals to which we have now to call the attention of our readers.

Mimicry among Lepidoptera.

As it is among butterflies that instances of mimicry are most numerous and most striking, an account of some of the more prominent examples in this group will first be given. There is in South America an extensive family of these insects, the Heliconidse, which are in many respects very remarkable. They are so abundant and characteristic in all the woody portions of the American tropics, that in almost every locality they will be seen more frequently than any other butterflies. They are distinguished by very elongate wings, body, and antennae, and are exceedingly beautiful and varied in their colours; spots and patches of yellow, red, or pure white upon a black, blue, or brown ground, being most general. They frequent the forests chiefly, and all fly slowly and weakly; yet although they are so conspicuous, and could certainly be caught by insectivorous

« EelmineJätka »