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NOTES ON THE MONTH.
the tuneful are mute, and the active By a Naturalist.
have ceased to be busy. May is then MAY.
the joyous time of the year; the season Poets and prose writers have alike when the works of the Creator are most celebrated this month ; and indeed May attractive, and speak in a concord of in our latitudes presents so much to multitudinous voices, most loudly of his delight the lover of nature, so much preserving care, his wisdom, and his to interest and instruct, that he also goodness. Let us wander forth, to see may join in the tribute they have offered and adore Him in his works of power to the season, when
How beautifully enamelled with flowDeep tangled ; tree irregular, and bush, ers is the bank of the river: and see ! Bending with dewy moisture o'er the heads or the coy quiristers that lodge within,
what myriads of insects load the air ; Are prodigal of harmony.”—Thomson. all are of the same species, the epheVaried and beautiful are the tints which mera, or mayfly, (Ephemera cauda binow adorn the robe of nature ; the mea- seta ;) borne on light pinions, those dows are golden yellow, with the count- flies hover in hosts over the water, less flowers of the buttercup; the hedges arising and descending, as if enjoying are white with the richly scented blos- their fleeting moments of existence, and soms of the hawthorn; pink petals pleased with the new powers, which of the dog rose are unfolding on stems they have unconsciously assumed. The so long and slender, that they seem as numbers, in which the mayfly someif expressly designed for garlands of times appears, are almost incredible, rejoicing ; and festoons of the climbing we remember to have once seen in the honeysuckle, fill the air with fragrance. meadows of the Wye, near Bakewell, The trees look green, but not all green a phenomenon of this kind : the air was alike; the tints of this colour are dif- crowded with these insects; the banks, ferent in every species, but always fresh the gates, the stones jutting out above and beautiful. The delicacy and va- the surface of the river, were absolutely riety of the hues of the foliage in May, covered with them, “thick as autumnal form a contrast to its mingled reds, leaves in Valombrosa ;" myriads were browns, and yellows in October ; and struggling on the surface of the water ; are even more pleasing, though less and the trout and the grayling were rich, for they bring with them a promise snapping them up every moment. of warmth and sunshine, of bright days, The mayfly, during its larva state, is of summer's fulness, with its calm warm aquatic; and like many other insects of evenings, and the early dawn of its the same family, enwraps itself in an ar. mornings; of life, and animation, and tificial case, composed of bits of sand and activity throughout the animal crea- wood, or straw, agglutinated together by tion. But the rich hues of October, a matter insoluble in water ; this case looks warn us to prepare for the cold dark so inartificial, that when the larva protruddays and long nights of winter, when ing its limbs begins to creep along, the the vegetable kingdom lies dead, when motion excites surprise. In clear, shal
low streamlets with a sandy bottom, gravel, like little rough bits of stick, these larvæ, looking, in their case of may be watched crawling about in quest
of food. On one occasion, when a | haunches, (or large basal portion,) are crushed snail was thrown into the not free as in other beetles, but firmly water, it was surrounded by great num- attached to the thorax; and are morebers of the larvæ of this or an allied spe- over of great volume, for the purpose cies, which, half emerging from their of containing the powerful muscles reenvelopes, commenced devouring it. quired to work the oars. Their fixedThe sketches on page 177 represent the ness adds to the strength and precision forms of the envelopes of the larvæ, as of the movements of the free joints, and prepared by a few of the species of this to the regularity of their oar-like action. group of insects. One is composed of (The following sketch represents the unvarious materials; another of bits of stick and stems; -and another of gravel and small fresh water shells. By what instinct is it, that when about to become winged tenants of the air, respire a new element, and acquire new powers, that these larvæ should, in the anticipation, as it were, of their transformation, creep out of the water, and fix themselves on some dry stone stick, and there remain during the casting off of their slough, and the development of their filmy wings? Here they leave their artificial case, their armour of defence; and with it bid farewell to their native element. How multiform, how wonderful are the operations of that energetic principle, implanted by the Almighty in all creatures, for their preservation, and for der surface of this curious beetle, showtheir guidance in the performance of all ing the structure of the posterior limbs, their allotted tasks! that principle which and their fitness for propelling the body by way of distinguishing it from reason, in the water.) There is another beetle, we term instinct ! and how forcibly do the water-boatman(Notonecta.) Observe, its manifestations speak of design and of that this insect swims upon its back. a designer !
