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Our Common Insects Part 10

One of our most common Dragon flies is the ruby Dragon fly, Diplax rubicundula, which is yellowish-red. It is seen everywhere flying over pools, and also frequents dry sunny woods and glades. Another common form is Diplax Berenice (Fig. 135 male, Fig. 136 female. The accompanying cut (137) represents the larva, probably of this species, according to Mr. Uhler.) It is black, the head blue in front, spotted with yellow, while the thorax and abdomen are striped with yellow. There are fewer stripes on the body of the male, which has only four large yellow spots on each side of the abdomen. Still another pretty species is Diplax Elisa (Fig. 138). It is black, with the head yellowish and with greenish-yellow spots on the sides of the thorax and base of the abdomen. There are three dusky spots on the front edge of each wing, and a large cloud at the base of the hind pair towards the hind angles of the wing.

Rather a rare form, and of much smaller stature is the Nannophya bella (Fig. 138, female). It was first detected in Baltimore, and we afterwards found it not unfrequently by a pond in Maine. Its abdomen is unusually short, and the reticulations of the wings are large and simple. The female is black, while the male is frosted over with a whitish powder. Many more species of this family are found in this country, and for descriptions of them we would refer the reader to Dr.

Hagen's "Synopsis of the Neuroptera of North America," published by the Smithsonian Institution.

[Illustration: 138. Diplax Elisa.]

[Illustration: 139. Nannophya bella.]

[Illustration: 140. May Fly.]

The Libellulidae, or family of Dragon flies, and the Ephemeridae, or May flies (Fig. 140), are the most characteristic of the Neuroptera, or veiny-winged insects. This group is a most interesting one to the systematist, as it is composed of so many heterogeneous forms which it is almost impossible to classify in our rigid and at present necessarily artificial systems. We divide them into families and sub-families, genera and sub-genera, species and varieties, but there is an endless shifting of characters in these groups. The different groups would seem well limited after studying certain forms, when to the systematist's sorrow, here comes a creature, perhaps mimicking an ant, or aphis, or other sort of bug, or even a butterfly, and for which they would be readily mistaken by the uninitiated. Bibliographers have gone mad over books that could not be classified. Imagine the despair of an insect-hunter and entomophile, as he sits down to his box of dried neuroptera. He seeks for a true neuropter in the white ant before him, but its very form and habits summon up a swarm of true ants; and then the little wingless book louse (Atropos, Fig. 141) scampering irreverently over the musty pages of his Systema Naturae, reminds him of that closest friend of man--Pediculus vestimenti. Again, his studies lead him to that gorgeous inhabitant of the South, the butterfly-like Ascalaphus, with its resplendent wings, and slender, knobbed antennae so much like those of butterflies, and visions of these beautiful insects fill his mind's eye; or sundry dun-colored caddis flies, modest, delicate neuroptera, with finely fringed wings and slender feelers, create doubts as to whether they are not really allies of the clothes moth, so close is the resemblance.

[Illustration: 141. Death Tick.]

Thus the student is constantly led astray by the wanton freaks Nature plays, and becomes sceptical as regards the truth of a natural system, though there is one to be discovered; and at last disgusted with the stiff and arbitrary systems of our books,--a disgust we confess most wholesome, if it only leads him into a closer communion with nature. The sooner one leaves those maternal apron-strings,--books,--and learns to identify himself with nature, and thus goes out of himself to affiliate with the spirit of the scene or object before him,--or, in other words, cultivates habits of the closest observation and most patient reflection,--be he painter or poet, philosopher or insect-hunter of low degree, he will gain an intellectual strength and power of interpreting nature, that is the gift of true genius.

[Illustration: The Ant Lion and adult.]

CHAPTER XI.

MITES AND TICKS.

