« PreviousContinue »
where they make great havock, by hacking and gnawing the roots of plants with their fore-feet, the ends of which are armed with teeth like a saw.
The Rev. Mr. Gold kept a Mole Cricket alive during several of the summer months. He fed it on the larvæ and chrysalids of ants, which it seized with great voracity.
THE HOUSE CRICKET
These busy little insects reside altogether in our dwellings, and intrude themselves on our notice, whether we wish it or not. They are partial to houses newly built; for the softness of the mortar enables them without difficulty to form their retreats between the joints of the masonry, and immediately to open communications with the different rooms. They are particularly attached to kitchens and bakehouses, as affording them a constant warmth.
"Tender insects, that live abroad, (says Mr. White,) either enjoy only the short period of one summer, or else doze away the cold, uncomfortable months in profound slumbers; but these, residing as it were in a torrid zone, are always alert and merry: a good Christmas fire is to them, what the heats of the dog-days are to others.
"Though they are frequently heard by day, yet their natural time of motion is only in the night. As soon as it becomes dusk the chirping increases, and they come running forth, and are often to be seen in great numbers, from the size of a flea to that of their full stature.
Around, in sympathetic mirth,
Its tricks the kitten tries;
SYNONYMS. Gryllus domesticus. Linn.-Acheta domes
"As one would suppose from the burning atmosphere which they inhabit, they are a thirsty race, and show a great propensity for liquids, being frequently found dead in pans of water, milk, broth, or the like. Whatever is moist they are fond of, and therefore they often gnaw holes in wet woollen stockings and aprons, that are hung to the fire. These Crickets are not only very thirsty but very voracious; for they will eat the scummings of pots, yeast, salt, and crumbs of bread; and kitchen offal or sweepings of almost every description.
"In the summer they have been observed to fly, when it became dusk, out of the windows, and over the neighbouring roofs. This feat of activity accounts for the sudden manner in which they often leave their haunts, as it does also for the method by which they come to houses, where they were not known before. It is remarkable, that many sorts of insects seem never to use their wings, but when they wish to shift their quarters and settle new colonies. When in the air, they move in waves or curves, like woodpeckers, opening and shutting their wings at every stroke, and thus are always rising or sinking. When their numbers increase to a great degree, they become pests, flying into the candles, and dashing into people's faces. In families, at such times, they are, like Pharaoh's plague of frogs, ' in their bed-chambers, and upon their beds, and in their ovens, and in their kneading troughs.'
"Cats catch hearth-crickets, and, playing with them as they do with mice, devour them. Crickets may be destroyed like wasps, by phials half filled with beer, or any liquid, and set in their haunts; for, being always eager to drink, they will crowd in till the bottles are full." A popular prejudice, however, frequently prevents any attempts at their destruction; many people imagining that their presence is attended with good luck, and that to kill or drive them away will bring. some misfortune on the family.
When these insects are running about a room in the
dark, if they be surprised by a candle, they give two or three shrill notes. These seem a signal to their fellows that they may escape to their crannies and lurking holes, for the purpose of avoiding danger.
It is said that, in some parts of Africa persons make a trade of these Crickets. They feed them in a kind of iron oven, and sell them to the natives, among whom, the noise they make is thought pleasing. These people imagine that it assists in lulling them to sleep.
The organ that produces this noise, is a membrane, which, in contracting, by means of a muscle and tendon placed under the wings of the insect, folds down somewhat like a fan. This, as it is always dry, yields, by its motion, a sharp and piercing sound. The noise may even be heard after the insect is dead, if the tendon be made to move. We are told that Crickets will live, and even continue their accustomed noise, for some time after their heads are cut off.
THE FIELD CRICKET*.
Towards sun-set is the time when the Field Crickets begin to appear out of their subterraneous habitations. They are, however, so shy and cautious, that it is no easy matter to get a sight of them; for, feeling a person's footsteps as he advances, they stop short in the midst of their song, and retire backward nimbly into their burrows, where they lurk till all suspicion of danger is over. The Rev. Mr. White, of Selborne, who attentively studied their habits and manners, at first made an attempt to dig them out with a spade, but without much success; for either the bottom of the hole was inaccessible, from its terminating under a large stone, or else in breaking up the ground the insect was inadvertently squeezed to death. Out of one thus bruised,
• SYNONYMS. Gryllus campestris. campestris. Fabricius.
a great number of eggs were taken, which were long and narrow, of a yellow colour, and covered with a tough skin. More gentle means were then used, and these proved successful. A pliant stalk of grass, gently insinuated into the caverns, will probe their windings to the bottom, and bring out the inhabitant; and thus the humane inquirer may gratify his curiosity without injuring the object of it.
It is remarkable, that, though these insects are furnished with long legs behind, and brawny thighs adapted for leaping, yet, when driven from their holes, they show no activity, but crawl along in so lifeless a manner as as easily to be caught. And though they are provided with a curious apparatus of wings, yet they never exert them, even when there seems to be the greatest occasion. The males only make their shrill noise, perhaps out of rivalry and emulation; as is the case with many animals, which exert some sprightly note during their breedingtime.
When the males meet, they sometimes fight very fiercely, as Mr. White found, by some that he put into the crevices of a dry stone wall, where he wished to have them settle. For though they seemed distressed by being taken out of their knowledge, yet the first that got possession of the chinks seized on all that were obtruded upon them.
With their strong jaws, toothed like the shears of a lobster's claws, these insects perforate and round their curious regular cells. When taken into the hand, they do not attempt to defend themselves, though armed with such formidable weapons. Of such herbs as grow about the mouths of their burrows, they eat indiscriminately; and they never in the day-time seem to stir more than two or three inches from their home. Sitting in the entrance of their caverns, they chirp all night as well as day, from the middle of May to the middle of July. In hot weather, when they are most vigorous, they make the hills echo; and, in the more still hours of darkness, they may be heard to a very considerable distance.
"Not many summers ago (says Mr. White) I endeavoured, by boring deep holes in the sloping turf, to transplant a colony of these insects to the terrace in my garden. The new inhabitants staid some time, and fed and sang; but they wandered away by degrees, and were heard at a greater distance every morning: so it appears that on this emergency they made use of their wings, in attempting to return to the spot from which they were taken.
"One of these Crickets, when confined in a paper cage, set in the sun, and supplied with plants moistened with water, will feed and thrive; and will become so merry and loud as to render it irksome for a person to be in the same room with it. If the plants be not wetted, it will die.”
THE MIGRATORY LOCUST*.
Syria, Egypt, Persia, and almost all the south of Asia, are subject to a calamity as dreadful as volcanoes and earthquakes are to other countries, in being ravaged by those clouds of Locusts, so often mentioned by travellers. The quantity of these insects is incredible to all, who have not themselves witnessed their astonishing numbers: the whole earth is covered with them, for the space of several leagues. The noise they make in browsing on the trees and herbage, may be heard at a great distance, and somewhat resembles that of an army foraging in secret. The Tartars themselves are a less destructive enemy than these animals. One would imagine, wherever they have been seen, that fire had followed their progress. Wherever their myriads spread, the verdure of the country disappears, as if a curtain had been removed: trees and plants are stripped of their leaves, and are reduced to their naked boughs and stems; so that the dreary image of winter
*SYNONYMS. Gryllus migratorius. Linn.-Locust. Var.