Our Common Insects Part 1

Our Common Insects.

by Alpheus Spring Packard.


This little volume mainly consists of a reprint of a series of essays which appeared in the "American Naturalist" (Vols. i-v, 1867-71). It is hoped that their perusal may lead to a better acquaintance with the habits and forms of our more common insects. The introduction was written expressly for this book, as well as Chapter XIII, "Hints on the Ancestry of Insects." The scientific reader may be drawn with greater interest to this chapter than to any other portion of the book. In this discussion of a perhaps abstruse and difficult theme, his indulgence is sought for whatever imperfections or deficiencies may appear. Our systems of classification may at least be tested by the application of the theory of evolution. The natural system, if we mistake not, is the genealogy of organized forms; when we can trace the latter, we establish the former. Considering how much naturalists differ in their views as to what is a natural classification, it is not strange that a genealogy of animals or plants seems absurd to many. To another generation of naturalists it must, perhaps, be left to decide whether to attempt the one is more unphilosophical than to attempt the other.

Most of the cuts have already appeared in the "Guide to the Study of Insects" and the "American Naturalist," where their original sources are given, while a few have been kindly contributed by Prof. A. E. Verrill, the Boston Society of Natural History, and Prof. C. V. Riley, and three are original.

SALEM, June, 1873.



_What is an Insect?_ When we remember that the insects alone comprise four-fifths of the animal kingdom, and that there are upwards of 200,000 living species, it would seem a hopeless task to define what an insect is. But a common plan pervades the structure of them all. The bodies of all insects consist of a succession of rings, or segments, more or less hardened by the deposition of a chemical substance called chitine; these rings are arranged in three groups: the head, the thorax, or middle body, and the abdomen or hind body. In the six-footed insects, such as the bee, moth, beetle or dragon fly, four of these rings unite early in embryonic life to form the head; the thorax consists of three, as may be readily seen on slight examination, and the abdomen is composed either of ten or eleven rings. The body, then, seems divided or _insected_ into three regions, whence the name _insect_.

The head is furnished with a pair of antennae, a pair of jaws (mandibles), and two pairs of maxillae, the second and basal pair being united at their base to form the so-called labium, or under lip. These four pairs of appendages represent the four rings of the head, to which they are appended in the order stated above.

A pair of legs is appended to each of the three rings of the thorax; while the first and second rings each usually carry a pair of wings.

The abdomen contains the ovipositor; sometimes, as in the bees and wasps, forming a sting. In the spiders (Fig. 1), however, there are no antennae, and the second maxillae, or labium, is wanting. Moreover, there are four pairs of legs. The centipedes (Fig. 2, a Myriopod) also differ from the rest of the insects in having an indefinite number of abdominal rings, each bearing a pair of legs.

[Illustration: 1. Spider (Tegenaria).]

On examining the arrangement of the parts within, we find the nervous cord, consisting of two chains of swellings, or nerve-knots, resting upon the floor or under side of the body; and the heart, or dorsal vessel, situated just under the skin of the back; and in looking at living caterpillars, such as the cut-worm, and many thin-skinned aquatic larvae, we can see this long tubular heart pulsating about as often as our own heart, and when the insect is held against its will, or is agitated, the rapidity of the pulsations increases just as with us.

[Illustration: 2. Centipede.]

Insects do not breathe as in the higher animals by taking the air into the mouth and filling the lungs, but there are a series of holes or pores along the side of the body, as seen in the grub of the humble bee, through which the air enters and is conveyed to every part of the body by an immense number of air tubes. (Fig. 3, air tubes, or tracheae, in the caudal appendage of the larva of a dragon fly). These air tubes are everywhere bathed by the blood, by which the latter becomes oxygenated.

[Illustration: 3. Caudal appendage of larva of Agrion.]

Indeed the structure of an insect is entirely different from that of man or the quadrupeds, or any other vertebrate animal, and what we call head, thorax, abdomen, gills, stomach, skin, or lungs, or jaws, are called so simply for convenience, and not that they are made in the same way as those parts in the higher animals.

An insect differs from a horse, for example, as much as a modern printing press differs from the press Franklin used. Both machines are made of iron, steel, wood, etc., and both print; but the plan of their structure differs throughout, and some parts are wanting in the simpler press which are present and absolutely essential in the other. So with the two sorts of animals; they are built up originally out of protoplasm, or the original jelly-like germinal matter, which fills the cells composing their tissues, and nearly the same chemical elements occur in both, but the mode in which these are combined, the arrangement of their products: the muscular, nervous and skin tissues, differ in the two animals. The plan of structure, namely, the form and arrangement of the body walls, the situation of the appendages to the body, and of the anatomical systems within, i.e., the nervous, digestive, circulatory, and respiratory systems, differ in their position in relation to the walls of the body. Thus while the two sorts of animals reproduce their kind, eat, drink and sleep, see, hear and smell, they perform these acts by different kinds of organs, situated sometimes on the most opposite parts of the body, so that there is no comparison save in the results which they accomplish; they only agree in being animals, and in having a common animal nature.

