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Equal the cumbrons whale's enormous mass,
A living world, thy failing sigut confounds!
Where millions taste the bounty God bestows. To those even who derive but little pleasure from the pursuits and studies of a liberal mind, and who feel but little satisfaction in any employment unattended with immediate profit, the researches of the Entomologist are not without their use. Had the operations of the silk-worm never been examined, how could men have availed themselves of the labours of an insect that administers so profusely to our splendour and luxuries? It was not to the unobserving that it first occurred, that the toil of the silkworm might be converted into a considerable article of commerce, and might give rise to many arts, and afford subsistence to thousands of manufacturers. In the same manner, wax and honey enter into the articles of commerce, and add to our enjoyments. It cannot, therefore, be denied, that those naturalists were profitably employed who first observed the industry of the bee; who brought the insect from its native woods, introduced it into our gardens, and, by domesticating it, have rendered it subservient to our pleasures.
The Chinese, whose progress in many of the arts is superior to that of any other nation, avail themselves of the labours of certain insects in procuring a rich dye, and an elegant varnish, which is provided by a certain species of winged ant. The celebrated purple dye of the ancients was the produce of a small species of shell-fish; and we are told by Pliny, that the discovery of its virtue was occasioned by a dog, who, in eating the fish, had dyed his ears with that beautiful colour. It seems probable that the antients were capable, from the shells of insects, of communicating to their stuffs many beautiful shades of scarlet with which we are unacquainted; and it is not unlikely that we have also some rich tints of that colour which they wanted. It is certain that our finest reds are furnished by insects of which they were ignorant. Cochineal, the extensive and profitable uses of which have been long estimated, is now known universally to be an insect which is propagated with care, and in vast numbers, in the kingdom of Mexioo. The kermes or grain of scarlet, which was formerly imagined to be one of the galls or excrésconces that are seen on shrubs, is now understood to be an insect which attaches itself in that form to a species of the oak.
The medical uses of certain insects are far from being inconsiderable; and to these purposes they have long been applied, perhaps more frequently, and with better effect, than at present. The valuable purposes to which the Spanish fly has been made subservient, will alone vindicate the utility of those researches which have been made concerning this part of the animal Kingdom. There are, however, other uses to which other insects have been applied, and that from the most remote antiquity, which appear of a still more singular nature. Before the times of Theophrastus and Pliny, certain kinds of them were employed in ripening the figs throughout the islands of the Archipelago; and it appears that the same practice still subsists among the present inhabitants of these islands. There are two kinds of figs cultivated around the Mediterranean; the wild, and the domestic. The former produces fruit several times in the year; and in it are deposited the eggs of insects which are soon converted into larves. It is by an artificial process of the same kind that the domestic fig is brought to maturity, which would otherwise drop from the tree in an unripe state. During the months of June and July, the peasants of these delightful climes are busily
employed in collecting such of the wild figs as abound most with these insects, and in placing them near the cultivated fig, that they may deposit their eggs, and co-operate with the climate in bringing it to maturity. Similar purposes might probably be served by a judicious application of insects to fruit in more northerly climates, were we acquainted with the proper species. Those prunes, pears, and apples, which are first ripe, are commonly found penetrated by
It is highly probable that the whole advantage resulting from this process of caprification, as it is called, consists in the putrescent disposition which is hereby produced, and which is always accompanied with an evolution or secretion of saccharine matter.
But there are other inducements to the study of insects, of a nature totally different, yet not less personal; inducements, founded not on any hope of advantage to be derived from these animals, but of alleviating or preventing the numerous mischiefs they occasion. Infinite swarms of these animals annually desolate whole provinces; others attack our gardens and cultivated grounds, where they commit immeasurable devastations upon grain, vegetables, and fruit trees. Nor are their depredations confined to the fields; they enter the habitations of man, and, by eating into the stoutest timber of which they are constructed, gradually reduce them to ruins. They destroy his furniture and clothing; some of them spare not even his person, tormenting it long before the period at which nature has destined it to become their legitimate prey.
There are four different species of locust which are remarkably destructive. Almost every year, whole provinces, the most fertile in Asia and Africa, are laid waste by their depredation. In Tunis and Algiers, so numerous are the swarms of the species called grillus migratorius, that they darken the face of the sky like a thick cloud. These pernicious animals are wafted thither by the southerly winds in the month of April. In May they take their departure for the interior of the country, to propagate their young, which make their appearance in their larve state during the month of June, when they commit vast depredations. The first columns, which pervade the country like an army, destroy every green shrub and pile of grass; and these are still succeeded by other swarms, that press upon their rear, devouring the tender branches and stalks of plants, which their forerunners may have left. This dreadful visitation, which the language of Scripture has justly described as a plague', does not terminate till the insects have passed into their winged state, when they fly off, leaving the whole surface of the earth naked and brown, as if scorched by fire.
In the year 593 of the Christian era these animals appeared in such vast numbers, as to cause a famine in many countries. Syria and Mesopotamia were over-run by them in 677. In 852 immense swarms took their flight from the eastern regions into the west, and destroyed all vegetables, not even sparing the bark of trees, and the thatch of houses, after devouring the crops of corn, grass, &c. Their daily marches were observed to be about twenty miles each, and it is said their progress was directed with so much order, that there were regular leaders among
This plague is most beautifully alluded to in the following lines from the first book of Milton's Paradise Lost, where the sublime bard compares the fallen angels to them:
to their general's voice they soon obeyed Innumerable. As when the potent rod Of Awram's son, in Egypt's evil day, Waved round the coast, up called a pitchy cloud Of Locusts, warping on the eastern wind, That o'er the realms of impious Pharaoh hung Like night, and darkened all the land of Nile; So numberless were those bad angels seen, Hovering ou wings, under the cope of hell, "Twixt opper, nether, and surrounding fires.
them, who flew first and settled on the spot which was to be visited at the same hour the next day by the whole legion; their marches were always undertaken at sun-rise. In 1541 incredible hosts afflicted Poland, Wallachia, and all the adjoining territories, darkening the sun with their numbers, and ravaging all the fruits of the earth. The years 1747 and 1748 afforded a memorable instance of the ravages of these animals in Germany and other parts of Europe, as far north as England. In the eastern parts of the world such flights of locusts appear more frequently than in Europe; and it is often found necessary for the governors of particular provinces to command a certain number of the military to take the field against armies of locusts with a train of artillery.
Little inferior to the locust in its destructive powers is the phalana graminis of Linnæus, which destroys the meadows in Sweden. There the peasants are employed in cutting deep ditches in the surface, to stop the progress of the larves as they pass along. If the swarm be small, this device has the desired effect; but the numbers of these animals are often so great, that they fill up the trenches, and pass along over the dead bodies that are buried in them. The formica saccharivora is a native of the West Indies, where it pervades the plantations of the sugar-cane, entering the plants, and destroying them unmercifully while they are tender.
A recent account from North America says, “The depredations now committing by grasshoppers in some parts of the country are singular and alarming. Many farmers have commenced cutting their oats perfectly green, and many meadows are shaved completely smooth. An instance has occurred, where a hat, accidentally left in the field, has been destroyed before morning'. Another plague of insects, which has lately occur
Pittsburgh Paper, July 5, 1819.