« ÎnapoiContinuă »
raspberries, strawberries, and cherries. These are no less salutary and useful, than the richest productions of the warmer climates.
THE INSECT TRIBES.
That agreeable article of luxury, the mushroom, about this time also appears above ground; and numbers of that migratory fish, the pilchard, are taken off the coast of Cornwall.
During this month young frogs migrate from the breeding ponds, and betake themselves to the shelter of the long grass. The hoary beetle (Scarabeus solstitialis) now makes its appearance; it much resembles the common dor, or cockchaffer, and is chiefly distinguished by not exceeding half the size of this last. The present is also the season when bees begin to expel and kill the drones; and at this time too the flying ants quit their nests, and disperse to found new colonies.
As the ant is the animal which has passed into a proverb for its supposed frugality, foresight, and industry, it will be amusing to correct in a few words the erroneous opinions that have been entertained concerning it, by giving a short sketch of its manners and habits.
Ants, like bees, and most other insects that dwell in large communities, are divided into male, female, and neuter. Of these, the neuters, or labourers, are without wings, the males and females have wings, and are distinguished from each other by the superior size of the females. Their dwelling is called an ant-hill, which is generally situated at the foot of a tree, under a wall, or in any place sufficiently exposed to the sun, and sheltered from the cold. In the hill are three or four passages that lead obliquely down, a foot or more, to a large vaulted chamber; the centre of which is the habitation and place of general assembly for the old ones, while the eggs and young worms are ranged in orderly lines between the centre and sides.
If one of these chambers be opened in the winter, it will be found to contain some eggs, and a considerable number of labourers alone, in a state of torpor. As the spring advances, the ants resume their labours, the eggs hatch, and going through the usual process disclose a considerable proportion of labourers and a few males and females; the young females soon begin to deposit their eggs, and the hill
swarms with inhabitants. About the latter end of July the males and females either emigrate, or are expelled by the labourers; the males wander about for a time and soon die, but the impregnated females immediately set about scooping holes in the ground in which they deposit their eggs, and thus each becomes the mother of a new colony: two or three hundred of the eggs are usually converted into labourers before winter: at the approach of cold weather the mother dies, the remainder become torpid till the succeeding spring, when they recommence their work. The stock of eggs is hatched into labourers, males and females; and the population of the colony rapidly increases during the summer. They lay up no provisions, not even for a single day; and during boisterous rainy weather are therefore obliged to be contented with a very scanty share of food. They prey upon almost every animal or vegetable substance, particularly beetles, caterpillars, dead mice, rats, or frogs, honey, the saccharine juices that exude from the leaves of trees, and fruits of every kind. They are sometimes successfully employed in clearing trees of caterpillars, by smearing the trunk for a few inches with tar or any other adhesive matter, and then turning a number of ants loose on the branches; for their escape being prevented by the girdle of tar, they are under the necessity of continuing in the tree, and having no other food, will in a short time devour or expel all the caterpillars. When one ant, or a few, meet with a larger quantity of provision than they are able to convey to the nest, they return and inform their comrades, who sally forth in a large body to carry off the prize. In America, and on the African coast, there occasionally happens an irruption of such infinite multitudes as to be an object of serious alarm, even to the human inhabitants; of one of these incursions the following quotation is a curious account.
"During my stay," says Smith, "at Cape Coast Castle, a body of these ants came to pay us a visit in our fortification. It was about day-break when the advanced guard of this famished crew entered the chapel, where some negro servants were asleep on the floor. The men were quickly alarmed at the invasion of this unexpected army, and prepared as well as they could for a defence. While the
EMPLOYMENTS OF THE MONTH.
foremost battalion of insects had already taken possession of the place, the rear-guard was more than a quarter of a mile distant; the whole ground seemed alive, and crawling with unceasing destruction. After deliberating a few moments on what was to be done, it was resolved to lay a large train of gunpowder along the path they had taken; by this means millions were blown to pieces, and the rear-guard, perceiving the destruction of their leaders, thought proper instantly to return, and make back to their original habitation."
Poultry moult during this month; and young partridges are found among the corn.
The first broods of swallows and martins now begin to congregate, and before they come to their full strength and command of wing, suffer severely from the attacks of hawks and other birds of prey.
The farmer's chief employment in July is getting home the various products of the earth. It is the principal hay-month in the northern parts of England, and the work-people suffer much fatigue from the excessive heat to which they are exposed.
Flax and hemp are pulled in this month. These plants are cultivated in various parts of Europe more than in England. The stalks of both are full of tough fibres or strings, which, separated and prepared in a particular manner, become fit for spinning into thread. Of flax, linen is made, from the finest cambric to the coarsest canvass. Hemp is chiefly used for coarse cloth, such as strong sheeting and sacking; but it is sometimes wrought to considerable fineness; it is also twisted into ropes and cables.
The corn-harvest begins in July in the southern parts of the island; but August is the principal harvest-month for the whole kingdom.
A HOT DAY.
Now the rosy and lazy-fingered Aurora, issuing from her saffron-house, calls up the moist vapours to surround her, and goes veiled with them as long as she can; till Phoebus, coming forth in his power, looks everything out of the sky, and holds sharp uninterrupted empire from his throne of beams. Now the mower begins to make his sweeping cuts more slowly, and resorts oftener to the beer. Now the carter sleeps a-top of his load of hay, or plods with double slouch of shoulder, looking out with eyes winking under his shaking hat, and with a hitch upwards of one side of his mouth. Now the little girl at her grandmother's cottagedoor watches the coaches that go by, with her hand held up to her sunny forehead. Now labourers look well, resting in their white shirts, at the doors of rural ale-houses.
Now an elm is fine there, with a seat under it; and horses drink out of their trough, stretching their yearning necks with loosened collars; and the traveller calls for his glass of ale, having been without one for more than two minutes, and his horse stands wincing at the flies, giving sharp shivers of his skin, and moving to and fro his ineffectual docked tail; and now Miss Betty Wilson, the host's daughter, comes streaming forth in a flowered gown and ear-rings, carrying with four of her beautiful fingers, the foaming glass, for which, after the traveller has drank it, she receives with an indifferent eye, looking another way, the lawful twopence, that is to say, unless the traveller, nodding his ruddy face, pays some gallant compliment to her before he drinks, such as, "I'd rather kiss you, my dear, than the tumbler!" or, "I wait for you, my love, if you'll marry me;" upon which, if the man is good-looking, and the lady in good humour, she smiles and bites her lips, and says, "Ah!-men can talk fast enough; upon which the old stage-coachman, who is sucking something near her, before he sets off, says, in a hoarse voice, "So can women too for that matter," and John Boots grins through his ragged red locks, and doats on the repartee all the day after. Now grasshoppers "fry," as Dryden says. Now cattle stand in water, and ducks are envied. Now boots and shoes, and trees by the road side, are thick with dust, and dogs rolling in it, after issuing out of the water, into which they have been thrown to fetch sticks, come scattering horror among the legs of the spectators. Now a fellow who finds he has three miles farther to go in a pair of tight boots is in a pretty situation. Now rooms with the sun upon them become intolerable; and the apothecary's apprentice, with a bitterness beyond aloes, thinks of the pond he used to bathe in at school. Now men with powdered heads, especially if thick, envy those who are unpowdered, and stop to wipe them up hill, with countenances that seem to expostulate with destiny. Now boys assemble round the village pump with a ladle to it, and delight to make a forbidden splash and get wet through. Now, also, they make suckers of leather, and bathe all day long in rivers and ponds, and say millions of "my eyes!" at tittle-bats.
A HOT DAY.