[Illustration: 4. Different forms of jaws.]

[Illustration: 5. Mouth parts of the Larva of a Beetle.]

[Illustration: 6. Maxilla of a Beetle.]

_How Insects Eat._ The jaws of insects (Fig. 4) are horny processes situated on each side of the mouth. They are variously toothed, so as to tear the food, and move horizontally instead of up and down as in the horse. The act of taking the food, especially if the insect be carnivorous in its habits, is quite complex, as not only the true jaws, but the accessory jaws (maxillae, Fig. 5, _a_, upper, b, under side of the head of a young beetle; _at_, antennae, _md_, mandible, _mx_, maxillae, _mx_[1], labium) and the feelers (palpi) attached to the maxillae, and the under lip (labium) are of great service in enabling the insect to detect its food both by the senses of touch and smell. The maxillae are in the fully grown beetle (Fig. 6) divided into three lobes, the outermost forming the palpus, and the two others forming sharp teeth, often provided with hairs and minute brushes for cleansing the adjoining parts; these strong curved teeth are used in seizing the food and placing it between the grinders, where it is crushed, prepared for digestion and swallowed. Fig. 7 represents the mouth parts of the humble bee. (_b_, upper lip; _d_, mandible; _e_, maxilla; _f_, maxillary palpus; _g_, tongue; _ih_, labium and tabial palpi; _k_, eye.)

[Illustration: 7. Mouth parts of a Humble Bee.]

The alimentary canal passes through the middle of the body, the stomach forming usually a simple enlargement. Just before the stomach in certain insects, as the grasshopper, is a gizzard armed with rows of powerful horny teeth for finely crushing grass.

Insects eat almost incredible quantities of food when young and growing rapidly. Mr. Trouvelot tells us in the "American Naturalist" that the food taken by a single American Silk-worm in fifty-six days is equal to eighty-six thousand times its primitive weight! On the other hand, after the insect has finished its transformations, it either takes no food at all, as in the May fly, or merely sips the honey of flowers, as in the butterfly, while the June beetle and many others like it eat the leaves of trees, and the tiger and ground beetles feed voraciously on other insects.

_How Insects Walk._ In man and his allies, the vertebrates, the process of walking is a most difficult and apparently dangerous feat. To describe the mechanics of walking, the wonderful adaptation of the muscles and bones for the performance of this most ordinary action of life, would require a volume. The process is scarcely less complex in insects. Lyonnet found 3,993 muscles in a caterpillar, and while a large proportion belong to the internal organs, over a thousand assist in locomotion. Hence the muscular power of insects is enormous. A flea will leap two hundred times its own height, and certain large, solid beetles will move enormous weights as compared to the bulk of their bodies.

[Illustration: 8. Larva of a beetle (Photuris).]

In walking, as seen in the accompanying figure (Fig. 8), three legs are thrown forward at a time, two on one side and one on the other.

Flies and many other insects can walk upside down, or on glass, as easily as on a level surface. A fly's foot, as in most other insects, consists of five joints (tarsal joints), to the last one of which is appended a pair of stout claws, beneath which is a flat, soft, fleshy cushion or pad, split into two (sometimes three) flaps, beset on the under surface with fine hairs. A part of these hairs are swollen at the end, which is covered with "an elastic membranous expansion, capable of close contact with a highly polished surface, from which a minute quantity of a clear, transparent fluid is emitted when the fly is actively moving." (T. West.) These hairs are hence called holding, or tenent, hairs. With the aid of these, but mainly, as Mr. West insists, by the pressure of the atmosphere, a fly is enabled to adhere to perfectly smooth surfaces. His studies show the following curious facts.

"That atmospheric pressure, if the area of the flaps be alone considered, is equal to just one-half the weight of a fly. If the area covered by the tenent hairs be added, an increase of pressure is gained, equal to about one-fourth the weight of a fly. This leaves one-fourth to be accounted for by slight viscidity of the fluid, by the action I have so often alluded to, which may be called 'grasping,' by molecular attraction, and, doubtless, by other agents still more subtle, with which we have at present scarcely any acquaintance."

