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that he has in fact duties to fulfil of the first importance, and that he performs them with incomparable industry? It is his province to consume, on the surface of the ground, the softer parts of decayed vegetable matter; the more fibrous parts he conveys into the bosom of the earth, where they also decay in the course of time. Whatever he consumes, or carries away, returns therefore sooner or later to the soil, in a form better adapted for the sustenance of vegetable life, and in this way he is constantly engaged in lending assistance to the plough, or in supplying its place wherever human industry happens to be yet unknown. But the utility of the most despised of living beings does not
He loosens the soil at the roots of trees and plants, and facilitates their irrigation from the clouds. He assists very materially in draining the surface of the land of superfluous moisture, by excavating subterranean channels through which it escapes; and he moreover furnishes in his own proper substance, a ready prepared banquet for almost every thing that moves in or on the earth, in the atmosphere, or the water. The mole hunts him through the pastures, and penetrates the earth in pursuit of him when he retires thither for protection. The birds feed upon him all the year round. He is not an unwelcome present to the beetle race, and as the angler well knows, he is looked upon by fishes in general, as the most irresistible of dainties. Although they are thus exposed to universal depredation, the earth still teems with a constant succession of these creatures. Reaumur calculates that they exceed in numbers, the grains of all kinds of corn collected by mankind. We may thus appreciate the extent and activity of their agency, in assisting to convert death into life. They are to us so many pledges for the unerring execution of the promise, that while the earth remains, the winter shall always be followed by the spring. We learn from them, moreover, that nothing absolutely perishes; the yellow leaf no sooner falls, than it is appropriated by these sedulous husbandmen to the purposes of future vegetation-so admirable is the economy of that portion of the universe to which we belong!
It is the prevailing error of our education that we are at first made acquainted with insects only to abhor or to torture them, and that as we grow up to maturity, we are permitted to remain as ignorant of the various orders of beings that fill up the links. of existence beneath our own rank, as if they appertained to another planet. The truant well knows where he shall find at the bottom of some brook, a shapeless little combination of wood and straw, which he sees moored to a pebble or cautiously moving along with the current. He opens the mass and finds
within it, nicely housed, a small white worm, which he immediately destroys by fixing it on his hook, and there all his knowledge of the insect terminates. He would scarcely be induced to treat it in this manner had he learned that this apparently insignificant creature exhibits as much sagacity and practical knowledge in his way, as the fox or the elephant. Although just emancipated from the egg, he at once spins and weaves for himself a silken vestment, with which he surrounds every part of his frame, except his head and the forepart of his body, which is furnished with six legs. This coat is not, however, sufficient to protect him from his numerous enemies. He therefore attaches to it externally the small shells of other animals, minute fragments of gravel, particles of sand, or any other substance which he finds most convenient for his purpose. If he made his citadel too heavy he would be soon fatigued by dragging it along; therefore, having in the first place rendered it as compact as possible for his protection, he adds to it a chip of wood or a bit of straw, in order to poise the burthen in the water, and this he does with as much precision as if he had been a Lardner in hydrostatics. If he be born in a marsh where reeds abound, he cuts off a piece of the stalk with a knot in it, and makes it his habitation; or if there be no reeds in his vicinity, he finds probably some loose leaves, in which he wraps his precious person, thinking that from the nature of the material, he may escape the observation of curious fish, and prying school boys. It is his destiny to lead a very different life from that in which he first becomes acquainted with existence, and this he knows as well as we do. Before he quits the water, he falls into a sort of sleep, during which his transformation takes place. For this purpose he retires completely into his castle. To guard himself from his foes, the obvious course would be to shut it up altogether. If he did this, however, he would no longer have air or water, which are essential to his existence; he therefore constructs of strong silk threads of his own manufacture, a grating, which, with more than the skill of a chemist, he makes insoluble in water, and thus behind his portcullis he has free access to the elements, and at the same time defies all intruders. When the proper season arrives he puts on his wings, and sports over the surface of his native streams in the form of the May fly!
The pride of man will not permit him to attribute the operations of this tiny insect to any other cause than mere instinct. The doctrine that has been hitherto advanced, in support of this principle, is, to say the least of it, fanciful and inconclusive. When Buffon and other naturalists speak of instinct, they describe it as a kind of mechanical impulse, which teaches an animal to
provide for its wants, and to defend itself from its enemies. We are unable to understand what a spontaneous mechanical impulse is. If an animal hide himself from pursuers, it must be from a sense of fear; if he turn boldly, and dare the encounter, he must be actuated by the hope of conquering them. Thus, he may entertain both fear and hope; and these are sentiments which presuppose mind. It is the same with the caddis-worm, which we have just mentioned. If its habitation be too heavy, it buoys up the mansion by the addition of some lighter material; if the abode be in danger of floating about at the mercy of the current, the peril of shipwreck is foreseen and prevented by increasing the ballast. Here are foresight, calcusation, mechanical adjustment, all contained in a creature not larger than a pin! If these attributes be called instinct, we shall not quarrel with the phrase; but we submit that there is a marvellous resemblance between such instinct and that general faculty to which men have agreed to give the name of reason.
