Page images

beautiful Gymnocerous dulcissimus is also very like the same group of insects, though there is no known species that exactly corresponds to it; but this is not to be wondered at, as the tropical Hemiptera have been comparatively so little cared for by collectors.

Insects mimicking Species of other Orders. The most remarkable case of an insect of another order mimicking a beetle is that of the Condylodera tricondyloides, one of the cricket family from the Philippine Islands, which is so exactly like a Tricondyla (one of the tiger beetles), that such an experienced entomologist as Professor Westwood placed it among them in his cabinet, and retained it there a long time before he discovered his mistake ! Both insects run along the trunks of trees, and whereas Tricondylas are very plentiful, the insect that mimics it is, as in all other cases, very rare. Mr. Bates also informs us that he found at Santarem on the Amazon, a species of locust which mimicked one of the tiger beetles of the genus Odontocheila, and was found on the same trees which they frequented.

There are a considerable number of Diptera, or twowinged flies, that closely resemble wasps and bees, and no doubt derive much benefit from the wholesome dread which those insects excite. The Midas dives, and other species of large Brazilian flies, have dark wings and metallic blue elongate bodies, resembling the large stinging Sphegidæ of the same country; and a very large fly of the genus Asilus has black-banded wings and the abdomen tipped with rich orange, so as exactly to resemble the fine bee Euglossa dimidiata, and both are found in the same parts of South America. We have also in our own country species of Bombylius which are almost exactly like bees. In these cases the end gained by the mimicry is no doubt freedom from attack, but it has sometimes an altogether different purpose. There are a number of parasitic flies whose larvæ feed upon the larvæ of bees, such as the British genus Volucella and many of the tropical Bombylii, and most of these are exactly like the particular species of bee they prey upon, so that they can enter their nests unsuspected to deposit their eggs. There are also bees that mimic bees. The cuckoo bees of the genus Nomada are parasitic on the Andrenidæ, and they resemble either wasps or species of Andrena ; and the parasitic humble-bees of the genus Apathus almost exactly resemble the species of humblebees in whose nests they are reared. Mr. Bates informs us that he found numbers of these “ cuckoo” bees and flies on the Amazon, which all wore the livery of working bees peculiar to the same country.

There is a genus of small spiders in the tropics which feed on ants, and they are exactly like ants themselves, which no doubt gives them more opportunity of seizing their prey; and Mr. Bates found on the Amazon a species of Mantis which exactly resembled the white ants which it fed upon, as well as several species of crickets (Scaphura), which resembled in a wonderful manner different sand-wasps of large size, which are constantly on the search for crickets with which to provision their nests.

Perhaps the most wonderful case of all is the large caterpillar mentioned by Mr. Bates, which startled him by its close resemblance to a small snake. The first three segments behind the head were dilatable at the will of the insect, and had on each side a large black pupillated spot, which resembled the eye of the reptile. Moreover, it resembled a poisonous viper, not a harmless species of snake, as was proved by the imitation of keeled scales on the crown produced by the recumbent feet, as the caterpillar threw itself backward !

The attitudes of many of the tropical spiders are most extraordinary and deceptive, but little attention has been paid to them. They often mimic other insects, and some, Mr. Bates assures us, are exactly like flower buds, and take their station in the axils of leaves, where they remain motionless waiting for their prey.

Cases of Mimicry among the Vertebrata. Having thus shown how varied and extraordinary are the modes in which mimicry occurs among insects, we have now to enquire if anything of the same kind is to be observed among vertebrated animals. When we consider all the conditions necessary to produce a good deceptive imitation, we shall see at once that such can very rarely occur in the higher animals, since they possess none of those facilities for the almost infinite modifications of external form which exist in the very nature of insect organization. The outer covering of


insects being more or less solid and horny, they are capable of almost any amount of change of form and appearance without any essential modification internally. In many groups the wings give much of the character, and these organs may be much modified both in form and colour without interfering with their special functions. Again, the number of species of insects is so great, and there is such diversity of form and proportion in every group, that the chances of an accidental approximation in size, form, and colour, of one insect to another of a different group, are very considerable ; and it is these chance approximations that furnish the basis of mimicry, to be continually advanced and perfected by the survival of those varieties only which tend in the right direction.

In the Vertebrata, on the contrary, the skeleton being internal the external form depends almost entirely on the proportions and arrangement of that skeleton, which again is strictly adapted to the functions necessary for the well-being of the animal. The form cannot therefore be rapidly modified by variation, and the thin and flexible integument will not admit of the development of such strange protuberances as occur continually in insects. The number of species of each group in the same country is also comparatively small, and thus the chances of that first accidental resemblance which is necessary for natural selection to work upon are much diminished. We can hardly see the possibility of a mimicry by which the elk could escape from the wolf, or the buffalo from the tiger. There is, however, in one group of Vertebrata such a general similarity of form, that a very slight modification, if accompanied by identity of colour, would produce the necessary amount of resemblance; and at the same time there exist a number of species which it would be advantageous for others to resemble, since they are armed with the most fatal weapons of offence. We accordingly find that reptiles furnish us with a very remarkable and instructive case of true mimicry.

Mimicry among Snakes. There are in tropical America a number of venomous snakes of the genus Elaps, which are ornamented with brilliant colours disposed in a peculiar manner. The ground colour is generally bright red, on which are black bands of various widths and sometimes divided into two or three by yellow rings. Now, in the same country are found several genera of harmless snakes, having no affinity whatever with the above, but coloured exactly the same. For example, the poisonous Elaps fulvius often occurs in Guatemala with simple black bands on a coral-red ground; and in the same country is found the harmless snake Pliocerus equalis, coloured and banded in identically the same manner. A variety of Elaps corallinus has the black bands narrowly bordered with yellow on the same red ground colour, and a harmless snake, Homalocranium semicinctum, has exactly the same markings, and both are found in Mexico. The deadly Elaps lemniscatus has the black bands very broad, and each of them divided

« EelmineJätka »