_How Insects Fly._ Who of us, as remarked by an eminent ornithologist, can even now explain the long sustained, peculiar flight of the hawk, or turkey buzzard, as it sails in the air without changing the position of its wings? and, we would add, the somewhat similar flight of a butterfly? It is the poetry of motion, and a marvellous exhibition of grace and ease, combined with a wonderful underlying strength and lightness of the parts concerned in flight.

Before we give a partial account of the results obtained by the delicate experiments of Professor Marey on the flight of birds and insects, our readers should be reminded of the great differences between an insect and a bird, remembering that the former, is, in brief, a chitinous sac, so to speak, or rather a series of three such spherical or elliptical sacs (the head, thorax and abdomen); the outer walls of the body forming a solid but light crust, to which are attached broad, membranous wings, the wing being a sort of membranous bag stretched over a framework of hollow tubes (the tracheae), so disposed as to give the greatest lightness and strength to the wing. The wings are moved by powerful muscles of flight, filling up the cavity of the thorax, just as the muscles are the largest about the thorax of a bird. Moreover in the bodies of insects that fly (such as the bee, cockchafer, and dragon fly), as distinguished from those that creep exclusively, the air tubes (tracheae) which ramify into every part of the body, are dilated here and there, especially in the base of the abdomen, into large sacs, which are filled with air when the insect is about to take flight, so that the specific gravity of the body is greatly diminished. Indeed, these air sacs, dilatable at will by the insect, may be compared to the swimming bladder of fishes, which enables them to rise and fall at will to different levels in the sea, thus effecting an immense saving of the labor of swimming. In the birds, as every body knows who has eaten a chicken, or attended the dissection of a Thanksgiving turkey, the soft parts are external, attached to the bony framework comprising the skeleton, the wing bones being directly connected with the central back bone; so that while these two sorts of animated flying machines are so different in structure, they yet act in much the same manner when on the wing. The difference between them is clearly stated by Marey, some of whose conclusions we now give almost word for word.

The flight of butterflies and moths differs from that of birds in the almost vertical direction of the stroke of their wings, and in their faculty of sailing in the air without making any movements; though sometimes in the course they pursue they seem to resemble birds in their flight.

The flight of insects and birds moreover differs in the form of the trajectory in space; in the inclination of the plane in which the wings beat; in the role of each of the two alternating (and in an inverse sense) movements that the wings execute; as also in the facility with which the air is decomposed during these different movements. As the wings of a fly are adorned with a brilliant array of colors, we can follow the trajectory or figure that each wing writes in the air. It is of the form of a figure of eight (Fig. 9), first discovered by Professor J. Bell Pettigrew of Edinburgh.

[Illustration: 9. Figure cut by an insect's wing.]

[Illustration: 10. Figure cut by a bird's wing.]

By an ingenious machine, specially devised for the purpose, Professor Marey found that a bird's wing moves in an ellipse, with a pointed summit (Fig. 10). The insect beats the air in a distinctly horizontal plane, but the bird in a vertical plane. The wing of an insect is impervious to the air; while the bird's wing resists the air only on its under side. Hence, there are two sorts of effects; in the insect the up and down strokes are active; in the bird, the lowering of the wing is the only active period, though the return stroke seems to sustain the bird, the air acting on the wing. The bird's body is horizontal when the wing gives a downward stroke; but when the beat is upward, the bird is placed in an inclined plane like a winged projectile, and mounts up on the air by means of the inclined surfaces that it passively offers to the resistance of this fluid.

[Illustration: 11. Trajectory of an insect's wing.]

[Illustration: 12. Trajectory of a bird's wing.]

In an insect, an energetic movement is equally necessary to strike the air at both beats up and down. In the bird, on the contrary, one active beat only is necessary, the down beat. It creates at that time all the motive force that will be dispensed during the entire revolution of the wing. This difference is due to the difference in form of the wing. The difference between the two forms of flight is shown by an inspection of the two accompanying figures (11, 12). An insect's wing is small at the base and broad at the end. This breadth would be useless near the body, because at this point the wing does not move swiftly enough to strike the air effectively. The type of the insectean wing is designed, then, simply to strike the air. But in the bird the wing plays also a passive role, _i. e._, it receives the pressure of the air on its under side when the bird is projected rapidly onward by its acquired swiftness. In these conditions the whole animal is carried onward in space; all the points of its wing have the same velocity. The neighboring regions of the body are useful to press upon the air, which acts as on a paper kite. The base of the wing also, in the bird, is broad, and provided with feathers, which form a broad surface, on which the air presses with a force and method very efficacious in supporting the bird. Fig. 12 gives an idea of this disposition of the wing at the active and passive time in a bird.