The abdominal surface is flat, the dorsal See again, what numbers of aquatic surface convex, and the heaviest, so that beetles are wheeling and sporting on the it floats with the back downwards; the surface of the still water. How rapidly abdominal surface thus represents the the gyrinus skims along, rejoicing in deck of a small vessel ; and the two the warm sunbeams, which glance on posterior limbs which are very long, the liquid element. How admirably and formed for rowing, extend at right that large beetle ploughs his sub-aquatic angles with the body, like the sweeps, course ! it is the water beetle, (Dy- or long oars of a galley. ticus,) a species in all respects expressly The water of stagnant pools may now adapted for the medium in which it be examined by the microscope with passes the greater part of its existence. advantage ; and will be found to teem Observe that it is of a flattened form, with with various species of animalcules, a boat-like outline, broader behind than many of which present the most sinbefore, and presenting no projecting gular forms and appearances. Of these, parts ; its wing cases, and the horny one is termed the proteus, from its integuments of its body are apparently curious changes of figure, a figure which lubricated by some subtle oleaginous seldom remains many minutes the same. matter, which repels the water, for It is indeed impossible to say what its when taken out, it is perfectly dry. true shape is; nor is the reason of its The centre of gravity is placed on its mutations at all understood. The aniunder surface, and the posterior limbs mal looks like a speck of jelly, but is are developed as oars. The action of highly irritable and contractile in every these oars is in a line parallel to the part; sometimes, it elongates itself like axis of the body; and as their move- a worm; sometimes, it assumes a ball. ments are limited to this action only, the I like form; at another, it shoots out arms, from a common centre, so as to only by our imperfect senses, in our resemble a star-fish (Asterias.) Again limited minds, that objects are either it exhibits an irregular and grotesque the one or the other. But with referfigure; and thus it seems to be per- ence to Him from whom nothing is petually engaged in altering itself; for hid—who in the formation of creasome purpose, no doubt, of importance tures, which even the most powerful in its economy, but which has yet to microscope only partially exhibits, (show be discovered.
enough indeed to prove an elaborate orAn animalcule, termed volvox glo- ganization, and there failing, us, who bator, in allusion to its spherical figure in the construction of these minutest beand rapid whirling motion on its own ings manifests unutterable skill and power axis, is very common; there is also -all distinctions of great and little vanish. another species of volvox, termed vol. In his eyes, the colossal whale and the vox conflictor, which moves, by first to us invisible animalcule are alike; whirling to the right, then to the left, the globe on which we are called to exand so on alternately. Jelly-like, as ist, and the ultimate atoms of matter. these animalcules are, it appears from Mark that little animal swimming on Professor Ehrenberg, that their com- the water; see it has dived, but the position is not destitute of muscular clear element permits its track to be fibres, which in some of the rotifera, seen, and it appears as if invested with or wheel animalcules, have been dis- a coat of silver. It is the water shrew tinctly recognized in the form of bands (Sorex fodiens.) The little animal between the two layers of delicate trans- lives in burrows, excavated in the bankparent membrane, by which the body side ; but it seems to be rather in the is enveloped. These bands have been water than on the land that its food seen to contract in various parts ; and is sought for and attained: this consists to increase in breadth and thickness, of aquatic insects and the larvæ of vaaccording to the motions performed, so rious species of ephemera. The runs that there can be no doubt as to their or roads, worn bare of herbage, by the nature, and the part they take as agents continual travel of several of these in the animalcule's movements. An- animals along the same route, from other interesting and very common ani- their burrow to the same point on malcule is the vibrio; met with in great the margin of the pond or rivulet, numbers in sour fluid paste, or spoiled where they take the water, are easily vinegar; in which last, it attains so discernible. During their excursions, large a size, as to be seen in a good they continually utter a shrill cry; this light with the naked eye. In shape, cry' is always repeated, when two shrews the vibrio resembles an eel, and it pass each other in their runs on the swims with the same undulatory sort of bank, and frequently also as they cross movement.
