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BAG OR BASKET WORM., New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 February 1904
BAG OR BASKET WORM.
One would scarcely believe if they watched the baby bag-worms crowd out from the dessicated remains of their mother, that she had ever been anything but a woolly nest made on purpose to keep them warm and secure. Such animated specks they are, too, as they set to work at their weaving, thatching, and helping each other to get a roof over their heads ; one works inside, and another helps with the outside
until the cone-shaped home is finished. As they increase in stature many additions have to be made to the case to suit :their needs ; for they grow and change inside, and have to move about from place to place with it on their back. They feed mostly at night, and during the day may be seen hanging, from the shrubs they selected when they issued from their mother's tomb. Their house is a very uncommon kind of structure, and resemfoles a ragged or mossy twig,, rather 'than a dwelling ; it is thatched with fragments of leaves, bits of stick, scraps of lichen, and the interior made warm and strong with a lining of brown, silky texture, too tough to tear apart, so arranged at the mouth that the inmate retains under its control the) power to tightly close, or open it at will. As a preliminary to the chrysalis state, it secures the case to a branch by many strands of silk wound over and over, till the aperture and branch appears to be one. The neck of the. case is drawn tightly in like
a netted purse, and the caterpillar, feeling safe, and evidently; knowing it will need that door no more, reverses its position by turning head over heels in readiness lor future flight ; that is, if it happens to pc Mr. Bag worm, as he only is privileged to lead a gaysome life
His wife is denied the pleasure of wings, and knows nothing of the world beyond her own front door ; for the abode she made in her infancy, sees the cycle of her life, and becomes her sepulchre >vhen she dies.
If she ever thought at all on the subject, it must have puzzled her when she reached her last mile-stonei in the journey of life, to (behold what an odd, unfinished, form she had. Just a stout, creamy-coloured object, not unlike the kernel of an almond, and about as featureless ; no wings, not the vestige of a leg, and not even one solitary eye to wink " I am alive " to the beholder.
She is not overburdened with energy, and her " too too solid flesh "■ can only make the faintest
ghost of a quiver, when touched ; just sufficient to indicate the resentment of such familiarities. On one occasion, I was fortunately in time to see the acrobatic feat mentioned above ; it was done to repair a rent I had Jet in upon the tenant's seclusion. Busily it began macerating all the edges and fluffing them out with a view to screening itself, and when all was satisfactorily ready, it returned, head downwards, to its rest. Generations of seclusion have made the family shy, for they get into a very uneasy state when any part of their anatomy is exposed, and no matter how often it occurs all operations are suspended to effect repairs. Before the chrysalis period of their life arrives 1 , however, many are the enemies which lie in ambush to annihilate them, chief among these is a greenish dipterous fly, who seems to be filled with a murderous longing towards the whole family, for it invades and demolishes them at an enormous rate. It is remarkable how these unbidden guests gain possession of the caterpillar's interior through the tough, leathery case. Anyhow, the eggs of the fly are buried beneath the sikin, and as the fly larvae hatch out they literally eat every internal substance piecemeal, and eventually kjill the kind friend of their early days by taking the vital parts as a finish up.
I have found as many as fifteen of them in their little brown envelopes, packed lengthwise beneath a flexible tent of caterpillar- skin, and the only noticeable difference in the defunct creature that had no further claim to the title. o£ insect, was its lack of locomotion and a stiff., gorged appearance like a sack of bottles on a small scale.
Now comes a curious phase in this strange story of pillage ; the plunderers axe not' all destined to enjoy the final state of activity which their mother intended owing to the superior cunning of a midget ichneumon. She took them,
unawares, and perfidiously installed her embryos within 'the bodies of -the burglarou& flies,, to board and lodge at the same rate as they exacted from the bagworm. These later lodgers make themselves at home by dining off the immature ilies, and using their shells a.s a halting place to change and rest in whilst they get ready to blossom forth on wings, to found families; and do battle in the manner their mothers have done.
Thus we find, even in insect life, many individuals who will live on the fruit of another's labour without making an effort to attain an independence and support for themselves. A glaring example of method without industry. The hagworm constructed a home for its own use and support, and unconsciously yielded assistance to the wily ny family, they feloniously assigned their host (as well as the home) to themselves ; then the astute little ichneumon arrives on the scene and filches,- the combined' preserve for her progeny, and leaves them there in that roomy mansion to fulfil their destiny according to their strength. Thus circumstanced the poor bagworm had very little
chance to rise in life or perpetuate its history ; it hardly calculated to finish up as a kind of wayside Inn to unlimited paupers. One caterpillar can lodge from six to fifteen flies, and each fly may bapport five to sixteen ichneumons. So, roughly calculated, the caterpillar might easily have one -mndred robust lodgers to accommodate and play the Good Samaritan to.
There is something really pathetic about the fate of this ' caterpillar, mischievous though it is, but it is a good example of the silent warfare that is ever presenting 1 itself to the followers of Dame Nature, who is so rich in resources, and has so many surprises to unfold in the course of her companionship, that every day taken in her presence yields a t-ar-vest of enlightenment, and becomes a bond of intimacy that nothing can sever/ 'This is the secret of: the spell that is cast about ail enterprising students when they »it at her feet and learn of her how to spell out and read the strange lifestory of the insects, the flowers, the shells, the stones, or any other of the numerous treasures of which she has charge.
BAG OR BASKET WORM., New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 February 1904
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