Page images

unattended, it would relieve them of their honey, but would scamper away on the approach of any of the Pheidole. The latter do not sting, but they attack and bite the hand if the young hoppers are interfered with. These leaf-hoppers are, when young, so soft-bodied and sluggish in their movements, and there are so many enemies ready to prey upon them, that I imagine that in the tropics many species would be exterminated if it were not for the protection of the ants.

Similarly as, on the savannahs, I had observed a wasp attending the honey-glands of the bull's-horn acacia along with the ants, so at Santo Domingo another wasp, belonging to quite a different genus (Nectarina), attended some of the clusters of frog-hoppers, ånd for the possession of others a constant skirmishing was going on. The wasp stroked the young hoppers, and sipped up the honey when it was exuded, just like the ants. When an ant came up to a cluster of leaf-hoppers attended by a wasp, the latter would not attempt to grapple with its rival on the leaf, but would fly off and hover over the ant; then when its little foe was well exposed, it would dart at it and strike it to the ground. The action was so quick that I could not determine whether it struck with its fore-feet or its jaws, but I think it was with the feet. I often saw a wasp trying to clear a leaf from ants that were already in full possession of a cluster of leafhoppers. It would sometimes have to strike three or four times at an ant before it made it quit its hold and fall. At other times one ant after the other would be struck off with great celerity and ease, and I fancied that some wasps were much cleverer than others. In those cases where it succeeded in clearing the leaf, it Ch. XII.]



was never left long in peace. Fresh relays of ants were continually arriving, and generally tired the wasp out. It would never wait for an ant to get near it, doubtless knowing well that if its little rival once fastened on its leg, it would be a difficult matter to get rid of it again. If a wasp first obtained possession, it was able to keep it; for the first ants that came up were only pioneers, and by knocking these off it prevented them from returning and scenting the trail to communicate the intelligence to others.

Before leaving this subject, I may remark that just as in plants some glands secrete honey that attracts insects, others a resinous liquid that repels them, so the secretions of different genera of the homopterous division of the Hemiptera are curiously modified for strikingly different useful purposes. We have seen that by many species of plant-lice, scale-insects, and leaf-hoppers, a honey-like fluid is secreted that attracts ants to attend upon them. Other species of aphides (Eriosoma) that have no honeytubes, and many of the Coccidæ, secrete a white, flocculent, waxy cotton, under which they lie concealed. In many of the Homoptera, this secretion only amounts to a white powder covering the body, as in some of the Fulgoridæ. In others it is more abundant, and it reaches its extreme limit in a species of Phenax that I found at Santo Domingo. The insect is about an inch in length, but the waxy secretion forms a long thick tail of cotton-like fibres, two inches in length, that gives the insect a most curious appearance when flying. This flocculent mass is so loosely connected with the body that it is difficult to catch the insect without breaking the greater part of it off. Mr. Bates has suggested that the large brittle

wings of the metallic Morphos may often save them from being caught by birds, who are likely to seize some portion of the wide expanse of wing, and this, breaking off, frees the butterfly. Probably the long cumbersome tail of the Phenax has a similar use. When flying, it is the only portion of the insect seen; and birds trying to capture it on the wing are likely to get only a mouthful of the flocculent wax. The large Homoptera are much preyed upon by birds. In April, when the Cicadæ are piping their shrill cry from morning until night, individuals are often seen whose bulky bodies have been bitten off from the thorax by some bird. The large and graceful swallow-tailed kite at that time feeds on nothing else. I have seen these kites sweeping round in circles over the tree-tops, and every now and then catching insects off the leaves, and on shooting them I have found their crops filled with Cicadæ.

The frog-hoppers, besides exuding honey in some genera and wax in others, in a third division emit, when in the larval state, a great quantity of froth, in which they lie concealed, as in the common “cuckoo-spit” of our meadows.

( 231 )


Matagalpa — Aguardiente-Fermented liquors of the Indians - The

wine-palm-Idleness of the Nicaraguans-Pine and oak forests — Mountain gorge—Jinotega—Native plough—Descendants of the buccaneers—San Rafael-A mountain hut.

At noon we arrived at Matagalpa, the capital of the province of the same name. The town contains about three thousand inhabitants; the province, or department, about thirty thousand. Matagalpa is built close to the river, on a rocky surface, with stony knolls rising up in some parts amongst the houses. It contains three churches, and the usual large square or plaza. Around, the country appeared very dry and barren, and there is scarcely any cultivation in the immediate neighbourhood. · We put up at one of the best houses in the town. The family consisted of a stout lady about fifty and her husband, their daughter and her husband, and an unmarried son. The two younger men appeared to do nothing ; the elder one had a contract with the government to manufacture aguardiente for three towns, and spent nearly all his time at a small hacienda, a league distant, where he grew sugar-cane and maize, and distilled the spirit.

There is a great deal of aguardiente, an inferior kind of rum, sold throughout Nicaragua, and most of the Indians make it a point to get drunk on their feastdays, but at other times are a sober race. They do not owe the introduction of intemperance to the Spaniards, though they can now obtain stronger liquor than in the old times, as the ancient Indians do not appear to have known how to distil, but they made several kinds of fermented liquors. In Mexico the chief drink was “pulque,” the fermented juice of the agave or maguey plant. In Nicaragua “chicha," a kind of light beer, made from maize, is still the favourite Indian beverage. On the warmer plains, the wine-palm (Cocos butyracea) is grown. I saw many of them near San Ubaldo. The wine is very simply prepared. The tree is felled, and an oblong hole cut into it, just below the crown of leaves. This hole is eight inches deep, passing nearly through the trunk. It is about a foot long and four inches broad; and in this hollow the juice of the tree immediately begins to collect, scarcely any running out at the butt where it has been cut off. This tendency of the sap to ascend is well shown in another plant, the water liana. To get the water from this it must be cut first as high as one can reach ; then about a foot from the ground, and out of a length of about seven feet, a pint of fine cool water will run; but if cut at the bottom first, the sap will ascend so rapidly that very little will be obtained. In three days after cutting the wine-palm the hollow will be filled with a clear yellowish wine, the fermented juice of the tree, and this will continue to secrete daily for twenty days, during which the tree will have yielded some gallons of wine. I was told that a very large grove of these trees was cut down by the Government near Granada, on account of the excesses of the Indians, who used to assemble

« EelmineJätka »