Page images
PDF
EPUB

resemble the foliage among which they live, and as they sit quite motionless, they are not easily perceived. The Phasmidae are perfectly inoffensive leaf-eating insects of very varied forms; some being broad and leaf-like, while others are long and cylindrical so as to resemble sticks, whence they are often called walking-stickinsects. The imitative resemblance of some of these insects to the plants on which they live is marvellous. The true leafinsects of the East, forming the genus Phyllium, are the size of a moderate leaf, which their large wing-covers and the dilated margins of the head, thorax and legs cause them exactly to resemble. The veining of the wings, and their green tint, exactly corresponds to that of the leaves of their food-plant; and as they rest motionless during the day, only feeding at night, they the more easily escape detection. In Java they are often kept alive on a branch of the guava tree; and it is a common thing for a stranger, when asked to look at this curious insect, to inquire where it is, and on being told that it is close under his eyes, to maintain that there is no insect at all, but only a branch with green leaves. The larger wingless stick-insects are often eight inches to a foot long. They are abundant in the Moluccas; hanging on the shrubs that line the forest-paths; and they resemble sticks so exactly, in colour, in the small rugosities of the bark, in the knots and small branches, imitated by the joints of the legs, which are either pressed close to the body, or stuck out at random, that it is absolutely impossible, by the eye alone, to distinguish the real dead twigs which fall down from the trees overhead from the living insects. The writer has often looked at them in doubt, and has been obliged to use the sense of touch to determine the point. Some are small and slender like the most delicate twigs; others again have wings; and it is curious that these wings are often beautifully coloured, generally bright pink, sometimes yellow, and sometimes finely banded with black; but when at rest these wings fold up so as to be completely concealed under the narrow wing-covers, and the whole insect is then green or brown, and almost invisible among the twigs or foliage. To increase the resemblance to vegetation, some of these Phasmas have small green processes in various parts of their bodies looking exactly like moss. These inhabit damp forests both in the Malay islands and in America, and they are so marvellously like moss-grown twigs that the closest examination is needed to satisfy oneself that it is really a living insect we are looking at. Many of the locusts are equally well-disguised, SOrne resembling green leaves, others those that are brown and dead; and the latter often have small transparent spots on the wings, looking like holes eaten through them. That these disguises deceive their natural enemies is certain, for otherwise the Phasmidae would soon be exterminated. They are large and sluggish, and very soft and succulent; they have no means of defence or of flight, and they are eagerly devoured by numbers of birds, especially by the numerous cuckoo tribe, whose stomachs are often full of them ; yet numbers of them escape destruction, and this can only be due to their vegetable disguises. Mr. Belt records a curious instance of the actual operation of this kind of defence in a leaf-like locust, which remained perfectly quiescent in the midst of a host of insectivorous ants, which ran over it without finding out that it was an insect and not a leaf It might have flown away from them, but it would then instantly have fallen a prey to the numerous birds which always accompany these roaming hordes of ants to feed upon the insects that endeavour to escape. Far more conspicuous than any of these imitative species are the large locusts, with rich crimson or blue-and-black spotted wings. Some of these are nearly a foot in expanse of wings; they fly by day, and their strong spiny legs probably serve as a protection against all the smaller birds. They cannot be said to be common; but when met with they fully satisfy our notions as to the large size and gorgeous colours of tropical insects. Beetles. Considering the enormous numbers and endless variety of the beetle tribe that are known to inhabit the tropics, they form by no means so prominent a feature in the animal life of the equatorial zone as we might expect. Almost every entomologist is at first disappointed with them. He finds that they have to be searched for almost as much as at home, while those of large size (except one or two very common species) are rarely met with. The groups which most attract attention from their size and beauty, are the Buprestidae and the Longicorns. The former are usually smooth insects of an elongate ovate form, with very short legs and antennae, and adorned with the most glowing metallic tints. They abound on fallen tree-trunks and on foliage, in the hottest sunshine, and are among the most brilliant ornaments of the tropical forests. Some parts of the temperate zone, especially Australia and Chili, abound in Buprestidae which are equally beautiful; but the largest species are only found within the tropics, those of the Malay islands being the largest of all.

The Longicorns are elegantly shaped beetles, usually with long antennae and legs, varied in form and structure in an endless variety of ways, and adorned with equally varied colours, spots and markings. Some are large and massive insects three or four inches long, while others are no bigger than our smaller ants. The majority have sober colours, but often delicately marbled, veined, or spotted; while others are red, or blue, or yellow, or adorned with the richest metallic tints. Their antennae are sometimes excessively long and graceful, often adorned with tufts of hair, and sometimes pectinated. They especially abound where timber trees have been recently felled in the primeval forests; and while extensive clearings are in progress their variety seems endless. In such a locality in the island of Borneo, nearly 300 different species were found during one dry season, while the number obtained during eight years' collecting in the whole Malay Archipelago was about a thousand species.

Among the beetles that always attract attention in the tropics are the large, horned, Copridae and Dynastidae, corresponding to our dung-beetles. Some of these are of great size, and they are occasionally very abundant. The immense horn-like protuberances on the head and thorax of the males in some of the species are very extraordinary, and, combined with their polished or rugose metallic colours, render them perhaps the most conspicuous of all the beetle tribe. The weevils and their allies are also very interesting, from their immense numbers, endless variety, and the extreme beauty of many of the species. The Anthribidae, which are especially abundant in the Malay Archipelago, rival the Longicorns in the immense length of their elegant antennae; while the diamond beetles of Brazil, the Eupholi of the Papuan islands, and the Pachyrhynchi of the Philippines, are veritable living jewels. Where a large extent of virgin forest is cut down in the early part of the dry season, and some hot sunny weather follows, the abundance and variety of beetles attracted by the bark and foliage in various stages of drying is amazing. The air is filled with the hum of their wings. Golden and green Buprestidae are flying about in every direction, and settling on the bark in full sunshine. Green and spotted rose-chafers hum along near the ground ; long-horned Anthribidae are disturbed at every step ; elegant little Longicorns circle about the drying foliage, while larger species fly slowly from branch to branch. Every fallen trunk is full of life. Strange mottled, and spotted, and rugose Longicorns, endless Curculios, queer-shaped Brenthidae, velvety brown or steel-blue Cleridae, brown or yellow or whitish click beetles, (Elaters), and brilliant metallic Carabidae. Close by, in the adjacent forest, a whole host of new forms are found. Elegant tiger-beetles, leaf-hunting Carabidae, musk-beetles of many sorts, scarlet Telephori, and countless Chrysomelas Hispas, Coccinellas, with strange Heteromera, and many curious species which haunt fungi, rotten bark or decaying leaves. With such variety and beauty the most ardent entomologist must be fully satisfied; and when, every now and then, some of the giants of the tropics fall in his way—grand Prionidae or Lamiidae several inches long, a massive golden Buprestis, or a monster horned Dynastes—he feels that his most exalted notions of the insect-life of the tropics are at length realized.

« EelmineJätka »