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This article displays in one automatically-generated column. View the full page to see article in its original form.

The study of Insect Life

Eleanor H'Rown'

This Essay was awarded the Prize of Five Guineas offered by Dr. Barraclough through the New Zealand Literary and Historical Association, as advertised in this Magazine.

'J^OTp T is useless to exalt one 3 hobby above another and declare that entomology, K lIIV botany, conchology, or v_J^, any ology, is of all others BX/ the best • for every recreation we turn to in our J|H spare moments, contains j£ its own wordless charm, if and its own special mode

of ministering to our individual tastes ; unintelligible to all but those who go forth on the same errand.

The study of insects contains more than it implies ,; tihere is the ■exhilaration of going to and fro with Nature to get them from life, pleasant association with the 'herbs, the flowers, the trees, and even the mosses and fungi, for every class in the botanical world maintains or harbours some form of insect life. Then the untranslatable delight, of finding a new specimen ; ; or a, wellknown one with unfamiliar variations, comes as a challenge to our accuracy of' slight and observation, and quickensf our perceptive faculties.

Even the most casual observer ■must acknowledge that the increasr ing, infatuation the study entails, is greater than would be generally

supposed by those who have not dipped into, the subject. If we consider insects attentively we are carried away into an enchanted w r orld which we have hitherto been unconscious of, and as we travel on through its inviting regions, there are creatures on wings, and creatures on foot, to arrest and hold our admiration. For the first time we see beauties that were practically invisible before ; arts, industries, and stratagems undreamt of, laws immutable to puzzle and enthrall. Those who have been lured into that bewitching realm by the vivid loveliness of a butterfly, or the brightness of a gnat, by watching their habits and noting their instincts, can readily understand thej wonder, akin to awe, that creeps in at the contemplation of its inhabitants ; and having once discovered the pleasure to be derived therefrom, they will deny themselves no effort henceforth ; to' renew the experience.

By degrees interest and enthusiasm are awakened, then a longing comes over us to cultivate and 'extend our knowledge of that fairyworld, and make ourselves acquainted with the laws and principles of the combined warfare the occupants

incessantly wage upon one another for individual tenure. In a pleasurable and profitable manner this is borne in upon us, and we are now able to conserve our neighbour 's interests as well as our own, by seeing at a glance which is the useful, and which is the destructive insect, without ruthlessly destroying all that comes to hand.

Thus attaining a deeper insight into the ingenipusness they display to evade enemies and preserve their type, we are led on to ponder over the brevity of their little day, and the amount of labour they can press into it.

When we consider how many causes are working together against them, and shadowed as they are every second by perils innumerable and foes untold, the great wonder is that so many survive. But, Nature, as if to make amends, has liberally endowed them vvith active and passive means of defence in their spears, knives, stings, poisons, etc., with tricks of mimicry and cunning, to lessen the dangers they are heir to ; for each one that is swept off the earth there are hundreds more to rise up and replace it. Every baby insect as it puts in an appearance, knows its special mission in the land, begins with that end in view, and carries it on faithfully and well until "Life's curtain is quietly rung, down " upon its daily round.

Many people imagine that little winged insects grow into bigger ones ; as for instance, small flies, moths or beetles ; such, however, is not the case. When any insect attains wings it is full-grown, though many from different causes, circumstances, food, etc., may not be as large as they had a right to be. The body of a matured insect is divided into three well -defined parts, technically known as the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. In the course of their existence nearly all have to pass through three distinct transformations, more or less complete, and are subject to three different states ; but it is only when they

finish the last change that they are insects in the true sense of the word.

The peculiar ■ characteristics of these three transformations have been scientifically named to distinguish e!ach stepping stone to thei perfection of the higher life. The first, or early form after quitting the egg, is the larva, signifying a mask, or spectre, for then the future outline is hidden, and it does not appear what it shall be. The pupa is the second, or dolllike state, indicating its lack of movement, and the period when it is generally swathed and inactive. Imago is the third and last condition as a typical winged, or perhaps wingless, creature. In the upward and onward tendency of their successive states we are afforded a beautiful emblem of progression, 'beginning, as they do, in a lowly material form, and& advancing at every step by a gradual and regular process towards some better and more complete end.

Most perfect insects have horns, known as antennae, which feel about and seemingly express their sensations and their language. Many ideas have been set forth by different naturalists as to their true use, but it is most generally supposed that they hear, smell, and feel, with them.

In the world of insects it is the mothers who have all the hard labour, but they never rebel, and they show the most marvellous forethought in their instincts, employing various and ingenious precautions in building and {providing for their families before creeping ,away to die, as happens in most cases. Many of their homes alone would command our attention! from the curious manner in whioji they are constructed, attached, and hidden. As a rule they are placed near surroundings of a protective coloring, and within reach of the particular food their children require, to be reared on ;< for they know how to prepare and put in readiness what< will be most congenial to their comf-

ort and support the moment they are born.

For the battle of life the Author of Nature has equipped them with lancets, probes, gimlets, augurs, saws, etc., and accorded to them the skill of nurses, architects, ladies' maids;,, masons, carpenters, miners, and so on.

In truth, there is no end to the marvels they reveal, and, putting aside the inborn love we possess for all things created, insects must ever appeal to us with " mute though eloquent tongues " to reflect upon the many and beautiful lessons their life-work suggests, and evermore refrain from looking with horror or disgust upon any member of their " unnumbered multitude/ which with the most superficial study is capable of imparting a loftier conception of life than we have hitherto held.

The life history of the following is from personal observation, and may serve to illustrate the design of my remarks.

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The study of Insect Life New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 February 1904

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