This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The Hawk-Moths, or sphinges, are a family of large and robust lepidopte-ous insects; the caterpillars of which are known as the potato and tobacco worms. Some caterpillars of this family erect the forepart of their bodies, remaining in this position immovably for hours; this singular position suggested the name given it by Linnaeus, Sphinx, from a fancied resemblance to the monumental sphinx of Egypt, representing the head and shoulders of a woman attached to the body of a lion. I may be allowed to say that this fabulous figure has it significancy, because it commemorates the fact, that the river Nile used to overflow its banks about the time the sun enters the sign of Leo and Virgo. My amateur wood-cut will represent the whole. Fig. A represents one of those Potato-worms, of a pea-green color, minutely lined with a series of small spots dorsally, having eight oblique white striped, with a slate colored shade on each side, over the purplish, oval spiracles, and a black, curved and roughened caudal horn on the last segment of its body.
We frequently find these caterpillars covered with small, egg-shaped cottony bodies, as shown at E, fig. A. Those contain small whitish grubs, thickened posteriorly, fig. O, enlarged one with its hinged lid, after the perfect insect, F and f, has escaped therefrom. These are a species of fonr-winged flies, or Ichneumons, of minute size. The caterpillar usually survives until the whole brood, as many as one hundred and fifty of the ichneumons, are perfected, when it perishes. Otherwise, when fully grown, it enters the earth, casts its skin, and becomes a chrysalis like fig. B., of a light-brown color, remaining in the ground during the winter, below the reach of frost; the slender tongue case, like the handle of a jug, encloses the tongue extended and doubled back. Such chrysalids are frequently dug up early in June, in our potato patches; but how they manage to work out of the ground is not so plain. From a specimen dug up when laid in the sun, we can witness the bursting of the shell, the escape of the insect, weak and moist, with its crumpled and placid wings, gradually drying, and essaying to coil up its long tongue and extend its wings, which in the course of a few hours it accomplishes, and it is prepared to take wing.
The wings are beautifully marbled, with black and silvery white lines and spots on a warm gray, ground color, expanding four to six inches; the robust abdomen has five orange-yellow spots on each side; hence called the Five-spotted Sphinx, or sphinx quinque-maculata, by entomologists. It comes near to the European privet Hawk-moth, which however has red spots, and the chrysalis has a short, blunt tongue-case as shown at D. We have several other species of this family; and allied genera of like or similar habits. These hawk-moths, often erroneously called humming birds, because, like them, they are frequently seen to visit tubular flowers, such as the honey suckle and the thorn apple, poised on their wings; these make a humming noise by their rapid motion while their tongue is uncoiled, and seeks the bottom of the purplish-white bells of the daturia stramonium, as they expand and spread their charms at twilight to invite this rover to sip the honied nectar distilled and lodged at its base. Their days are few and evil only; having discovered the plant adapted as food for their larvae, they lay their eggs and perish.
The Sphinx quinque-maculata and Ichneumon Flies.
The nunaerous species of Ichneumons are ever on the alert to find a proper nidus for their brood; their larvae feed upon the living bodies of other insects, and thereby destroy multitudes of parasites so injurious to vegetation.
These four-winged flies vary in size, some so minute as to be perfected in the egg of a caterpillar no larger than the head of a pin, while others find the carcass of a caterpillar barely sufficient for a single one; nor will they lay their eggs on one already containing an egg or eggs of the same species.
Caterpillars have various modes of defence against their common enemy; the green caterpillar with bands of black and yellow spots, common on the fennel and umbelliferous plants, is provided with a pair of orange-colored tentacular, called stink horns, which they thrust out, and jerk their heads back when touched with a pin or the ichneumon, giving out a peculiar odor. These are the Larvae of the Papilio Asterias, a common butterfly of a dark, purplish-black color; the front wings have several series of yellow spots along their margin; the posterior pair are similar intermediately of a fine blue, with projecting points called swallow tail; on the inner margin of each there is a yellow, red and orange spot.
The puss-moth larvae have singular projectile appendages in their rear; others are provided with acrid juices which they expel. All these means of defence fail to defer the brave ichneumon from accomplishing its object: they rise and alight, and at every thrust lodge an egg into the body of the doomed caterpillar, writhe, jerk, and twist as it may, in its apparently conscious dilemma. The eggs lodged, soon hatch and breed the litte maggots which revel and banquet on the fat juices of their victim, without attacking the more vital parts, so that the caterpillar still feeds languidly and lingers out its existence until the larvae within them are matured and ready to undergo their change, when they come forth, spin their cocoons, and in a few days become pupae; the perfect insects escape in a few days more to renew the same annoyance to other hapless creatures like the one they have just left, a dying exhausted carcass. Thus we find an endless variety, each peculiar in its choice of a nidus in the one case, as in the choice of plants in the other.
The metamorphosis of the caterpillar, as it buries itself, and like an Egyptian mummy, is confined in its chrysalis during winter, comes to a resurrection in a form so different, that the ordinary observer may scarcely believe the fact.
" Shall the poor worm that shocks thy sight, The humblest form in nature's train, Thus rise in new-born lustre bright,
And yet the emblem teach in vain?"
"Go, mortal! in thy reptile state, Enough to know to thee is given; Go, and the joyful truth relate; Frail child of earth! high heir of heaven!"
The "neglected American poet," Samuel J. Smith, of New Jersey, whom you, Mr. Editor, commemorated in your January number, has the following most beautiful and poetical allusion to the resurrection of the chrysalis:
"But lo 1 what magic bursts the living tomb!
What voice angelic bids the sleeper rise! He wakes, arrayed in beauty's living bloom,
His new-born plumage tinged with rainbow dyes; In air gay floating, while the sunbeam flings A blaze of splendor o'er his glossy wings".