But few naturalists have busied themselves with the study of mites. The honored names of Hermann, Von Heyden, Duges, Dujardin and Pagenstecher, Nicolet, Koch and Robin, and the lamented Claparede of Geneva, lead the small number who have published papers in scientific journals. After these, and except an occasional note by an amateur microscopist who occasionally pauses from his "diatomaniacal" studies, and looks upon a mite simply as a "microscopic object," to be classed in his micrographic Vade Mecum with mounted specimens of sheep's wool, and the hairs of other quadrupeds, a distorted proboscis of a fly, and podura scales, we read but little of mites and their habits. But few readers of our natural history text-books learn from their pages any definite facts regarding the affinities of these humble creatures, their organization and the singular metamorphosis a few have been known to pass through. We shall only attempt in the present article to indicate a few of the typical forms of mites, and sketch, with too slight a knowledge to speak with much authority, an imperfect picture of their appearance and modes of living.

Mites are lowly organized Arachnids. This order of insects is divided into the Spiders, the Scorpions, the Harvestmen and the Mites (Acarina).

They have a rounded oval body, without the usual division between the head-thorax and abdomen observable in spiders, the head-thorax and abdomen being merged in a single mass. There are four pairs of legs, and the mouth parts consist, as seen in the adjoining figure of a young tick (Fig. 142, young Ixodes albipictus), of a pair of maxillae (_c_), which in the adult terminates in a two or three-jointed palpus, or feeler; a pair of mandibles (_b_), often covered with several rows of fine teeth, and ending in three or four larger hooks and a serrated labium (_a_).

These parts form a beak which the mite or tick insinuates into the flesh of its host, upon the blood of which it subsists. While many of the mites are parasitic on animals, some are known to devour the eggs of insects and other mites, thrusting their beaks into the egg, and sucking the contents. We have seen a mite (Nothrus ovivorus, Fig. 143) busily engaged in destroying the eggs of a moth like that of the Canker worm, and Dr. Shimer has observed the Acarus? malus sucking the eggs of the Chinch bug. I have also observed another mite devouring the Aphides on the rose leaves in my garden, so that a few mites may be set down as beneficial to vegetation. While a few species are injurious to man, the larger part are beneficial, being either parasitic and baneful to other noxious animals, or more directly useful as scavengers, removing decaying animal and vegetable substances.

[Illustration: 142, Ixodes albipictus and young.[8]]

The transformations of the mites are interesting to the philosophic zoologist, since the young of certain forms are remarkably different from the adults, and in reaching the perfect state the mite passes through a metamorphosis more striking than that of many insects. The young on leaving the egg have six legs, as we have seen in the case of the Ixodes. Sometimes, however, as, for example, in the larva, as we may call it, of a European mite, Typhlodromus pyri, the adult of which, according to A. Scheuten, is allied to Acarus, and lives under the epidermis of the leaves of the pear in Europe (while Mr. T. Taylor, of the Department of Agriculture at Washington, has found a species in the pear leaves about Washington, and still another form in peach leaves), there are but two pairs of legs present, and the body is long, cylindrical and in a degree worm-like.

I have had the good fortune to observe the different stages of a bird mite, intermediate in its form between the Acarus and Sarcoptes, or Itch mite. On March 6th, Mr. C. Cooke called my attention to certain little mites which were situated on the narrow groove between the main stem of the barb and the outer edge of the barbules of the feathers of the Downy Woodpecker, and subsequently we found the other forms in the down under the feathers. These long worm-like mites were evidently the young of a singular Sarcoptes-like mite, as they were found on the same specimen of Woodpecker at about the same date, and it is known that the growth of mites is rapid, the metamorphoses, judging by the information which we now possess, occupying usually but a few days.

[Illustration: 143. Egg-eating Mite.]