The inner half of the wing is the passive part of the organ, while the external half, that which strikes the air, is the active part. A fly's wing makes 330 revolutions in a second, executing consequently 660 simple oscillations; it ought at each time to impress a lateral deviation of the body of the insect, and destroy the velocity that the preceding oscillation has given it in a contrary direction. So that by this hypothesis the insect in its flight only utilizes fifty to one hundred parts (or one-half) of the resistance that the air furnishes it.

[Illustration: 13. A bird on the wing.]

In the bird (Fig. 13), at the time of lowering the wings, the oblique plane which strikes the air, in decomposing the resistance, produces a vertical component which resists the weight of the body, and a horizontal component which imparts swiftness. The horizontal component is not lost, but is utilized during the rise of the wing, as in a paper kite when held in the air against the wind. Thus the bird utilizes seventy-five out of one hundred parts of the resistance that the air furnishes. The style of flight of birds is, therefore, theoretically superior to that of insects. As to the division of the muscular force between the resistance of the air and the mass of the body of the bird, we should compare the exertion made in walking on sand, for example, as compared with walking on marble. This is easy to measure. When a fish strikes the water with its tail to propel itself forward, it performs a double task; one part consists in pushing backwards a certain mass of water with a certain swiftness, and the other in pushing on the body in spite of the resistance of the surrounding fluid. This last portion of the task only is utilized. It would be greater if the tail of the fish encountered a solid object. Almost all the propelling agencies employed in navigation undergo this loss of labor, which depends on the mobility of the _point d' appui_. The bird is placed among conditions especially unfavorable.

_The Senses of Insects._ The eyes of insects are sometimes so large as to envelop the head like an Elizabethan ruffle, and the creature's head, as in the common house fly, seems all eyes. And this is almost literally the case, as the two great staring eyes that almost meet on the top of the head to form one, are made up of myriads of simple eyes. Each facet or simple eye is provided with a nerve filament which branches off from the main optic nerve, so that but one impression of the object perceived is conveyed to the brain; though it is taught by some that objects appear not only double but a thousand times multiplied. But we should remember that with our two eyes we see double only when the brain is diseased. Besides the large ordinary compound eyes, many insects possess small, simple eyes, like those of the spider. The great German anatomist, Johannes Muller, believed that the compound eyes were adapted for the perception of distant objects, while those nearer are seen by the simple eyes. But it may be objected to this view that the spiders, which have only simple eyes, apparently see both near and remote objects as well as insects.

The sense of touch is diffused all over the body. As in the hairs of the head and face of man, those of insects are delicate tactile organs; and on the antennae and legs (insects depending on this sense rather than that of sight) these appendages are covered with exquisitely fine hairs. It is thought by some that the senses of hearing and smell are lodged in the antennae, these organs thus combining the sense of feeling with those of hearing and smelling. And the researches of anatomists lend much probability to the assertion, since little pits just under the skin are found, and even sometimes provided with grains of sand in the so-called ear of the lobster, etc., corresponding to the ear bones of the higher animals, the pits being connected with nerves leading to the brain. We have detected similar pits in the under side of the palpi of the Perla. It seems not improbable that these are organs of smell, and placed in that part of the appendage nearest the mouth, so as to enable the insect to select its proper food by its odor. Similar organs exist on the caudal appendages of a kind of fly (Chrysopila), while the long, many-jointed caudal filaments of the cockroach are each provided with nearly a hundred of these little pits, which seem to be so many noses.

Thus Lespes, a Swiss anatomist, in his remarks on the auditory sacs, which he says are found in the antennae of nearly all insects, declares that as we have in insects compound eyes, so we have compound ears. We might add that in the abdominal appendage of the cockroach we have a compound nose, while in the feelers of the Perla, and the caudal appendage of the Chrysopila, the "nose" is simple. We might also refer here to Siebold's discovery of ears at the base of the abdomen of some, and in the forelegs of other kinds, of grasshoppers. Thus we need not be surprised at finding ears and noses scattered, as it were, sometimes almost wantonly over the bodies of insects (in many worms the eyes are found all over the body), while in man and his allies, from the monkey down to the fish, the ears and nose invariably retain the same relative place in the head.

_How Insects Grow._ When beginning our entomological studies no fact seemed more astonishing to our boyish mind than the thought that the little flies and midges were not the sons and daughters of the big ones. If every farmer and gardener knew this single fact it would be worth their while. The words _larva_ and _pupa_ will frequently occur in subsequent pages, and they should be explained. The caterpillar (Fig.

14, _a_) represents the earliest stage or babyhood of the butterfly, and it is called _larva_, from the Latin, meaning a mask, because it was thought by the ancients to mask the form of the adult butterfly.

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