There is another insect, now seldom found in this country, whose proceedings are very remarkable. It is called the ant-lion, and is frequently met with in France and Switzerland. In its first stage of existence it resembles the common wood-louse, and sustains itself by sucking the juices from the body of the ant. The ant-lion walks backwards, but with so slow a motion that, if he were to earn his bread by the chase, he would be in danger of fasting for many a long day. He therefore has recourse to the trap-system, and forms a pit-fall in the most ingenious manner. A mere pit, or round hole, would by no means answer his purpose. As his movements are so snail-paced, that the ant, if it had an opportunity, would quickly effect an escape, it becomes necessary that the predestined prey shall tumble inextricably into his net.
He selects his ground with great care. In the first place, it must be in the high road by which ants usually travel when they think fit to make their excursions from home. In the next place, it must be a sandy soil, as his only instruments of excavation are his two fore-feet, with which it would be difficult for him to shovel up any other material. He begins his work, like a regular engineer, by marking out a circle, which is as perfect as a mathematician could make it with the aid of a pair of compasses. He then enters the circle, and, with one of his feet, scoops out the sand, which he deposits by means of his shovel on the flat part of his head, whence he tosses it beyond the precincts of his domain. In this manner he goes round until he arrives at the point from which he had set out. He then returns in a contrary direction, still scooping and tossing out the sand as he proceeds
he adopts this course in order that he may use his other foot, and thus relieve each alternately. His den is made in the shape of a funnel, and at the bottom he buries himself, leaving nothing to be seen but his pincers, which he keeps prepared for his victim. The little industrious ant, running along, thinking only of his own affairs, finds himself suddenly within the magic circle. If he have his wits about him, he will stop at once, and endeavour to withdraw; but the enemy is already apprised of his presence. Unfortunately, upon his entrance, some grains of sand must necessarily fall to the bottom of the trap, which apprizes the assassin below of the traveller's approach. Immediately, the bandit emerges from his place of concealment, and Alings up such a quantity of sand round the ant, that the poor creature becomes confused, and rolls headlong to the centre, where he is immediately seized. He is then sucked, until not a drop of vital fluid remains in his frame. As his skeleton might act as a scarecrow, it is then carefully removed. The damage done, during the attack, to the form of the inverted cone, is next repaired; and the tiny Macheath again takes up his station in his ambuscade, there to await fresh opportunities of murder.
If a human being were placed under circumstances similar, in every respect, to those in which the ant-lion finds himself, it would be difficult for him to devise a more ingenious contrivance for obtaining food than those which we have just described. The selection of his ground; the drawing of his circle, which, in order to be useful must be perfect; the shape of his pit-fall, so well adapted to supply the defect of his physical motion; the vigilance which he is enabled to exercise, although out of sight, by the prey necessarily giving notice of his presence, in consequence of his unavoidably disturbing a few grains of sand, which must hasten to the centre; and the means which the insect adopts for frightening his prey, when, by its hesitation, he is in danger of losing it, are all so many proofs of reasoning power, of a faculty that, call it what we will
, is fertile in expedients, and well suited to the exigencies which arise in the course of his life. When the period for change occurs, he retires into the bosom of the earth, and constructs for himself a residence lined with splendid tapestry, whence, in due time, he makes his escape as a four-winged fly, having forgotten altogether his former habits, and received new faculties adapted to the new functions which he has to perform.
These instances, to say nothing of the hive, the cells of wasps, the web of the spider, the habitation of the moth, the tent of the caterpillar, the cities of the ants, and the dwellings of the myriads
of other insects living around us, are sufficient to suggest some of the difficulties in which we involve ourselves, when we assume that to man alone is a reasoning mind allowed by the Creator. That the faculties of man excel those of all other beings, with which he is at present acquainted, is manifest from the matchless power which, even in his least civilized state, he exercises over them. There is, in truth, a gradation of mind, from the human race down to the polypus, as there is of bodily organization, from the mammoth to the monad. And, no doubt, the intellectual diapason does not stop at man—it ascends by innumerable shades, growing more and more bright, from him upward to the Deity.
This infinite diffusion of mental energy throughout all organized existence is, however, scarcely more wonderful to us than the gift of life itself to the countless races which, either in the air, on the earth, in its interior, or in the waters, appear to be constantly occupied in the furtherance of some great purpose, not immediately obvious to our limited observation. A leaf has accidentally fallen from a plant on the table at which we write; and we perceive upon it a little reptile, who is consuming it with amazing rapidity. Diminutive as he is, his organization is as perfect, for the destruction of that leaf, and for the assimilation of it to the substance of his own body, as it is possible to be. The vital fluid circulates through his system with as much regularity as it does through the arteries and veins of man; and if we could become acquainted with its sensations, we should, probably, even discover that it has its moments of happiness and pain, affections, tastes, and antipathies, like other animated beings. If we look at the leaves which remain on the plant, we shall perceive, even upon a cursory examination, that they sustain entire colonies of the same, or of different races of insects, in their various stages, from the egg to the fly. If we attempt to count them, we might as well endeavour to number the sands on the sea-shore. : Let us pass from the library into the garden. At the first step we observe a snail, with a gaily painted house on his back, and immediately near him there are twenty others, some adhering to the wall, some making sad work with the young peaches, while others, not so aspiring, are contented with the cabbage plants. A little farther on, we tread amongst a hundred ants, who are emerging from their subterraneous city, through a variety of tunnels, and running about, then down again, and then back, with marvellous activity. Now the approach of a beetle puts them all in confusion; away they scamper. Next, a bee comes murmuring by, but they do not mind the bee, who directs his