The young (though there is, probably, a still earlier hexapodous stage) of this Sarcoptid has an elongated, oblong, flattened body, with four short legs, provided with a few bristle-like hairs, and ending in a stalked sucker, by aid of which the mite is enabled to walk over smooth, hard surfaces. The body is square at the end, with a slight median indentation, and four long bristles of equal length. They remained motionless in the groove on the barb of the feather, and when removed seemed very inert and sluggish. A succeeding stage of this mite, which may be called the pupal, is considerably smaller than the larva and looks somewhat like the adult, the body having become shorter and broader. The adult is a most singular form, its body being rudely ovate, with the head sunken between the fore legs, which are considerably smaller than the second pair, while the third pair are twice as large as the second pair, and directed backwards, and the fourth pair are very small, not reaching the extremity of the body, which is deeply cleft and supports four long bristles on each side of the cleft, while other bristles are attached to the legs and body, giving the creature, originally ill-shapen, a haggard, unkempt appearance. The two stigmata or breathing pores open near the cleft in the end of the body, and the external opening of the oviduct is situated between the largest and third pair of legs. No males were observed. In a species of Acarus (Tyroglyphus), somewhat like the Cheese mite, which we have alive at the time of writing, in a box containing the remains of a Lucanus larva, which they seem to have consumed, as both young and old are swarming there by myriads, the young are oval and like the adults, except that they are six-legged, the fourth pair growing out after a succeeding moult.

Such is a brief summary of what has been generally known regarding the metamorphoses of a few species of mites. In a few kinds no males have been found; the females have been isolated after being hatched, and yet have been known to lay eggs, which produced young without the interposition of the males. This parthenogenesis has been noticed in several species.

[Illustration: 144. Cheyletus.]

These insects often suddenly appear in vast numbers on various articles of food and about houses, so as to be very annoying. Mr. J. J. H.

Gregory, of Marblehead, Mass., has found a mite allied to the European species here figured (Fig. 144) very injurious to the seeds of the cabbage, which it sucked dry. This is an interesting form, and we have called it Cheyletus seminivorus It is of medium size, and especially noticeable from the tripartite palpi, which are divided into an outer, long, curved, claw-like lobe, with two rounded teeth at the base, and two inner, slender lobes pectinated on the inner side, the third innermost lobe being minute. The beak terminates in a sharp blade-like point.

We have received a Cheyletus-like mite, said to have been "extracted from the human face" in New Orleans. The body is oblong, square behind; the head is long and pointed, while the maxillae end in a long, curved, toothed, sickle-like blade. That this creature has the habits of the itch mite is suggested by the curious, large, hair-like spines with which the body and legs are sparsely armed, some being nearly half as long as the body. These hairs are covered with very fine spinules. Those on the end of the body are regularly spoon-shaped. These strange hairs, which are thickest on the legs, probably assisted the mite in anchoring itself in the skin of its host. We have read no account of this strange and interesting form. It is allied to the Acaropsis Mericourti which lives in the human face.

A species, "apparently of the genus Gamasus," according to Dr. Leidy, has been found living in the ear (at the bottom of the external auditory meatus, and attached to the membrana tympani) of steers. "Whether this mite is a true parasite of the ear of the living ox, or whether it obtained access to the position in which it was found after the death of the ox in the slaughter house, has not yet been determined."

We will now give a hasty glance at the different groups of mites, pausing to note those most interesting from their habits or relation to man.

The most highly organized mite (and by its structure most closely allied to the spider) is the little red garden mite, belonging to the genus Trombidium, to which the genus Tetranychus is also nearly related. Our own species of the former genus have not been "worked up," or in other words identified and described, so that whether the European T.

holosericeum Linn. is our species or not, we cannot tell. The larvae of this and similar species are known to live parasitically upon Harvestmen (Phalangium), often called Daddy-long-legs; and upon Aphides, grasshoppers and other insects. Mr. Riley has made known to us through the "American Naturalist" (and from his account our information is taken), the habits of certain young of the garden mite (Trombidium) which are excessively annoying in the Southwestern States. The first is the Leptus? Americanus (Fig. 145), or American Harvest mite. It is only known as yet in the larval or Leptus state, when it is of the form indicated in the cut, and brick red in color. "This species is barely visible with the naked eye, moves readily and is found more frequently upon children than upon adults. It lives mostly on the scalp and under the arm pits, but is frequently found on the other parts of the body. It does not bury itself in the flesh, but simply insinuates the anterior part of the body just under the skin, thereby causing intense irritation, followed by a little red pimple. As with our common ticks, the irritation lasts only while the animal is securing itself, and its presence would afterwards scarcely be noticed but for the pimple which results."