each others' course in the water: they That the motions of animalcules are swim and dive with great facility ; the voluntary; and that they are themselves silvery lustre they exhibit beneath the gifted with feeling, and perhaps other water, is owing to the air contained in senses, to us inexplicable, is very pal- the close fur of their coat, which repable. Swimming, as they do, by shoals sembles that of a mole. On emerging in a single drop of water, they avoid from the water, this coat appears to be with the utmost address, any obstacles perfectly dry ; but on landing, they in their way; they alter their mode of have been observed to give themselves proceeding, increase its rapidity, darting a sudden shake, in order to throw off along like an arrow, or wander through any drops that may be adhering to it. their mimic ocean, with an easy, gentle The water shrew does not devour its gliding, as if in the enjoyment of ex- prey in the stream; but having secured istence. How forcibly do the perfection an insect, it comes ashore, and sitting and complication of structure, exhibited on a stone or clod, there steadies its in these beings, of which many thou- prize between its fore-paws, and so comsands tenant a single drop of water, mences the feast. The beetle, termed appeal to us in proof of consummate the water-boatman, or boat-fly, (Notoskill and wisdom ! and how plainly do necta,) is often pursued and caught by we learn, that in the eyes of the Cre- this active little animal; it also gives ator, nothing is great or small! It is chase to shoals of minnows or stickleby reference to a standard, established backs, but can seldom succeed in making a capture, owing to the extreme ra- | the writer just referred to, " which is at pidity of these fishes, and the sudden present a non-descript in England, reevolutions they make. The water shrew tires or migrates very early in the sumis in its turn preyed upon by the weasel. mer; it also ranges very high for its
Another semi-aquatic animal may now food, feeding in a different region of the be seen very busy, namely, the water air (to that occupied by the common rat, (Arvicola amphibia,) which must bat,) and this is the reason I never not be confounded with the destructive could procure one. Now this is exactly rat, so well known to the farmer, and the case with swifts ; for they take their which also often frequents the banks of food in a more exalted region than the ditches, rivulets, and canals, but which other species; and are very seldom seen does not belong to the same genus as hawking for flies near the ground, or the water rat. The water rat, except over the surface of water. From thence, in the structure of its tail, is a miniature I would conclude that these hirundines, representation of the beaver; it swims and the larger bats, are supported by and dives with great adroitness, and ex- some sorts of flying gnats, beetles or cavates deep burrows in the bank. Its moths, that are of short continuance; food is exclusively vegetable, consisting and that the short stay of these stranof roots and aquatic plants; the female gers is regulated by the defect of their bree this month, producing a pro- food.”. geny of five or six in number; her nest With respect to the great bat, there is at a considerable depth, in a burrow, is abundant reason to believe that like near the water. Evening is the time all the rest of the British species, it in which this cautious animal steals forth hybernates in our island. According to to enjoy the delights of active existence; Pennant, one hundred and eighty-five and it continues alert during the night. were taken in one night from under the It would appear that the water rat hy eaves of Queen's College, Cambridge; bernates during some portion of the and on a following night, sixty-three. winter, or perhaps lays up a store of We have observed this species to be food for winter consumption.
partial to the neighbourhood of large syGilbert White relates a very remark- camore trees, round the tops of which, able circumstance, bearing, upon this and among the branches, we have on point, which deserves to be noticed. many occasions, observed several dash** As a neighbour,” he writes, was ing along with great rapidity, as if in lately ploughing in a dry, chalky field, earnest chase ; perhaps the chaffer (mefar removed from any water, he turned lolontha vulgaris,) which feeds in great out a water rat, that was curiously laid numbers on the leaves of the sycamore, up, in a hybernaculum, artificially formed were the objects of its pursuit. The of grass and leaves. At one end of the female produces a single offspring in burrow, lay above a gallon of potatoes, June. regularly stowed, on which it was to The hare breeds in May; the numhave supported itself for the winter. ber of leverets varies from two to four But the difficulty with me is how this or five. When taken young, the leveret. amphibius mus came to fix its winter may be easily domesticated, and will station at such a distance from the water. become bold and familiar: a lady of Was it determined in its choice of that the writer's acquaintance brought up place by the mere accident of finding two; one of which was very docile and the potatoes which were planted there ; gentle, delighting to lie in her lap, or or is it the .constant practice of the on the hearthrug by the fire ; the other aquatic rat, to forsake the neighbour- was morose in temper, and a deterhood of the water in the colder months ?” | mined foe to the cat, and a small spaWell known as is this animal, there are niel, over both of which he had the many particulars, relative to its economy, complete mastery. White relates an inwhich remain to be ascertained.
