IT would be a considerable task to enumerate, and a much greater one to describe, every insect which obtains these names. Every bush, every tree, every plant, has its assigned Caterpillar, or an insect nearly of the same nature; and that which lives on the nettle could no more feed upon the elm or mulberry tree, than the ox upon raw flesh, or the wolf upon straw or hay. The Caterpillars are [divided] into two classes, the regular and the irregular ones. The regular have sixteen feet, two near the tail, eight along the body, (four on each side), and six about the forepart of the breast, which they use when they spin, to direct the thread which issues out of their mouths. The irregular ones have any other number, and some times as few as only six. Their metamorphoses have been from the earliest times a subject of admiration for the wisest observers of Nature; and their acquiring wings after passing through a state of apparent insensibility, generally received as an emblem of the immortality of the human soul. We shall give here the description of two or three of these insects, from which the reader will be able to acquire the knowledge of the particular habits of all the different tribes.
The Caterpillar which feeds on the nettle is about an inch in length, covered with bristles, and of a reddish brown colour; after having changed its skin three times when in the shape of a worm, it crawls up to a branching part of the stalk and hanging itself by the hinder part or tail, swells, and bursts in such a curious way, that the Caterpillar’s skin drops to the ground and the Chrysalis, or Aurelia, so called from the golden tinges of its body, remains suspended, till after a fortnight of torpor and insensibility, it bursts its skin again, and escapes in the vast plains of the air under the beautiful form of a variegated Butterfly.
The Caterpillar of the apple and pear tree is very remarkable for its bigness, being about three or four inches in length, nearly half an inch broad, and of a beautiful green colour, covered at particular places with tubercles of a shining turquoise-blue colour, each armed with five black bristles; the peculiarity observed in this insect is the manner in which it disposes its silken tomb, spinning its thread in such a way, that, when it is turned into a chrysalis, no insect can get admittance within; and yet so contrived that when the butterfly is hatched it may, without much trouble, find its way out. The butterfly produced by this caterpillar is very large, measuring five inches in breadth; the wings are decorated with the resemblance of an eye, nearly in the same manner as on the tail of the peacock, and this Moth is called, for this reason, Phalæna Junonia.
The Silkworm, or Bombix, is a caterpillar of the regular class, so well known that it hardly needs description; it goes through the changes of skin and the torpid state of the aurelia, or chrysalis, like the others, and becomes a butterfly which has very little to boast in point of beauty; but the produce of its silk is the object which man has in view in keeping, tending, and feeding this insect. The cone of the silkworm somewhat resembles a pigeon’s egg, the thread is wound about in a very irregular manner, as it appears, but very likely according to some rules which have yet escaped the observations of the keenest naturalists. The whole length of the thread in one cone will sometimes measure three hundred yards, and is so fine, that eight or ten are generally united into one by the manufacturers, These creatures are raised artificially in many of the European countries, being kept in a place built for that purpose, and fed every day with fresh leaves from the mulberry tree; but in Syria, China, Tonquin, and other warm climates, they thrive in a state of Nature, without the assistance of man.
The Moth, or Phalæna, is the produce of the Caterpillar as well as the butterfly, and differs in the shape of the wings, which are straight, cutting a right angle with the body, whereas the other’s wings are slightly bowed. The butterfly of the pear-tree, and of the Silkworm are real Phalænæ, and fly generally at dusk and in the night; the caterpillar of the nettle produces not a moth but a real butterfly; the wings are elegantly variegated with black, brown, red, white, and blue. The cabbage feeds a Caterpillar, the butterfly of which is well known by its beautiful whiteness. Some of those insects that float and flutter about us in the fields and meadows, are a great ornament to the plants upon which they set to sip the nectar of their chalices with their trunks, and sometimes can hardly be distinguished from the flowers which they plunder.
The Ephemera, or Day-Fly, is so called on account of the shortness of its life; it is a small moth originating from a Caterpillar feeding on the banks of rivers; after having remained several months in the creeping state, it bursts at four o’clock into the phalæna form, and dies soon after.
The butterfly, or moth, has four wings, two larger and two smaller ones, attached to the corselet; and six legs holding also to the same part of the body. The head is adorned with two or four antennæ, the form of which has often been a characteristic to distinguish the species; the eyes are large and beautiful, being composed of an immense number of small hexagon pieces, and the proboscis is spirally turned up to the mouth; the belly or hinder part is composed of rings and covered with hairs. The of most part of these insects are laid in summer or autumn, and eggs pass the winter season in that state.
It is curious to see the eddies which these small insects, and indeed all of the Moth kind, describe around a light in the evening, and almost impossible to guess what attracts them so powerfully to their own ruin. A modern author says:
“Why flutter so? why, foolish, run to death
Inevitable, in the perfid blaze
Of yonder watchful lamp? does love prompt thee
Under these lofty walls to rove, and seek,
Through evening shades, thy carbuncle-ey’d mate,
As learned sages tell? or by the light
Suddenly dazzled, hast thou lost thy way
To groves and meadows, where to lead, unseen,
A safer life? or does thy little mind,
With greater projects swoln, dare to explore
This burning Ætna’s mysteries? so did
Empedocles, and in the flames expired.