[Illustration: 145 _a._ American Harvest Mite; _b._ Irritating Harvest Mite; the dots underneath indicating the natural size.]

The second species (Fig. 145 _b_, Leptus? irritans) is also only known in the Leptus stage. It is evidently the larva of a distinct genus from the other form, having enormous maxillae and a broad body; it is also brick red. Mr. Riley says that "this is the most troublesome and, perhaps, best known of the two, causing intense irritation and swelling on all parts of the body, but more especially on the legs and around the ankles. Woe betide the person who, after bathing in the Mississippi anywhere in this latitude, is lured to some green dressing-spot of weeds or grass! He may, for the time, consider himself fortunate in getting rid of mud and dirt, but he will afterwards find to his sorrow that he exchanged them for something far more tenacious in these microscopic Harvest-mites. If he has obtained a good supply of them, he will in a few hours begin to suffer from severe itching, and for the next two or three days will be likely to scratch until his limbs are sore.

"With the strong mandibles and the elbowed maxillae which act like arms, this mite is able to bury itself completely in the flesh, thereby causing a red swelling with a pale pustulous centre containing watery matter. If, in scratching, he is fortunate enough to remove the mite before it enters, the part soon heals. But otherwise the irritation lasts for two, three or four days, the pustulous centre reappearing as often as it is broken.

"The animal itself, on account of its minute size, is seldom seen, and the uninitiated, when first troubled with it, are often alarmed at the symptoms and at a loss to account for them. Fortunately these little plagues never attach themselves to persons in such immense numbers as do sometimes young or so-called 'seed' ticks; but I have known cases where, from the irritation and consequent scratching, the flesh had the appearance of being covered with ulcers; and in some localities, where these pests most abound, sulphur is often sprinkled during 'jigger'

season in the boots or shoes as a protection.

"Sulphur ointment is the best remedy against the effects of either of these mites, though when that cannot be obtained, saleratus water and salt water will partially allay the irritation.

"The normal food of either must, apparently, consist of the juices of plants, and the love of blood proves ruinous to those individuals who get a chance to indulge it. For unlike the true Jigger, the female of which deposits eggs in the wound she makes, these Harvest-mites have no object of the kind, and when not killed by the hands of those they torment, they soon die victims to their sanguinary appetite."

[Illustration: 146. Astoma of the Fly.]

Another Leptus-like form is the parasite of the fly, described by Mr.

Riley under the name of Astoma? muscarum (Fig. 146). How nearly allied it is to the European Astoma parasiticum we have not the means of judging.

The European Tetranychus telarius Linn., or web-making mite, spins large webs on the leaves of the linden tree. Then succeed in the natural order the water mites (Hydrachna), which may be seen running over submerged sticks and on plants, mostly in fresh water, and rarely on the borders of the sea. The young after leaving the egg differ remarkably from the adults, so as to have been referred to a distinct genus (Achlysia) by the great French naturalist, Audouin. They live as parasites on various water insects, such as Dytiscus, Nepa and Hydrometra, and when mature live free in the water, though Von Baer observed an adult Hydrachna concharum living parasitically on the gills of the fresh-water mussel, Anodon. The species are of minute size. Collectors of beetles often meet with a species of Uropoda attached firmly to their specimens of dung-inhabiting or carrion beetles. It is a smoothly polished, round, flattened mite, with short, thick legs, scarcely reaching beyond the body.