stance, in which a leveret brought home The great bat, (Vespertilio noctula,) to a gentleman's house, was nursed and first described by Daubenton, the fellow- suckled by a cat, which happened at the labourer with Buffon, and noticed as a time to have kittens, all of which were British species originally by White, in destroyed. At this juncture, the lehis Natural History of Selbourne, now veret was missing, and could not be makes its appearance, as the evening found : it was therefore supposed that draws on.
"The great large bat,” says some strange cat or dog had seized it.
However, in about a fortnight after this distending the gullet into the form of a event, as the gentleman was sitting one sac, or pouch ; the bird, instead of swalevening in his garden, he observed the lowing the insects, collects them, and cat with tail erect, and purring in a tone holds them in that receptacle, until a expressive of great complacency, ad- sufficient meal for its nestlings is obvancing towards him, and something tained. In the structure of its foot, the gambolling after her; this proved to be swift exhibits a remarkable peculiarity ; the lost leveret, which she had adopted the tarsus is very short and stout; and in the place of her destroyed progeny, the toes, which are strong and armed, and which she continued to support with with hook-like claws, are all turned forgreat affection.
wards, so that there is no back toe, in Among our winged summer visitors, this sense. Its feet are indeed exthe lingerers on the passage have at length pressly organized for the purpose of made their appearance. The swift is enabling the bird to cling firmly to the now seen whirling around the old church rough surfaces of the stones of the tower, uttering ever and anon its shrill, buildings, or sides of the rocks, (as we loud scream, as it dashes along with as- have seen in Derbyshire,) the crevices tonishing velocity. Except while sit- of which afford it a retreat. ting on their eggs, or reposing during That elegant little bird, the flycatcher, a few hours at night, (for the swift re- (Muscicapa grisola,) may now be seen; tires to roost late in the evening, and it waits till the trees are in complete is alert with the first dawn of day,) the foliage, and the insects are swarming, whole existence of this bird is passed before it ventures to pay us its annual on the wing; on the wing it eats, drinks, visit. Observe its actions; how light bathes, and collects materials for its and easy its flight! Selecting some twig nest. It breeds in the dark crevices as a post of observation, it gives a short, between the stonework of towers and but rapid chase to such insects (chiefly steeples, and in similar situations, mak- of the dipterous order) as pass by, reing an inartificial nest of dried grasses turning after each excursion to the same and feathers. Unlike the swallow or the place. The flycatcher is a mutė, famartin, it only lays two eggs, of a milk- miliar bird, frequenting gardens, orwhite colour, and breeds only orice during chards, , and plantations; it frequently its sojourn here. The female sits closely builds upon the branches of fruit trees and patiently all day ; but just before nailed against walls, or the sides of the close of evening, she rushes forth, houses. When its young leave the nest, sweeps around for a few minutes as if they remain for a considerable period to stretch her pinions ; snatches a hasty under the care of the parent birds, who meal, and returns to her duty of incub- feed them very assiduously. In their ation. Swifts, when cruelly and wan- first plumage, the young are prettily tonly shot, while they are rearing their mottled with white. young, are found to have a lump com- Among the most remarkable of our posed of insects, under their tongue, winged arrivals of this month, is the
goatsucker, night-jar, or fernowl (Ca- | woods, narrow woody valleys, and exprimulgus Europæus.) The borders of tensive fern beds, clothing the slopes