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THE RIVULET ARTÍGUA.
ing names from the survivors of the conquered people. Often the names were corrupted, the new inhabitants altering them just a little, to render their pronunciation easier, or to make them significant in their own language. Thus the fruit of the Persea gratissima was called “ahuacatl” by the ancient Mexicans; the Spaniards corrupted it to “avocado,” which means an advocate; and our sailors still further, to “alligator pears.” The town of Comelapa, in Chontales, the name of which means, in Spanish, “Eat a macaw,” is undoubtedly a corruption of some old Indian name of similar form to that of the neighbouring village of Comoapa, although the Spaniards give an absurd explanation of it, evidently invented, according to which it was so called because a sick man was cured of a deadly disease by eating the bird indicated.
The Artígua—I shall call it so, to do what I can to save the name from oblivion—is woefully polluted by the gold-mining on its banks, and flows, a dark muddy stream, through the village of Santo Domingo, and just below it precipitates itself one hundred and twenty feet over a rocky fall. One of the forest roads leads down its banks for several miles to some small clearings, where a few scattered, Spanish-speaking Indians and half-breeds cultivate maize and plantains. After leaving Santo Domingo, it at first follows the left bank of the stream, through low bushes and small trees of second growth, then crosses a beautiful clear brook coming down from the east, and finally winding round a slope covered with great trees and dense undergrowth, reaches the site chosen for the machinery at Pavon, where a large space has been cleared, much of which is covered with grass. After descending a steep hill, the Artígua, with its muddy water, is crossed. Here, in the dry season, in the hot afternoons, the wet sandy banks were the favourite resorts of multitudes of butterflies, that gathered in great masses on particular moist spots in such numbers that with one swoop of my net I have enclosed more than thirty in its gauzy folds. These butterflies were principally different species of Callidryas, yellow and white, mixed with brown and red species of Timetes, which, when disturbed, rose in a body and circled about; on the ground, looking like a bouquet; when rising, like a fountain of flowers. In groups, by themselves, would be five or six specimens of yellow and black Papilios, greedily sucking up the moisture, and vibrating their wings, now and then taking short flights and settling again to drink. Hesperidæ, too, abounded"; and in a favourable afternoon more than twenty different species of butterflies might be taken at these spots, the finest being a lovely white, green, and black swallow-tailed Papilio, the first capture of which filled me with delight. Near the river were some fallen-down wooden sheds, partly overgrown with a red-flowered vine. Here a large spider (Nephila) built strong yellow silken webs, joined one on to the other, so as to make a complete curtain of web, in which were entangled many large butterflies, generally forest species, caught when flying across the clearing. I was at first surprised to find that the kinds that frequent open places were not caught, although they abounded on low white-flowered shrubs close to the webs; but, on getting behind them, and trying to frighten them within the silken curtain, their instinct taught them to avoid it, for, although startled,
they threaded their way through open spaces and between the webs with the greatest ease. It was one instance of many I have noticed of the strong instinct implanted in insects to avoid their natural enemies. I shall mention two others. The Heliconido, a tribe of butterflies peculiar to tropical America, with long, narrow, weak wings, are distasteful to most animals: I have seen even spiders drop them out of their webs again; and small monkeys, which are extremely fond of insects, will not eat them, as I have proved over and over again. Probably, in consequence of this special protection, they have not needed stronger wings, and hence their weak flight. They are also very bold, allowing one to walk close up to flowers on which they alight. There is one genus with transparent wings that frequents the whiteflowered shrubs in the clearings, and I have sometimes advanced my hand within six inches of them without frightening them. There is, however, a yellow and black banded wasp that catches them to store his nest with ; and whenever one of these came about, they would rise fluttering in the air, where they were safe, as I never saw the wasp attack them on the wing. It would hawk round the groups of shrubs, trying to pounce on one unawares; but their natural dread of this foe made it rather difficult to do so. When it did catch one, it would quietly bite off its wings, roll it up into a ball, and fly off with it. Again, the cockroaches that infest the houses of the tropics are very wary, as they have numerous enemies—birds, rats, scorpions, and spiders: their long, trembling antennæ are ever stretched out, as if feeling the very texture of the air around them; and their long legs quickly take them out of danger. Sometimes I tried to chase one of them up to a corner where on the wall a large cockroach-eating spider stood motionless, looking out for his prey; the cockroach would rush away from me in great fear; but as soon as it came within a foot of its mortal foe nothing would force it onwards, but back it would double, facing all the danger from me rather than advance nearer to its natural enemy.
To return to the spiders. Besides the large owner and manufacturer of each web who was stationed near its centre, there were on the outskirts several very small ones, belonging, I think, to two different species. I sometimes threw a fly into one of the webs. The large spider would seize it and commence sucking its blood. The small ones, attracted by the sight of the prey, would advance cautiously from the circumference, but generally stop short about half-way up the web, evidently afraid to come within reach of the owner; thus having to content themselves with looking at the provisions, like hungry urchins nosing the windows of an eating-house. Sometimes a more audacious one would advance closer, but the owner would, when it came within reach, quickly lift up one of its feet and strike at it, like a feeding horse kicking at another that came near its provender, and the intruder would have to retire discomfited. These little spiders probably feed on minute insects entangled in the web, too small for the consideration of the huge owner, to whom they may be of assistance in clearing it.
Soon after crossing the muddy Artígua below Pavon, a beautifully clear and sparkling brook is reached, coming down to join its pure waters with the soiled river Ch. VII.]
below. In the evening this was a favourite resort of many birds that came to drink at the pellucid stream, or catch insects playing above the water. Amongst the last was the beautiful blue, green, and white hummingbird (Florisuga mellivora, Linn.); the head and neck deep metallic-blue, bordered on the back by a pure white
collar over the shoulders, followed by deep metallicgreen; on the underside the blue neck is succeeded by green, the green from the centre of the breast to the end of the tail by pure white; the tail can be expanded to a half circle, and each feather widening towards the end makes the semicircle complete around the edge. When