[Illustration: 147. Cattle Tick.]

We now come to the Ticks, which comprise the largest mites. The genus Argas closely resembles Ixodes. Gerstaecker states that the Argas Persicus is very annoying to travellers in Persia. The habits of the wood ticks (Ixodes) are well known. Travellers in the tropics speak of the intolerable torment occasioned by these pests which, occurring ordinarily on shrubs and trees, attach themselves to all sorts of reptiles, beasts and cattle, and even man himself as he passes by within their reach. Sometimes cases fall within the practice of the physician, who is called to remove the tick, which is found sometimes literally buried beneath the skin. Mr. J. Stauffer writes me, that "on June 23d the daughter of Abraham Jackson (colored), playing among the leaves in a wood, near Springville, Lancaster County, Penn., on her return home complained of pain in the arm. No attention was paid to it till the next day, when a raised tumor was noticed, a small portion protruding through the skin, apparently like a splinter of wood. The child was taken to Dr.

Morency, who applied the forceps, and after considerable pain to the child, and labor to himself, extracted a species of Ixodes, nearly one-quarter of an inch long, and of an oval form and brown mahogany color, with a metallic spot, like silver bronze, centrally on the dorsal region." This tick proved, from Mr. Stauffer's figures, to be, without doubt, Ixodes unipunctata. It has also been found in Massachusetts by Mr. F. G. Sanborn.

Another species is the Ixodes bovis (Fig. 147), the common cattle tick of the Western States and Central America. It is very annoying to horned cattle, gorging itself with their blood, but is by no means confined to them alone, as it lives indifferently upon the rattlesnake, the iguana, small mammals and undoubtedly any other animal that brushes by its lurking-place in the forest. It is a reddish, coriaceous, flattened, seed-like creature, with the body oblong oval, and contracted just behind the middle. When fully grown it measures from a quarter to half an inch in length. We have received it from Missouri, at the hands of Mr. Riley, and Mr. J. A. McNiel has found it very abundantly on horned cattle on the western coast of Nicaragua.

We now come to the genus Acarus (Tyroglyphus), of which the cheese and sugar mites are examples. Some species of Acarian mites have been found in the lungs and blood-vessels, and even the intestinal canal of certain vertebrates, while the too familiar itch insect lurks under the skin of the hand and other parts of the body of certain uncleanly human bipeds.

[Illustration: 148. Sugar Mite.]

Many people have been startled by statements in newspapers and more authoritative sources, as to the immense numbers of mites (Acarus sacchari, Fig. 148) found in unrefined or raw sugar. According to Prof.

Cameron, of Dublin, as quoted in the "Journal of the Franklin Institute," for November, 1868, "Dr. Hassel (who was the first to notice their general occurrence in the raw sugar sold at London) found them in a living state in no fewer than sixty-nine out of seventy-two samples.

He did not detect them in a single specimen of refined sugar. In an inferior sample of raw sugar, examined in Dublin by Mr. Cameron, he reports finding five hundred mites in ten grains of sugar, so that in a pound's weight occurred one hundred thousand of these little creatures, which seem to have devoted themselves with a martyr-like zeal to the adulteration of sugar. They appear as white specks in the sugar. The disease known as grocer's itch is, undoubtedly, due to the presence of this mite, which, like its ally the Sarcoptes, works its way under the skin of the hand, in this case, however, of cleanly persons. Mr. Cameron states that "the kind of sugar which is both healthful and economical, is the dry, large-grained and light-colored variety."

Closely allied to the preceding, is the Cheese mite (Acarus siro Linn.), which often abounds in newly made cheese. Lyonet states that during summer this mite is viviparous. Acarus farinae DeGeer, as its name indicates, is found in flour. Other species have been known to occur in ulcers.

[Illustration: 149. Mange Mite.]

We should also mention the Mange insect of the horse (Psoroptes equi, Fig. 149, much enlarged; _a_, head more magnified). According to Prof.

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